Some people need to take a stand when it comes to the bully on the block, especially when the block happens to be the world stage and a super-power is the bully. Shawn Duquette recently returned home to Verner after voluntarily serving in Ukraine under the auspices of the Foreign Legion, sporting an injury to his leg that cut his service short. However, he remains enthusiastic about his compatriots in Ukraine – the numerous like-minded friends he made from around the world and the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people. He says he felt compelled to go “just to help, just like anyone when you see the schoolyard bully picking on someone half their size. (…) It made sense with my background and experience that I could potentially make a difference.”
That background includes extensive military experience. Duquette spent 18 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, ten in the army and 8 in the navy. In 2008, he was released and moved to the area to be closer to his wife’s family in North Bay. Both he and his wife are originally from Halifax. He is also a volunteer fire fighter with the West Nipissing Fire Department, has been working as a civilian at the base in North Bay, has a son in the military, and at the age of 48 decided to take up the battle in Ukraine to defend the underdog. “Ukraine was minding its own business, [President] Zelensky with a new government, trying to weed out corruption and get [Ukraine] on track to join the EU,” he says, deploring Russia’s unprovoked attack.
(Trigger warning – some commentary in this article may be disturbing. Also, Shawn Duquette made it very clear that he could not discuss issues related to Operational Security.)
Like many, he sees the fight in Ukraine as the “last-bastion” in defending emerging and existing democracies. “Putin isn’t stopping in Ukraine; it will happen to Moldova or some other non-NATO country. I think there are a lot of likeminded people like me, because the Foreign Legion there overflows. I worked with Colombians, I worked with Spanish… I developed a great friendship with a guy from Spain; 30 days prior he couldn’t speak English and now we carry on a conversation. In Ukraine, I made American friends, a couple who were Marines, US Army, a US Navy guy who was a nuclear technician on an aircraft carrier.” This struggle in Ukraine is unifying a certain contingent of experienced servicemen from around the world who are the opposite of mercenaries – they see themselves as pursuing a just cause, knowing they may not ever return home.
“The diversity of people I met, just their backgrounds, incredible. I met a young lad, 19, from Michigan, no experience at all, graduated from high school, packed his bags and bought a plane ticket to Ukraine. Heart’s in the right place but if you don’t have any military background, joining the Foreign Legion is not the way to go about it. There are other organizations, like the Red Cross, other humanitarian organizations.” Duquette notes it takes a lot of resources to train someone for combat, resources Ukraine doesn’t have. But, he adds, Ukraine has incredible gratitude to those trained personnel who are with them.
It was with open arms that Duquette and his fellows were greeted in Ukraine. “They recognize the sacrifice that a lot of guys were doing, leaving jobs and families behind to come help them, so they appreciated it. There’s a ton of mutual respect, especially for the Ukrainian Army. Here’s the little guy and they are holding up. In Ukraine they are conscripts now. In the beginning they were a professional army, and Canada has been training them since 2014. … Their professional Army is really moving forward, close to NATO standards,” explains Duquette, noting that the former Ukrainian Army was “based off what the old Soviet army was and from what we’ve seen, the atrocities, they are not an army. They are a street gang wearing uniforms. There’s not the discipline, they are not quality soldiers, they are massacring people. They are hanging bodies from telephone poles. It’s terrible what these people are doing.”
Yes, Duquette bears witness to the nature of this invasion. “You do see quite a bit of destruction and I didn’t even make it to the front lines before I got injured.” He will not discuss his injury, where or how it was sustained, except to say, “I was there 17 days and then I tore my left calf muscle and having mobility issues in a war zone is not ideal. Makes it hard to dodge stuff.” Duquette regrets that his service was cut short but feels vindicated that he was able to accomplish some of what he set out to do. He brought medical supplies with him, a combat medical pack, and other materials that he left with the Foreign Legion intake centre. He tried to offer service in other fields but realized his leg would not heal and he would become a burden.