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Irishmen fighting for Ukraine on frontline vow to battle for Kyiv 'to the end' despite Russian push

Updated: Feb 29


Photo: Ryan O’Leary heads the Chosen Company battalion that was forced to pull back from Avdiivka in the east in the past week after Moscow’s army seized the ruins of the city


By Jeff Farrell


Irish soldiers in Ukraine pushed out of an area that Russia captured in the past week have vowed to fight “to the end” despite the setback, their commander said.

Ryan O’Leary heads the Chosen Company battalion that was forced to pull back from Avdiivka in the east after Moscow’s army seized the ruins of the city.

Kyiv’s side also suffered untold losses including Chosen Company fighter Dubliner Graham Dale, 45, who was slain on the outskirts of the area in December.

But commander O’Leary said Dale didn’t “die for nothing” because the huge death toll of Russian fighters means Moscow’s army is depleted in the east and can’t advance for months.



Photo: Dubliner Graham Dale, 45, was slain on the outskirts of Avdiivka in December

Former US Marine Dale’s death in the vicious war came as the third Irish man to be slain in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine after Rory Mason and Finbar Cafferkey have also been killed.

Russia’s brutal invasion now drags into its third year but O’Leary said the some 100 men in Chosen Company, which is part of Ukraine's 59th brigade, have vowed to fight “to the end”.

The fighters include four Irish soldiers, from the Republic and the North, aged 22 to 48, all of whom have served in the British army.

FORCES

The Kremlin’s forces raised their country’s flag in the ruins of Avdiivka last Saturday.

The move provides propaganda for Russian President Vladimir Putin as he again runs for presidential elections next month which he is expected to easily win.


(Irish soldier) Dale didn't die for nothing -- we are still holding ground where the Russians killed him.

Despite Russia’s victory in Avdiivka, O’Leary said Dubliner Dale didn’t “die for nothing” when he was slain there on December 8 as he charged at Russian troops.

O’Leary said: “I don’t think he died for nothing, so the area, we were on the like southern area of Avdiivka, we’re still holding most of that, so he didn’t die for nothing.”

He added Ukraine held the ground for months in the eastern city since Russia began its offensive there in October has paid out benefits to Kyiv given the battering Moscow has had.



Photo: Irish soldier Rory Mason was killed fighting for Ukraine

O’Leary, speaking by the secure Signal app from Ukraine, added: “Where Graham died, we had to pull back. The Russians levelled it. There’s basically no position there anymore.

“But on a strategic level it was worth holding [the ground] just to wear down Russian manpower and equipment.”

Kyiv’s military has put the Russian bodycount in Avdiivka at 17,000, but O’Leary reckons the death total is almost double that.

He said: “I think they’ve had 25,000 to 30,000 killed and probably triple that injured or double that injured.


INJURED

“They’re probably looking at 100,000 casualties between wounded and killed.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a press conference yesterday Ukraine has suffered the loss of 31,000 soldiers.

He recalled claims by pro-Russian forces regarding the deaths of 300,000 Ukrainian military personnel, and Russian statements of 100,000, but he dismissed these figures, saying: “All of that is a lie, it’s not true... 31,000 Ukrainian servicemen have died in this war.

“Not 300,000, not 150,000, but still, each and every loss is grievous for us.” The president added the Russian army’s death toll stands at 180,000, with up to 450,000 wounded.


(One Irish soldier) got hit by a mortar, got his eye blown out. He's in rehab and in good spirits and still wants to fight.

Meanwhile, O’Leary said his unit has been pushed back 800 metres in the past few months but still holds ground in southern Avdiivka.

He said: “I don’t think you’re going to see a big push in the east for a while until they reconstitute the manpower they lost and the vehicles. It’s going to take them eight months to get any further.” O’Leary admitted a lack of weapons, vehicles and ammunition played a part in Avdiivka’s fall as West-ern military aid stalls.

He said: “It’s one of the main reasons we couldn’t hold Avdiivka.

“Russia could have poured troops into Avdiivka for the next six months but the problem is we don’t have counter battery ability as much.

“Russia will keep shooting at a position until the position is wiped out.

“So the shortage of artillery is a huge detriment. Mortar, artillery, ammo and munitions is what we really need for the frontline.”

O’Leary, 37, from Iowa, an Irish American whose dad’s family are from Cork, told how he has had five Irish fighters in Chosen Company over the past year.

Four Irishmen are still attached to Chosen Company.

They go by codenames that are respectively Irish and F, who are both from the Republic, as well as K, from Belfast, and Spider, who is also from the North.

One of the men, F, is in rehab after he lost his eye in a mortar attack.


He’s been injured three times now – he keeps getting injured and keeps going back

But despite the horrific injury, O’Leary said the Irishman is gunning to return to the battalion to continue to wage war against Moscow’s men. He added: “He’s been over here since the start of the invasion. He came here because he didn’t believe what Russia was doing was right.

“F, he lost an eye two months ago. He got hit by a mortar, got his eye blown out.

“He’s doing good, he’s in rehab now and he’s going to come back and fight. He’s in good spirits.

“He’s been injured three times now – he keeps getting injured and keeps going back.

“I don’t think he wants to go home. He wants to see [the war] through. Most of the guys in Chosen are here to the end.”


Note: a version of the above story was published in the Irish Daily Star and the Irish Mirror on February 26.

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