Four weeks ago, Jaymz Alaniemi had his next life chapter planned out. He was going to school in the fall to earn a degree in computer programming.
That all changed soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
He’d been watching the news and had seen the buildup of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border starting early December. When it turned out President Vladimir Putin wasn’t bluffing, the perils that lay ahead for Ukrainians struck a chord with him.
Now, the Enderby man who retired from the military four years ago — and had no plans to ever return to military service — is on his way to Ukraine to fight on the front lines.
“I definitely sat on it for a couple of weeks before I made the decision, but it seems like the right thing to do on my part right now,” he told the Morning Star.
Alaniemi, 26, joined the Canadian military in 2013 and served with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry based out of Edmonton. He was part of a mechanized infantry unit that operated large armoured vehicles and served in the military until 2018.
In a sense, things have come full circle for Alaniemi: he was first deployed to Europe in 2016-17 for a mission that was in direct response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
Based primarily in Poland, his deployment then was part of a large-scale NATO task force in countries on the eastern flank of the alliance — smaller, former Soviet nations like Romania, Latvia and Lithuania, where the threat of Russian aggression is omnipresent.
This time around, Alaniemi is part of a volunteer brigade of ex-military members from Canada, the U.K., the States, Australia, France and other countries. He plans to fly out on April 3, arrive in eastern Poland and be transported across the Ukrainian border by April 5, at which point he’ll be armed by the Ukrainian army and sent wherever fighters are most needed.
This will be Alaniemi’s first time involved in direct combat, and he says his past military experience — training with assault rifles, light machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank rockets and the like — will be useful in Ukraine.
A lot of thought went into making the decision to deploy. Part of that calculus related to lessons learned from the Second World War.
“When Hitler was allowed to get his way he just kept taking more and more. So I think it’s the duty of democracies, if we enjoy this way of life, to stand up and fight for it because we’ve had it pretty lax over the last 30 years where we haven’t really had the threat of large-scale war and it seems unthinkable, and now it’s right back in our faces again,” he said.
“If Putin is allowed to do what he wants in Ukraine, is he going to stop there? I have a lot of family over in Finland which shares the largest European land border with Russia. If he gets his way with Ukraine, what if he starts going after other countries alongside western Russia?”
It’s been a hectic few weeks and with days to go before he deploys, Alaniemi says he’s just trying to live day by day, “because you never know what’s going to come next.”
He says not everyone can drop everything and fight or do medical work overseas, but he encourages people to help out Ukrainians any way they can.
And for anyone short on hope or inspiration, he says to look no further than Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“This guy is surrounded by a military that wants to do nothing but kill him and he’s chosen to stay in the capital and lead the fight. I mean, that’s leadership that you can’t ask for,” he said.
Alaniemi is travelling on his own dime and while he’s now covered his expenses through fundraising, a friend who is also deploying is raising money by selling clothing and stickers at elevatesupplyco.ca.