An Australian retiree has revealed why he traveled to Ukraine not once, but twice to help in the fight against Russia.
Australian Brian Williamson is an unlikely soldier in Ukraine’s battle against Russia.
The 57-year-old retiree traveled to Ukraine last March to join the country’s Foreign Legion after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on foreigners to “fight side by side with the Ukrainians.”
Since then, the Maroochydore man has been threatened by Russians, injured in a rocket attack and stranded in the country after his retirement was cut.
Speaking from Ukraine, where he is now involved in primary care, Mr Williamson said he felt compelled to travel after seeing news stories about the war.
“In early March I was sitting at home watching TV and a news report came out about Russians attacking a daycare center and a maternity hospital. I thought I had to help and I arranged for me to come over and join the Foreign Legion,” he said.
Shortly after his arrival in the country, the base where Mr Williamson lived was hit by a barrage of Russian missiles in an attack that killed dozens of potential fighters and injured more than 100.
“I was in Ukraine for five days. I went to sleep in the barracks and was blown out of bed by an explosion. I knew immediately what it was, I grabbed my boots and jacket and made my way to a pre-designated meeting point.
“The building right in front of us was ablaze, flames and fireballs. I ran along the side of the building to the road leading to the meeting point, a second rocket hit the building and threw me about 50 meters in the air and into the side of our barracks. I was overloaded with concrete and steel,” he said.
After waiting five nights for new attacks in icy trenches, Williamson was told to leave due to a back injury he sustained during the rocket attack.
But after just three weeks back in his native Sunshine Coast, he decided to return to Ukraine. This time as a humanitarian aid worker, where he spent several weeks delivering aid to primary care hospitals.
“We drove from the west in vans full of medical supplies and food and delivered to primary care hospitals and aid centers. The day before I was due to return, the government suspended my pension and I ended up in Ukraine for another three weeks,” he said.
After spending some time back in Australia, he made the difficult decision to return to Ukraine again.
“When I got home, I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like I was better here to help people. I am now back and we currently have a bus that we are converting into a vehicle with stretchers to travel to the front lines and evacuate injured civilians and possibly soldiers to cities where they can receive treatment,” he said.
Mr Williamson is part of a small motley crew of Australians in Ukraine, some providing aid and emergency medicine while others are frontline fighters and trainers in the Ukrainian army.
Earlier this month, an unknown Australian fighter was injured in a battle in the east of the country.
This came just days after the death of Australian man Michael O’Neill, a friend of Mr Williamson.
While many Australians have been put on ‘no fly lists’ after trying to join the Foreign Legion, a few slipped through and now serve in the Ukrainian military.
The Australian government continues to strongly advise against all travel to Ukraine and those traveling to fight could face prosecution if they return to Australia.
Travel Advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade states: “Our ability to provide consular assistance in Ukraine is extremely limited under these circumstances. The Australian government will not be able to evacuate you from Ukraine”†