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A Torontonian recalls his time in the Ukrainian army

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(Toronto) A few weeks ago, Maksym Sliepukhov was seeking shelter in a Ukrainian forest after Russian missiles hit a military base where he and other international volunteers were training.

He was miles away from Toronto, where he lives. Mr. Sliepukhov took time off from his job as a warehouse logistics manager to travel to Ukraine to join in the fighting and help his mother, a resident of Kyiv, flee the country.

Not only was he able to survive this attack, but he managed to bring his mother to Canada. Today, sitting comfortably in a restaurant in west Toronto, he remembers his short stay there.

“Before February 24, my days were those of a normal guy. After February 24… It was the only right decision to make,” he says of going to Ukraine.


PHOTO CHRIS YOUNG, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Maksym Sliepukhov with his mother Victoriia and his dog Arya

Mr. Sliepukhov joined the international legion which fought within the Ukrainian army against the Russian invaders.

The 36-year-old flew to Poland before heading to Ukraine. His goal was the capital Kyiv to join his mother there.

“My main goal from the start was to get to Kyiv, because I’m from Kyiv. But when I arrived in Ukraine, the situation changed so quickly,” says Sliepukhov, who became a Canadian citizen last year.

He arrived at a training base near Lviv in the west of the country. As he had already served in the Ukrainian army before immigrating to Canada in 2014, he was appointed section chief. He had 38 other international volunteers under his command.

The base suddenly became the target of Russian missiles last month, Sliepukhov said. “We were supposed to train for two or three weeks before sending the volunteers to a regiment, but the bombardment changed all that. »

The shells were falling so randomly that no one knew what to do, he adds. “I was talking to the officers. They told me to round up my people, count them, make sure no one was missing, and leave the forest while they find a solution. »

The unit took shelter in the forest where it assisted the other sections that had suffered casualties during the attack. No apprentice soldier in his section was killed, but some were injured.

“After the bombing, my commander told me to count everyone and check their mental state,” says Sliepukhov. They were then offered whoever wanted it the possibility of leaving Ukraine without being judged. »

Several members of his section have chosen this option.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sliepukhov’s mother was traveling to Poland where she was waiting for a visa to come to Canada.

“It stressed her a bit to cross the border and stay alone in Poland while I was in Ukraine and see her country being destroyed. She is always stressed. She remains in contact with the people she met in Poland, those who also came to Canada and those who remained in Ukraine. »

The Canadian federal government has created the Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization, which allows Ukrainians and their family members to come to Canada as quickly as possible and work or study while in the country.

As of March 30, 60,000 Ukrainians and their family members have applied to come to Canada. About 12,000 more arrived in the country through the programs already in place.

Mr. Sliepukhov must readjust to a normal life in Toronto. He wants to continue supporting Ukraine’s war effort by helping to train volunteers in Canada.

“To do it properly, you have to form groups, interview volunteers to find out what their exact goals are. We train people in basic survival tactics, like first aid and how to react tactically. »

He also plans to return to Ukraine to fight again in the Foreign Legion.

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