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Brit soldiers have 'disobeyed orders and gone AWOL' to fight in Ukraine
10 March 2022, 06:54 | Updated: 10 March 2022, 07:14
British soldiers have "disobeyed orders and gone absent without leave", the army has confirmed.
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Defence secretary Ben Wallace said they risk facing a court martial for desertion if they go to fight the Russian invasion, and warned they would not go out there for a selfie but for a "real" war.
Four British troops - including a 19-year-old Coldstream Guardsman - are feared to have journeyed to Ukraine following the Russian invasion.
According to The Sun, the teenage Coldstream Guardsman, who was based out of Windsor barracks, wrote a goodbye letter to his parents and bought a ticket to Poland to go and fight.
A spokesperson for the army confirmed a small number had gone AWOL and they may have travelled to Ukraine "in a personal capacity", while the military is "strongly encouraging them to return to the UK."
Mr Wallace told MPs in the House of Commons that serving personnel going to Ukraine "will be breaking the law and they will be prosecuted when they return for going absent without leave or deserting".
People who are not in the military are also strongly discouraged from signing up, Mr Wallace said.
"The Ukrainians are very clear: you turn up, you are in it for the whole game. You are not in it for a selfie and six weeks, you are in it for real," he added.
"I think we have seen already some people at the borders find that may be not be the right option to follow."
The Ministry of Defence warned British soldiers that they are banned from travelling to Ukraine after reports emerged that four serving squaddies travelled to the country of their own accord to fight.
All travel to Ukraine is banned under official UK military advice. Security chiefs are racing to try to intercept them.
Putin has previously warned of "consequences greater than any you have faced in history" for any foreign powers who attempted to intervene.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has since said all service personnel are banned from travelling to Ukraine.
"All service personnel are prohibited from travelling to Ukraine until further notice," said a MoD spokesperson.
"This applies whether the service person is on leave or not.
"Personnel travelling to Ukraine will face disciplinary and administrative consequences."
The teenage soldier later posted a photo of his boots on Snapchat, according to the paper.
The MoD said it would not comment on specific cases.
The Defence Secretary previously said he did not "want to see British people killed any more than I want to see Ukrainians" dying - but Liz Truss earlier said she would "absolutely" support British nationals who chose to go to help fight against the Russian invasion.
Downing Street then appeared to side with Mr Wallace, with Boris Johnson's official spokesperson saying they "fully recognise the strength of feeling" but they "currently advise against travel to Ukraine".
The spokesperson pointed to other ways Brits could help Ukrainian people.
UK military advice states that going to Ukraine to fight, or to assist others engaged in the conflict, may be against the law and could lead to prosecution.
Another issue is that the UK has limited consular support in Ukraine, and is unlikely to be able to offer assistance to anyone in the country.
It is understood that UK defence chiefs are keenly aware of the desire among people back home who want to help the Ukrainians after the Russian invasion, but the only support they can provide is defensive in nature.
The UK is working with its allies to provide a range of support to Ukraine, including to enhance the nation's defence capability.
Russia invaded Ukraine nearly two weeks ago.
In its latest intelligence update, the MoD said Russian forces had failed to make any significant breakthroughs in combat northwest of Kyiv, but that fighting continues.
It said the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol "remain encircled by Russian forces and continue to suffer heavy Russian shelling".
But it added: "Ukrainian air defences appear to have enjoyed considerable success against Russia’s modern combat aircraft, probably preventing them achieving any degree of control of the air."