British Columbia

Conflict in Ukraine spurs British Columbians to join military organizations

Some British Columbians are being roused to action and the military, amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

One B.C. resident joining the Canadian army while another plans to join the Ukraine International Legion

Anastasiya Ishchook, 17, and Bryson Woolsey, 33, are two British Columbians who intend to take up arms after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Submitted by Anastasiya Ishchook and Bryson Woolsey)

Some British Columbians are being roused to action and the military, amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Anastasiya Ishchook, a teenager living in Cranbrook, B.C., has applied to join the Canadian Armed Forces. 

The 17-year-old, who was born near the Ukranian capital of Kyiv, sent in the last of her paperwork Tuesday to become a combat engineer.

She had previously applied to become an infantry soldier but found out there were no positions available in her region at the time.

Anastasiya Ishchook, 17, and her brother Adrian Ishchook hold up signs at a vigil in Cranbrook, B.C. on Sunday. (Submitted by Anastasiya Ishchook)

While Ishchook said she first applied to join the Canadian military before Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, the conflict has further motivated her to become a soldier.

"Nothing has ever made me want to go and fight before. But ever since this has been happening, I just want to get out there and actually do something," she said.

With Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announcing the establishment of the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine, for which foreigners can volunteer to fight against the Russian invasion, Canadians now have an immediate path to get involved in the war.

  • What questions do you have about Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Send an email to ask@cbc.ca

Ishchook recognizes that unless the war drags on, she likely won't play a role in the ongoing conflict. Still, she wants the opportunity to defend other countries against invasions. 

"I think in the future there will be more conflicts like that. I do have the drive to go out there and do something about them," she said.

As the seventh day of the war in Ukraine began Wednesday, Russian forces intensified their attacks on major urban areas, including the capital, Kyiv, as well as the strategic port cities of Odesa and Mariupol in the south.

Amid the fighting, the humanitarian situation worsened. Roughly 660,000 people have fled Ukraine, and countless others have taken shelter underground.

Ishchook immigrated to Canada in 2013, leaving behind grandparents, cousins and other relatives in the town of Boyarka, 25 kilometres southwest of Kyiv.

So far, Ishchook's family has maintained close contact with relatives near the capital. Her parents text and call family in Ukraine every few hours.

"Their conversations are quite sad," she said. "It's never, 'how are you doing?' It's always, 'are you alive?'"

Most of her family members are sheltering in their basements, rarely leaving except to get groceries or to cook food.

Ishchook said she's been losing sleep and having nightmares worrying about loved ones. 

"Every three hours, I wake up and check the news. They're just on my mind all the time," said Ishchook.

A vigil is held in Cranbrook, B.C., on Feb. 27 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Submitted by Anastasiya Ishchook)

Ishchook gave a speech and led chants at a Ukraine support vigil in Cranbrook over the weekend. She plans to continue finding ways to raise awareness about the conflict.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Canadian Armed Forces told CBC News it's too early to tell how the conflict in Ukraine will affect recruiting.

Online forum encourages recruitment

However, not all British Columbians concerned by what they are seeing are signing up for the Canadian military.

Bryson Woolsey, 33, quit his job as a cook on Sunday in Powell River, B.C., and plans to travel to Ukraine to join Zelensky's international legion.

Woolsey said while he has no direct connection to the conflict, he feels he must get involved.

Bryson Woolsey of Powell River, B.C., quit his job on Sunday and plans to fly to Eastern Europe to fight for Ukraine's international legion. (Submitted by Bryson Woolsey)

"It's unjustified what's happening over there,"  he said. "Part of our legacy as Canadians is to help people when they need help. I want to carry that."

Woolsey said he's planning to fly to Poland and get to the Ukrainian border from there. He has not yet booked flights or made travel plans, however.

According to the former cook, he has no military experience, but he said he's willing to help in any way, whether by taking on a combat or support role.

Woolsey said he learned how to get to Ukraine, what supplies he needs and how to volunteer through a Reddit forum called "VolunteersForUkraine." 

The forum features posts titled "tips for the reality of going into a conflict zone" and "official guide to join the foreign legion."

The group has over 28,000 members and features personal accounts from people around the world in the process of travelling to Ukraine to join the fight against Russia.

Woolsey said his family is distraught but supports his decision to go.

"They think that if I go, I'll die immediately. I mean, that's a possibility ... My fear, that little part of [my] brain is gonna try to back out of this in some shape or form," said Woolsey. 

"But I want to go ... It's not gonna keep me from doing this."


CBC British Columbia has launched a Cranbrook bureau to help tell the stories of the Kootenays with reporter Brendan Coulter. Story ideas and tips can be sent to brendan.coulter@cbc.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brendan Coulter is CBC British Columbia's Kootenay pop-up bureau reporter. He has also worked for CBC Kamloops. Reach him at brendan.coulter@cbc.ca.

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