British father who travelled to Ukraine to fight Russia flees

British father who travelled to Ukraine to ‘join resistance’ against Russia flees back to UK fearing a ‘suicide mission’ and after ‘getting some real grief’ from his wife and son, 16

  • Ben Spann, 36, returned to the UK fearing he joined a ‘suicide mission’ in Ukraine
  • Chose to return after ‘getting some real grief’ from his wife and son, 16, at home
  • He had flown into Poland and then crossed over to Ukraine to ‘join the resistance’

A British father who travelled to Ukraine to ‘join the resistance’ against Russia has fled back to the UK. 

Ben Spann, 36, returned to the UK after becoming worried he had joined a ‘suicide mission’ after he got ‘some real grief’ from his wife and son, 16, for travelling to the war zone. 

Spann, from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, went to Ukraine because he ‘thought it was the right thing to do’ despite having no military experience or connections to the country. 

He spent five days in a safe house in western Ukraine with four former British soldiers before deciding it was an ‘absolute nightmare’ and fleeing back to the UK.   

But Spann, who founded the charity Change Your Life Put Down Your Knife, told Sky News he now ‘regrets’ leaving Ukraine and the older soldiers because ‘I feel like I let them down a little bit’.   

However, he recommended that other ‘non-military people’ not to travel to Ukraine because they ‘can be more of a burden’. 

Ben Spann, 36, has fled back to the UK after travelling to Ukraine to ‘join the resistance’ against Russia because he got ‘some real grief’ from his wife and son, 16, for going to the war zone

Spann (pictured with men in military gear in Ukraine) went to Ukraine because he ‘thought it was the right thing to do’ despite having no military experience or connections to the country

Spann did not tell his family he was travelling to fight against Russia, telling them instead that he planned to help refugees in Poland. 

He flew from Stansted to Szczecin, Poland, took a coach to the Ukrainian border and then walked into Kyiv’s territory with four ex-British soldiers he had met on the journey. 

He arrived in the middle of the night, in -6C conditions, and pitched up in a safe house with several other volunteers, Spann said.

The ‘tiny’ accommodation had no beds or running water and was ‘a bit of a shock’ because it was ‘like walking into a crack den in England’.

Spann and his new friends waited at the safe house for three days for a transport to bring them weapons, but it never came. 

Instead the group were greeted by a 10-strong Ukrainian SWAT team who were suspicious of their motives because none of them had joined the foreign legion – an official group of mercenaries invite by President Zelensky to help fight Russia.

Spann and the other volunteers were held hostage ‘with AK-47s pointed at our heads for 20-30 minutes, with our hands on our heads’ while the Ukrainian team searched the safe house. 

But the ‘whole atmosphere changed’ when the Ukrainian soldiers realised the Brits were there to join the fight against Russia.

Tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries travelled to Ukraine after Kyiv’s Defence Ministry put out a call for international volunteers in a Facebook post in the first week of the war. 

‘JOIN THE INTERNATIONAL LEGION OF TERRITORIAL DEFENSE FORCES OF UKRAINE!.’ it said. ‘If your citizenship other than Ukrainian, but you are standing with Ukraine against Russian invasion. If praying is not enough for you.

‘If you want actively participate in fighting for European freedom and democracy. If you have combat experience or want to gain it standing with brave Ukrainian defenders. THIS IS TIME TO ACT!’  

A man, who didn’t disclose his nationality, carries a rifle bag as he looks for a train to head to Ukraine to join the fight against the Russian invasion on Wednesday in Przemysl, Poland

Thousands of foreign mercenaries travelled to Ukraine after Kyiv’s Defence Ministry put out a call for international volunteers in a Facebook post in the first week of the war 

The next day Spann’s group were taken to a weapons base. On the way, the group were treated to a grisly display of two dead Russian soldiers ‘propped up, sat upright with their hats over their faces’ at a checkpoint, Spann said. 

He described the sight as a ‘warning to the Russians’ and made him ‘realise that things are getting real’ because these men ‘were prepared to go and fight and basically die together’.

But the group did not get hold of any weapons and were returned to the safe house, making Spann doubt the reasons he had travelled to Ukraine. 

At this point, he said, he ‘was getting some real grief off my wife and my son… my son was doubting whether I even cared about him, why I was doing this – same with my wife.’

It was a turning point for Spann who left the former soldiers who had decided to travel further into Ukraine and started his journey home. 

He said the border crossing ‘reminded me of a cattle market’ and said ‘the tension was high’ with people ‘pushing and shoving… kids screaming and crying’. 

‘It was snowing. It was cold. My feet were like ice… People had been there for hours and just wanted to get across.’

A man who did not want to be identified prepares to enter Ukraine to join the fight against the Russian army at the Medyka border crossing on Thursday at Medyka, Poland

Mike (not seen) and Alex from the United Kingdom who served in Afghanistan as paramedics arrive at the Polish Ukrainian border crossing looking for transport to Lviv to join the fight against the Russian invasion

Once over the border, Spann stayed in a refugee centre in Lublin, Poland, before flying back to the UK, where he faced the wrath of his ‘pretty p***** off’ wife who then threatened to kick him out. 

Spann told Sky News he has patched things up with his wife and son who ‘never went through the anger process’ and was just ‘happy and glad I was back out of there’. 

It comes a day after it was revealed Russia deliberately blew up foreign fighters and arms shipments at a Ukrainian base close to the Polish border on Sunday.  

Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s ministry of defence, said the base at Yavoriv – 12 miles from NATO territory – was struck by ‘long-range, high-precision’ weapons because it was hosting ‘foreign mercenaries and a large shipment of foreign weapons’. 

He added: ‘The destruction of foreign mercenaries who arrived on the territory of Ukraine will continue.’

Konashenkov said up to 180 people had been killed in the strike, though Ukraine says 35 people died and another 134 were wounded. 

Bombs fell on the base early Sunday morning, with witnesses saying many of the foreign recruits were sleeping when the strike was carried out. Foreigners are thought to be among the victims.

British military veterans at the base who survived the attack, described hearing the sound of incoming engines before several large blasts destroyed one building, damaged another, and sprayed shell fragments through the air. It is thought the base was hit by Russian cruise missiles as opposed to fighter jets. 

Russia says the base (pictured) was targeted because it was hosting foreign ‘mercenaries’ and weapons shipments, adding that such raids would continue

Russian airstrikes caused heavy damage to a Ukrainian military base in Yavoriv, just 12 miles from the Polish border, on Sunday – killing at least 35 people and leaving 134 more wounded

Around 1,000 foreigners were at the base at the time it was hit, Ukraine said, and are expected to be among the victims – though no official word has been given yet (pictured, a man wounded at the base)

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