A Saskatchewan farmer who served two tours in Afghanistan has died fighting in Ukraine, family members say.
Joseph Hildebrand, 33, and others in the military unit he was volunteering for were killed over the weekend during a combat mission, the family members said. They said surviving soldiers called them, and are currently guarding the bodies with their Ukrainian colleagues in hostile territory until arrangements can be made to extract them.
"We're all here together at the farm, trying to get more information," Hildebrand's brother, Jake, said from his mother's home near the village of Herbert, Sask., located 200 kilometres west of Regina.
"I'm 35 years old and have to make arrangements for my brother's body. This is as bad as it gets."
Jake said he was told his brother was one of a dozen soldiers — some Ukrainian, some from South America and elsewhere — who went on a mission near the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. According to news reports, Russian forces have intensified attacks on the city from multiple directions in the past several days. The remaining 12,000 residents have been without electricity, gas and running water for more than two months.
It's unclear how Joseph Hildebrand died, but Jake was told nine of the 12 men on the mission were killed.
'Most selfless man I've ever known,' says partner
Carissa Hildebrand, Joseph's partner and mother of their 13-year-old daughter Jovi, said she received a call around 7:40 a.m. CST on Monday. It was from Ukraine.
"I answered it and it was somebody that was on his team," Carissa said, adding that the person on the other end told her Joseph was killed in an attack.
"He was killed pulling other guys out that were injured," she said. "That's exactly who he is. The most selfless man I've ever known."
Joseph left Canada on June 11 to voluntarily help Ukraine with the war, Carissa said.
"We literally couldn't handle what was going on and wanted to help," she said.
Carissa said she "struggled" with his decision.
"This is exactly why."
Joseph's brother, Jake, said he never talked much about Urkaine — they have no ethnic or family ties there — but just decided he wanted to help. He said his brother was "incredibly brave," having enlisted in the Canadian military and serving two tours in Afghanistan. He saw combat, but also worked as a trainer for Afghan forces, Jake said.
"He just made up his mind and up and went," his cousin, Carl said.
Carl said Joseph enjoyed hunting and spending time with his family. He was also an "extremely hard worker" on a local mixed farm operation.
In an email, spokesperson Marilyne Guèvremont said Global Affairs Canada is "aware of the death of a Canadian citizen" and is in contact with the family.
Due to privacy concerns, the organization cannot share more, Guèvremont said.
Premier Scott Moe shared his condolences in an emailed statement to CBC News, calling Hildebrand a "true Saskatchewan hero."
"His death, coming just a few days before Remembrance Day, is a stark reminder of the enormous cost paid by those who bravely step forward to defend our freedoms," he wrote.
"We must ensure his death is not in vain. Canada must do everything it can to ensure Ukraine defeats Russia and rises again as a free, independent, prosperous nation."
Carissa said she's still waiting for more answers. Her only plan right now is to spread Hildebrand's ashes at the land behind his farm — right where he wanted them.