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This Niagara man died last year fighting for Ukraine. His mom is on a mission to spread his message

The mother of a St. Catharines, Ont., man who died fighting in Ukraine says Canadians need to continue to support Ukraine. Saturday marked two years since Russia's new military invasion in Ukraine.

Saturday marked 2 years since Russian invasion of Ukraine. Cole Zelenco died in 2023 protecting Ukrainians

A man smiling.

Every day for the past year, Lynn Baxter has been writing letters to her son in a journal.

Cole Zelenco, her 21-year-old son from St. Catharines, Ont., died on April 21, 2023.

He was a junior sergeant and member of the International Legion's 92nd Mechanised Brigade when he was killed while protecting a major supply route into Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

Baxter says she's been writing to remember him.

She's also been on her own mission to spread his message.

"His message was that freedom is something that needs to be protected and all human dignity and safety should be guarded," she told CBC Hamilton on Sunday.

"We're very, very proud of him and his convictions and the mission he went on, though it's a heartbreaking loss … Cole had a finely tuned sense of justice and strong moral compass. He felt he needed to do this, to help protect Ukrainians, especially vulnerable women and children."

Fresh Air12:48The second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine hits particularly close to home for one St. Catharines mother whose son died while fighting for Ukraine.

Many lives have been affected in the two years since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. St. Catharines' Lynn Baxter is remembering her son Cole Zelenco, who died last year while fighting in Ukraine. She joined us to talk about his sacrifice.

Saturday marked two years since Russia launched a new military invasion in Ukraine. People across Canada, including in Baxter in St. Catharines, attended rallies in support of Ukraine and to honour those who died.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed a deal in Kyiv on Saturday committing Canada to a $3.02-billion security assistance package for Ukraine.

"This is a moment for us to both thank Ukraine and demonstrate our solidarity," Trudeau said.

"As they stand and fight for their territorial integrity, their sovereignty, their language, their culture, their very identity and their right to choose their own future, they're also standing and fighting for the international rules based order and the principles that underpin all of our democracies."

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine says more than 10,500 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and nearly 20,000 injured since the start of the conflict.

The federal government says 221,231 Ukrainians came to Canada under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program between March 17, 2022 and Jan. 27, 2024. During the same timeframe, it received 1,189,320 applications for the program, 958,190 of which were approved.

Zelenco to be honoured with Ukrainian award

Baxter said she prays Ukraine makes more progress in the war. She said she personally knows two other Canadians fighting in Ukraine.

"It's a fight between good and evil," she said.

Baxter said her son had no immediate relatives in Ukraine when he went to help, but noted his great-grandfather was born there.

"When he learned of some of the atrocities Ukraine was suffering, he became quite incensed," she said, adding he served with the Canadian military for four years before heading to Ukraine.

"He told his grandmother … I'm trained, I have no wife, I have no children, it's up to me."

"He turned 21 in a trench with an automatic rifle. That was his birthday."

Baxter said Zelenco's sister has started a Facebook page memorializing him, noting she has received messages about him saving other soldiers in combat.

She also said he is set to receive the Ukrainian Order for Courage award for his bravery.

"He was a special person, his message is important and it deserves to be listened to."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova

Reporter

Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

With files from Murray Brewster

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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