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U.S. vets fighting for Ukraine in war with Russia don't want American support to wane


As the war in Ukraine approaches its third year, the conflict has become a political football to some members of Congress, but it remains very real to people on the front lines. And some of those people are, in fact, Americans. The U.S. military is not officially engaged in Russia's war with Ukraine, but hundreds of Americans signed up to join the fight anyway, and more than 30 have been killed. And as others return home, they're urging Congress to send more help to Kyiv. Mark Jannetta is with us now. He is a former U.S. Army infantryman who served in Ukraine's International Legion in 2022 and 2023. Mark Jannetta, thank you so much for joining us.

MARK JANNETTA: Thank you. I appreciate you having me.

MARTIN: Could you just give us the - I mean, it's sort of the obvious question. What made you want to - having served the United States, what made you want to do this?

JANNETTA: There's a lot of answers to it, really, but ultimately it's a pretty simple answer. This is a classic war of good versus evil. I don't think there's any ambiguity as to which side is good and which side is evil in this instance. So it was a pretty simple choice. And so I just took the opportunity to act rather than just have good sentiments about it.

MARTIN: I understand what you're saying, but I think people feel there's lots of ways to serve. I mean, you can write your members of Congress, right? You can send supplies. You can help sort of civilians. And so this is a very particular form of service.

JANNETTA: Well, I'm just a basic infantryman, so there's not necessarily anything special about my skill set, but it's just Ukraine's a relatively young military compared to America. We are the premier military on the battlefield. We are second only to God himself in terms of our power and might. And so to go over there and help share the knowledge that we have as Americans is invaluable.

MARTIN: And you're not Ukrainian by heritage.

JANNETTA: I'm not. I actually was raised in England, so I'm actually British first and then became an American in 2011, served for three years, went to Afghanistan. And when this war kicked off, I saw the opportunity to rejoin and help out, so I did.

MARTIN: Would you mind sharing some of your experiences there? What is your sense of the war effort?

JANNETTA: The sense would be they need a lot more. They're holding out, but this war will go according to the will of America, and they very much do need our supplies or Western supplies. This is a beautiful culture, a beautiful people, and they're just being destroyed by Russians that don't bring anything to the table. There's no upgrade in society. There's no upgrade in culture. There's only death and destruction. I think the Ukrainians are struggling to hold them off, but they're doing an amazing job because it's their home. They believe in it. They've got no choice. You know, imagine America being invaded. What would we do to fight them off? We wouldn't let one state fall.

MARTIN: So you've been privy to what seems to be kind of waning U.S. support for the Ukrainians', you know, war effort. Just wondering, how does that strike you after having been there yourself?

JANNETTA: I think people largely are ignoring what's going on. I think it's easy to do. You've got everything else going on with Israel and other places in the world, so it's becoming a secondary story. But the consequences of not standing up to Russia are still there, whether we like it or not. We can pay now or we can pay later kind of thing, because it's just a domino effect. If Ukraine falls, then what's next?

MARTIN: I understand that you and others who have served overseas have been trying to speak to lawmakers to express that. Have you had a chance to speak with some lawmakers?

JANNETTA: Yes. We've been going around different offices here in D.C. with a delegation under the Weathermen Foundation. They helped rescue myself and other wounded soldiers off - you know, basically get us out of Ukraine and get us to Germany for care once we were wounded. They also helped bring back the remains of killed in action. We went around the offices and spoke to staffers and a handful of senators and just trying to advocate for Ukraine funding and support for Ukraine.

MARTIN: Were you able to speak with Republicans as well as Democrats?

JANNETTA: We did, yes. Mostly it's the ones that seem to already be in favor, to be honest. There were some offices that didn't see us. Maybe they're trying to hide from the confrontation, if you like, but there was a handful of offices that did see us.

MARTIN: Well, there is some suggestion in sort of analyzing public opinion that suggests that - and I don't mean to be crass in expressing this, but just for shorthand - that Americans like winners and that support for the war effort has waned as some see it not going well.

JANNETTA: Yeah. Well, nobody wants a forever war, and no one wants another Afghanistan where it just drags and drags, and we have the ability, I think, to just end it. What I've seen of the Russian military versus what I know of the American military, having served, is there's no comparison. Like, if we actually went in there as America or even the West went in there with one of our militaries, we would just wipe the floor clean with them. But that's not how this is fighting. This is Ukrainians who are a lot less in numbers, a lot less well equipped. They don't have the training and the experience the Western military has, and so they're putting up - for what they've got, they're putting up an amazing fight.

MARTIN: Is there something that you would be willing to share about any way in which this experience has affected you, has changed you as a person?

JANNETTA: You know, I got injured. I got hit with a grenade, and my battle buddy Tommy (ph), he was there. He saved my life, saved my leg. I'm actually going to his funeral 'cause he was killed in Ukraine. And...

MARTIN: I'm sorry.

JANNETTA: ...For me, I'm just - I appreciate it. I'm just grateful to be alive. I'm grateful for him. So it gives you kind of a new perspective. And even on the Russian side, you know, I even have compassion for them because I know many of them don't want to be there, and this ultimately comes down to their leadership that's sending them to their deaths. They come out in waves, and they're just mowed down. It's just tragic to see. For me personally, I'm just grateful to have survived that. But I'm not going to forget, and so that's why I'm doing this interview and talking to Congress, just trying to keep awareness alive and hopefully save lives rather than see more destroyed.

MARTIN: That's Mark Jannetta. He's a former U.S. Army infantryman who served in Ukraine's International Legion in 2022 and 2023, and he's one of the American veterans calling on Congress for additional war aid for Ukraine. Mr. Jannetta, thank you for speaking with us, and thank you for all of your service. And thank you for sharing these thoughts with us.

JANNETTA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTENT'S "PULSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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