Just days after Russia launch its invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued an urgent appeal asking foreigners to come join the battle.
“Foreigners willing to defend Ukraine and world order as part of the International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine, I invite you to contact foreign diplomatic missions of Ukraine in your respective countries,” he said.
At Ukraine’s borders, as thousands flee the country, volunteers – mostly men – from around the world are arriving to help fight the Russian invasion and to keep them from occupying the country.
One Canadian answering Zelensky’s call is Maksym Sliepukhov, a 36-year-old warehouse logistics manager from Toronto. Sliepukhov was born in Ukraine and graduated with a business degree from the University of Kyiv.
In an interview, he told W5: “We’re trying to protect our families, our friends and the world.”
W5 followed Sliepukhov to a small tactical supply store in Markham, Ont., where he was buying protective gear, like helmets and body armour, for himself and a small legion of fellow Canadians looking to travel to Ukraine.
“When something happens like that at our home, near to our doors, basically at our doors, every single Ukrainian will be doing what we’re all doing. Finding a way to help, finding the way to get home. Finding the way to win this war.”
Canada has the largest number of Ukrainians and those with Ukrainian heritage outside of Ukraine and Russia at 1.4 million people. It is not surprising that many would consider answering the call for help.
One group that was formed calls itself the Canadian-Ukrainian Brigade. The leader asked W5 for anonymity, fearing for his own safety and Russian reprisals on family members back in Ukraine. He told W5 that he has already recruited at least 600 people willing to go back and fight.
While speaking with W5, his phone was continuously ringing with calls and buzzing with messages from would-be volunteers.
While the passion and drive of Ukrainian-Canadians who wish to fight may seem extraordinary, some critics say the plans to return to Ukraine to fight are risky – from both a safety and possibly a legal perspective.
At a news conference this month, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, herself of Ukrainian background, delivered this message: “We respect personal choices. As Prime Minister (Trudeau) said, it is a dangerous prospect to go, but I respect the choice.”
A few days later, Defence Minister Anita Anand told reporters that while she understood the desire that many Canadians have to bear arms for Ukraine, “the legalities of the situation are indeterminate at this time.”
Retired Major-Gen. David Fraser says the Canadian Government is being too ambiguous.
“They’ve got to make this crystal clear because we’re talking about killing. We’re talking about killing other people and potentially killing the people that are going over themselves, getting them killed.”
For Sliepukhov, those questions are moot. He says this fight is personal. He wants to go to his hometown where his mother and brother still live to defend them from the Russians.
“You still need to get to your family. You still need to make sure they’re safe, you still need to relocate them, and then you need to clean up your city.”