Two Canadian citizens were killed in a battle around the hotly contested Ukrainian town of Pakhmut, with one telling CBC News before his death that conditions on the front line were like a “meat grinder”.
Kyle Porter, 27, of Calgary, Alta, and Cole Zelenko, 21, of St. Catharines, Ontario, served with the Ukrainian International Corps attached to the 92nd Mechanized Brigade.
The unit bears the brunt of a fierce Ukrainian effort to hold Bakhmut in the face of a determined Russian offensive.
The city in the eastern Donbass region was the scene of the war’s longest and bloodiest battle, with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of casualties on both sides.
Porter was in touch with CBC News in the days leading up to his death. He had exchanged several text messages and expressed concern about the difficult conditions at the front.
Three days before he was killed, he wrote: “Let me know how I will live in the next few days…”.
“It was a meat grinder the first time and I don’t expect it to be any better this time,” he wrote in a text message.
Asked by their commander, a Foreign Legion guerrilla known as “Le Denteste,” he said that on April 26 around 6 p.m. the two Canadians were part of a larger group of soldiers tasked with establishing an important supply route to Bakhmut.
The commander told CBC News that the unit came under heavy artillery fire from Russian forces. He said Porter, Zelenko and at least three other Ukrainian soldiers took refuge in a bunker, but the bunker was hit directly.
They were all killed.
“Both of them were very proud of what they were doing,” said the commander. “We were like a family. It was like I lost my brothers.”
Both men had previously served in the Canadian Armed Forces, but left the military before being drafted to fight in Ukraine. Their leader said the two became good friends.
A photo given to CBC News showed them standing together in combat gear.
An unofficial CBC News tally would make them the fourth and fifth Canadians killed in the war since the Russian invasion in February 2022.
In Porter’s transcripts to CBC News, he said he had faced the terrible conditions in Bakhmut once before.
during his duties, [Porter] She saved the lives of wounded soldiers despite Russian small arms and artillery fire. »
She went on to note that the Ukrainian commanders had commended him for a medal for his “deeds of gallantry” near Bakhmut.
A statement posted by Zelenco’s friends on the GoFundMe page said Zelenco was “extremely excited” to serve in Ukraine and have spent two tours there.
Porter previously worked in Ukraine as part of an urban search and rescue team in Kharkiv last spring, where he was first interviewed by CBC News.
At the time, he was working as a team medic and described several close calls while surviving Russian bombing.
“War is cruelty,” he said at the time, indicating that he hoped to return to Ukraine “in a different role.”
The family statement said that Porter felt “a burning desire to do more” and once he returned to Ukraine, his military skills and experience earned him a promotion to junior sergeant.
It is believed that the Ukrainian army is only days away from launching a major counterattack against the Russian forces, and the battle for control of Bakhmut is considered decisive.
Zelenco’s body was found on the battlefield and is now in Kharkiv. The GoFundMe page reports that $30,000 was raised for funeral and transportation costs.
Porter’s body was not immediately found, but his commander said members of his unit hoped to do so soon.
Paul Hughes, a longtime community volunteer from Calgary who is now based in Kharkiv where he runs several charities, says he plans to help the family bring Porter’s body back to Canada.
“There are people all over the world who are motivated to come here and do humanitarian work or like Kyle and Cole who came and lost their lives,” Hughes said.
They are doing their best to defend Ukraine, which is a very beautiful and amazing country. ”
According to Ukraine, hundreds of Russian mercenaries and many prisoners and regular soldiers are killed or injured every day in fierce street battles. However, the Ukrainian army also suffered heavy losses.