When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last month, 27-year-old Nigerian Ottah Abraham was outraged.
He picked up his phone and tweeted: “I want to join the team.”
He was some 8,700km (5,400 miles) away from the front line, in a small apartment in Nigeria’s main city, Lagos.
The philosophy graduate is one of several hundred Africans, from countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Algeria, who say they are willing to take up arms in the battle against Russia, partly to escape the bleak prospects faced by many young men at home.
“We know that it’s war, it’s not child’s play,” he told the BBC. “But being a soldier in Ukraine would be better than being here.
“I’ll probably be allowed to stay if the war ends, plus I’ll be a hero and fight an undeniable enemy.”
This is about beating a bully – injustice for one is injustice for all”
Some 20,000 volunteers from across the world have reportedly enlisted after Ukraine’s President Volodmyr Zelensky made a global appeal for foreign fighters to “come and stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians”.
The government has temporarily axed its visa requirements and offered equipment and a salary to those with a valid passport and military training. Although there has been no official confirmation that foreign fighters will be allowed to stay in the country after the war.
Kereti Usoroh, a Nigerian living in the capital, Abuja, said his motivations for volunteering had nothing to do with financial gain or the prospect of citizenship.
“I already live a comfortable life. If I wanted to go to Europe, I’d do it through education, not war,” the 29-year-old lawyer said.
“This is about beating a bully – injustice for one is injustice for all.”
Sentiments to gladden the hearts of Ukrainian diplomats and days after President Zelenksy’s appeal, dozens of hopeful volunteers headed to the Ukrainian embassy in Abuja, with ambitions of enlisting.
Mercenaries not welcome
But the Ukrainian embassy in Nigeria – like others in Africa – has had to back-pedal as many of the continent’s governments do not want their nationals to fight in Ukraine.
“Nigeria discourages the use of mercenaries anywhere in the world and will not tolerate the recruitment,” Nigeria’s foreign ministry wrote in a statement.
Bohdan Soltys, a Ukrainian embassy official in Nigeria, said they were not paying Africans to fight – and people would have to pay for their own flights to reach Europe.
“There’s a fine line between foreign volunteers and mercenaries,” he told the BBC.