FREDERICTON. A Canadian volunteer fighter who was injured two weeks ago when Russian missiles hit a military base in Ukraine has returned home and is calling on those who can emulate him to help in other ways.
Hunter Francis, 24, from the Mi’kmaq First Nation community in Ile Ground, New Brunswick, suffered minor injuries to his nose, right arm and right eardrum during an attack on a military base near the Ukrainian-Polish border on March 13. He claims that at least 35 people died and 134 were injured as a result of this strike.
A former member of the Canadian Forces went to Ukraine as a volunteer to fight the Russian army, which launched an invasion of the country on February 24.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, Francis said foreign fighters considering sending to Ukraine would be more useful in a humanitarian role, away from the front lines. He indicated that he and others who felt that their lives were unnecessarily in danger decided to leave and move to Poland.
“It was pure logistical chaos,” he said in a text message exchange. It was disorganized and I felt that the chances of being killed increased dramatically. They handed out empty 9mm pistols. I feel I can do better by distributing supplies to those who need them most. I’m useless if I’m dead.”
Shards of glass
Mr Francis said he stayed up most of the night before the March 13 attack because his combat unit was scheduled to take part in an air raid exercise that was cancelled.
“At (6am) I woke up to glass shards thrown at my face; our barracks were hit, as well as an ammunition depot located about 60 meters northwest of our barracks, Mr. Francis said. Explosions in our warehouse also caused significant damage.
“As we were running towards the newly dug trench, the rocket hit the gym, which was about 40-50 meters away from me,” he said. It was then that I received minor wounds in my right arm and face. We hid in the trenches until the shelling ended, then we rescued the wounded.” Mr. Francis said he also had a damaged right eardrum and now has partial hearing loss.
He then hid in the woods with about thirty men, and it was he who stood guard because he was the only one with a gun. He heard that Russian ground forces were also attacking, but this information was not confirmed.
Since returning, Mr. Francis has been collecting medical supplies for residents of Lvov, in western Ukraine, about 70 kilometers from the Polish border. “There is a severe shortage of consumables, especially trauma kits such as tourniquets. Most of these items cannot be bought in Poland or Ukraine. They are necessary for both military personnel and civilians,” he said.
“We are all humans. We are separated by only one language. I know that we Canadians would appreciate foreign aid if we were Ukraine.”
Mr. Francis also started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to raise money to buy supplies. He also posted photos on his Facebook page showing the fires and damage caused to the military base by the explosions. In the message, he wrote: “I survived the interstate war and I can say with confidence that it is not glorious. I urge all foreign fighters NOT to go to Ukraine.”
In an interview on Monday, he said Canadians with medical backgrounds could help Ukrainians who fled to Poland.
“The centers for refugees in Medyk and Przemysl really need medical specialists to help with the seemingly unlimited intake of refugees,” he said. “If someone really wants to help, let him go to Poland to help refugees. Enough fighters.