Secretary of State Antony Blinken said March 2 that Americans should refrain from traveling to Ukraine to help in that country’s conflict with Russia.
Blinken’s warning came the same day Ukraine temporarily lifted visa requirements for foreign volunteers to enter the country. On Feb. 28, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the formation of the “International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine,” calling for “citizens of the world” to join the fight against Russia’s invasion.
At a March 2 press conference, Blinken said the State Department’s position on the matter remains unchanged.
“We’ve been very clear for some time in calling on Americans who may have been resident in Ukraine to leave, and making clear to Americans who may be thinking of traveling there not to go,” Blinken told reporters.
Rather than joining the fight in Ukraine, Blinken said Americans can find alternative ways to help the war-torn nation.
“For those who want to help Ukraine and help its people, there are many ways to do that, including by supporting and helping the many NGOs that are working to provide humanitarian assistance; providing resources themselves to groups that are trying to help Ukraine by being advocates for Ukraine and for peaceful resolution to this crisis that was created by Russia,” he said. “Those are the most effective ways that people who want to help can do so.”
Blinken’s advice is in accordance with the State Department issuing a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” warning for Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Despite that, Americans and other Westerners are reportedly joining the Ukrainian cause. Reuters reported Feb. 28 that a U.S. Air Force veteran is one of those volunteers.
“I feel guilty to not go,” said the man, who declined to provide his name for security reasons, according to Reuters.
Canadian Bryson Woolsey also quit his job as a cook after seeing Zelensky’s appeal. Reuters said Woolsey has no military training, but plans to buy a plane ticket to Poland and cross into Ukraine to volunteer for combat.
Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly reportedly said on Feb. 28 that individual Canadians can choose whether they wanted to join Ukraine’s international brigade.
Domestic terrorism researchers have expressed concerns in the past about Americans traveling to Ukraine to train with the country’s infamous neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. According to the SITE Intelligence Group Enterprise, U.S. neo-Nazi groups have been amplifying Azov’s recent calls for foreign volunteers.
“To the extent that this would provide an opportunity for individuals to gain combat experience and the potential to radicalize, then you could very well see those people coming back and integrating those types of tactics and tools into their existing, or new, domestic extremist groups here,” said Bellarmine University professor Abigail Hall, a researcher on extremism and militarism.
According to the FBI, U.S. extremist groups have traveled to Ukraine to train with Azov. The FBI said this during the prosecution of right-wing Rise Above Movement (RAM) members for allegedly assaulting protesters in 2017.
“The Azov Battalion … is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations,” according to the FBI.