An unlikely mix of Vagabond travelers searching for purpose, and self-proclaimed adrenaline junkies with their fingers on the trigger - the international volunteers in Ukraine pose a moral challenge, balancing a fine line between volunteer and voyeur
MAY 6 2022

"I'm going to go hold a gun and shoot bad guys - could be cool, or could suck" Harry, a 44-year-old security contractor from New Hampshire lounges with a beer in one hand and a knife on his hip - as with other volunteers at the hostel in Lviv, his presence in Ukraine is not immediately understood. 

With a Scarface tattoo on his arm, slicked-back hair, and combat style clothes, he seems ready for a fight but explains, "Originally I went to Moldova to help Jews flee from Ukraine but I wasn't needed" - with Jewish ancestry, and his brother living in Israel, his original motives are obvious. However, after rejection, Harry chose to bide his time until he could join the front line as a combat medic - "maybe I'll put a bandaid on someone" he says, with a laugh. 


As he waits, Harry browses Lviv’s Tinder prospects and buys flowers for the young girl at the front desk. He tells how his two daughters, 10 and 12, "Are now the coolest kids in school because their dad’s fighting in Ukraine" Between chasing adrenaline, fulfilling a trigger-happy fantasy, and finding glory amongst his peers - Harry's motives to join the war effort seem to lack the clear intentions that normally align with supporting an occupied nation at war - saving lives for example.

Not appearing combat-ready or even sure of his medical prowess, his presence raises ethical questions - Are volunteers like Harry doing more harm than good? And should one consider the self-indulgence behind their motives before joining a war for the adrenaline rush and expected virtue upon returning home?


Next to Harry, relaxed in a large suspended chair sits Gary. Irish-born, Gary used to serve in the British Air Force, which led to backlash from his Irish family. Familiar with the military and occupation, he talks about how his father’s love for RC planes inspired him to join the force. But now, in Ukraine, Gary works as a supervisor for other volunteers completing various tasks for the last five weeks - currently on a break in Lviv.

I ask Gary when he first decided to join the war, and what motivated him to do so - He answers “Right at the start I knew I would join” And then quickly follows with, “My girlfriend had just passed away from a motorcycle accident, so…”


We pause, and other men join the conversation to tell their stories. Stories of travelers with a thirst for adventure who seek out war, or a humanitarian volunteer who can’t seem to find work inside the country because he only speaks English. The group is an interesting demographic - Men, in their 20’s-40’s seeking purpose, and not necessarily the pursuit of peace.


Whether it’s for glory, processing grief, or the hunt for adventure, the misfit volunteers joining the war from abroad must understand, for themselves, if their participation is truly for the good of Ukraine, or simply a quest for actualization, self-destruction, or just a quick high.