A northern Manitoba man who went to fight alongside the Ukrainian army has died, the chief of Opaskwayak Cree Nation said Tuesday.
Austin Lathlin-Bercier went to join the Ukrainian army's battle against invading Russian forces soon after the war broke out last year and his family was told of his death this week, Chief Maureen Brown said.
"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 Tuesday in a phone interview.
Lathlin-Bercier had training with the Canadian Armed Forces in its Cadet and Bold Eagle program, which combines Indigenous teachings and military training, said Brown.
He was compassionate and caring, the chief added.
"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."
There was no immediate word on the cause of death. Global Affairs Canada has not released any information.
Lathlin-Bercier's mother said the family's hearts were broken.
"This honestly doesn't feel real. I cry (because) I miss your laugh, your smile and even the words 'mom can you make me something to eat,'" she wrote in a social media post.
"I will always and forever have you in my heart, my son."
Lathlin-Bercier had earlier left Opaskwayak Cree Nation to teach English in Peru. He then went to Italy and Romania, where he learned of the war erupting in Ukraine, Brown said.
Flags in the community have been lowered and residents are planning a service to honour Lathlin-Bercier at a later date.