Minnesota veteran suspends congressional campaign, signs up to fight with Ukraine against Russia
For U.S. Air Force veteran Mark Lindquist, it’s a new beginning: a journey to war-torn Ukraine.
“Look at what’s happening over there,” he says. “You watch the news. You see the tragedy.”
Lindquist, 40, served in the Air Force from 2006 to 2012, including serving in Afghanistan. He retired as a Staff Sergeant.
The Moorhead resident recently put a halt to a potential political career, dropping out of the 7th District congressional race to either fight alongside Ukrainians or help with the humanitarian effort.
This week marks one month since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, in an attack President Joe Biden has called unprovoked and unjustified.
“I decided this was the place I was needed the most,” Lindquist explains. “A political campaign in my mind pales in comparison to the magnitude that this issue has brought to the world.”
Lindquist was adopted from a South Korean orphanage when he was just eight months old.
He says he won the ‘parent sweepstakes’ with his adoptive parents — Diane and Gordon.
Lindquist says he is inspired now by stories of children orphaned by the Russian invasion.
“What’s the most I could do to help the Ukrainian people?” Lindquist told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “And I arrived at the decision that the most I could do is go.”
He says he’s already applied to join the ‘Territorial Defense of Ukraine,’ a kind of international brigade operating under the authority of the Ukrainian military.
Late last month, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed for people to join that fight.
“Glory to all those who defend Ukraine,” he declared in a speech. “All friends who want to join the defense, come; we give you weapons. All those who can defend Ukraine abroad, do it purposefully, unitedly, and continuously.”
Lindquist says he has weapons training, including with an M-16 rifle.
But he adds he did not see combat in Afghanistan, and thus, his role could change.
“Because that’s the first barrier you have to get across. They’re not, [from] what I hear, not giving access [to] people who don’t have the requisite combat experience,” Lindquist notes. “Because they don’t want to have to train, right? They want people who can hit the ground running.”
If he cannot join in a combat role, the Air Force veteran says he’ll join in the humanitarian aid mission on the Poland/Ukraine border.
A United Nations refugee agency says more than 3.5-million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began a month ago.
“These individuals are supporting people waiting in line, five to ten-hour lines across the border, giving them hot food, carrying their bags, ‘cos they’ve been carrying them for four days,” Lindquist declares.
His efforts in a potential combat role is not unique.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense says 20,000 people have answered Zelenskyy’s call.
The Washington Post reports as many as 4000 Americans are taking part.
“It’s an interesting, an important development in the conflict,” says Kathleen Collins, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. “It’s not surprising there are a number of Americans who would be motivated to help with this.”
She adds that the Russians’ targeting of hospitals, theaters, and the civilian population makes people want to take action.
“They are typically motivated by an ideological struggle by a clear right and wrong,” Collins says. “The targeting of civilians… and we see the block to block rounding up of Ukrainian citizens and deporting them to what we presume are camps within Russia. These are gross atrocities against human rights, gross war crimes, and that, of course, motivates individuals to go in and help in many different capacities.”
Collins says the conflict is more complex than some might think, in a warzone where there is a mix of Ukrainian army soldiers, foreign fighters, and mercenaries.
“The mercenaries and the foreign fighters are mostly on the side of the Russians, whereas those who are going to volunteer as legionnaires in the Ukrainian army are on the side of the Ukrainians,” she says. “The Russians are actually mobilizing other types of fighters, particularly mercenaries, to engage in combat against the Ukrainians.”
Collins says American military personnel could make a difference, but that caution should be a watchword as well.
“So many Americans have, over the past twenty years, have received intense training in skills in combat, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan,” she says. “They can bring combat experience; they can bring the ability to train those forces in Ukraine. While I admire the motivation, there’s certainly reason for great caution in actually directly fighting the Russian forces.”
Lindquist says that no matter what, he’s planning to take a flight from Fargo to Warsaw, Poland, on March 29.
He says he won’t know if he’ll have a combat role until sometime in April and that veterans in the warzone say people without military experience are being sent to basic training near Lviv, Ukraine.
Lindquist says he’s spending up to $5000 out of pocket to cover the costs of military gear, plane tickets, and other expenses.
He adds that he’s not sure how long he’ll stay. Perhaps six months, maybe more.
But Lindquist is ready for whatever role may come.
“To me, I ask myself, like a lot of people ask themselves, ‘what could I do?'” Lindquist explains. “Sometimes, I don’t know, sometimes the call, the push that makes you do such a thing is more important than the risk you have to take.”