■é■í ♪ lara: this is "focus on europe." i'm lara babalola, nice to have you with us. ukraine's army is struggling to fend off russia's offensive, as their enemy seizes more territory in the east. after weeks of fierce fighting, putin's troops have advanced deeper into the donbas. ukrainian authorities there are urging hundreds of thousands of residents to evacuate. the russian president has made clear his goal of capturing the entire region. though ukraine is outmanned and outgunned, its troops aren't giving up.
that is because they're being joined on the battlefield by fighters from far beyond their borders. international volunteers with varying degrees of experience are signing up to give kyiv a military advantage in putin's war. kapon is a young south american, who feels compelled to fight for ukraine. this despite having never set foot in the country. the reality of war soon sets in for kapon who knows a return trip home is not guaranteed. >> there has been a lot of bombing. left, right and above, everywhere. >> i know i'm going there for a good reason. and if i don't see my family, my friends and the people i love here on this earth again, i have faith that i will meet
them after death. reporter: in ukraine, it is not just ukrainians who are fighting. thousands of people from abroad have joined the battle. who are they? and why are they doing it? >> if i'm needed to he my comrades at the frontline, iâ™ll -- i will go there. if i needed to take care oam civilians, i will do that. whatever job the legion gives me, i' do it. reporter:e. kapon, as he calls himself, is from latin america. for security reasons, we don't disclose his exact location he -- location. he is preparing to leave his home. kapon tells me he works as a paramedic. he seems to have plenty of friends. overall, his life seems pretty
normal to me. in our first online encounter kapon doesn't reveal his identity yet. he wants to join the army as a combat medic. >> i saw these terriblimages of how they attacked civilian zones with missiles, people dyg in their apartments, and i saw so many terrible images of suffering civilians, includinchildren. and ie them. and a paredic, i have the skills to help the i ow i have something to offer. reporter: the 19-year-old tells me he still lives with his parents. he says his father even offered him money to stay. but a few days later, it's time to leave. his friends throw a farewell party.
sandra from norway has already joined the ukrainian army. they refer me to her. the life she depicts on soci media is not for the faint of heart. she used to be a fisher, then served as a representative for her ethnic group, the sami people. she tells me that after that, she trained as a combat medic. now, she says, she is on the frontlines. >> first of all, it's a moral obligation. this is home base. it's in europe. we owe them. >so if you can help, you should. obligation.reporter:home base. on her social media accot, she poses with weapons. she tells me she has no qualms about using her gun.
>> well, it is what it is. it's your job. it's what you have to do. so it's the one who fires first. that's how it goes. we are not the attackers. we are the defenders. we are not the one cssing an borders, they did. reporter: kapon flies to krakow in poland, close to t ukrainian border. temperatures in eastn europe just have dipped to near freezing, a climate that kapon has never experienced before. i join him for the next leg of his journey. the first stop, a military shop. he still needs a bullet-proof vest, since he is not sure whether the army provides one. >> do you have body armour? no? but another body armour you have? >> no.
>> 5.11? >> no, no, no. we don't have that. reporter: he decides to go without body armor. but isn't that a suicide mission? >> a bit. it would be good to have one. but even with a vest, the bullets come through. so the only thing i can do is hope to come back in one piece. reporter: by chance, kapon meets another man who also want to join the battle. to me, he makes a dubious impression. >> killer. killer. killer. >> killer. >> killer. reporter: the man doesn't want to be filmed, but claims he fought in iraq and afghanistan, working for a private military contractor.
kapon has no combat experience, so he decides to train on a shooting range. he is now joined by a man from colombia who goes by tato. they met online in a group of spanish-speaking volunteers. they also test an ak-47, which is used in ukraine. the training at the shooting range is intended for civilians and is supposed to be just for fun. it's just the second time that kapon has ever held a gun, he tells me. after half an hour, he's done. >> it doesn't prepare me for war as such, but at least i know a -- know how to handle a weapon correctly, that i might use in ukraine. reporter: for people like kapon, the international legion is their main port of call in ukraine. on instagram, it advertises itself as an adventurous,
heroic gup of comrades. it was founded just days after the war started. >> all have here to fight, fight the russians and defend democracy and freedom. reporter: according to the legion, they arpaid the equivalent of ukrainian soldiers of their rank. >> clear communication training, we have tactical training. reporter: their contract lasts until the war is over. their spokesperson tells me, that people who want to join have to pass several tests in ukraine. >> as a rule, they are sent to some of the hottest spots on the front line and are taken care of in some very, let's say, delicate, offensive and defensive operations. >> can you prove that you don't use them as cannon fodder? >> well, i think it is difficult for anyone to prove anything in this war. what i can say is that we can
give all public and private assurances that no one in the army is interested in sending people to the front who are not ready. reporter: the russian government sees the international fighters as rcenaries, which could result in worse treatment if they are captured. i ask an expert for his take on it. >> they are not mercenaries. it's not a company. it's not a commercial entity which is sending those fighters there. theris qui a difference. and as long as they are integrated into the forces of the host country, they are not mercenaries. reporter: i join kapon and tato on their way to the border. the inteational leon officially only accepts people with live combat experience, but they give it a try anyway.
time for the last voice message. >> i want you to know that everything is ok. i love you. i'll send you a message when i can. >> after death, i think god will judge us, for what we did in life, whether it was good or bad. my faith gives me hope and it keeps me safe. i know that i am going there for a good reason. and if i don't see my family and my friends and the people i love here on this earth again, i hope i will meet them after death.
reporter: the man who sits next to them is from ukraine. that's your family? >> yes, that's my family. reporter: they are still in ukraine. he is going to the border to get his mother and bring her to safety. his brother and cousin are at the front, he tells me. so what does he think of the foreign fighters? >> these guys do a good job for the peace in the world and for peace in ukraine. because we cannot stop this war by ourselves. we need help. reporter: most people are going the opposite direction. does he really think he can change anything? >> i'm not rambo, nothing special. but each grain of sand helps. and if i just save the life of
a few fighters or people who need me, i'll have made a difference. reporter: they want to join the legion the next day. my journey with them ends here, but they promise to stay in touch. sandra, who has been at the front for quite some time, is still there and determined to stay. >> the human brain is wired to st get used to whatever situation you have to get used to. and i know that sounds -- up and weird, but you can get used to anything, including bombing. reporter: when do you think you will be back home? >> i will be back when this war is over.
when there's no moreeed for me here, then i will go home. reporter: kapon seems to have a bit of a rollercoaster ride. the international legion at first rejects him and several others. but 10 days later he tells me the legion suddenly did accept him. he writes, i am happy, and sends me a picture of the body armour he was given. besides paramedic tasks, he tells me he is now also receiving regular combat training to be able to defend himself. in a few days, he could be sent to the front. we agree that for security reasons this will be our last interview. >> they will train me for combat, with real ammunition, everything, as if i was a real fighter. >> have you thought about leaving?
>> you do think about it when you hear detonations, when you are close to exploding grenades, when you hear sirens and are in the cold for hours, wearing just a sweater. so you do start to think. >> has your view of this war changed? >> yes. i realized it's even worse than what you see on the news. everything is worse, because you are the main target. it's quite ugly. 10 days later, i receive news again. the situation had become too intense. kapon decided to leave the international legion. he now is in safety. lara: parts of southern europe are being scorched as extreme heat waves take hold. temperatures are soaring to record levels, sparking forest fires and drying out rivers.
parts of italy have started limiting water use as the landscape turns to dust. it's a similar scene in spain at the alto lindoso reservoir on the border with portugal. water levels there have dipped below 15% of capacity. that has turned the reservoir into a tourist attraction. but for local paco veyalonga, it's a painful sight. the receding waters have laid bare all that remains from his childhood village. reporter: normally, paco villalonga would now be getting wet feet. this was once a vast reservoir. but it's been drying out, and now his old village, once submerged, has reemerged. >> that was my grandmother's house. i spent my childhood here, with my parents, my cousins, uncles
and aunts. this was our house. reporter: this was the spanish village of aceredo, located near the portuguese border. along with the entire valley, it was flooded when the alto lindoso reservoir was created. for 30 years, the village had been submerged. e old fountain is stl running. >> i remember my grandmother and a girl coming here to fetch water. the girl splashed water on her for fun. and she did the same. they kept going until both were soaking wet. it was summer, so it didn't matter. reporter: it still pains the 71-year-old at he had to leave his village. but he has -- but he is also concerned by how much water levels have fallen.
>> there was always a lot of water in the region. but now climate change is having a strong impact. climate change is to blame, and that means we are to blame. we humans caused this, and we just keep going as before. reporter: alto lindoso dam was completed in 1992. at the time, it was deemed a great feat of engineering. portugal built it right by the border. it's still one of the country's largest hydropower plants. irene sao martinho remembers when the dam was built. she's from portugal, and understands the feelings of her spanish neighbors who had their properties flooded. but she says they have no reason to complain. >> they were compensated. they received a lot of money, even for shanties and chicken coops.
it allowed them to build big houses afterwards. reporter: paco's parents used the money to build a new home higher up. today, paco lives there alone. all that's survived of his old village are a few mementos, photos, and his 50-year-old home videos. >> will anyone give me back my childhood? the paths we hung out around, the fruit trees we stole from. these memories of childhood foolishness are etched on my memory. if you take them away, what does that make me? nobody thought about those things. reporter: the reappearance of aceredo has had a big effect in the community. javier silva runs a bar and restaurant in lobios. he says the dried-up reservoir is a real attraction.
>> we in the restaurant industry can't complain. sure, it brings ck memories for the people who onclived in the village. but it has been great for business and still is. reporter: richard sitranen made a special tour to see what's left of the reservoir. the danish tourist is both fascinated and shocked by the sight. >> i never really took it into consideration how dry the weather can be, especially because even in france and spain i've noticed a lot of areas where they don't want any form of fire. don't even throw a cigarette butt out or nothing, because everything will catch fire because it's so dry. reporter: the dry conditions mean fires like this one are common. as is drought.
>> we lost our history, our roots, experiences. and to see it like this, it would have been better not to be compensated. we could have stayed, and the village would have been full of life like before. reporter: he doubts the reservoir will ever again submerge his village for such a long time. he plans to keep coming here, searching for traces of the past. lara: now to italy where a street artist is helping to make life more palatable for residents and visitors. cibo is the italian word for food and it's also the artist's name. cibo is known for his culinary delicacies which can be seen on public spaces in his hometown of verona. on the surface, what may only look like a muffin or slice of pizza has a deeper meaning. cibo is using his art to combat right-wing extremism in verona, an ancient city that's littered with racist graffiti.
reporter: verona, a picture-perfect city. renaissance palaces, the arena, and juliet's balcony from william shakespeare play. the city's romance appeals to tourists. but this is also verona. swastikas sprayed onto walls, fascist tags, and messages of hate. >> everywhere else swastikas get painted over immediately. but not in verona. reporter: pier paolo spinazze decided to take on the job himself. he is also known by his professional name, cibo. >> a swastika was sprayed onto this picture of mine. so i'm going to turn it into a pumpkin muffin. reporter: a trick that has become his signature, cibo turns racist graffiti into pictures of italian specialities.
>> fascists know that i'm the one doing this. i had already painted over fascist symbols here. but they came back to say, this is our territory. what i'm doing is technically illegal. so in theory i risk years of prison each time i do it. reporter: but it has never never come to that. in fact, he says most police officers seem to approve of his work. and passersby also seem to support cibo's efforts. >> bravo! that's the graffiti. >> i'm about to cover them with pumpkin muffins. >> pumpkin muffins? >> yes! reporter: he posts videos of his work on instagram. and with nearly four hundred -- 400,000 followers, he has become a famous around the world.
but each mural he paints puts him at greater risk of being targeted himself. >> these guys showed up in front of my house several times. once they put a firework under my car. but luckily, there wasn't much damage. they also went to my parents house -- parent's house and threatened them. reporter: this hasn't deterred the artist from his mission. even if the police have failed to arrest his attackers. >> why are all the threats i receive ignored? that's a question i've often asked myself. every citizen ought to say no to these messages of hate. i'm nothing special. everyone should take a stance. it's outrageous that i'm painting over the swastikas instead of the municipal government. reporter:
what ensues is a game of cat and mouse between cibo and the neo-fascist taggers. >> you can't fight them with their weapons. you have to use your own. and confronting them with the power of beauty disorients them because that's one area where they will always lose. reporter: cibo says swastikas are common here for a reason even after mussolini, verona remained a stronghold of the neo-fascist far-right. >> here, it's normal to own a mussolini bust passed down from your grandfather. people laugh at racist jokes or joke about uncle hitler. those things aren't funny. but here in verona people joke about them. that's why this culture of hate found fertile soil here. reporter: cibo has a notebook where he keeps a record of the swastikas and hate-filled tags, and of his paintings.
he keeps a record of his murals on a map. cibo's passion for food extends to the kitchen. his pictures of pasta, pizza, and other specialties have won him lots of fans. >> many people have approached me to tell me they only realised the extent of the problem after seeing my graffiti. they were so used to seeing swastikas and hate speech. a fascist feels ridiculed to be covered over with cheese. it shows them that they are not being taken seriously or seen as dangerous. that they are not being respected. reporter: cibo's dream is to one day have no more work, because then verona would have no more symbols of hate. lara: well, here's hoping that cibo can retire very soon. that's all from us this week at "focus on europe." thank you for watching.
♪ >> this is dw news live from berlin, russian forces seized control of ukraine second-biggest powerplant is the latest setback in the east as the area along the capital of kyiv comes under attack. a counteroffensive centered in the south is gaining ground. also in the program chinese president xi jinping warns u.s.