Dozens of Canadian soldiers boarded a plane to Poland on Friday for what their commander said would be an intense but gratifying mission to help Ukrainians flee a Russian offensive.
About 80 soldiers who took off from Edmonton and another 20 from Trenton, Ont., will offer humanitarian assistance at reception centers across Poland, said Major Ryan Pridmore, a company commander in the Canadian Light Infantry of 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia.
They, along with a Canadian medical unit, are supposed to support the Polish Territorial Defense Force on a two-month mission.
“All our jawans are extremely happy to be deployed,” he said. “That’s what we’ve trained for. That’s why we do this job. Our soldiers are ready to go out there and start helping to make a difference.”
Once the boots are on the ground, Pridmore said, he expects soldiers to be hired directly.
“We have clergy to provide spiritual guidance as well as some mental health professionals when refugees come to the reception centers,” said Pridmore, who has previously served in Afghanistan and Kuwait.
He said some other soldiers have linguistics background.
He said Canada is ready to send about 50 more troops to Poland to help care for, coordinate and resettle Ukrainian refugees.
“We have a team out there that is setting the stage, so we are not rolling in the blind, but it will certainly be a very quick start to business once we get off the ground.”
On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said in Calgary that it was appropriate to declare Russia’s occupation a genocide – as have been called by US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – since thousands of Ukrainians have been killed and brutalized.
Freeland pointed to a “chilling document” on a Russian website published 10 days ago that “effectively lays out a plan for genocide in Ukraine, which, in the wake of this document, erroneously and unfairly selected people.” Calls for the punishment of. For mistakenly describing himself as Ukrainian.”
“She called for the word Ukraine to be erased,” said Freeland, who also serves as Canada’s finance minister.
The Department of National Defense said in a news release that the troops would also work with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and “serve as a liaison with the Polish Armed Forces … for Ukrainians wishing to work and study in Canada.” To support temporary residence.”
On Friday, some soldiers in Edmonton made fun of their nerves, while others fell asleep in the airport lounge area before boarding their flight.
“I’ve been on multiple missions where I’ve seen people who go out doors overseas, and it’s hitting close to home for a lot of people because some of the people on the task force have Ukrainian heritage,” said Lieutenant Kevin Moffatt, a public affairs officer with the Canadian Armed Forces.
“I was very pleased to see that morale was exceptionally high and from my observation, I would say that the task force in Poland is going to be very effective.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 15, 2022.
-With files from Bill Graveland.
This story was produced with financial support from META and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.