Washington (AP) – Russian invasion of Ukraine gave the embassy of a smaller country in Washington an unexpected role: a recruiting center for Americans wishing to join the struggle.

Diplomats working with the embassy in a townhouse near Georgetown are making thousands of proposals from volunteers seeking to fight for Ukraine, even as they work on a much more pressing issue of providing weapons to protect against increasingly fierce pressure from the Russians.

“They really feel that this war is unfair, unprovoked,” said the military attache of Ukraine, Major General Boris Kremenets. “They feel they have to go and help.”

American volunteers represent only a small group of foreigners seeking to fight for Ukraine, which, in turn, make up only a small part international aid that flowed into the country. However, it is a reflection of the passion that unfolded in the age of social media that is attacking and growing casualties among the civilian population stirred.

“These are not mercenaries who go to work,” Kramyanetsky said. “These are people of good will who come to help Ukraine fight for freedom.”

The US government denies Americans to fight in Ukraine, which raises issues of legal and national security.

Since invasion on 24 Februarythe embassy in Washington has heard from at least 6,000 people asking about volunteering for the service, “the vast majority” of whom are American citizens, said Kremenets, who oversees the screening of potential U.S. recruits.

Half of the potential volunteers were quickly turned down and didn’t even get to the interview at Zoom, the general said. They did not have the necessary military experience, were of criminal origin or were not suitable for other reasons, such as age, including a 16-year-old boy and a 73-year-old man.

Some who expressed interest were denied, as the embassy said it could not conduct a proper inspection. The general did not disclose methods of checking people.

Kremenets, who spoke to the Associated Press immediately after returning from the Pentagon to discuss the military equipment his country needs for defense, said he appreciated support from both the U.S. government and the public.

“Russians can only be stopped with strong fists and weapons,” he said.

So far, about 100 U.S. citizens have made the incision. Among them are war veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan with combat experience, including some helicopter pilots, the attache said.

They have to make their way to Poland, where they have to cross at a certain point, with their protective equipment, but without the weapons they will receive upon arrival. They will have to sign a contract for free service in the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government says about 20,000 foreigners from different nations have already joined.

Boris Wrzesniewski, a former Liberal MP in Canada who helps facilitate recruitment there, said about 1,000 Canadians had applied to fight for Ukraine, the vast majority of whom had no ties to the country.

“A very large part of the volunteers are ex-servicemen, these are people who have made a difficult decision to join the army to uphold the values ​​we adhere to,” Wrzesniewski said. “And if they see what is happening in Ukraine, they can not stand aside.”

It is unclear how many U.S. citizens who want to fight have actually reached Ukraine, and the State Department has urged people not to make the trip.

“We have been very clear for some time, of course, urging Americans who may have lived in Ukraine to leave, and making it clear to Americans who may be thinking of going there not to go,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. told reporters recently.

U.S. citizens are not required to register abroad. The State Department says it is unknown how many entered Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

According to a senior federal law enforcement official, in some circumstances Americans may face criminal penalties or even risk losing their citizenship by taking part in an overseas conflict.

But legal issues are just one of many concerns that concern U.S. authorities, who are worried about what could happen if an American is killed, captured or recruited there to work for the foreign intelligence service after returning home, the official said. spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues.

Official and independent security experts say some of the potential foreign fighters may be in favor of white supremacy, which is believed to be fighting on both sides of the conflict. They could become more radicalized and receive military training in Ukraine, thus posing an increased risk of returning home.

“These are people who want adventure, a sense of significance and a return to World War II rhetoric,” said Anne Speckhard, who studied foreigners who fought in Syria and elsewhere as director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. .

Ukraine can circumvent some potential legal problems only by facilitating recruitment abroad and directing volunteers to sign contracts and obtain weapons as soon as they arrive in the country. In addition, giving them to the army of territorial defense, rather than front-line units, it reduces the likelihood of direct combat with the Russians, but is not eliminated.

The general recognizes the possibility that the captured foreigners could be used for propaganda purposes. But he did not dwell on the issue, focusing on the need to protect his country from Russia.

“We are fighting for our existence,” he said. “We are fighting for our families, for our land. And we’re not going to give up. “

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Associated Press writer Rob Gillis of Toronto contributed to this report.

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