Mark Preston-Horin is spending his last day in Victoria for the foreseeable future packing his things and collecting a supply bag from the Ukrainian Cultural Centre to take with him.
On Saturday afternoon (March 5), he’ll board a flight to Warsaw, Poland, where a series of contacts will take him to the Ukrainian border and then to a hospital in Lviv, Ukraine.
Preston-Horin is among a number of Canadians answering Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Feb. 27 call for foreign volunteers to aid in the country’s fight against the Russian invasion.
With deep Ukrainian heritage on both sides of his family and a long history volunteering with the Ukrainian-Canadian Civil Liberty Association, Preston-Horin was already thinking of ways he could help out when Zelenskiy issued his call.
“It’s my time to do what I can. I never thought I’d be travelling to a war zone in my early 40s, but it’s too painful to watch,” he told Black Press Media, adding later, “I need to do something about it.”
He has skills he believes will be valuable. Preston-Horin works as a disability management professional now, helping employers to identify and eliminate accessibility barriers, but he also has experience as a violence prevention facilitator and rehabilitation assistant.
“I have a way of making people feel calm and safe,” he said.
Preston-Horin also has first aid training and worked nearly four years as an on-call firefighter in Lillooet.
“I’m motivated by that intrinsic feeling of helping others,” he said. “I do have a firearms background, but that’s really not why I want to go there. I don’t really want to hurt anyone.”
He doesn’t know exactly what he’ll be doing in the hospital, but has been told they’ll find a place for him. Lviv has not been a heavy target for Russia yet, but it’s been a place of refuge for displaced and wounded citizens.
Asked whether he’s mentally prepared for what he may see and experience, Preston-Horin said he’s been going through a series of emotions.
A few days ago, he started writing cards to the people who have touched him since he moved to Victoria six years ago.
“I was almost in the mindset of, ‘If I don’t see you again, this is what I’m thankful for, thank you for your kindness,’ with the thought that I might not come back.”
But he’s since resolved that he will return.
“Anytime I’ve stuck my neck out to support others or help others in need, I’ve always been safe,” he said.
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