Canadian fighters in Ukraine call for more equipment

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Dressed in a military uniform marked with the Ukrainian and Canadian flags, Matthew McGill pleaded for more support in the fight against the Russian invasion.

« We need equipment, » the Canadian Armed Forces veteran and member of the Ukrainian International Legion said Thursday. « The legion needs money to buy equipment. »

« Any way you can help us continue our fight is appreciated. »

A 49-year-old Calgary resident, McGill serves in a Ukrainian army signals platoon on the Kharkiv front, where there were heavy missile and artillery attacks.

“Lots of artillery,” McGill said. « Everyone reacts differently. For my part, I just listen more carefully to determine if it’s in or out and how close it is. And if it’s too close, you end up in a trench.

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Russian and Ukrainian forces clashed in a handful of villages outside the city of Kharkiv. Russia wants to keep the Ukrainian army away from its border and protect the supply lines supporting its attempt to seize the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Those fighting the Russians in the region include members of Ukraine’s International Home Defense Legion, and at least one is Canadian.

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

President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly invited foreign volunteers to join an international legion that would operate as part of the Ukrainian military.

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

Stewart Bell/Global News

A veteran of the Canadian Forces 735th Communications Regiment, McGill said he thought he had something to offer.

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“I felt 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 think would come in handy here. »

His family did not want him to leave. He is the father of two sons and recently became a grandfather.

While his family understood why he wanted to help Ukraine, they were worried, but in the end they supported him, he said.

He found the application form online and went through a pre-screening. Nearly two weeks later, he learned he was approved and flew to Poland.

« My employer has been very supportive of me and I will have a job waiting for me when I return, » he said.

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

Stewart Bell/Global News

Volunteers met him at Warsaw airport and he crossed the border in March for a month of training. He said that although the international legion was disorganized at first, it has improved.

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« I would say right now things are going really well, » he said.

According to the International Legion, « many » Canadians joined the fight against Russia, although it does not provide numbers. Many, but not all, are Ukrainian-Canadians.

“There are quite a few Canadians here,” admitted McGill, who does not have Ukrainian roots.

One is a drone operator who helps target Russian positions, he said. McGill said it also found equipment provided by Canadians, such as night vision goggles and prepared meals.

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

Canada has provided M777 artillery guns, rifles, ammunition and other military support, but Ukraine remains underarmed by Russia and has requested more weapons.

Following Russia’s missile attack on a crowded shopping mall in Kremenchuk on Monday, Zelensky asked a NATO summit in Madrid for « much more modern systems, modern artillery. »

McGill said he got a call from a Russian missile. He was in a building used as an observation point and was about to exit when a missile struck and his glasses were ripped from his face.

« Luckily no one was hurt, but just getting close really opens your eyes, » he said. « Being hit by missiles and artillery in close proximity is something that will change everyone. »

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Explosions are not the only risks. Two British members of Ukrainian forces captured by Russia were sentenced to death earlier this month. Two Americans are also currently being held by Russians.

The Russian government calls foreigners fighting for Ukraine mercenaries who are not entitled to the prisoner of war protections of the Geneva Conventions.

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

Stewart Bell/Global News

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

« I think six months is enough for me to be away from my family, » he said.

He said his experiences reinforced his view on the need to defend Ukraine against Russian territorial expansionism.

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

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« Just be thankful we don’t have a war in Canada. »

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