My two years fighting on the Ukrainian front line

Shareef Amin went to Ukraine at the outbreak of war and, after suffering injuries, still trains troops at the heart of the battle

Volunteer British fighter Shareef Amin in Ukraine. He was injured on the front line but has now returned. Photo: Shareef Amin
Powered by automated translation

Shareef Amin is no stranger to war.

After years of fighting in Afghanistan, the British army veteran felt unable to sit back when he saw the “awful” situation in Ukraine unfold two years ago.

He funded his own kit and flights and travelled to Ukraine to help share his knowledge and train soldiers.

Initially helping with medical supplies, the 41-year-old from Bristol ended up fighting in a “foreign legion”, at one point nearly being killed in a Russian ambush.

“I had served for 11 years in the army and I thought maybe I could use my training to help Ukraine troops, and I ended up on the front line,” he told The National.

“Two years ago Ukraine’s president put out a call to the world for help and there are now thousands and thousands of foreigners answering this call, it's awe-inspiring.”

“This war is bloody and only getting more so. The things I've seen and experienced I can only describe as brutal and it is hard to believe it is happening to a civilised country.”

He said nothing prepares you for the reality of the horrific mutilation that can happen on the battlefield, helping to put corpses on lorries or witnessing someone “being evaporated”.

“Civilian villages and cities targeted for no other reason than being Ukrainian, it's shocking.”

He said international support is vital for a “free democracy fighting a brutal dictatorship”.

He said: “We need more support from the world – supplies, weapons and soldiers, medics, teachers and volunteers.”

Surgeons feared he would not survive

After seven months of action, Mr Amin suffered serious injuries when he and his colleagues came under attack from two tanks and artillery fire near Odesa.

After carrying out first aid on his friend, who had been hit by shrapnel, and putting him into a trench for safety, he was then blown off his feet by a second explosion.

A colleague next to him was killed and he found himself buried underneath him, until the soldier he had earlier helped pulled him out.

"At the end of the day I don't want to die, but I want to help save lives and keep making a difference.”

Mr Amin suffered shrapnel injuries, gunshot wounds and two punctured lungs, but managed to crawl through the mud to get help and was evacuated to hospital.

Doctors feared he would not survive, but British charity ReactAid travelled to Ukraine and airlifted him to the UK, where he spent months recovering.

Despite his close call he has now returned to Ukraine and is part of a medical response and rescue team teaching troops how to carry out life-saving treatment in the trenches.

He is part of a combat unit called the Dark Angels, which is part of the Special Intelligence Defence, or GUR, run by General Kyrylo Budanov, who has survived 10 assassination attempts by the Russians.

Mr Amin said he was compelled to return to Ukraine, despite being unable to “storm into trenches” any longer.

“I was shot three times and blown up, my insides hanging out, my arm was hanging off, both my lungs were punctured, my right leg was tangled up in metal, I had 20 pieces of metal in my back. Just to give up after all that … it is difficult to say 'OK, that’s enough'. So I came back to help Ukraine,” he said.

He is hoping his work will save lives by helping with medical evacuations and urgent trauma treatment.

He still sees the horrors of war, and the fear of the Ukrainian population. He is currently in a city not in imminent danger, “but I had rockets over my head, drones running around the city, and it was right above my head and I could hear guns, boom, boom, but everyone was asleep.

“There are no soldiers here and it is just madness. Why are they targeting innocent people?”

Mr Amin plans to remain in Ukraine until the very end.

“When the war is over I plan to stay here and help them rebuild and help with security,” he said.

“At the end of the day I don't want to die, but I want to help save lives and keep making a difference.”

Two years of the Russia-Ukraine war – in pictures

Updated: February 23, 2024, 12:53 PM