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2 Canadians killed in Ukraine's bloodiest battle in Bakhmut

Oct 15, 2017
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Canadian medic told CBC News he was heading to a 'meat grinder' before he died​


Chris Brown · CBC News · Posted: May 01, 2023 12:48 PM EDT | Last Updated: 5 hours ago
Two people are pictured in military uniforms

Canadians Kyle Porter, left, and Cole Zelenco are pictured in Ukraine in this photo from December 2022. The two were killed in fighting near the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on April 26. (Name withheld)

Two Canadians have been killed in action around the fiercely contested Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, with one of them telling CBC News before his death that the conditions on the front line were like a "meat grinder."
Kyle Porter, 27, of Calgary, and Cole Zelenco, 21, of St. Catharines, Ont., were both serving with Ukraine's International Legion, which was attached to the 92nd Mechanised Brigade.
The unit has been bearing the brunt of a ferocious Ukrainian effort to hold Bakhmut against a determined Russian attack.
The city in the eastern Donbas region has been the site of the longest running and bloodiest battle of the war, with thousands — if not tens of thousands — of casualties on both sides.

Porter had been in contact with CBC News in the days leading up to his death. He had exchanged several text messages and shared his anxiety about the difficult conditions at the front.
"Let me figure out how I am going to survive the next few days…" he wrote three days before he was killed.
"It was a meat grinder the first time and I'm not expecting it any better this time round," he texted.
Two men wearing beards and hats smile and shake hands.

Zelenco, left, and Porter were hit by Russian artillery as they defended a key supply route into the besieged city, their commanding officer said. (Name withheld)
In an interview their commanding officer, the foreign legion fighter known as "the dentist," said that on April 26 at around 6 p.m., the two Canadians were part of a larger group of soldiers tasked with holding an important supply route into Bakhmut.
The commander told CBC News that the unit came under intense artillery fire from Russian troops. Porter, Zelenco and at least three other Ukrainian soldiers sought shelter in a reinforced bunker, he said, but the bunker took a direct hit.
All were killed.
Six rescuers in uniforms pose in front of rubble from a building.

Kyle Porter, third from right, had previously worked with an urban search and rescue team in Kharkiv. (Submitted by Kyle Porter)
"They both were very proud of what they were doing," said the commander. "We were like a family. It is like I have lost my brothers."
Global Affairs Canada said in a statement that it is "aware of reports" about two Canadians being killed and is "following up with authorities for more information."
Both men had previously served in the Canadian Armed Forces but had left the army before signing up to fight in Ukraine. Their commander said the two had become close friends.
A photo given to CBC News showed them standing together dressed in combat fatigues.
An unofficial count by CBC News would make them the fourth and fifth Canadians to be killed in the war since Russia's invasion in February 2022.
A man wearing a uniform holds his hands in air over someone on the ground, as people watch from the side, during a training exercise.

Kyle Porter, who trained as a medic with the Canadian Forces, instructs Ukrainian rescue workers in First Aid in Kharkiv. (Submitted by Kyle Porter)
In Porter's texts to CBC News, he referred to having braved the terrible conditions in Bakhmut once before.
"During his missions, [Porter] saved the lives of wounded soldiers despite often being under Russian small arms and artillery fire while doing so," said a statement released on behalf of Porter's friends and family.
It went on to note that Ukrainian commanders had recommended him for a medal for his "gallant actions" near Bakhmut.
A statement by Zelenco's friends posted on a GoFundMe page said Zelenco was "intensely passionate" about serving in Ukraine and had served two tours there.
Porter had previously worked in Ukraine as a member of an urban search and rescue team based in Kharkiv last spring, which is where CBC News initially met him.
At the time, he was acting as the team's medic and described several close calls where he escaped Russian shelling.
"War is cruelty," he said at the time, even while noting he hoped to return to Ukraine "in a different role."
Two soldiers beside a vehicle

Ukrainian service members from a third separate assault brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine prepare to fire a howitzer D30 at a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on April 23. (Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters)
The family statement said Porter felt a "strong need to do more" and once back in Ukraine, his skills and military experience earned him a promotion to the rank of junior sergeant.
Ukraine's army is thought to be just days away from launching a major counter-offensive against Russian troops and the battle to hold Bakhmut is seen as decisive.
Zelenco's body was recovered from the battlefield and is now in Kharkiv. The GoFundMe page indicates $30,000 has been raised to cover funeral and transportation expenses.
Porter's body was not immediately recovered but his commander indicated members of his unit were hoping to do so shortly.
Paul Hughes, a long-time Calgary community volunteer, now based in Kharkiv, where he runs several charities, says he plans to help transport Porter's body away from the front line to Kharkiv.
"There are people around the world who have been motivated to come over here and do humanitarian work, or, like Kyle and Cole, who've come over and lost their lives," said Hughes.
"They are doing everything they possibly can to defend Ukraine, which is a very, very beautiful and amazing country."
The White House estimated on Monday that Russia's military has suffered 100,000 casualties in the last five months in fighting against Ukraine in the Bakhmut region.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the figure, based on U.S. intelligence estimates, included more than 20,000 dead, half of them from the Wagner Group. The Bakhmut offensive has stalled and failed, he said.

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