‘Things are very, very rarely black and white’: Ukraine volunteer Elliot Kim reflects on serving in Russo-Ukrainian War

Ukrainian volunteer Elliot Kim sat down with NextShark to share his experiences in the Russian-Ukrainian war zone, including what he prepared in advance, how he arrived in the country, and what he saw when he landed.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 left the rest of the world reeling from its consequences.

Many Western nations imposed sanctions against it Russia While sending billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine and allowing refugees to cross their borders.

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The attack was a reminder of the fragility of the world’s geopolitical climate. Meanwhile, the tension has increased China and TaiwanFor example, with the idea that other countries may follow Russia’s lead.

Many American volunteers, most of whom were ex-servicemen, have gone to serve in Ukraine’s volunteer army. Volunteers who have gone missing, such as the elderly Grady Kurpassiwas occupied by the Russian army.

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Military background

Kim participated in Ukraine as a soldier in the International Volunteer Army from late April to mid-June. He then returned home to Atlanta.

He was one of many volunteers with a military background, joining the army in 2005 right out of high school.

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After basic training, he joined the Artillery Corps and served two tours in Iraq before attending the Georgia Institute of Technology for college in 2011.

“I’ve been a citizen ever since,” Kim says jokingly.

He had been out of the army for 11 years when he got the chance to fight in Ukraine. Kim admits there was much uncertainty about whether he could make a difference in Ukraine.

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Driving factor

While volunteering to fight isn’t an “overnight decision,” he shares a “very disturbing picture.” Bucha GenocideWhere more than 400 bodies were found – many of which were civilians executed with their hands tied behind their backs – played a large role in his final decision to go.

The image was such that Kim found it “hard to move”. He says you can see the “heartbreak” on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s face.

“And I think it’s silly to say, ‘Oh I went there because of a picture,’” Kim says with a laugh. “But that was definitely one of the driving factors.”

“So I came to the decision to go there. Knowing that I have the skill set, knowing that I can help. If you are able to help, perhaps you are obliged to help, and so I gave my two weeks’ notice and made my travel arrangements.”

Preparation process

Kim shares that when you get out of the military, you have to return all of your body armor and field gear, but there are some “scraps” that remain. As for what he needed to buy, he says he “ran from memory.”

He was in contact with the Ukrainian embassy, ​​which gave him basic instructions on how to get into the country.

“I was certainly not alone in this. There are thousands of people around the world — from [the] United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia – you know, they were going there. So the Ukrainian Embassy was in a position to facilitate travel for many people, not just me.

Kim says that after he gave his two-week notice, he had time to “sit there” and finish his purchase. He spent time packing and talking with his brother and some “old army buddies” to make sure he had everything he needed.

“And it was kind of a collective effort,” he added.

In total, Kim took about 100 pieces of equipment to Ukraine, including Swiss Army knives, 550 cords and some ponchos. His uniform consisted of neck gaiters, boots and a grenade pouch. The most expensive pieces of gear were the larger items such as his helmet and body armor, which all citizens of the country could purchase.

“So body armor — front plates [cost] About $700, back plates are about $700. Then you had about two side plates, which are about $400. Helmet [cost] About $700. I think overall, [it] About $5,000 worth of equipment was run, maybe a little less.”

Weapons were one thing Kim didn’t want to pack and prepare.

“When you get here [Ukraine will] Issue you one and then you don’t have to worry about supply again,” he shares.


When asked what he felt on the plane, Kim replied that fear was inevitable, saying, “There’s definitely always an element of fear. I think, you know, maybe there are people who choose not to acknowledge it or block it out. But I think it’s pretty universal. There is always that fear.”

“Having said that, this wasn’t my first time in a combat zone — in a weird way, it’s almost comforting, this kind of familiarity,” Kim continues.[ity]. When I flew in Iraq, we did exactly that: we flew to New York and we flew to Greenland and then Germany and we went through Europe. So the flight path I took was pretty much the same and the flight, boring. The flight is very familiar. It was almost like riding a bike – a very dangerous bike.”

He says his “primary” concern, however, was worrying about forgetting something about the fight.

“I have been working in system operations in a financial company for the past 10 years,” he says. “Do I still remember how to do basic combat training, how to run basic combat drills, how to do basic rifle marksmanship,” he says. These are the things I want to help train Ukrainians. Do I remember all the little details?”

“So just worrying about going out there and reviewing old Army field manuals to make sure I’m providing really good quality help, not just, ‘Oh, yeah, how do you do this. . . .'” Kim adds. “So, I think, there’s more anxiety, nervousness and to a lesser extent, a little bit of fear. But I think you get over that after your first combat tour.”

He also adds that he has his own rifle, which he fires “once or twice a year” “so as not to spoil the skill completely”.


In Ukraine, Kim first went to the capital city of Kyiv, which seemed far from the war zone.

“Once you get there, at least in the city of Kyiv, it doesn’t feel like there’s a war going on,” he says. “Almost there is [like] You can pretend it’s just a normal European city: you have restaurants open, people walking around, people going shopping.

“Especially in the center of Kiev, there’s not much damage, so you can almost pretend the war isn’t going on,” he adds. They say further. Beyond that, you can pretend there is no war going on. “

Kim says one thing he noticed, however, was the complete absence of children.

“All the schools are closed, almost all the children have been evacuated,” he says. “So it’s weird to have an adults-only town.”

A big component of Kim’s job was teaching Ukrainian soldiers how to use US weapons because many of them had no experience using missiles or drones sent by the US government.

He says that “90% of the time,” he and his team were just focused on training, but anything can happen in a day.

“There were days, you know, you drive by a house and the roof is completely blown off and you talk to the owner, and it’s an old lady who lives in this house even though her house was completely destroyed,” he shares.

“It’s in an area called Irpin, which was particularly hard hit,” Kim shared with NextShark about the next video. “Her son and her husband were killed in the attack and it was just her and no roof over her. Her bed, nothing but bullet holes.”

Kim admits that he thought there wasn’t much he could do for the woman at the time, and that building a roof “seems like a drop in the bucket” all things considered.

A willingness to share their experiences is a common theme Kim found among Ukrainian citizens.

“A lot of citizens have this feeling that the world has forgotten or is okay with what’s going on there,” he says. “They are happy to come forward to share their stories and volunteer their information. … And you just listen.”

It is illegal for Ukrainian men to leave the country, so for those whose wives and children have left the “stories” are the only ones left, Kim adds.

As for the language barrier, Kim has used a bit of Duolingo for Ukrainian; However, two weeks was not enough time to learn a new language.

“Fortunately, speaking English in Ukraine – and I think in many Eastern European countries – people do it when they are looking for higher job opportunities,” he says. “I’d say at least 10% of the population speaks some English, some definitely more fluently than others.”

standard of living

Kim could not reveal the location of the places where he slept; However, he shared that they operated from a “main facility” in which soldiers slept on the floor.

“It’s important to have our packing list when we arrive,” says Kim, who brought her own sleeping mat and sleeping bag.

While the facility had running water, there were no showers.

“Locals will supply us [with] showering in their own homes and hotels,” he shares. “I’d say every two days — maybe three or four, sometimes more — we just shower.”

For days, soldiers had no place to wash and would wipe themselves with baby wipes.

As for food, the locals would cook for them, which they were “delighted to do.” Kim recalls the locals creating a “very welcoming atmosphere”.

home page

Now that he’s home, Kim reflects that “things are rarely black and white,” including the “particularly dark” things he saw in Ukraine.

“It’s never really [as] Hollywood [puts it] — good versus evil,” he says.

Despite everything the Ukrainians have been exposed to, Kim says the best he’s tried to communicate is the global standard of warfare established during the Geneva Conventions. For example, non-execution of prisoners of war is a standard he tried to emphasize.

“But it’s very difficult to teach the natives, ‘You have to treat these Russian POWs ethically.’ When their loved ones were murdered, you know, it’s hard to get that message across to them. And it’s almost like bad begets worse.”

President Biden recently made a promise Another $1 billion Monday brought the country’s commitment to a total of $9.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. These include long-range weapons, trucks and armored medical transport vehicles.

Featured image by Elliott Kim

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