An Airdrie man is in Ukraine now near the city of Bakhmut volunteering with the army and using his skills to teach others to operate drones.
Yevgen Mykhaylichenko, who teaches about autonomous farm equipment at Olds College in Alberta, was born in Ukraine near Dnipro and taught at Dnipro State Agrarian and Economic University.
“In a peaceful time I’m an instructor at Olds College, but in the war time I’m a drone instructor and also volunteer,” Mykhaylichenko said.
This is his sixth time volunteering, sharing his drone expertise since the war started just over a year ago.
“If you are late for 10 seconds, even a few seconds, a Russian missile or a bomb can hit the operator of the drone. It can cost you your life if you make this mistake on the battlefield,” Mykhaylichenko said.
When Mykhaylichenko is not on the front lines, he’s conducting free lectures at his former university and developing courses for students back in Canada on autonomous farming and robotics.
Last fall he was able to help Olds College students control a robot in a field near Didsbury, all while he was in the middle of a war.
“I’m really grateful to my Canadian students as well because they let me control everything remotely. This is a huge machine with autonomous farming and all I needed is just good Internet connection and for my students to start the ignition on the robot. I can control from the laptop sitting on the front line and we were doing spraying of fungicides and herbicides,” Mykhaylichenko said.
When asked why he chooses to risk his life to keep coming back to Ukraine, he says he just wants to help his family and his homeland.
He said his nephew disappeared in June 2022 near Bakhmut, but his body was only found in October. He was a soldier of the 24th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Mykhaylichenko’s childhood friend was also killed in August 2022 near Bakhmut.
“It’s also about how can I leave those people that are living there if they are sacrificing their life for the army?” Mykhaylichenko said.
He said he’s achieved a lot of his goals and this is just one more challenge.
“I have benefits and advantages from both countries, so I don’t regret at all. If you’re going to be killed, you will never know about it, first. Second, is goals. I am from a poor family, but I reached everything by myself and there is not much left in this life that would surprise me so probably this is kind of a new challenge for me,” Mykhaylichenko said.
It’s volunteer soldiers like Vasyl Trykulich, who is currently with the 19 Separate Rifle Battalion of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who are part of Mykhaylichenko’s motivation.
“We are thankful Yevgen (is) helping us with drones. There is a friendship between us since he’s been here,” said Trykulich.
“They left their families, they left everything and they are volunteers who join the army. That motivates me: The spirit of the Ukrainian people,” Mykhaylichenko said. “They are all different. Some of them are bookkeepers, some hairdressers and teachers.”
Mykhaylichenko and others are are collecting money for drones and other equipment like backpacks and gloves and binoculars.
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He said he wouldn’t be able to do what he is doing in Ukraine without the support of many people including his friend Robert Saik, an agronomist and advisor to Olds College, and members of the Olds College team, Joy Agnew and Alex Melnitchouck.
“I live on two fronts. One front in Canada and one front in Ukraine.”
“You only have one life and you need to utilize your time to 100 per cent of its potential. It’s always a challenge. Are you ready for this? How well can you do this? It’s all based on your spirit and your desire and all the support of other families.”
Mykhaylichenko plans to return to Alberta at the end of March. He’s been there since early February.
“It’s scary, but not too much. We have no choice. Our Ukrainian Armed Forces don’t have any other choices because behind them there are families and that’s it,” Mykhaylichenko said.