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70 Japanese apply to become volunteer soldiers in Ukraine, many ex-SDF personnel

Ukraine's national flag (Mainichi/Shinsaku Mano)

TOKYO -- As of March 1, about 70 Japanese nationals had applied to become volunteer foreign soldiers in Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, it was revealed by officials connected with the Embassy of Ukraine in Japan.

    All of the volunteers are men, and many are former officials in the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Among reasons reportedly given for putting their names forward were, "If young people in Ukraine are to die, then I will fight."

    On Feb. 27, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the formation of a foreign legion comprising volunteers from abroad. On the same day, the Embassy of Ukraine in Japan posted a message on Twitter calling for "people who wish to fight together."

    According to a source close to a private firm in Tokyo entrusted by the embassy with gathering volunteers, applications from around 70 people had been received by the night of March 1, and about 50 of them are former SDF members. Two of the volunteers also have experience in the French Foreign Legion.

    Ukraine intends to pay individuals who serve, but the embassy's tweet uses the term "volunteers." The source connected with the embassy said that many putting their names forward did so with "pure motivations," and said they offered reasons including that "being in Japan I can't be much help, but I want to do something to help."

    The Japanese government has assigned all of Ukraine with travel warning level 4 -- the highest classification -- which calls for people to evacuate the area. At a March 1 press conference, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi emphasized, "We are aware that the Embassy of Ukraine in Japan is making those calls (for volunteer soldiers), but regardless of the aim, we ask that people do not travel to Ukraine."

    The embassy will decide whether or not to actually dispatch volunteer soldiers in discussions with the Japanese government, and it is possible they would be tasked with humanitarian aid and other roles.

    (Japanese original by Yusuke Kaite and Shu Hatakeyama, Political News Department)

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