Bryan Young was on his way toUkraine when Maria Lipka called.

After Young said that he wanted to go to Ukraine to defend the country from a full-scale Russian invasion, they got into a heated argument.

The 51-year-old Army veteran from California told Insider that he needed to leave because it was his duty to protect the world.

She told him that she didn't understand why he would do it. For a week, we didn't talk.

She said she didn't have an opportunity to say farewell.

He died four months after that.

In March, Young traveled to Kyiv via the Turkish capital of Istanbul, a month after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He was forced to retire due to injury after serving as a US infantryman.

The news of a war in Ukraine gave Young a renewed sense of purpose after two years of isolation.

The former infantryman would find it frightening to join the fight against Russia.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy seen on March 10, 2022.
Office of the President of Ukraine

International defense legion of Ukraine 

Thousands of people lined up to volunteer outside Ukrainian embassies around the world when President Zelenskyy announced the formation of the international legion.

Some came with extensive combat experience, having fought in countries like Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, while others came with nothing more than a burning desire to defend a country.

Almost 20,000 legionnaires from 52 nations answered the call to arms in the first weeks of the war, according to the Foreign Minister of Ukraine. A defense official at the Washington DC embassy said in March that around 3000 of them were US citizens.

A branch of the legion that Young was not a part of has had a steady influx of people since the beginning of the war, but it has fluctuated depending on the time of year, according to a spokesman.

"I knew someone was going to die"

Lipka said that Young complained about the lack of organization and equipment in the legion and that it was like in the old days.

The 517th battalion of the Ivan Bohun brigade was overseen by the GUR Legion.

Kacper Rekawek, a research fellow for the Center for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo, said that the GUR part of the legion is led by Ukrainian officers.

Rekawek said that soldiers in this section are often highly skilled and deployed in smaller groups that are on the front.

The legion didn't seem to be professional.

A Foreign Legion fighter looks on at wreckage in Ukraine following a Russian attack.
A Foreign Legion fighter looks on at wreckage in Ukraine following a Russian attack.
Courtesy of Hieu Le/Facebook

In June, Lipka received a text from Young that said it had been a mess. Only a few of us remain.

In the early hours of July 18th, Young and his unit were deployed to Hryhorivka, a village in the east of the country that had been attacked by the Russians.

They were tasked with clearing out a ravine that Russian soldiers were using to cross a small river in order to slow their advance.

One of the American soldiers who was with them at the time told Insider that their mission was a disaster from the beginning and that the group had narrowly escaped death.

In his mind, he knew someone was going to die.

The GUR didn't reply to the request for comment.

foreign soldiers
Ukrainian soldiers and foreign fighters board a vehicle on the frontline in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on June 27, 2022.
Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Russian troops fired on the men as they went to find cover.

One of the US citizens who had accompanied the battalion that day was hurt in the first blast.

Young and two other soldiers from Canada and Sweden rushed to his side to save him after the firing stopped.

A soldier who was with Young when he died told Lipka that he had taken a piece of shrapnel to the head, chest, legs, and stomach.

He had a machine gun named after him.

The soldier told Lipka that he did not feel any pain. I knew it was painless, but I couldn't do anything.

Staying safe is impossible. The soldier said that their commander would get them killed.

A preventable death

Young's death was preventable, according to Lipka.

Many of the soldiers in Young's unit thought their commander, Ruslan Miroshnichenko, was drunk and reckless, according to messages sent to her.

One soldier told Lipka that Ruslan was a liar. Everyone in the company has been upset by Ruslan. He isn't alive anymore.

They claimed that Miroshnichenko was a heavy drinker who encouraged others to drink. Police had to get involved after Young's battalion destroyed a bar.

The commander sounded drunk when he called Lipka to discuss funeral plans.

Lipka didn't know about Young's death from official channels. She was told of the news by Young's daughter.

The battalion's commander has been fired, according to Lipka.

He's still working for the legion in a different department, even though Insider couldn't confirm his location.

Poor organization and reckless commanders 

Lipka is not the only one who questions the way some foreign fighters were treated in Ukraine.

Poor organization, lack of equipment, and reckless commanders have caused foreign volunteers to leave Ukraine.

The Georgian Legion, made up of volunteers mostly from the ex-Soviet country, was profiled in April by Insider.

The barracks they arrived at were barren and disorganized.

One of the men said "Katastrophe." There isn't an organization or training. Everyone is interested in killing the Russians. Unlike Young, neither had any military experience.

"My helmet saved my life"

Some commanders in the GUR were sending men on "suicide missions", sexually harassing female medics, and threatening soldiers with a gun, according to an investigation by The Kyiv Independent.

"A bunch of wannabes, playing with people's lives" was how one soldier described the legion's leadership.

bryan young ukraine
Funeral service of Bryan Young, Luke Lucyszyn, and Edvard Selander Patrignani in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Maria Lipka

Foreign fighters accused some of their commanders of stealing small arms and light weapons that they said went missing from the Legion's armory rooms, with some saying they witnessed arms being loaded into what they described as civilian SUVs.

A foreign fighter who goes by the military name Mavericks told Insider that he left the GUR unit because of how bad it was. The person's name is known to Insider.

He lost a colleague. We were told by the intelligence services that we needed to be somewhere.

A Ukrainian soldier was killed and others were injured when a missile was fired by Russian troops.

Mavericks couldn't hear anything for a couple of days. I said my helmet saved my life.

Mavericks isn't going to return to Ukraine.

Commanders are not always the "creme-de-la creme"

Young was not the first American to die fighting in the country. Trent Davis, a 21-year-old US Army veteran from Kansas, was killed on his first mission with the legion, near the southern city of Kherson.

The tenth American to die fighting in the conflict was Davis.

In the first months of the war, Ukraine had some "teething problems", according to the University of Oslo's Rekawek.

Three days after the war, the legion began as a PR exercise for the Ukranian people. They had some issues at the beginning.

Rekawek said that international volunteers are not always the priority.

According to Rekawek, not all of the commanders appointed by the military were the "creme-de-la-creme" of the crop.

This isn't much for Young's partner.

The way everything was handled after his death was scandalous.

The people who survived have scars as well. Mavericks has post-traumatic stress disorder and still grieves the deaths of his friends.

He told Insider that he left because of the death of his colleagues.

Rekawek said that despite reports of disarray and confusion, the international legion has grown in strength and importance over the course of the conflict.

The legion is maturing and being accepted according to him.

Sam Tabahriti reports additional information.