Former Ontario firefighter joins Ukraine’s fight against Russia

By Cristina Howorun

He’s never been in battle before, he’s never been to Europe, he has no ties to Ukraine but Zach England, from the Kawartha Lakes area, is heading to Ukraine to fight.

“I just can’t watch that anymore without doing anything,” England told City News from a hotel room in Edmonton on the eve of his departure for Warsaw. “The world is helping send supplies and equipment and things like that but these people, what they need is people.”

England is leaving a lucrative position as a pipeliner and his nine-year-old daughter to fight in a war far removed from home.

“I’m not Ukrainian. I don’t have any ties to Ukraine. I’ve actually never been to Europe. This will actually be my first time going to Europe,” England tells CityNews. He has paid his own way and collected as much medical supplies and gear as possible for the trip. He doesn’t know when he will return.

“I just want to help. And that’s my goal is to go there and help as many people as I can. If it’s through fighting on the front lines, then it’s fighting on the front lines. If it’s escorting people to safety to the border, then I’m OK with that,” said England. “If there are injured, I’m going to help injured. Like I said, I’m just going to do whatever I can do.”

Zach England's supplies

Zach England supplies to fight in Ukraine. Photo credit: Zach England

The Ukrainian government issued a call for foreign volunteers to join their ranks. England is one of hundreds of Canadians who have reached out to the Ukrainian embassy or its consulates to enlist.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently launched a website, Fight for Ukraine, with a step-by-step guide for those wishing to volunteer, with an emphasis on those with existing military or law enforcement experience.

“I do not have any military experience but I was a fireman,” explains England. “I did fire fighting, forestry firefighting, oilfield firefighting and natural disaster response and rescue. So I have some medical background and other aspects of my life. I got pretty heavily into survival in bushcraft and I probably slept in twelve different jungles all through Central America.”

Ukraine’s foreign ministry says that to date, about 20,000 people from 52 countries have applied to fight alongside Ukrainian forces. Oleh Hlyniailiuk is thankful for the camaraderie.

The 26- year old Ukrainian has been in Canada since November, but returned home this week, to do what he can.

“A lot of my friends right now are defending Kyiv. Some of them are hiding in the bunkers and shelters. Some of them are on the frontier. Some of them are in West,” said Hlyniailiuk.

“Ukraine, helping with the supplies and coordinating all other kind of work,” he explains from Warsaw before making a 400 kilometre drive to Lyiv to drop off supplies and ultimately return to his home town of Kolomyya, in western Ukraine.

“It’s [been] impossible to stay in B.C., a safe place, and enjoy my whole life,” said Hlyniailiuk. “I suppose there is a danger of existence in the country,” he adds, suggesting that Ukraine may cease to exist because of Russia’s attacks.

He collected several suitcases, full and boxes of supplies from B.C., before he started his trip home via Austria. Hlyniailiuk has no combat experience and knows that returning home means conscription.

“A Ukrainian man under the age of 60 can not leave the country,” he explains. “It’s a one-way ticket.”

Oleh Hlyniailiuk with supplies

Oleh Hlyniailiuk with supplies collected in Canada to bring to Ukraine. Photo credit: Oleh Hlyniailiuk

“I will do all in my power to help our army and I would come to the yeah to tackle this situation,” he says.

Both men are nervous, uncertain of the future, but are committed to protecting a country only one of them knows.

“The Ukrainian people have been strong, it’s been amazing to watch,” England said. “So I’m ready, I’m ready to do what I got to do.”

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