Thai democracy activists sign up to fight 'tyranny' in Ukraine
Thailand might not seem an obvious place for recruits to Ukraine's efforts to raise an international volunteer force to defend against Russia's invasion. But for Chanaphong Phongpai, the cause is fit for members of the pro-democracy movement that protest a military-backed government.
Chanaphong, 28, said he felt upset for the Ukrainian people, particularly after reports of Russian attacks on civilians.
"I have been involved in demanding democracy in my country, and opposing tyranny," Chanaphong told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday (March 2).
"They (Ukrainians) are also fighting for democracy and are now invaded by a superpower and a tyrant, so I asked myself what I could do for them," he said.
Chanaphong and five friends visited the Ukrainian embassy in Bangkok on Wednesday (March 2) and met with a staff member thereafter registering on a site gathering information on potential recruits.
In a single day this week, a Thai-language online group gathered more than 2,000 names of people interested in volunteering for Ukraine, the group's organiser told Reuters.
The Ukrainian embassy in Bangkok did not reply to a request for details from Reuters.
But the staff member who met with Chanaphong's group, who asked that she not be named, said that officials are considering applicants who need to submit online documents, including proof of military training and a clean criminal record.
The staff member also asked potential volunteers to apply by email, not call or visit the embassy.
After completing his mandatory Thai military service, Chanaphong worked as a private security consultant. He said his training from two years in the air force could help the Ukrainians evacuate civilians, guard areas, and secure supply lines.
His more recent experiences in clashing with Thai riot police during anti-government protests could also be useful.
"We only need to switch from holding bottle bombs to holding guns instead," he said.
Thai government spokeswoman Ratchada Thanadirek said that there is no law preventing Thai citizens from joining foreign volunteer forces but that people should consider the potential grave danger as Russian forces pound Ukrainian cities with heavy weapons.
Thailand was among 141 countries at the United Nations General Assembly that voted on Wednesday to reprimand Russia for invading Ukraine and demand that Moscow stop fighting and withdraw its military forces. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has otherwise maintained a neutral stance since the Russian invasion began on February 24.
It is not clear whether Chanaphong or his friends will be accepted into the Ukraine "international legion", but they have already begun to prepare.
This week, he's been upping his usual running regimen to make sure he is in peak physical condition.
"We fight for democracy here, they fight for their democracy there (in Ukraine)," he said. "We are like friends. It's the same feeling, the same ideology."