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Kyle Porter, left, and Cole Zelenco, in Ukraine.Handout

Two Canadians who volunteered to fight in Ukraine were killed in a Russian artillery strike last week near Bakhmut, a transportation hub in the country’s southeastern Donbas region that has been besieged for more than nine months.

Emese Fajk, a spokesperson for the International Legion of the Defence of Ukraine, a unit made up of foreign fighters who have joined the Ukrainian military, confirmed the deaths of Cole Zelenco, 21, and Kyle Porter, 27. They are believed to be the fourth and fifth Canadian volunteers killed since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Ms. Fajk said parts of the International Legion were attached to Ukraine’s 92nd Mechanized Brigade, which has been involved in the battle for the city of Bakhmut. Mr. Zelenco served as second-in-command of his unit. Mr. Porter was the brigade’s combat medic.

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Ms. Fajk said that while Mr. Zelenco’s body was retrieved immediately from the battlefield, Mr. Porter’s body was recovered only on Tuesday. “We’re in touch with both families and we’re working with them on the repatriation procedure,” Ms. Fajk said.

Lynn Baxter, Mr. Zelenco’s mother, said her son was determined to help protect the people of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. He left his political science studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., to serve last April. He started his second tour last October and Ms. Baxter said he quickly gained the respect of his fellow soldiers and rose through the ranks. Mr. Zelenco was a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces and previously served four years.

“I have had many of the soldiers that served underneath him reach out to me and they said he was an amazing leader,” she told The Globe and Mail. “They loved his sense of humour. He was always loyal and courageous and just backed them up. People were serving over there because of Cole. His courage inspired people.”

Ms. Baxter said there will be a service held in Ukraine tomorrow, with support of the government, to honour Mr. Zelenco. Then efforts will be made to return his body to Canada.

Once repatriated, Ms. Baxter said the family is planning a large event, because many people who Mr. Zelenco knew through the military or school have reached out and want to pay their respects.

She said her son and Mr. Porter became close friends while serving in Ukraine, perhaps a bond formed by their shared Scottish roots.

Mr. Porter, who was from Alberta, was previously a combat medic from the Canadian Forces as well as Britain’s Parachute Regiment, according to Sergeant Roy Mobsby, a former parachutist for the British Armed Forces.

In a message to The Globe, Sgt. Mobsby said he met Mr. Porter in the Netherlands at a parachute course after Mr. Porter’s first tour in Ukraine. He said Mr. Porter repeatedly expressed a desire to go back. “He had made friends out there and felt he was letting them down by not doing more,” Sgt. Mobsby said.

The federal government hadn’t responded to questions about the two men’s deaths and repatriation efforts as of Monday.

With reports from Nancy Macdonald and Hanna Hett in Vancouver.

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