A northern Manitoba man, known for his caring and compassionate nature, has died after going to fight alongside the Ukrainian army, his family said Tuesday.
Austin Lathlin-Bercier, 25, from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, ventured into battle in Ukraine against invading Russian forces soon after the war broke out last year. His family was told of his death this week.
“All we know is we got the call [Monday] that he was missing for two days. Later that day we got the call they found his body, but they can’t extract it right now due to the ongoing battle in that area,” his sister Faith Lathlin-Bercier wrote in an email.
“They don’t know how long it could take to extract him. It could take days to months. We’re waiting to get him home.”
The Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa said Austin Lathlin-Bercier was declared missing earlier this month.
“On Nov. 11, 2023, Canadian citizen Lathlin-Bercier Austin Isidore … who served in the military unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, was reported missing in action in the vicinity of Avdiivka, Donetsk region,” said an email from the embassy.
“The embassy is in contact with the family and will continue to provide all available information.”
Global Affairs Canada said it was “aware of the death of a Canadian citizen in Ukraine” but did not include a name.
Always trying to help: sister
His sister said he was always trying to help people who needed it the most.
“Almost everyone who knew him can recount a moment where he stood up for someone or helped someone when no one else did,” she said.
“He told me when he was done fighting, he wanted to come back to our reserve and become someone who could teach the young children of our community.”
Opaskwayak Cree Nation Chief Maureen Brown said Lathlin-Bercier had training with the Canadian Armed Forces in its cadet and Bold Eagle programs. The latter combines Indigenous teachings and military training.
She said he had originally left the community to teach English in Peru. He then went to Italy and Romania, where he learned of the war erupting in Ukraine.
“Austin saw what was happening in Ukraine and was very moved by the situation for the families, the children, the women, and that motivated him to set aside his apprehension,” Brown said.
“His death has impacted our community in a way that has caused each and every one to reflect on our contributions to build a more equitable and just society.”
Flags lowered in community
Flags in the community have been lowered and residents are planning a service to honour Lathlin-Bercier at a later date.
His mother, Lucy, said the family’s hearts are broken.
“This honestly doesn’t feel real,” she wrote in a social media post. “I cry [because] I miss your laugh, your smile and even the words ‘mom can you make me something to eat.’
“I will always and forever have you in my heart, my son.”
His sister recalled the last message he sent to the family, directed to his mother, on Nov. 9.
“He said, ‘Thanks mom, all is good over here.’
“Our family asks for prayers to have him back home in Canada so we can lay him to rest.”