About 20 Irish men have travelled to Ukraine to join the army there fighting against invading Russian forces, The Irish Times has learned. One of the fighters, Ivan Farina (51) from Celbridge, Co Kildare, has survived a rocket attack by the Russians which targeted a base where the Irish father of two was staying at the weekend.
That attack, in far western Ukraine near the border with Poland, resulted in dozens of casualties. It is feared three British men, all former members of the British army's 'parachute regiment', were among the dead. However, there are no reports of any Irish casualties and it is believed none of the Irishmen who travelled to fight in Ukraine have been killed to date.
The base that was targeted in the rocket attack on Sunday was previously used by the American military to train Ukrainian forces. It had been put into use in recent weeks as a facility for the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, made up of men from all over the world who have gone to Ukraine to join the war effort.
Both Mr Farina and Rhys Byrne (27) from Santry, Dublin, spoke publicly about their plans to join the Ukrainian forces before setting out in recent weeks. However, other Irish people who have gone have done so without announcing their intention to travel.
Informed sources familiar with the situation on the ground in Ukraine said they were aware of approximately 20 Irish people who were now part of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion having answered the Ukrainian government’s call for foreign fighters to come and join the war effort.
Other Irishmen, including former members of the Defence Forces Army Ranger Wing, are working as private security contractors in Ukraine. They are locating and evacuating family members on behalf of clients who have hired them.
The Irish Times spoke to Mr Farina before he left Ireland almost two weeks ago when he explained he was going because he believed the threat from Russia was so great he felt obliged to join the Ukrainian army and assist. He had previously fought alongside the Croatian army in Bosnia in the 1990s.
Sources confirmed Mr Farina, whose Italian grandfather emigrated to Dublin in 1905, was among the foreign fighters at the military base in Yavoriv in far western Ukraine when it was hit in the rocket attack on Sunday morning.
It is understood he has suffered some injuries, though they are not life threatening and he was expected to return to Ireland to recover. However, efforts to contact him for comment and to confirm the nature of his injuries were not successful.
His family became concerned for his welfare after hearing of the attack on Sunday morning as they knew he was in the base that was hit.
Over 30 Cruise missiles were fired at the base, from the Black Sea. About 20 of the missiles were intercepted and the followed day, Monday, a Ukrainian fighter jet also shot down a Russian drone over Yavoriv.
Moscow said the rocket attack in Yavoriv on Sunday killed “up to 180 foreign mercenaries and a large cache of foreign weapons” at the base amid warnings from Russia it would continue to target foreign fighters.
Ukrainian officials said 35 people died and 134 were injured in the attack on the Yavoriv base, just 25km from the border with EU and Nato member Poland, making it the deadliest single incident in Ukraine since Russia invaded its neighbour on February 24th.
While the Ukrainians claimed no foreign fighters were killed in Sunday’s attack, reports in the international media suggest foreigners were among the dead.