Sitting in an apartment north of Toronto, Adam Oake calmly explains how he’s had to adjust his mind’s reaction to the sound of sudden loud noises since returning from the front lines of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Being home, a car door slamming or a loud noise, it’s a split-second reaction, but you immediately think, ‘What is this?’ I was in Ukraine and heard something like that, I would assume it was a blast,” admits the 34-year-old.
CTV National News first spoke with Oake in August, after he left his life in Toronto to volunteer with an NGO in Ukraine. At the time, Oake shared that he “couldn’t sit on the couch knowing there’s something I can do to help make a difference.”
Collection of Leafs Memorabilia
A lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan, he decided to liquidate his huge collection of Leafs memorabilia in an effort to raise money so he could travel to the war zone. His plan was to join the foreign legion, but when he arrived in Poland he was assigned as a volunteer with a Norwegian crisis response organization called Paracrew. For the past five months, he has risked his life transporting food and aid to an area where most organizations no longer go – in hot spots, near front lines in the east and the southern Ukraine.
Oake notes that as the war reaches its first anniversary and continues to escalate, smaller NGOs have withdrawn their teams from Ukraine “because many people are unwilling or unable to go to the places that have Need help”. This forces organizations like his to cross dangerous roads to deliver supplies to the hardest hit areas, which has led to multiple close calls.
Such a close call happened recently while he was in the city of Dnipro. Oake was sound asleep in a hotel room when he was suddenly shaken from his bed as a “large missile hit the town a few blocks” from his hotel. Dnipro is the same city where a Russian missile strike hit a building on January 14, killing dozens of civilians.
“I saw the flash of light outside my window,” says Oake, who also admits there have been times over the past nine months when he wondered if he would wake up with a ceiling collapsing on top of him from an attack.
During a mission just north of the beleaguered city of Kupiansk, the four-wheel-drive ambulance he was riding in became stuck in the mud. As artillery fire erupted nearby, a Ukrainian tank used a fallen power line to pull him and his vehicle out of the mud.
Oake smiled as he reflected on this unique experience, while admitting how dangerous the situation was.
“The whole time you’re there, you’re a sitting duck, and obviously you’re now being pulled by a tank, which is even more of a target,” says the Canadian aid worker.
A contractor by trade, when CTV National News first spoke with Oake, he was also helping damaged Ukrainian homes in need of repair. This is no longer the case.
“The further east or south you go towards the front lines, the more you see that the war has escalated over time,” he says.
Oake goes on to detail the destruction he witnessed.
“There is almost nothing standing, most of the small villages, all the big cities, they are gone. They are pretty much wiped off the face of the earth.
The Russian military’s assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has led to blackouts, which means limited power and sometimes no heating.
“Almost every morning, at some point, we would wake up freezing with no heat,” says Oake.
He and the Paracrew volunteers built a chimney out of two buckets. They gathered around her to make a pot of coffee and find respite from the Ukrainian winter.
Oake himself no longer has a home. He currently lives in his nephew’s apartment in the Greater Toronto Area. Near a dining room table, her pre-war life is stacked against the wall, wrapped in half a dozen boxes. He admits that not having a home weighs on him, but it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make to help those in need in Ukraine.
When we first spoke to Oake, he defended his volunteer work, saying, “There are a lot of families who are in need and they don’t know where to turn. Put yourself in their shoes, imagine that your house is destroyed and you are put in a shelter with constantly exploding bombs.
Today, he says, “Being able to meet and live among Ukrainians for almost nine months really opens your eyes to how amazing and resilient Ukrainians are.”
Oake also shares that he “knows some people now that I can call good friends from Ukraine, I would really like to go back there and help their country as much as I can.”
And that is where his focus remains today. Asked if he was worried about not returning home after a second trip to Ukraine, if he returned to the front lines, Oake admits that “it’s a possibility” but it’s “a reasonable risk worth taking”.
He goes on to ask the question, “If people like me are not willing to go out there and help, then who is going to help those people in need?”
Oake plans to return to Ukraine on March 13. How long he stays will depend on public and private donations, which he says have grown colder as winter and war continue.
This article is originally published on news-24.fr