Canadian volunteers prepare to join fight against Russian invasion in Ukraine
Canadians with ties to the country as well as those who just want to help say they are travelling to war zone
With fighting in Ukraine intensifying, more people around the world are travelling to the region to either join the fight against Russian forces or to lend assistance to besieged civilians, and Canadians are among them.
Anthony Walker is usually a comic who makes satirical videos in Ontario's Northumberland County, but is currently in Medyka, Poland, on the border with Ukraine, preparing to join the fight against a Russian invasion that has battered several major Ukrainian cities in the past seven days. Close to a million people have fled to neighbouring countries.
"I'm not Ukrainian, but I'm human," said Walker, who says he has some medical training and experience with weapons. "I'm just doing what I think is the right thing."
He said his wife fears for his safety and was reluctant to let him go but he hopes he'll return home to her and his three children.
"I have every intention to come back, but there's every possibility that that won't happen," he said. "I want to come back and see my kids."
He expects to cross into Ukraine this week.
"Anyone that's saying they aren't scared is either lying or stupid," he said.
Bryson Woolsey, a cook from Powell River, B.C., is another Canadian preparing to travel to Ukraine. He has no personal ties to the country or military experience but feels compelled to help.
"It's just a great injustice that's happening over there," he said. "I have the capability of going over there and I just feel like it's the right thing to do."
He has no illusions about the dangers he could face in a war that is intensifying by the day.
"I think it's my responsibility to help those people. If that means sacrificing blood or life to give them that, then I absolutely think that's what I would do."
Unable to sit back and watch
Oleksandr Serheiev just moved to Canada from Kyiv a year ago with his mother and sister and has been distraught at the news he's seeing. He has been helping sort supplies to send to Ukraine in Edmonton, but is ready to do more, he said.
"When you're watching news, you can't just sit at work [or] at home and feel OK, because it's not OK," he said.
The images of injured civilians, especially children such as a six-year-old girl in Mariupol who was killed when the southern port city came under attack, are too devastating to watch from afar.
"I think I need to go there," Serheiev said. "Maybe not like a soldier. Maybe just to help civilians. I just feel I need to go there."
Meanwhile in Ukraine, where the government has made repeated emotional pleas for more help from the West, some residents were relieved to hear of Canadian volunteers preparing to travel to the country.
Mykyta and Olga Kovalov fled with their daughter once the shelling of Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, intensified and are now in a town close to the Slovak border. They sent their son ahead by train, and while he is also in western Ukraine, he has not yet been reunited with them.
"When someone is on your side, support, it's very important in such situations," said Olga Kovalov.
Mykyta Kovalov hopes the added help from abroad will make a difference.
"It's kind of incredible. I do believe those people's help is really useful," he said.
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Some Japanese eager to join the fight
Canadians are not the only ones eager to join the fight in Ukraine.
A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Embassy in Tokyo told Reuters that it has received calls from people "wanting to fight for Ukraine."
The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported that as of Tuesday, 70 Japanese men — including 50 former members of Japan's Self-Defence Forces and two veterans of the French Foreign Legion — had applied to be volunteers, Reuters said.
Keiichi Kurogi was one of dozens of men who offered to join an "international legion" to fight Russian invaders after Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky called for volunteers.
Kurogi, a 39-year-old office worker who lives in southwestern Japan, told Reuters he called the Ukrainian embassy on Monday after seeing its plea for volunteers on Twitter.
"When I saw images of elderly men and women in Ukraine holding guns and going to the front, I felt I should go in their place," he said.
The embassy declined Kurogi's offer to fight, telling him that he lacked the necessary military experience.
The Japanese government has also told its nationals to put off travel to Ukraine for any reason, a warning reiterated on Wednesday by chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who said he was aware of the reports about the volunteers.
"The Japanese foreign ministry has issued an evacuation advisory for all of Ukraine, and we want people to stop all travel to Ukraine, regardless of the purpose of their visit," he told a news conference.
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The war in Ukraine has stirred strong emotions in Japan, which has a post-war pacifist constitution that has been reinterpreted in recent years to allow Japan to exercise collective self-defence or aid allies under attack.
Hundreds gathered for a protest against the Russian invasion last week in Tokyo, while the Ukrainian embassy said it collected $17 million in donations from some 60,000 people in Japan after it put out an online request for help.
With files from Reuters and CBC's Perlita Stroh and Brenda Witmer