On Mar. 1 a top Ukrainian diplomat said that following a formal call for volunteers by the Ukrainian government hundreds of Canadians have signed up to fight for Ukraine against Russian invasion forces.
Two days following the call for assistance, Canadians are now signing up via recently published websites to join what Kyiv is calling the International Legion for the Territorial Defence of Ukraine.
“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. We are dedicated to assist those who want to help with the defense to get to the front lines,” reads defendukraine.ca before displaying a simple volunteer application.
“The effort seems extraordinary — a foreign government essentially recruiting soldiers on Canadian soil, so far with the federal government’s tacit approval,” Canada’s National Post reported.
Oleksandr Shevchenko, Ukraine’s Toronto consul general, said in an interview, “We are touched, we are overwhelmed. It is not only Ukrainian-Canadians … but people from different corners of the country,” who are stepping up. At least two to three hundred individuals have volunteered to fight in Ukraine, Shevchenko said.
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Funding for the war effort is expected to be provided by a flood of private donations, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a former Liberal MP and prominent Ukrainian-Canadian said.
Multiple recruitment efforts
In addition to these efforts, an Ontario businessman, Chris Ecklund, based in Hamilton, Ont. who also worked to rescue Canada’s ex-employees in Afghanistan, launched his own operation to recruit foreign fighters to counter Russia’s invasion efforts.
People of any nationality can sign up via Ecklund’s website, fightforukraine.ca, which went live on the afternoon of Mar. 1.
“[This] website will serve as a portal for anyone world-wide that wants to head to Ukraine and help them fight to keep their country,” the site reads.
The site is run by veterans and is reportedly providing a sped-up basic training program as well as offering practical advice on how to travel to Ukraine.
Part of preparing to go to Ukraine includes understanding that one may not return and involves arranging for a means to identify remains.
“You obviously have to think and hope for the best but you have to plan for the worst,” Ecklund told the National Post adding that, “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 is no stranger to war. He served in the army in the 1980s and 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,” the National Post reported.
Preparing for war
Ecklund’s website outlines some of the more practical matters volunteers need to address before making the journey to Ukraine including having medical and dental check-ups completed and gathering needed medication and supplies like tourniquets and rations.
“The little tiny things can be very big things if you don’t take care of it,” Ecklund told the National Post. “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.”
Without going into details, for security reasons, Ecklund said his recruits would be provided a crash basic-training course somewhere in Europe.
Shevchenko indicated that the Ukrainian government is accepting anyone willing to fight but would most appreciate volunteers with either military or policing backgrounds.
“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.”