An investigation by the Kyiv Independent has uncovered huge problems at a unit of the International Legion overseen by Ukrainian intelligence.
According to several sources of the Kyiv paper, several commanders of the unit are responsible for arms and product theft, sexual harassment, assault and sending soldiers on suicide missions.
The allegations, presented by the Kyiv Independent, are based on interviews with legionnaires, written testimony from more than a dozen former and current members of the legion, and a 78-page report compiled on problems within this particular unit of the International Legion.
The International Legion
The International Legion consists of two wings. One is controlled by the Ukrainian Army and the other by the Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence (Ukrainian acronym GUR). The statements in this article refer to the GUR-controlled wing of the Legion.
According to the sources of the Kyiv Independent, this unit was said to number as many as 500, making up about a third of the International Legion.
Officially, this wing of the legion is commanded by Major Vadim Popik. Popik’s right-hand men are Major Taras Vassuk (known to soldiers as „young Taras”), an intelligence officer in his late 20s or early 30s, according to foreign fighters; Vassuk’s uncle, also Taras (known as „old” Taras), also an intelligence officer; and 60-year-old Sasha Kuchinsky.
The legionnaires accuse the trio of various crimes. The main charges against the two Taras relate to sending soldiers on suicide missions.
However, the charges against Sasha Kuchinsky go beyond that.
As well as sending fighters to their deaths, according to the legionnaires, Kuchinsky forced them to help him loot shops. The fighters told the Kyiv Independent that he also drinks heavily and abuses his subordinates.
Another soldier, an American Jew, told the Kyiv Independent that the legion’s Jewish soldiers had experienced Kuchinsky’s antisemitism on several occasions.
The American volunteer, however, stressed that he had never encountered anything like it anywhere else in the Ukrainian army.
According to the soldier, Kuchinsky once demanded that he give him some of his equipment. When the soldier refused, Kuchinsky pointed a gun at him.
„And then Sasha started yelling”
– the soldier recalled.
„And he raised his gun at me in front of the interpreter. And I said, ‘Do you want to shoot me? Are you going to shoot me?’”
– the soldier continued.
According to another US legionnaire, Kuchinsky also harassed female medics in their unit, using sexual innuendos against them. According to the US soldier, the legion doctors filed a complaint, but no one did anything. The foreign doctor he knew who was harassed by Kuchinsky is no longer serving in the legion and has since left Ukraine.
However, Kuchinsky remains in a de facto command position in the legion to this day, despite complaints from his subordinates and despite the fact that under Ukrainian law he cannot hold a senior position in the army as a foreigner.
According to the sources of the Kyiv Independent Legion, Sasha Kuchinsky is not his real name.
He is allegedly Piotr Kapuściński, a former member of a criminal organization in Poland.
At the request of the Kyiv Independent, staff of the investigative journalism group Bellingcat ran a comparison of photos of Sasha Kuchinsky provided by the Legionnaires and photos of Piotr Kapuściński from Polish media. The results support the conclusion that the photos depict the same person.
In Poland, Kapuściński is wanted for fraud and faces up to eight years in prison. According to Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, he has served time before.
He fled Poland in 2014 and turned up in Ukraine two years later. In Ukraine, he was investigated for robbery and sexual assault in October 2016, but was only charged with robbery. He was arrested in November 2016 and spent more than a year behind bars.
In 2017, Warsaw asked Kyiv to hand him over, but the Ukrainian authorities said they would bring him to trial themselves first.
Kapuściński resurfaced in May 2021, when law enforcement officers searched his vehicle and found a semi-automatic pistol and ammunition, as well as explosives in a building he was using. He faced up to seven years in prison for illegal weapons possession, but was released almost immediately on bail of nearly $2,500.
After the war broke out in February, Kapuściński joined the army and his case was suspended by a Ukrainian court.
Kapuściński’s criminal record did not prevent him from joining the Legion and taking a leading role. By law, all foreign recruits must pass a background check before joining the Ukrainian army.
It is not clear whether a criminal record is a disqualifying factor.
In Ukraine, citizens can serve in the military even if they are under criminal investigation or have been convicted. However, the law does not apply to foreign nationals. Therefore, when a Ukrainian court suspended Kapuściński’s case and refunded his bail, it applied the same standard that applies to Ukrainians.
Waiting for a solution
The foreign soldiers say they did not want to publicize the scandal in the International Legion and tried to resolve the issue behind the scenes.
First they complained to their commanders, then to lawmakers, and finally they went all the way to the president’s office. Since the legion was created on the orders of Zelensky, the foreign fighters were counting on the support of the government, but they didn’t get much help from it.
According to the soldiers, things got even worse, as those who had raised the alarm about the legion’s leadership felt under pressure and were threatened.
Meanwhile, many left the unit.
„There were some really good special (forces) guys. A lot of them literally just said, ‘No, thank you. We can’t work like this anymore'”
– said one US soldier.
Those who remain in the unit want it to continue to help Ukraine stand up to Russia. To do that effectively, they say, the legion needs new leadership.
„I have very, very good experiences with everyone in the Ukrainian Army except Sasha and Taras”
– said one U.S. soldier.
„I always just kept my mouth shut, so to speak. It’s just that people like Sasha really discredit the whole thing.”
– he added.