Canadian fights in Ukraine plead for more gear

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Wearing a military uniform emblazoned with both the Ukrainian and Canadian flags, Matthew McGill called for more support in the fight against the Russian invasion.

“We need equipment,” the Canadian Armed Forces veteran and member of Ukraine’s International Legion said Thursday. “The Legion needs money to buy equipment.”

“Any way you can help us continue our fight is appreciated.”

McGill, 49, from Calgary, is serving in a signals platoon with the Ukrainian military on the front lines in Kharkiv, where heavy rocket and artillery attacks have taken place.

“Lots of artillery,” McGill said. “Everyone reacts differently. For myself, I just listen more closely to find out if it’s inbound or outbound and how close it is. And if it’s too close, you end up in a ditch.”

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Russia intensifies attacks on Kharkiv

Russian and Ukrainian forces have clashed in a handful of villages outside the city of Kharkiv. Russia wants to oust the Ukrainian army from its border and protect supply lines in support of its bid to seize the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Those fighting the Russians in the region include members of the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine, at least one of whom is Canadian.

Speaking to reporters at the edge of a field far from the nearest Russian position, he said he was driving tankers on icy roads in the Northwest Territories when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy soon invited foreign volunteers to join an international legion that would operate as part of Ukraine’s military.

Matthew McGill, near the frontline in Kharkiv, Ukraine, June 30, 2022.

Stewart Bell/Global News

McGill, a veteran with the Canadian Forces 735 Communication Regiment, said he thought he had something to offer.

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“I felt like I could do more than just post on Facebook that I support Ukraine and maybe donate some money,” he said. “I have skills that I thought would be useful here.”

His family didn’t want him to go. He is the father of two sons and recently became a grandfather.

While his family understood why he wanted to help Ukraine, they were concerned but ended up supporting him, he said.

He found the application form online and underwent a review. Almost two weeks later he found out he was admitted and flew to Poland.

“My employer has been very supportive and I will have a job waiting for me when I come back,” he said.

Matthew McGill of Calgary near the Kharkiv Front, Ukraine, June 30, 2022.

Stewart Bell/Global News

Volunteers met him at Warsaw Airport and he crossed the border for a month’s training in March. He said that while the International Legion may have been disorganized in the early days, it has improved.

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“I would say things are going really well at the moment,” he said.

According to the International Legion, “many” Canadians have joined the fight against Russia, although it won’t give numbers. Many, but not all, are Ukrainian Canadians.

“There are quite a lot of Canadians here,” agreed McGill, who is not of Ukrainian descent.

One is a drone operator who helps attack Russian positions, he said. McGill said he also encountered equipment provided by Canadians, such as night vision goggles and ready meals.

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At the end of the NATO summit, Canada promises more military aid to Ukraine

Canada has provided M777 artillery pieces, rifles, ammunition and other military support, but Ukraine remains inferior to Russia and is demanding more weapons.

After the Russian missile attack on a crowded shopping mall in Kremenchuk on Monday, Zelenskyy called for “much more modern systems, modern artillery” at a NATO summit in Madrid.

McGill said he would narrowly encounter a Russian missile. He was inside a building used as an observation point and was about to go outside when a missile struck and his glasses were blown off his face.

“Thankfully no one was hurt, but being so close is really eye-opening,” he said. “Being hit by rockets and artillery at close range will change everyone.”

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Explosions are not the only risks. Two British members of the Ukrainian armed forces captured by Russia were sentenced to death earlier this month. Two Americans are now in Russian custody.

The Russian government designates foreigners fighting for Ukraine as mercenaries who are not entitled to the protection of prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Investigators at the scene of the Russian rocket attack on a residential building in Kharkiv, June 25, 2022.

Stewart Bell/Global News

McGill said he will stay in Ukraine for two more months and return to Canada at the end of August.

“I think six months is enough to be away from my family,” he said.

He said his experience strengthened his views on the need to defend Ukraine from Russia’s territorial expansionism.

“Just seeing how horrible the Russians are in their treatment of Ukrainian civilians made me feel even more like I need to be here,” he said.

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“Just be grateful we don’t have a war in Canada.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc. Canadian fights in Ukraine plead for more gear


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