Austin Lathlin-Bercier, a 25-year-old Cree man from Manitoba, has died fighting for the Ukrainian army, his family says.
Lucy Lathelin and Adam Bercier, from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, were notified by phone on Monday by the International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine that their son had been missing for two days, Mr. Lathlin-Bercier’s sister Faith Lathlin-Bercier told The Globe and Mail. They were notified later that same day he had been found dead.
Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Jean-Pierre J. Godbout said the department is aware of the death of a Canadian citizen in Ukraine.
”Our hearts are with their family and loved ones during this very difficult time,” Mr. Godbout said. “Canadian officials are in contact with local authorities for more information, and consular officials are providing consular assistance to the family and, due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed.”
Ukraine’s International Legion did not immediately respond to inquiries for more information and comment.
According to Ms. Lathlin-Bercier, her brother enlisted with the Ukrainian army in March, 2022, after spending time travelling in Europe and teaching English in Peru. He had been passing time healing from eye surgery that he got so that he could one day enlist with the Canadian infantry. Mr. Lathlin-Bercier grew interested in the military after participating in the Canadian Armed Forces’ Bold Eagle program for Indigenous youth after he graduated from high school in 2018.
In a Facebook post from his account dated May, 2022, Mr. Lathlin-Bercier said he had been in Portugal when the war between Russia and the Ukraine started, and he couldn’t stop thinking about how he could help, even with his limited military experience.
“I couldn’t just stand by while a sovereign country was attacked by an authoritarian regime. Seeing all the people losing their homes and loved ones, while Russia was indiscriminately killing civilians and committing war crime after war crime, it was extremely infuriating,” he wrote in his post.
When Mr. Lathlin-Bercier enlisted in Ukraine, he almost didn’t tell his mother, who cried when he told her of his plans.
“I was going to lie and not tell you. … But that’s really selfish,” he wrote in a Facebook message to his mother in May, 2022, after their phone call.
She told her son she was so proud of him and that it would be okay. “So go and learn. And come home,” she wrote to him.
Ms. Lathlin-Bercier said her brother kept in touch with family regularly over Facebook, updating them weekly. He was on a few days off when she last spoke to him recently from a Ukrainian city where he was enjoying his favourite meal, a hamburger and French fries. A cat lover, he often posted photos on social media of him dressed in his military uniform with different cats he came across in Ukraine.
His last private message to his mom was Thursday, when he told her, “Thanks mom all is good over here.”
Ms. Lathlin-Bercier said it could be weeks or months before his body is recovered and returned home.
A statement from Chief Maureen Brown of Opaskwayak Cree Nation said that, “Austin was bright, compassionate, and extremely brave. He sacrificed everything to help and paid the ultimate price. The way he lived his life unselfishly and for others is a beacon of bravery for such a young man. He lived and offered his life with honour. He made our nation proud.”
Community members gathered Monday evening to pay their respects and lower the nation’s flag.