'I'm alive': Former Canadian Forces sniper debunks rumours of his death in Ukraine
'I'm pretty much the last person to know about my death' — former CAF sniper 'Wali'
A former Canadian Armed Forces sniper now fighting Russian forces in Ukraine says he was the last to learn of his own death.
The former CAF member — who goes by the nom de guerre Wali — told CBC News he returned to a safe location in Ukraine Monday after a week spent battling Russian forces on the front lines in the Kyiv region. When he turned on his phone, he discovered hundreds of urgent messages from people convinced he'd been killed in action.
His wife, father, friends and total strangers sent frantic messages trying to confirm he was still alive. His former commander in Kurdistan, who fought with Wali against ISIS, sent a note saying the community sacrificed a sheep in his honour.
"I'm alive, as you can see," Wali said in a video call Tuesday. "Not a single scratch.
"I'm pretty much the last person to know about my death."
Misinformation about Wali's record has been circulating online for weeks — including claims that he was the deadliest sniper in the world and held a record for the longest-distance kill shot. Posts on VKontakte, a Russian social media site now known as VK, claimed that Wali had been killed by Russian special forces 20 minutes after he arrived in Mariupol, the southern port city that has been under siege by Russian forces.
'It's so amateur'
"I've never seen Mariupol in my life," Wali said (CBC News has agreed to identify him only by his alias to protect his family's safety).
"I don't understand why they are doing this because it's so amateur."
He called the lies "obvious" and said rumours of soldiers' deaths can easily be refuted within days. Reuters reported that the Tennessee National Guard debunked false claims last week by Russia's Pravda newspaper that three American veterans had been killed in Ukraine.
Wali — who joined Ukraine's defence along with another Canadian veteran who goes by the nickname "Shadow" — said he's not the deadliest sniper in the world and holds no records. Just a few weeks ago, he said, he was working as a computer programmer in Canada and wasn't actively training.
WATCH: Former Canadian forces sniper offers proof-of-life from Ukraine
"I'm a good sniper," said Wali. "Nothing less, nothing more ... I didn't kill any Russians yet. I help doing so because the sniper is doing a lot of observation, reporting."
Wali said that, over the past week, he's seen Russian forces indiscriminately shelling everything in their path.
"They use a lot of artillery and rifles and shelling," he said. "They just shoot everywhere.
"I think I received maybe hundreds of shells in the past days."
Once, he said, he felt the pressure of an explosion and turned to see what he thought at first was a "beautiful sunset."
"It was the city burning," he said. "Everything is destroyed in some places."
Wali said he didn't sleep or eat for days while in the midst of the fighting. He said his journey back from the defence of Kyiv to a safe location elsewhere in Ukraine brought him past "apocalyptic" scenes of devastation caused by relentless Russian shelling.
"The rounds just kept falling overhead and exploding," he said.
Wali told CBC News he's still trying to respond to a "cascade of new messages" from people who heard he was dead. Some friends have been asking him questions about his personal history to test his identity, he said. Others have asked him for photos or videos to prove he's alive, he said.
'To find me is not that easy'
Wali runs a blog and has been doing interviews with media outlets around the world. That activity, he said, may have put him on the radar of Russian intelligence.
"It's a double-edged sword," he said. "It's true, that it can be very dangerous.
"I might be more interesting than a normal soldier, but to find me is not that easy. It's not that easy to find someone hidden away."
Marcus Kolga of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute runs a Canadian foreign disinformation monitoring and debunking platform. He looked into Wali's case and said it's clearly "Russian-government disinformation."
"The intent of this narrative is to discredit and discourage foreign volunteers," Kolga said. "It's also intended to demonstrate to Russian people the strength of Russian operations."
Wali said he left his phone at a secure base before leaving for the Kyiv front because he didn't want to risk alerting Russian intelligence to his whereabouts.
Ukraine's President Volodymr Zelensky put out a worldwide call for volunteers to join his country's defence — but foreign fighters who don't sign three-year contracts with Ukraine's military aren't protected by international law in the event of capture.
Russia has said that it will treat foreign fighters as mercenaries.
With files from Murray Brewster