An American helping Ukraine fight off Russia’s invaders tells CBS News why he’s there, and what he’s afraid of

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An American helping Ukraine fight off Russia's invaders tells CBS News why he's there, and what he's afraid of

Kyiv — The war in Ukraine has always felt something like a David and Goliath fight, and just more than a month into the conflict, Russia has yet to achieve any of its strategic aims. Ukraine may be outgunned, but as CBS News correspondent Debora Patta reports, its forces are mounting a formidable defense against the might of Russia’s military, and there is nothing like an underdog story to galvanize support. 

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Patta met Artem in Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv. Just weeks ago, he was a singer in a heavy metal band. 

“At heart, I like more to create than to destroy,” he told Patta.

But the poet-turned-warrior now sleeps in an underground bar-turned-bunker with the rest of his Ukrainian unit. He stepped forward unhesitatingly to help defend his homeland, and despite his heart’s inclinations, he’s fighting with all of it. 

“It only like, fuels and helps you overcome anything. It just motivates you harder and harder to push as much as you can,” he told CBS News. 

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Artem, a Ukrainian who, until Russia invaded his country, was a singer in a heavy-metal band, speaks with CBS News in an underground bar being used by his civilian defense unit in Kyiv, Ukraine. 

CBS News


Artem is not alone. Ukrainians of every age and background have joined civilian defense units in Kyiv and other cities, and some 20,000 foreign fighters have signed up to fight alongside them — including at least 3,000 Americans, according to Ukrainian officials.   

Among them is Cincinnati native Alex Kalemba. As Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, the American military veteran was on the first plane out of the U.S. 

“It’s going to be in the history books, so I kind of feel like I need to be part of it,” he said of the war raging more than 5,000 miles from his home. And a part of it he is: Kalemba is serving alongside Artem in a special unit defending Kyiv, with no promise of financial reward. 

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Cincinnati native and U.S. military veteran Alex Kalemba, left, joins Artem, a Ukrainian civilian, as they hold a position in the capital city of Kyiv to fight off invading Russian forces.

CBS News


“There’s been whispers of some of us getting paid,” he said, “but right now we’re all volunteers, which is fine by me. They feed me. They give me ammunition.” 

Kalemba conceded that he and his fellow fighters were in desperate need of sniper rifles and night vision gear. They’ve been in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including the fight to keep Russian forces out of Irpin, a strategic suburb of Kyiv where they managed to stop the Russian advance on the capital as civilians fled for their lives. The fight to hold onto that territory continues.

Kalemba doesn’t deny having a rational fear for his life, but he said it’s not his biggest fear.

“I guess I’m afraid of losing,” he told Patta. “I like that a lot less than dying.”

But it’s no romantic adventure. It’s a war, and another American volunteer CBS News met had that point driven home the hard way. She struggled to recount the incident to Patta, saying her head was still “a little foggy” after she and her fellow fighters “hit a mine” while moving through fields.


Ukraine holding ground one month after Russian invasion

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While U.S. law does not prohibit Americans from serving in other nations’ defense forces, the U.S. State Department has warned on many occasions against any travel to Ukraine.

With the constant threat of death, Kalemba’s parents back home in the U.S. are concerned, but supportive. 

“He has done something that he believes in, and he is helping the Ukrainian people, and I am proud of him for that,” mother Janice Kalemba told CBS News. 

Artem and the rest of his unit feel the same way, and they “welcome all the help we can get” to fight their common enemy, to the end.  

Asked what his message would be to the Russian soldiers invading his country, and to Vladimir Putin, Artem didn’t hesitate:

“I just wish them death,” he told Patta. “I just despise them for all what they doing, this just atrocious.”

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