Journal De Bruxelles - Canadian leaves a life behind to go help Ukraine

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Canadian leaves a life behind to go help Ukraine
Canadian leaves a life behind to go help Ukraine

Canadian leaves a life behind to go help Ukraine

Vartan Davtian bought a ticket to Ukraine, on Wednesday leaving behind a job and a safe, quiet life in Canada to go defend the country in which he grew up.

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At the airport in Winnipeg in Canada's western Prairies region, dressed in a khaki T-shirt, he bid farewell to friends, before dragging to the check-in counter 13 oversized pieces of luggage bursting with medical supplies, clothes and a few personal items -- all tied with blue and yellow straps.

The 37-year-old said it seemed an obvious decision to put his life on hold instead of standing idly by as bombs fall on Ukraine, where his family still lives.

"It's not right that Russia (is) doing this, and it's not right for other countries to be staying (on the sidelines) and watching," he told AFP before his flight departed.

"The whole situation is not right."

Born in Armenia, Davtian spent his childhood in Ukraine before immigrating to Canada 14 years ago.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, he quit his oil sector job and started making plans to go help his former compatriots fighting Russian invaders.

As his departure approaches, he explains that it didn't feel right to "stay and watch" from the safety of Canada the broadcast news or social media postings about what was happening on the ground, while his sister, nieces, cousins and other relatives and friends were in the grip of war.

"What's the purpose of your life then?" he says.

He describes only seeing war on television in his youth.

"And suddenly, I wake up and I see rockets destroying buildings and killing your neighbors and families," he says, his voice trembling.

It is hard for most to imagine, he suggests, especially in Canada, which is almost 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) away from the fighting.

- 'Never done this before' -

"I have never done this before," he adds, in reference to armed combat. "But to watch all the news and all that stuff, I thought, 'I'm not gonna hesitate.'"

After connecting flights, Davtian expects to reach Warsaw, Poland, and from there cross the border into Ukraine.

He's bringing provisions collected by members of the local Ukrainian diaspora -- which numbers close to 1.4 million across Canada -- including medical equipment, drones, batteries and baby items.

Davtian also has a bandana in the colors of Ukraine -- a kind of memento or good luck charm given to him by his friend Liudmyla Artemchuk.

"She asked me to bring it back" when he returns, he says.

The mood as they all said goodbye is somber. Artemchuk had learned only the day before of the death of a childhood friend in a Russian bombardment. Since the start of the war, civilians have paid a heavy price.

"I think he's very brave and it's very important because he will help people," Artemchuk says.

In Manitoba province, as elsewhere across the country, Ukrainian-Canadians have organized anti-war protests, and collected donations and supplies to send to Ukraine.

Davtian spent the night before his flight with a dozen friends -- all of Ukrainian descent -- making last-minute preparations and packing some of these supplies to take with him.

He shares a last thought about his family, with whom he's eager to reunite despite the dire circumstances: "It's been three years since I've seen them."

Some of his friends wished to join him on the trip, but can't leave Canada because "they have responsibilities here."

"He's my hero," his friend Maryna Prystaiko tells AFP as she clasps the last buckles and tightens straps on his luggage.

W.Baert --JdB