Irish man to fight in Ukraine wearing grandfather’s Jadotville colours

Father of two Ivan Farina (51) from Celbridge fought in Bosnia in 1990s

Ivan Farina said he believed his role in Ukraine, and that of the people he was meeting, would be to draw Russian forces into battle in the open countryside with ‘hit and run’ attacks. Photograph: Ivan Farina

An Irish man leaving the Republic today to fight in Ukraine has brought the Defence Forces colours his grandfather wore during the 1961 siege of Jadotville in the Congo and plans to wear them on his arm as he goes into battle against the Russians.

Ivan Farina, a 51-year-old father of two from Celbridge, Co Kildare, fought alongside the Croatian armed forces in the 1990s in Bosnia, where he lost an eye when hit with shrapnel and then went back into battle once recovered.

He says he is going back to the frontlines, this time to fight the Russians, because he valued freedom and believed President Vladimir Putin could be stopped and toppled.

While he was aware other Irishmen, likely ex-Defence Forces personnel, had already entered Ukraine to join the fighting, he was travelling alone from Ireland. He planned to meet up with some other foreign volunteers he fought alongside in Bosnia as a platoon sergeant between 1992 and 1997 and had already been accepted by the Ukrainian military.


“My great grandfather came from Naples and set up a barber shop on Capel Street (in Dublin) in 1905,” he said. “And then on the other side of the family my grandfather fought in the Congo. His battalion was the one at Jadotville and he was engaged at Lufira Bridge, he fought there twice. He was Sgt Major Charles McDermott. He died in 1979 and I have his colours that he wore at Lufira bridge and I’m bringing them to Ukraine.”

Asked if he was afraid, he replied: “Yes, yes, there are moments . . . You train yourself, but it shows in certain ways; I’ve a rash, chapped lips. And that’s your nervous system telling you there’s something there. I know what’s coming.”

Mr Farina, who has a background in software, game design and photography, did want to disclose exactly how he would travel to and enter Ukraine. He believed his role, and that of the people he was meeting, would be to draw Russian forces into battle in the open countryside with “hit and run” attacks. He said most of the other volunteers were being trained by the Ukrainian forces for urban warfare as Kyiv was likely to become the main battleground.

He said because he met his wife while she was nursing wounded soldiers in Bosnia in the 1990s, she is very familiar with the dynamics of the current situation and what was at stake. His daughters, aged 19 and 17 years, also supported him, though they had concerns.

“My eldest is 19 years old and if she’s asked, she’d say ‘Dad will be back’, she knows me. We train together in Taekwondo, we’ve fought in competitions, she knows what I’m like. My youngest, she’s artistic and sensitive and she is worried. But she has Ukrainian friends.

“I’ve raised both my kids to understand what we have, how lucky we are as a society to have our freedoms, constitutional laws, to have redress, to have rights. And they both know this. And my youngest is very passionate about these things, and politics and civil rights. They’ve both read (George) Orwell, they know what the threat is. My entire family is supportive.”

Russian convoy

Mr Farina said while a lot of media focus had centred on the apparently stalled Russian convoy of vehicles to the north of Kyiv, whether it moved or not it represented a threat.

“Once that passes Kyiv, it can cut the country in two,” he said. “And even while it’s stationary, people ask ‘Why don’t they bomb it?’, and it’s a case of ‘Well, they can bomb back and they’ve got bigger guns’. So while it’s there, it ties up a massive amount of Ukrainian forces who cannot go and defend the rest of the country, and actually can’t engage. So this is a major problem.

“We’re going to have to go there and induce this force, we’re going to have to invite the battle and that’s going to be hell. I’ve heard the Russians have opened up their conscription so what they have failed to do with plans and preparation they are going to do with mass numbers.

“That is the way of people like Putin, who don’t count the cost in human lives and then eradicate history behind them. I don’t relish fighting those young men and killing them. They don’t deserve this. The Russian people need liberation as much as the Ukrainians.

“Am I afraid, yes, but I’m actually more . . . you know, these are kids who are scared and hungry. But you have to do what you have to do. I’m heartened by the fact the Russian troops the Ukrainians are capturing are being treated very well.”

He said Putin’s regime had a spread misinformation suggesting the Ukrainians had ordered no more hostages be taken and that for all Russian prisoners to he shot. While this was “a lie” it was the “only way to get these poor sods to keep fighting, God help them”.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times