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So many citizens of Canada have shown up in Ukraine to fight for the country’s new foreign legion, the organization has set up a separate Canadian battalion, says a Ukrainian government source.

The news is more evidence of a historic movement by people here to join the armed forces of another nation, and potentially risk their lives in combat against Russian invaders.

The 550 would-be fighters that have arrived from Canada so far are part of a battalion based in Kyiv, said the representative of the International Legion for the Territorial Defence of Ukraine, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.

“International legion volunteers are usually kept together for logistics purposes as it is easier for communication, to avoid language barriers,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian-Canadian activist helping in the recruitment of fighters in this country said hundreds more have volunteered to fight in Ukraine.

Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces conduct weapons training in a public park on March 09, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces conduct weapons training in a public park on March 09, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. PHOTO BY CHRIS MCGRATH/GETTY IMAGES)

Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a former Liberal MP who is helping Ukrainian diplomats organize volunteers for the International Legion, said his rough estimate is that at least 1,000 Canadians have applied to join the force.

Canadians can sign up for the official Ukrainian-government program through the website defendukraine.ca or by contacting the embassy and consulates directly, but Wrzesnewskyj said many are simply “picking up and going” to Ukraine via Poland.

“What is so heartfelt is that we have so many Canadian ex-military who are stepping forward and understand that this is just so fundamentally wrong,” he said about the response to Russia’s invasion. “They by nature are protectors and … they are willing to step forward, travel to Ukraine.”

Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces conduct weapons training in a public park on March 09, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces conduct weapons training in a public park on March 09, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. PHOTO BY CHRIS MCGRATH/GETTY IMAGES)

Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a former Liberal MP who is helping Ukrainian diplomats organize volunteers for the International Legion, said his rough estimate is that at least 1,000 Canadians have applied to join the force.

Canadians can sign up for the official Ukrainian-government program through the website defendukraine.ca or by contacting the embassy and consulates directly, but Wrzesnewskyj said many are simply “picking up and going” to Ukraine via Poland.

“What is so heartfelt is that we have so many Canadian ex-military who are stepping forward and understand that this is just so fundamentally wrong,” he said about the response to Russia’s invasion. “They by nature are protectors and … they are willing to step forward, travel to Ukraine.”

“They also are aware this isn’t just the battle for the freedom and democracy of 44 million Ukrainian citizens. Today, the people on the front lines of Ukraine … are defending the north-Atlantic democratic space.”

Ukrainian diplomats have said that the country would give priority to Canadians with military experience, but welcome anyone interested in joining the fight.

The embassy is vetting those who have applied. At least some Canadians cleared to go to Ukraine will receive training in Poland, according to Wrzesnewskyj and Chris Ecklund, a Hamilton, Ont., businessman who has set up his own group, fightforukraine.ca, to assist those going overseas.

The International Legion source said Ukraine would like to see airlines in Canada and elsewhere provide free passage to Poland for would-be fighters. For now, they must pay their own way or rely on funds raised by churches and other groups, he said.

“We had a lady write us that her church started this campaign. It’s very sweet,” said the legion spokesman. “But if every airline donated at least five to 10 seats on the plane tomorrow, we could have been able to get all those 20,000 volunteers (from around the world) faster to Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Ecklund said this week that the fightforukraine.ca website has faced repeated attacks from suspected Russian hackers.

The federal government has sent somewhat mixed messages to Canadians thinking of fighting in Ukraine.

Melanie Joly, the foreign affairs minister, acknowledged that some people will make “individual decisions” to do so.

But the office of Defence Minister Anita Anand said, “Canadians should continue avoid all travel to Ukraine, and those in Ukraine should leave if it is safe for them to do so.”

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