Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.
While the war in the Middle East has affected Canadians across the country who have ties to the region, two tragedies that came to light this week are a reminder that another conflict is continuing to take a devastating toll.
Three Canadians have been reported killed in the last ten days while fighting in Ukraine.
The Globe’s senior international correspondent, Mark MacKinnon, reports that Brad Stratford, a Canadian military veteran from North Vancouver, has been killed by Russian fire.
On Friday, sources confirmed to Mark that Stratford died several days ago in heavy fighting around Avdiivka, an industrial city in the southeastern Donetsk region. Avdiivka has been almost completely destroyed by an escalating Russian assault that has now surrounded the remaining Ukrainian positions in the centre of the city on three sides.
Mark writes that a source in the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine – a unit of foreign volunteers fighting in the country – said Stratford, who arrived in Ukraine in the spring of 2022 shortly after the start of the invasion, spent much of his time training snipers. The Canadian, described as being in his fifties, had recently finished a stint at the sniper school and was on a combat mission in Avdiivka when he was killed. The details of his death were not immediately made public.
The source, whom The Globe is not naming because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said Stratford was one of the older legionnaires, but was very fit and a top-notch sniper instructor.
On Wednesday, the brother of an Edmonton paramedic spoke with reporter Alanna Smith and confirmed that Josh Mayers had been killed earlier this month while digging a trench near Russian-occupied Bakhmut.
Mayers had travelled to the war-torn country in September to volunteer as a medic in the Ukrainian military and died less than two months later in a drone strike along with other soldiers.
“He was always someone who just wanted to help people,” said his younger brother, Matt Mayers, in an interview.
“For the 34 years that he was around, and for the 31 years I knew him, he was just a hell of a guy, loved dearly by his family and friends. … We’ll miss him lots.”
Matt said his brother dedicated his life to others, first as a lifeguard and later as a paramedic with Alberta Health Services for nearly a decade. His brother, Matt said, had experienced significant trauma while on the job, which he believes influenced his decision to serve in Ukraine.
Austin Lathlin-Bercier, a 25-year-old Cree man from Manitoba whose death was announced earlier this month, was killed around the same time, also in the Bakhmut area. Lathlin-Bercier, a graduate of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Bold Eagle program for Indigenous youth, had served in Ukraine’s International Legion since early in the war.
In addition to the three recent deaths, six other Canadians are known to have been killed in action through the first 18 months of the war.
Mark notes the Ukrainian military does not publish information about the soldiers and equipment it has lost, so it’s impossible to say whether the spike in Canadians killed in action is coincidental or reflective of a wider pattern of rising casualties. The Russian military also keeps its casualty figures secret, while both sides regularly claim the other has suffered staggering losses.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.