Sask. university student ready to return home after nearly 5 months offering aid in Ukraine

·3 min read
Alex Nau, right, has been in Ukraine providing humanitarian aid as part of HERO Society Ukraine, but is considering returning after about four-and-a-half months. (Submitted by Jennifer Argue - image credit)
Alex Nau, right, has been in Ukraine providing humanitarian aid as part of HERO Society Ukraine, but is considering returning after about four-and-a-half months. (Submitted by Jennifer Argue - image credit)

A 27-year-old University of Regina student who felt compelled to travel to Ukraine during the war says his time providing humanitarian aid may be coming to a close.

Alex Nau, whose mother said he doesn't have Ukrainian heritage, chose to fly to Ukraine in early April to aid the country as it attempted to repel the Russian invasion. Now, after spending the summer helping as the co-founder of a charity called HERO Society Ukraine, he's feeling exhausted and is hoping to leave soon if given the chance.

"I'm getting pretty tired of being here, not tired of Ukraine itself obviously but just the war, seeing all the carnage that happens, all the refugees and internally displaced people definitely wears you down," Nau told Stefani Langenegger, host of CBC's The Morning Edition.

He's hoping to find someone in the area he can pass the reins to.

LISTEN | Saskatchewan student helping in Ukraine recounts his experience and what led him there 

Nau said he's about 20 to 30 kilometres from the front lines in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia — which was captured shortly after the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 — in a building where his "balcony essentially overlooks no man's land."

Recently, he watched missiles explode nearby, with several buildings in their neighbourhood being hit, shaking the walls and windows of his home.

Despite that, he stays.

"I think the work that we do is really meaningful, especially for Ukrainians seeing us westerners here," he said.

He's been helping in different ways, he said, but in the past two months he's been making weekly deliveries of food supplies from the non-profit organization the World Central Kitchen to war-torn communities.

That includes places like Kharkiv where, on Aug. 18, the regional governor said 17 people had been killed and another 42 injured in two separate Russian attacks.

"That city get bombed … like multiple times every day, especially some of the areas that we go to. I would say it's scary but at the same time, I'm kind of used to it," he said, noting the aid trips to Kharkiv and back take an estimated 16 hours.

Leaving home to help

In late 2021, tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered on the border connecting Ukraine to Russia.

It was around that time that Nau grew suspicious of Russia's intentions and told himself and others that he would travel to Ukraine, "to fight or do what I can to help people defend their country and their freedom."

When asked what drove him to make the trip, he said it was because North Americans don't have to worry about war at home.

"Knowing that the people of Ukraine don't have a choice … a lot of them are going to have to die defending their freedom and sovereignty, I decided to make the choice to actually come and help those that don't have a choice themselves," he said.

Alex Nau/Facebook
Alex Nau/Facebook

His mother, Jennifer Argue, said when he left for Ukraine he planned to join the military effort. She cried for two weeks.

"It was not something that I was prepared for," Argue said.

She was relieved to hear that he had changed his plan and offer humanitarian aid, given his lack of military experience.

Since then she's messaged him almost daily, but said she still has trouble sleeping through the night because that's "when a lot of the missile strikes are happening."

She often checks her phone through the night to watch for updates.

"While I want him to come home, I understand the reason why he's there and why he doesn't have a definite date to return," she said, noting she's proud of the work he's doing.

Nau said his time in Ukraine "makes me appreciate the safety we have in North America, and specifically Canada."

"We don't have to worry about neighbouring countries sending cruise missiles or tanks into your cities and killing your families," he said.

"I truly appreciate living in Canada."