Despite numerous reports of his death, famed Canadian sniper Olivier Lavigne-Ortiz, who hails from Quebec, is alive and well and continues to contribute to the war effort in Ukraine.
Dubbed the “deadliest sniper in the world” by the British press, Lavigne-Ortiz, 40, who joined the fight against Vladimir Putin’s invading forces in early March, was reported killed in action just 20 minutes following his deployment into the field.
In a video interview on Monday with La Presse, a Quebec news outlet, the sniper said that he was “the last to learn of his own death.”
Lavigne-Ortiz, known simply as ‘Wali’ by his some 40,000 Facebook followers, said that after three days of taking heavy Russian fire on the front lines near Kyiv that he had returned from his first mission unscathed. “I saw a ball of fire pass by three metres from my head. It was surreal,” he told La Presse.
Lavigne-Ortiz has fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and now Ukraine and documents his time fighting in a personal blog hosted by Facebook.
Shortly after his arrival in Ukraine, rumours of his demise quickly spread on Russian social media sites such as VKontakt after he stopped posting to his blog.
One post, which quickly went viral, claimed, “Canadian sniper, which propaganda called the ‘deadliest sniper in the world’… killed by Russian special forces in Mariupol 20 minutes after landing.”
The original post garnered more than 12,000 likes before it quickly spread to countless other channels while his loved ones insisted he was alive and others discounted the reports of his demise as wartime propaganda.
On Monday, March 21, the Toronto Star reported that it had received an email from Lavigne-Ortiz saying, “I’m alive. Combats were intense. We took ground from the enemy,” but the live interview with La Presse was the first public confirmation that he remains alive.
According to a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, they have not been informed of any Canadian volunteer fighters dying in Ukraine despite reports that Canadians are currently “one of the most numerous nationalities” represented among the fighters in Ukraine’s foreign legion, a spokesperson told CTV National News.
A Facebook post by the group he was travelling with, Norman Brigade, said they believed he was alive in a post last Friday. A portion of the post reads, “The rumours about his death started to appear around March 13th and the Norman Brigade’s commanding officer has allegedly communicated with him on March 15 in the morning. Until proven the contrary, he is alive and well.”
Wali ‘a free spirit’
The post from the Norman Brigade went on to say that conflict had emerged between Lavigne-Ortiz and the brigade, “Wali is a free spirit and I had to send him to another unit of his choice because he was bypassing clear instructions and OPSEC guidelines. This is not a game. He was becoming a danger for the mission, for his family and for himself.”
In response, Lavigne-Ortiz recounted a different version of the events to La Presse, “I was the one who left. They were very happy that I did some promotion for them when it came time to recruit,” he said.
In describing the war Lavigne-Ortiz told La Presse, “It’s kind of like a macho war of guys puffing out their chests and throwing big shells at each other. Half the job is hiding to protect yourself.”
He said he did not fire a single shot during his first clashes with the Russians, but that he raised several Russian artillery positions and that his units assaults had helped “take back ground from the enemy.”