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TESTIMONIALS. “It’s like Verdun but with the weapons of 2022”: French people who went to war in Ukraine tell their daily life – franceinfo


It’s not nothing: it’s been several hours now that Franck has not heard the slightest bomb. This Friday, June 17, the former paratrooper is “on leave”, somewhere east of Kharkiv (Ukraine). Between two naps, this 31-year-old Frenchman, military CV as big as his biceps, sends us his latest videos shot from the front. On one of them, we see him suddenly lying down in a hole. A few seconds later, a long “putaaaain” escapes from the telephone: a shell has just fallen ten meters from him. The Orléanais makes a sign of the cross: “Fortunately she was there, the trench.” After four months of war, how many French people, like Franck, are still in Ukraine to resist the Russian army? In early March, Volodymyr Zelensky was pleased that more than 20,000 foreigners from 52 countries had joined the International Territorial Defense Legion that the Ukrainian president had just launched. Since then, it’s been radio silence: “The Legion no longer communicates any figures”, repeats Damien Magrou, its French-speaking spokesperson, to franceinfo. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not much more talkative, simply recalls that the whole of Ukraine is a war zone, and that it is therefore “formally not recommended to go there, whatever the reason”. A recruiter contacted by telephone, and who wishes to remain anonymous, estimates that “several hundred” the number of French fighters in the country. “There was a big wave of arrivals at the beginning, then it logically decreased. But the volunteers continue to flow.” A recruiter at franceinfo On Ukrainian soil, Franck did come across a few French people but never Nicolas. However, he too is under the bombs. Or precisely ? “In the Donbass…” he cuts off. “Subject to secrecy”, the 32-year-old Franc-Comtois, who has just joined the special operations forces, cannot say more. The wealth manager, who put his business on hold to join the Ukrainian Volunteer Army (UDA), has taken the lead. “Until then, I was mainly assigned to the trenches of the combat zones.” His daily life: a shovel, elbow grease and a lucky star. “You dig, you dig, and you hope you’re not in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Nicolas, a Frenchman who went to fight in Ukraine at franceinfo If he has never had to shoot outside of training, Nicolas is exposed like the others to repeated bombardments. “When we fire ten rockets, the Russians will fire a hundred, he says, barely panicked. If there are still inhabited houses near our position, they will have no qualms about razing the whole street .” For him, the conflict takes up “the same logic” as the First World War: “It’s a war of position, it’s like the trenches of Verdun but with the weapons and technology of 2022.” Nicolas, originally from Besançon (Doubs), joined a paramilitary group in Ukraine at the beginning of March 2022. (FREDERIC MUNSCH) After 116 days there, Nicolas “finds” that you get used to everything. Fighter planes, the same ones he found beautiful when he was a “kid” but which this time could “turn around to make you jump off the steps”. “When the missiles pass over your head the first few evenings, remembers the 30-year-old, you don’t understand, you tell yourself that it’s not possible. Everyone around you is snoring when we’re there. worst of targets. And then, a week later, when new guys come in, they’re the ones not sleeping and you’re the one snoring.” “In the Donbass, cats and chickens don’t move a centimeter when it falls 100 meters.” Nicolas, a Frenchman left to fight in Ukraine at franceinfo Getting used to everything? Well almost. He continues to feel unwell from the sight of the wounds caused by the shells. “We talk a lot about the dead, but the wounded … These are arms, legs less. Rockets do not necessarily kill, but they tear bodies apart, he laments, passing his hands over his chest. Amputation is often the only solution.” And then, how to get used to death lurking? With a gloomy air, he evokes those Ukrainian fathers he met in the hollow of the trenches. “They show you in video to their children, and two days later, you learn that they were killed. It’s abominable, he says. You want to cry.” The last time he was really scared? “When we took the sky over our heads. Above us, there were 37 rockets stored. If we had been hit, the shelter would have been shattered. If you do anything, it’s over .” No place for the unconscious on the front. “Filtering the barjos and the fascists” is precisely the job of Franck-Olivier, professor of history-geography in Paris. At the beginning of March, despite his total lack of military experience, he decided to leave for Ukraine. Upon arrival, he was instructed to train civilians in kyiv, “in case the Russians returned”. He reads CVs, conducts interviews and gives a “favorable” opinion or not. It is mainly Americans, Australians, Canadians, South Africans, Britons who sit at his desk. He ended up firing two young Americans ‘anti-Russian to death’ who had ‘a pronounced taste for arms’. Nor was there any question of wasting time with a compatriot who ‘had had problems with the French services on his return from Syria”. A teacher in France, Franck-Olivier joined Ukraine at the beginning of March 2022 to join the Georgian Legion, a paramilitary group. (FRANCK-OLIVIER JUTIER) Franck-Olivier takes the opportunity to assess everyone’s level of English. speaking the language of Shakespeare is essential. Finally, officially: Nicolas, rather comfortable, has already come across a unit where “it only spoke Ukrainian”. No choice, “you take out your phone, you put Google Translate and you type ‘weapon’, you type ‘food’, and you manage with that…” But the language barrier does not only have inconveniences: “It’s something that preserves us, we don’t is not always aware of the injured and the dead”, points out the volunteer from Besançon . “In reality, when it’s shit, when it really stinks of death or defeat, you quickly see it in their heads. The day we lost several men, I quickly understood that something was wrong not.” Nicolas, a Frenchman who went to fight in Ukraine at franceinfo Some bad news circulates more easily than others. Like the death of French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff on May 30, followed by the death of a French fighter three days later. More recently, the intention of pro-Russian separatist republics to sentence foreign fighters to death has spread rapidly among international volunteers, forcing the Ukrainian International Legion to react. “Executing prisoners of war is a war crime,” she said in a statement. Besides that, rumors are rife. If he dies in combat, a Frenchman has heard that his family should give “between 25,000 and 40,000 euros” to the Russians to recover his remains. “Same price” for Americans. On the other hand, “in the Donbass, it is more expensive because it is the separatists who are in charge”, continues this volunteer who prefers to remain anonymous. But he still manages to joke about it: “My family collects the money for my body, but if I come back alive, they give it to me to go to Ibiza.” Laugh to forget. Like Franck with his bushy beard, for example. The former para passed by Niger takes advantage of this: in Ukraine, “shaving is no longer compulsory”. But what to say and what not to say to relatives who remained in France? Ernesto calls his 3 year old son on WhatsApp. Franck-Olivier swore to his daughter that he was going to “do humanitarian work”. Nicolas will have taken three months before writing to his best friend. “I couldn’t do it,” he breathes. Today, he only communicates with his big sister, because “it was too hard for the others”. “Having contact with the outside world is both good and bad. Here we are in June, I sometimes dream of a mojito on the beach at La Grande-Motte. Thinking about family, it is to weaken.” And then to tell them what? That he happened to be “very happy to have found a packet of dehydrated noodles”, to have lit a fire “to boil rainwater”, “that your inflatable mattress is still alive” ? “What do you say to someone who asks you if you’ve hurt or killed enemies?” A French fighter in Ukraine at franceinfo For five days, Ernesto’s parents lived “hell”: “They thought I was dead. All because someone commented on one of my photos on Instagram saying that I had was captured and killed, says, still very affected, the sniper who passed through Afghanistan and Mali. I was unreachable at that time. One of his comrades will eventually join his relatives to deny the information and reassure them. Nevertheless: Ernesto will learn afterwards that his father had contacted the French government for the repatriation of his child’s body. “I ended up reading all the messages that my relatives had sent each other. It’s unbearable. They were already against me going to Ukraine. So after that…” “After that”, life will not be more the same. This conflict two hours by plane from Paris is transforming them. In mid-June, Ernesto returned to his home in Saint-Tropez for a few days. “To clear my mind, I went to the Monaco Grand Prix to party with some friends. The truth is that I can’t do it, I’m not into it.” I had a hard time having drinks while the Ukrainians are getting bombed. My body was there, not my head.” Ernesto, a Frenchman who went to fight in Ukraine at franceinfo Today, when Nicolas hears trains collide at the station, “my first instinct is to know where my weapon is , my waistcoat and my helmet”. But not all the French volunteers interviewed are clinging to the war. Fred, a former Army officer in charge of the deployment of tricolor fighters in Ukraine, has several round trips to his credit. between the south of France where he lives and Ukraine.”In all, I made three stays, each time between a week and two weeks”, he calculates, well obliged to run his business from automobile glazing. Franck-Olivier, he returned to France at the end of May. “I was told to come back, that everyone was exhausted”, confides the teacher. Between the lines, he understands that his 6-year-old daughter ” was at the maximum of what she could bear”. And then, it’s also a way of protecting herself. “I had gone around the missi ons that one could entrust to me. We are not commandos either.” Franck-Olivier, a Frenchman who left for Ukraine at franceinfo From his Paris apartment, he frequently worries about some of his comrades who have remained in combat. He thinks of someone one in particular, a seasoned soldier: “I’m afraid he will isolate himself and disappear in the Ukrainian conflict. For the moment, neither Nicolas nor Franck are yet thinking of returning to France. The first s “The end of the war” is set as the horizon. “Abandoning the Ukrainians would be cowardly”, he decides before quoting Albert Einstein: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” In his last message sent to the Signal application, he warned us: “I am busy at the moment.” Another Frenchman is to join his battalion soon.


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