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Island medical student fighting with Ukrainian forces dies in battle

Global Affairs Canada said it’s aware of the death of a Canadian citizen after reports that a man fighting with Ukrainian forces was killed in battle.

A Vancouver Island man who volunteered to fight in Ukraine and was killed in battle this weekend was “the best of our two nations,” says the former Ukrainian ambassador to Canada.

“It’s devastating news for me and for many people who know this family,” Andriy Shevchenko told CBC News Network this morning. He said he visited the family at their home in Port Alice, which he called “a beautiful place,” while he was ambassador.

“There was so much love and faith in this house,” Shevchenko said. “They wanted to start their life, their new life, in Canada, but this man Grygorii Tsekhmistrenko, when he felt he could make a difference on the other side of the planet in his home country, he went.”

Shevchenko said Tsekhmistrenko was in Ukraine during the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 and again after Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.

“He represents the best of our two nations,” Shevchenko said. “It’s courage, it’s empathy, it’s passion for freedom. He was a proud Ukrainian Canadian and I think our two nations have to honour what he has done and to honour his contribution.

Global Affairs Canada has said it was aware of the death of a Canadian citizen near the city of Bakhmut on the weekend.

Tsekhmistrenko’s father, Vitalii Tsekhmistrenko, told CBC from Kyiv that Tsekhmistrenko had lived in Kinistino, Sask., for years with his parents before moving to Port Alice and was a Canadian citizen.

A friend of Tsekhmistrenko’s spoke with The Canadian Press while on his way to meet the fighter’s family to help make funeral arrangements.

Adam Thiemann said he got word from a soldier in Ukraine that Tsekhmistrenko was killed Sunday in the contested eastern Donetsk region, where fighting has raged for months.

Thiemann said he fought alongside Tsekhmistrenko for months as part of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion.

He said the medic, a dual citizen, was a beloved member of his unit who studied tactical medicine before joining the Foreign Legion.

“He was just so happy to help. He’s not the medic who didn’t want to be there or will take a shortcut,” Thiemann said.

Jack Frye, a friend who also fought alongside Tsekhmistrenko, said the medic returned to Ukraine when the war started.

“He was one of the more gentle and kindest people I’ve met. He lived and breathed doing what was right and helping others,” Frye wrote in an email.

“Everyone loved Greg. I am glad I had the privilege to be his friend and fight alongside him.”

On a Facebook page paying tribute to Tsekhmistrenko, one woman wrote: “Heartbreaking news. Condolences to his friends, comrades, and especially his loving family. Port Alice is very sad to hear.”

According to his former rugby team in Saskatoon, this wasn’t Tsekhmistrenko’s first tour in Ukraine.

A Facebook post by the Saskatoon Wild Oats Rugby Club said he had been “part of the conflict” in Crimea earlier in his life.

“Despite a truly horrific experience, he quickly put his hand up and went home to defend his country again,” the post said. “Greg was truly selfless and going home was a shining example of him living his life putting others’ needs before his own.”

— With files from the Times Colonist