US military volunteers in Ukraine are having a bad time


A man who said he wanted to join the fight against the Russian army in Ukraine crossed the border on March 9.
Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Henry Hoeft, a 28-year-old former US Army infantryman and steelworker from a small town outside Columbus, Ohio, was forced to leave his young son earlier this month. to fight in Ukraine, where his father’s family has its roots. After fundraising online and bidding farewell, Hoeft packed up some of the combat gear he’s used sporadically in recent years as a member of the boogaloo boys – the extremist anti-government militia that rose to fame in 2020 – and hit the road that has become commonplace for the thousands of ex-servicemen drawn to the newly created Ukrainian Foreign Legion. Posting his trip on TikTok and Instagram, he flew to Poland, crossed the border around March 9 with fellow Ohio boogaloo Mike Dunn, and joined a team accepting combat volunteers from the ‘foreigner.

“I hope the war will end tomorrow,” he told the Columbus Mail Before leaving. “But I’ll be here as long as it takes.” Dunn and Hoeft looked full of energy as they provided family members and thousands of followers with travel updates on social media. After arriving in Ukraine, they described joining the Georgian National Legion (which, unlike some similar groups, does not require foreign fighters to sign open-ended contracts). But within the week, Hoeft had a different message: “People need to stop coming here.”

In a video posted to his Instagram Stories on March 15, Hoeft claimed he was serving with the Georgian contingent in Ukraine when his base “got screwed up” and a number of foreign volunteers from the United States and Great Britain Brittany were killed. (A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman called the military volunteers earlier this month “mercenaries” who would not be “considered combatants under international humanitarian law.”) Hoeft said that when a group American, Canadian and British volunteers refused an order to serve in kyiv with “no goddamn weapons” and partially loaded magazines, they were told to “get the hell out of” the brigade. Hoeft says he and two others then hid in the back of an ambulance trying to leave the country. At the border, they took off their military equipment to pretend to be civilians when they heard that customs officers were sending foreign legion volunteers back to the front. “It’s a trap,” he said in a video recorded in Poland.

Hoeft’s message and his decision to retire early from the fight seemed to create a rift between him and Dunn, the former leader of a boogaloo faction in Ohio called the Last Sons of Liberty. A former Marine who says his military career was cut short by heart disease, Dunn told ProPublica last year that he was “ready to die on the streets” fighting the US government. (Hoeft claims he ditched the Last Sons when the group “went crazy.”) On his TikTok account, which has now been banned, Dunn pushed back against Hoeft’s claims, while others Georgian National Legion Volunteers refuse Hoeft’s claims that they would have been threatened if they did not leave the unit.

Dunn said after refueling in Poland, he decided to join a new unit in Ukraine and remained “ready to give it his all”. But Hoeft disputed that account: He alleged in a since-deleted Instagram story that Dunn was kicked out of the Georgian National Legion for his involvement with extremist groups in the United States and now serves with a far-right contingent of the Ukrainian Guard whose flag has been defended by white supremacists around the world.

Neither Hoeft nor Dunn responded to requests for comment. The US State Department advises US citizens not to travel to Ukraine.

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