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N.B. man injured in Russian attack in Ukraine returns home, warns against fighting

FREDERICTON — A New Brunswick man who was injured when Russian missiles hit a Ukrainian military base two weeks ago has returned home and is warning foreign fighters to stay away from the war.
Hunter Jaxon Francis is shown in a handout photo from his Facebook page. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook-Hunter Jaxon Francis **MANDATORY CREDIT**

FREDERICTON — A New Brunswick man who was injured when Russian missiles hit a Ukrainian military base two weeks ago has returned home and is warning foreign fighters to stay away from the war.

Twenty-four-year-old Hunter Francis of the Eel Ground First Nation suffered minor injuries to his nose, right hand and right eardrum in the attack on the military base near Ukraine's border with Poland on March 13. He said the attack killed at least 35 people and injured 134.

The former Canadian Armed Forces member had travelled to Ukraine to volunteer against the Russian military, which invaded the country in February.

In an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, Francis warned foreign fighters considering travelling to Ukraine that they would be more useful in a humanitarian role — away from the front lines. He said he and others who felt their lives were in unnecessary danger decided to leave and cross into Poland.

"It was pure logistical chaos," he said via text message. "It was unorganized and I felt like the chances of getting killed increased drastically. They were handing out 9-mm handguns with no ammunition. I feel like I can make more of a difference getting supplies to the people who need it most. I'm no use to anybody dead."

Francis said he had been awake much of the night before the March 13 attack because his fighting unit was supposed to take part in an air raid drill, but that was cancelled.

"At (6 a.m.) I awoke to the glass being thrown in on my face; our barracks was hit, and the ammo depot was hit," Francis said. "It was located about 60 metres northwest of our barracks. The explosives contained in our depot also caused major damage.

"While we were running to a trench we recently dug, a missile hit the gymnasium that was about 40-50 metres in front of me, slightly to my right," he said. "That's when I sustained minor injuries to my right hand and face. We took cover in the trench until the bombardment was finished then helped with the wounded."

Francis said he also suffered damage to his right eardrum and now has some loss of hearing in that ear. 

He said he and about 30 other men took cover in the woods, adding that he stood guard because he was the only one with a rifle. He said they heard that Russian ground forces were also attacking, but that information turned out to be false.

Since his return, Francis has been gathering medical supplies for the people of Lviv, Ukraine.

"There is a major supply shortage, especially with trauma kit items: quick clot, tourniquets, etc. Most of these items are not available for purchase in Poland or Ukraine. They are essential to both military personnel and civilians," he said.

"We are all human. Only a language to separate us. I know we Canadians would appreciate the foreign assistance if we switched places with Ukraine."

Francis has also launched a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise money to purchase supplies for the people of Ukraine. He has posted pictures to his Facebook page that show fires and damage to the military base from the blasts. In one post he said, "I have experienced full state-on-state warfare and can say for certain it is not glorious. I urge all foreign fighters to NOT go to Ukraine."

On Monday, he said Canadians with medical training can be of more assistance by helping Ukrainians who have fled to Poland.

"The refugee centres in (Polish cities) Medyka and Prezmysl really need medical professionals to help with the seemingly unlimited intake of refugees," he said. "If anybody really wants to help, go to Poland and help the refugees. There's enough fighters."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2022.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press