Picture: Rhys Byrne, from Dublin (right), with his fiancee Svetlana, an Ukrainian sniper
By Jeff Farrell
An Irish soldier who quit fighting in Ukraine has since returned – and proposed to a female "badass sniper" in his battalion.
Dubliner Rhys Byrne, 28, was battling Russians on the frontlines with a unit from the 59th brigade in early July when he downed arms.
The machine gunner was in the eastern Donbas region clearing the enemy out of trenches.
But he quit after a Russian tank opened fire on his unit in an attack which he blamed on his commanders for failing to monitor the area with drones.
Rhys returned home to get back to civvy life but found the pull of the war too strong and returned to wartorn Ukraine in September to fight the Kremlin’s evil army.
And he met the love of his life in his new unit after just a few weeks – with a video showing him getting down on one knee and proposing to her as his battalion mates cheer and clap.
He met the sniper Svetlana, 38, as they trained for a mission for the frontline in his new battalion, the 56th brigade special operations group.
Rhys recalled how Svetlana, who cannot be named in full for military security reasons, first caught his eye.
“All these other men were interested in her and I was jealous.
“I didn’t blame them -- she's a badass sniper in the Ukrainian forces fighting the Russians. And she's beautiful in uniform. She ticks a lot of boxes.”
He managed to get her phone number and later texted her.
“She wrote back and said I'm so happy that you messaged me. I was trying to get your number too.
“And we were talking to each other, seeing each other in the mess hall and stuff like that.
“I fell madly in love with her.”
Although the pair were drawn to each other, Svetlana feared love in a time of war.
“She said ‘don't fall in love with me. We're soldiers. We can't have this distraction’. But I said it's already happened.”
Picture: Rhys Byrne (right) with his fiancee Svetlana (left) on a training mission
Rhys remembered how a couple of days later Svetlana sealed the romance.
“She came over to me with two cups of coffee and gave me a kiss on the lips.
“I thought ‘oh, well, that's a move forward’.
“Two days later, I asked her to marry me and she said yeah."
The Dubliner said he bought a ring in a local shop near his training base and popped the big question.
"I proposed in front of the whole base. I was nerve racked – but she said yes."
But a proper church wedding is a long way off yet as Rhys and Svetlana are now gearing up for a mission to fight off the Russian enemy in the east of Ukraine.
Picture: Rhys and Svetlana know they could be killed at any minute in the war
“I think when the war is over we'll do a proper actual wedding,” he said.
“It's strange, in our line of work, you know, we don't have time to get to live together and know each other for a long period so we could be killed at any moment.
“So if we find love, why not embrace a privilege we fight for?”
The Dubliner told how he had returned home after he quit his last battalion in July.
It came after a Russian tank attack on his unit he blamed on his commanders for failing to monitor the area with drones.
Rhys applied for jobs to get back into civvy life including applying for work such as a prison officer and a mechanic.
“I was trying to be normal again,” he said.
Picture: Rhys Byrne, from Dublin, at a property in Ukraine demolished in a Russian attack
But he explained that further images on the news of the atrocities Russia has waged on Ukraine pulled him back to the embattled nation.
“One of the main reasons I came to Ukraine was when I see kids being killed, I just can't handle it. It's a real sore spot for me.”
And he doesn't fear that Ukraine will lose the war against the invaders Russia, despite talks of a stalemate as the conflict drags on for more than a year and a half.
"The morale is very bad but there's plenty of weapons in warehouses to use to keep fighting and win."