A Briton who has joined a controversial Ukrainian military unit says he is ready to spend the next year defending against invading Russia – and he has not been deterred by the capture of other Britons.
Mark Ayres has spent the last two months at Ukraine after joining the Azov Regiment, which has far-right origins – insisting he challenged some members on their beliefs, and those he met were not “freaks and psychopaths”.
The 47-year-old British Army veteran, who has a teenage son in the UK, spoke to Sky News for the first time upon his arrival in Ukraine early March, although he has no connection to the country.
Since then, Mr. Ayres says he has helped the Azov Regiment defend the town of Bucha, where Russia is accused of committing war crimes with massacres and torture, rape and murder of civilians.
He has now been told he must wait in kyiv to sign a contract with the Ukrainian army before taking part in any further military action, after several Britons were captured by Vladimir Putin’s troops.
Mr Ayres – who has already traveled to Syria to join the battle against Islamic State – said he had “no problem” spending the next 18 months in Ukraine “until the fighting cease”.
He told Sky News: “Hopefully I get home – not in a body bag – all intact.
“I have no problem with a year or a year and a half (in Ukraine).
“If (Putin’s) operation had gone as planned, Moldova would have been next, then he would have watched other countries and maybe pushed NATO, who knows.”
“They are not monsters and psychopaths”
Mr Ayres says he had reservations about joining the Azov regiment, which was originally a far-right paramilitary unit and is now part of Ukraine’s National Guard.
The regiment’s track record was used by the Kremlin to justify its claim that Ukraine needed to be “denazified”.
However, in March, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskywho is Jewish, awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine to an Azov commander.
Mr Ayres told Sky News: “By accident I joined the Azov unit. It would have been my last choice of unit but I’m pretty glad I did.
“It’s not the freaks and psychopaths that I imagine to be neo-Nazis – I mean they’re not all like that.
“A lot of them are just fine guys with stupid opinions.
“I say to my buddy, ‘I don’t understand how you can say you’re a neo-Nazi when you’re a decent guy, with decent morals. And he said, ‘Well, I’m not really…’
“It’s like they’re playing it. They’re caught up in wanting to belong to something that grabs them. It’s so stupid.”
Mr Ayres said a member of his company was a “Ukrainian Jew”.
“There are probably psychopaths in the battalion but I haven’t encountered any yet,” he added.
“I don’t think I would be tortured or killed”
Mr Ayres said he was aware there was ‘a possibility’ he could be captured by Russian troops, but he believes being British means he is more likely to be kept alive because it would be “very precious”.
He added: “I would probably be roughed up and interrogated and stuff like that, but I don’t think I would really be tortured…or killed.”
Ayres said he personally knows Aiden Aslin – one of the two British fighters captured by Russian forces in Ukraine – because they were both in Syria at the same time.
Two British aid workers were also capturedwhile an army veteran Scott Sibley was the first known British national to die in the Ukrainian war.
Mr Ayres, who previously served with the Royal Green Jackets before being released after a robbery conviction, said joining military action in Ukraine was “like being a soldier again”.
“I took part in two operations (in Ukraine),” he said.
“With Bucha, we were on the right flank across the river, holding positions while our left flank attacked them and pushed them out of Bucha.
“It’s very artillery heavy. Major battles.
“I haven’t really seen any fighting, it’s just artillery. I just get run over by artillery.”
He added: “When you’re really shelled, you can die at any time – all it takes is a shell falling on you.
“I wouldn’t say I was scared. You are aware of what can happen.”
Briton who traveled to Ukraine to join military fight quits fears of ‘suicide mission’
Briton who volunteered to fight against Russia refused as he would be ‘a handicap’
“A guy fired an anti-tank missile into his room”
Mr Ayres, who is from London but lives in Bedford, said he believed his unit no longer wanted to take on Western volunteers lacking military experience.
“They don’t want people to come, then train and gear up, then leave,” he added.
“I think there was a geezer who fired an anti-tank missile into his room and screwed up.
“Just trouble. They always cause trouble.”
The Foreign Office has warned that Britons traveling to Ukraine to fight could be prosecuted when they return to the UK.
However, Mr Ayres said those seeking prosecution ‘would have no footing to stand on’ after the remarks by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss who supported the British wanting to go to Ukraine to fight.
He said he had already been arrested after returning from Syria three times, but had not been subject to any further action.
“I’m still focused on what’s going on here, but I don’t think there will be any repercussions,” Mr Ayres added.
Mr Ayres said he was now staying in a building in Kyiv as his unit moved to eastern Ukraine to confront Russian troops.
“At the moment it’s like before the war. Everyone is coming back to Kyiv now. Everything is working.
“Before, it was like a ghost town.”
He added that he manages to talk to his 16-year-old son once every two or three weeks.
Follow the daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
Asked what his son thinks of his father’s involvement in military combat in Ukraine, he replied: “He doesn’t really say.
“I only get one word of response from him…he’s that age.”