Two Canadians who enlisted to fight for the Ukrainian military are being remembered for their bravery after being killed in action last week.
Cole Zelenco, a 21-year-old from St. Catharines, Ont., and 27-year-old Kyle Porter of Calgary, Alta. had been defending the city of Bakhmut for weeks, fighting in one of the war’s bloodiest battles. Last Wednesday, they were killed in a bunker under heavy Russian artillery fire.
Both men fought with Ukraine’s 92nd Mechanized Brigade and were close friends, being the only two Canadians in their combat group.
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“Cole was a really special person. He had a really finely tuned sense of justice for somebody so young and he was a protector,” Zelenco’s mother, Lynn Baxter told CTV News on Tuesday.
That sense of justice brought Zelenco, who had previously served in the Canadian Armed Forces, to enlist to fight in Ukraine. This was his second tour, as he had been back in the warzone since the end of October.
“He felt he had a lot of work still left to do there. A lot of unfinished business. A lot of people still to take care of there. He was just thinking of other people the whole time,” his sister Elena Zelenco told CTV News.
Porter first made the trip to Ukraine as a search and rescue worker, having served as a medic with the Canadian Armed Forces. Last year, he told CTV News Calgary he felt he had an obligation to offer his services in Ukraine after seeing footage of the war on television.
“I saw that footage and I thought, ‘that’s not fair.’ I have equipment, I have training. I have experience, and the fact that I get to sit here and enjoy the benefits of where I live compared to these people and their families, I knew I needed to do what I could to get some cosmic level of justice,” Porter told CTV News Calgary in March 2022.
Paul Hughes, a Canadian humanitarian aid worker in Ukraine, was one of the people who helped recover Porter’s body in Bakhmut and brought his body to the morgue in Kharkiv.
“I think Canadians should know that this man is a hero over here,” he said in an interview with CTV News. “They should know that their boys were loved and respected and this country thinks that they are heroes.”
Zelenco and Porter are believed to be the fourth and fifth Canadian volunteer soldiers killed in Ukraine since the war began. Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, paid tribute to the two Canadians on social media.
“No words can express our gratitude for their sacrifice,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “Eternal memory and eternal glory to Warriors.”
The two men are set to be honoured in separate ceremonies in Ukraine this week before their bodies return to Canada. Loved ones in Canada are planning funerals in the weeks to come.
With files from CTV News Calgary