Commonly known as Wali—which is not his real name because of concerns about his security—the former sniper from the famed Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces joined the ranks of a foreign legion in Ukraine, responding to President Volodymyr Zelenksky’s call for foreign fighters to help combat the Russian invasion.
The 40-year-old soldier, who now works as a computer programmer, previously served in several wars, including Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, and Iraq in 2015—where he travelled as a volunteer foreign fighter embedded with Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In June 2017, an unidentified Canadian special forces sniper fired a McMillan Tac-50 rifle to fatally shoot an ISIS militant in Mosul from more than two miles away, among the longest-recorded kills. To put it in perspective, San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge is 1.7 miles long. The shot, which took about ten seconds to reach its target, was independently verified by a video camera and other data, USA Today News reported at the time.
Although it’s never been clarified exactly who fired the shot, Wali was part of the anonymous hero’s unit. Furthermore, Canada is renowned for its world-class sniper system, with soldiers working in pairs to account for wind speed as well as the increasing downward motion of the bullet as it loses momentum over such a long distance.
According to the CBC, Wali entered Ukraine from Poland with a group of British and Canadian veterans during the first week of March, sheltering in a renovated home to join Ukraine forces and a growing battalion of volunteer citizen soldiers.
Speaking to the publication, the man said he missed his son’s first birthday, the “hardest part” of his decision to travel to Ukraine. “A week ago I was still programming stuff,” Wali said. “Now I’m grabbing anti-tank missiles in a warehouse to kill real people… That’s my reality right now.”
Speaking to Canada’s French-language La Presse newspaper, Wali shared that he refuses to watch an “all-out invasion” before his eyes. “What I’m doing is short-circuiting Canadian politics,” he told the newspaper in French. “Yes, of course governments don’t like it, but [in Ukraine], I really feel that there is strong support, and not just moral support.”
Although Canada recommends that citizens avoid all travel to Ukraine, the government will not oppose Canadian nationals joining the ranks of the country’s International Legion of Territorial Defense. Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly stated that it was an “individual choice” and that Canada “supports any form of aid to Ukraine at this time.”
According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, more than 20,000 people from 52 countries have volunteered to assist Ukraine against Russian forces following President Zelensky’s call for “anyone who wants to join the defence of Ukraine, Europe and the world” to “fight side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals.”
Kuleba announced on Twitter that anyone interested in joining the ranks should contact Ukraine’s diplomatic missions in their respective countries. “Together we defeated Hitler, and we will defeat Putin, too,” he said.
“I want to help them because they want to be free, basically. It’s as simple as that,” Wali told the CBC. “I have to help because there are people here being bombarded just because they want to be European and not Russian.”
A heroic Ukrainian soldier blew himself up with a bridge in order to stop Russian troops from advancing further, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Sharing the news on their Facebook page, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that Skakun Vitaliy Volodymyrovych took up a position on the Henichesk Bridge near Crimea when Russian tanks were advancing. After realising that he would not be able to get out in time before the explosion, the soldier allegedly took the decision to stay down and ensure that the bridge was destroyed, whatever the cost.
Ukrainian Armed Forces have since called him a hero who sacrificed his life for his country.
The translated post read: “On this difficult day for our country, when the Ukrainian people are repelling the Russian occupiers in all directions, one of the most difficult places on the map of Ukraine was the Isthmus of Perekop, where a separate marines battalion was one of the first to meet the enemy.”
Quoting the same force, Euromaidan Press wrote on Twitter: “To stop the advance of the tank column, the decision was to blow up the Henichesk bridge. The engineer Skakun Vitaliy volunteered to perform this task. He mined the bridge but couldn’t leave and blew it up together with himself.”
His comrades reported that they heard Vitaliy planning to blow up the bridge, and then heard an immediate explosion. The general staff statement continued, “Our comrade died. His heroic deed significantly slowed the enemy’s advance, which allowed the unit to redeploy and organise the defence.”
The statement also confirmed that Vitaliy will be considered for a state military award, “The Marine Command will apply to the High Command to award the state award to sailor Skakun Vitaliy Volodymyrovych.”
It finished by stating: “Russian invaders, know, under your feet the earth will burn! We will fight as long as we live! And as long as we are alive we will fight!”
Despite the soldier’s sacrifice, it is believed that the area has now been seized by Russian forces. The invasion, which started in the early hours of Thursday 24 February, went on for a second day, with Russian forces moving towards Kyiv, meeting heavy resistance along the way.
Sadly, recent footage showed tanks arriving in the capital. Ukraine’s government has banned men aged between 18 and 60 years old from leaving the area and has asked that anyone who is willing and able to take up arms against the invaders should do so.