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Irish soldier in Ukraine on Russian kill list faces 'slow and brutal death' if captured

Updated: May 21

Picture: Rhys Byrne, 28, from Dublin, Ireland at an undisclosed location in Ukraine

By Jeff Farrell


Irish Mirror

January 30, 2023

AN Irish soldier in Ukraine who is on a Russian kill list with a $50,000 bounty on his head said he is “guaranteed a slow and brutal death” if captured.

Rhys Byrne, 28, from Santry, Dublin, is attached to the International Freedom Fighters who operate on the front lines and in territory seized after Putin’s illegal invasion last February.

He is one of more than 400 foreign fighters on the dossier of death drawn up by the Kremlin.

Rhys believes Moscow’s spies compiled the names through their network of spooks in Ukraine.

Kyiv’s own SBU spy chiefs found the catalogue of foreign targets through its network.

Rhys’ name is among 14 Irish names, including one female under the heading Ireland.

Video: Rhys Byrne patrols the site of the abandoned German consulate in Kyiv following a Kremlin missile strike on October 10, 2022, that left at least one dead

He said: “It’s for the capture of anyone on that list who is a foreign fighter because we were seen as the enemy. I think they [Russians] just got names and said, ‘Right let’s just scare the foreigners’.

“If I get captured by the Russians, I am guaranteed a slow and brutal death, because I’m covered in anti-Russian tattoos.

“If I get captured they consider us war criminals. We would be charged in a Russian court and then executed.

“They wouldn’t get that far with me. They’ll just f***ing kill me.

“If they capture me, I don’t know how that scenario would occur, because when I’m on the frontline I always keep a round [of bullets] for my pistol and rifle for me.

“I also keep a grenade for myself as I don’t plan on getting captured.”

Picture: Rhys Byrne, 28, is attached to the International Freedom Fighters in Ukraine

The Irish Mirror secured the “hit list’ in Ukraine from a Danish foreign fighter who was also on the dossier.

Rhys revealed the Ukrainian military contacted him last September to confirm he was a target for Moscow.

He added gardai also called to also warn him he was in the Kremlin’s sights.

He said: “They [gardai] advised me on this and that but I spoke to one of them, I turned on my camera [and showed his assault weapon], I said, ‘I’ve got my own hardware. I’m not worried about it’.”

Rhys added the danger is if Moscow’s forces corner him on the battlefield but he has no fears they can target him in Ukrainian-held territory. He said: “If the death squads come for me, I’m in a military unit, [so] you’ve got to infiltrate it.

“If anyone comes in to take me out, he’s not getting out, so you have to send someone suicidal and someone suicidal doesn’t’ really think through plans. So I’m not too worried about it at all, and when I’m in country [in Ukraine], I always have my weapon with me 24/7.

Picture: Rhys Byrne with retired Ukraine miltiary dog Chazar, a Cane Corso

“I am 100% ready to die if necessary. I don’t want to die and it’s not because I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid of what dying will do to the people left to mourn, who care about me, because they’re the ones who suffer.

“I have to get back [home] for their sake. If I didn’t have any family members and people I know who care for me, I probably would have died already, because what would I have to live and fight for?”

Rhys added that images of women and children killed in Russian attacks motivated him to take up arms.

He said: “I was there from the start of the war. When I heard Russians were killing kids and just eradicating everything in front of them, I said, ‘That’s not right’.

Picture: Rhys Byrne holds an anti-tank weapon

“I have benefits and skill sets that can help. So, basically, I wanted to go over and stand up to the world’s biggest bully.”

The Dubliner said he is involved in work including evacuations of Kyiv’s prisoners as well as in reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines.

He revealed: “There are parts [around the front] where you will get small arms fire and you will come into engagements with occupiers.

“When you come into it you just deal with the situation as it is and how it arises.”

And that can mean close combat fire fights including one mission he recalled in the south east of Ukraine.

Declining to give the exact location for security reasons, Rhys added: “I’ve shot at them. They went down.

“I took a picture of the dead body after and so we could take it back [to camp] for intelligence purposes, to identify human patches and equipment so we can try to identify what [Russian] equipment and that.”

A video show Rhys in action including patrolling the site of the abandoned German consulate in Kyiv following a Kremlin missile strike on October 10.

He is seen walking through rubble and debris and shouting “f**king Russians” as he walks past a dead body on a road covered in a yellow sheet.

Picture: Irish soldier in Ukraine, Rhys Byrne

Many foreign fighters work independently in ad hoc groups in Ukraine but Rhys said his unit the International Freedom Fighters was recently approved by Kyiv’s forces.

That seal of approval means it is an official battalion and Rhys and his comrades have commissioned ranks which come with salaries. But the Dubliner added he and his fellow fighters have yet to be paid and have been operating in Ukraine on their own savings for nearly a year.

He said: “When you mention money to the Ukrainian army everything goes stale very quickly.

“They just say there’s a delay in payments and all that. As long as I’ve bullets, I’ll keep fighting.”

It’s believed there were initially around 20 Irish foreign fighters in Ukraine. Rory Mason, who was 23 and from Co Meath, was killed last October.

But unless you have extensive military experience, Rhys urged anyone thinking of going to Ukraine to think again.

He said: “There are men who could help us and we need as much help as we can get at the same time we’ve got so many gobs***s coming over.

“They really don’t understand, this ain’t no [video] game.”

Rhys is currently on a rest for several weeks from the fighting.

He added: “It’s a very mentally straining environment — it’s unnatural for the human mind.

Picture: Irish soldier in Ukraine, Rhys Byrne, poses with his unit, International Freedom Fighters

“I took a break but now when I’m back I’ll be back for the duration or [unless] if I’m medically injured or dead.” A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “We strongly advises against all travel to Ukraine, for any purpose.

“Irish citizens in Ukraine should leave if safe to do so. The capacity of the Department to provide consular assistance remains limited.

“As with all consular cases, the Department does not comment on the details of individual cases.”

A Garda spokesman said: “We do not comment on security issues that may or may not relate to individuals.”

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