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Hundreds of Canadians have volunteered to fight Russians in Ukraine, diplomat says


The expression of interest in the program organized by Kyiv’s diplomatic missions comes as an Ontario businessman launches his own operation for would-be foreign fighters

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Hundreds of Canadians have already offered to fight for Ukraine against Russian invasion forces, just two days after the country formally put out the call for volunteers, a top Ukrainian diplomat said Tuesday.

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Many responded to a new website that urges people to “join the resistance now,” saying there’s a great need for foreign troops as well as armaments to help in the country’s defence.

The effort seems extraordinary — a foreign government essentially recruiting soldiers on Canadian soil, so far with the federal government’s tacit approval.

“We are touched, we are overwhelmed,” Oleksandr Shevchenko, Ukraine’s Toronto consul general, said in an interview. “It is not only Ukrainian-Canadians … but people from different corners of the country.”

The expression of interest in the program organized by Kyiv’s diplomatic missions comes as an Ontario businessman — instrumental in efforts to rescue Canada’s ex-employees in Afghanistan — launches his own operation for would-be foreign fighters.

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While some Canadians have already headed toward Ukraine on their own, the two developments point to a broader, more-organized effort to gather willing combatants in this country.

Volunteers would become part of what Kyiv is calling the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine.

“Ukraine needs your help! Join the resistance now!” declares the website defendukraine.ca, directing would-be fighters to fill out an online form. “Although there has been a concerted International effort to support Ukraine with supplies and weapons, there is a great need for people to join in the defense.”

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About 200 to 300 have offered their services at the Toronto consulate alone, said Shevchenko.

Canadians who join up through the Ukrainian missions will likely undergo a vetting process of several days, then be sent over in groups, funded by an expected flood of private donations, said Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a former Liberal MP and prominent Ukrainian-Canadian.

They would receive some rudimentary training in Poland before crossing the border into Ukraine, he said.

“There’s been an incredible outpouring of support, including people stepping forward and saying in a very personal way they are willing to make an incredible sacrifice,” said the owner of Toronto’s Future Bakery. “It’s an incredibly noble sentiment.”

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Helping prepare Canadians who make that commitment is the new project of Chris Ecklund, the Hamilton, Ont., businessman who spent $1 million of his own money to try to rescue former Canadian employees threatened by the Taliban’s take-over of Afghanistan.

Ecklund said Tuesday he’s setting up an organization to support Canadians and other foreigners who want to fight the Russian invasion; its own website — fightforukraine.ca —  went live Tuesday afternoon.

The outfit, manned by some of the same veterans who tried to get Canada’s ex-employees out of Afghanistan, will also provide a speeded-up basic training program. But a key function will be offering practical advice on how to reach Ukraine and what to bring — from extra socks to “salty snacks.”

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We don’t discourage anybody

Part of getting ready will also be knowing one may not return and being sure that a will and means to identify remains are in place, he said.

“You obviously have to think and hope for the best but you have to plan for the worst,” Ecklund said. “When you go into theatre, you don’t want to be a burden, not just to the people you’re serving with, but to the people back home, too.”

“You have to go into this thinking ‘What if I’m injured, what if I’m severely injured, what if I’m killed?’”

Ecklund has ample experience himself with such logistics. He not only served in the army in the 1980s but helped families repatriate the remains of two Canadians who privately entered the battle against the Islamic State, then were killed in Iraq, one in 2015, the other in 2017.

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The website will outline some of the more mundane tasks required before going into combat, such as having medical and dental check-ups, gathering any needed medication and packing supplies from tourniquets to rations, he said.

“The little tiny things can be very big things if you don’t take care of it,” said Ecklund. “I want to give anybody in the world who wants to go join the foreign legion, so to speak, as much information up front about what they have to do.”

He didn’t want to go into detail for security reasons but said his group would provide a crash basic-training course somewhere in Europe for recruits.

Shevchenko said the Ukrainian government would most appreciate volunteers with some military or policing experience but will take all-comers, including Canadians who do not speak Ukrainian.

“We also support and assist all those who don’t have such (army/law-enforcement) experience but are willing to go to Ukraine,” he said. “We don’t discourage anybody.”

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