Even before Austin Raslin Berthier said the word “Ukraine” to his parents, his mother, Lucy Raslin, knew he wanted to go.
Days after Russia launched a full-scale invasion in February 2022, Raslin Berthier called her parents from Portugal and asked them to sell their belongings so she could find her personal documents and transfer money. is.
“We kept asking why, but he wouldn’t answer,” she said.
Two days later, Raslin-Bersier called her parents again and told them she was joining the International Ukrainian Defense Corps, which recruits fighters from all over the world.
“He made his own choice and I couldn’t stop him,” Lucy Rathlin said.
“He wanted to make a difference… He never wanted to see people hurt.”
The 25-year-old from the Opaukwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba risked his life for a country he had no connection to, fighting an invading force trying to break free from his country. dropped.
Raslin Berthier died this fall at the age of 25 in combat with Russian troops.
The family said the body has not yet been recovered. They have raised funds and are waiting to hear from the international brigade he joined.
Loved ones who spoke to CBC News described the 25-year-old as a caring, courageous man who was always willing to lend a hand or lift someone’s spirits with a joke or two. Ta. His mother Lucy is now telling the story of his journey for the first time.
“It was like his duty,” she said. “That’s why he’s here. This is his purpose, he told me.”
“No, Austin. Why?’
Austin Rathlin Berthier grew up in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, about 400 miles northwest of Winnipeg, the eldest of seven children.
He learned to help others while caring for his youngest brother, Keenan, who is partially paralyzed, his mother said.
She said Raslin Berthier had been interested in the military since childhood.
He started taking it seriously at age 16, when he learned about the Canadian Forces’ Bald Eagle program, which combines military training with Indigenous culture and teachings.
Lathin-Bercier needed a grade 10 to apply, so she worked hard to get accepted into Bald Eagle and completed the Raven program, a similar program offered by the Royal Canadian Navy in British Columbia. did.
After returning to Manitoba, he applied to join the Canadian Armed Forces, but was rejected because of his eyesight.
That didn’t stop him. Raslyn Berthier saved money to plant a tree and pay for laser eye surgery.
I was offered a two-year scholarship at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in Montreal, as well as the opportunity to volunteer with another forestry program in Portugal.
“All I said to him was, ‘Whatever makes you happy,'” Lucy said. “He still wanted to see more.”
According to her, her son had only been in Portugal for about a month when Russia launched a full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. A little more than a week later, the son called his parents to tell them he had enlisted.
“All I said was, ‘No, Austin. Why?'” she said.
Two days after that call, Raslin-Berthier arrived in Ukraine and prepared for battle.
“He just had this light.”
Lucy said her son rarely told her where he was or what he was doing. All she knew was that he was in danger.
“Sometimes when the phone would come in, all I would hear was sirens and explosions,” she said. “But he kept telling me, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’
Raylene Young, 23, said she kept in touch with her cousin through Messenger and Snapchat to send photos of the stray cat.
Young, who is also from the Opakwayak Cree Nation, said he saw Russlyn Belthier as a brother.
“He just had a light and warmth in him that other people wanted to be around,” she said.
“He always gave me the best advice…That’s one thing I’ll miss so much.”
Raslyn Berthier returned home for her mother’s birthday in late summer 2022. Although they were happy, Lucy sensed that her son had changed.
She said he slept well, would startle easily when he heard loud noises, and would close the door as soon as he entered the room. She said she believes her son came home with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lucy said her son, whose traditional name means “running gray wolf,” also wants to reconnect with his culture, and while back in Manitoba, he takes part in ceremonies and spends time with elders. It is said that he also prepared traditional medicines.
“I’ll be back for Christmas.”
Chase McCollister said he met Raslyn Belthier on a plane to Peru in 2019 for an Indigenous Youth Leadership Program teaching English, and they hit it off right away.
“Some of the best times of my life were spent in Austin,” McCollister said.
The program was run by Canada World Youth, a former international non-profit organization, and ran for five months in Rampa, Peru.
Although participants were not supposed to leave the communities in which they work, McCollister and Raslyn Berthier said they persuaded organizers to let them go to Machu Picchu.
“We left at 5 a.m., and he [Lathlin-Bercier] It felt like he was 10 steps ahead of me the whole time,” McCollister said.
“He was really healthy…it was a good time.”
Mr McCollister said Raslyn Berthier was a local celebrity during his brief return in 2022. He said he knew some Ukrainian and often spoke to refugees who had fled the war for the safety of Manitoba.
“When they found out he was out there doing that, they just had so much respect for him,” McCollister said.
“They bought him drinks. He was like a rock star.”
McCollister tried to persuade him to stay, but said he knew Raslin-Berthier was determined to return to Ukraine.
“He loved the people there,” he said. “I think the last email was, ‘Yeah, I’m just in this hole right now.'”
“He was like, ‘But I’m fine. I’ll be back for Christmas.’
‘You are my hero’
Two of Raslin Berthier’s comrades from his unit died in Ukraine while in Manitoba. It became a burden to him.
“He told me he had to go back because he felt he wasn’t there to protect them,” Lucy said.
His family and friends tried to convince him to stay, but Raslin-Berthier said it was his duty to return.
According to his mother, he made many friends in Ukraine and even had a girlfriend.
On May 19, 2023, Raslyn Belthier left Manitoba for the last time.
“He said, ‘I’m going to be a living legend, Mom. I’m going to be an Opahkwayak Cree war hero,'” Lucy said.
“I turned around and smiled at him and said, ‘You are now. You are my hero.'”
Lucy Raslin said the last time she spoke to her son on the phone was on September 14, just before Little Gray, her 14-year-old Russian blue cat, died at home.
“I called him to let him know that Gray had passed away, so I put the phone near Little Gray and Austin talked to him,” she said.
“He said, ‘It’s okay, Gray. You can rest now.'”
The last email she sent to her son was Nov. 9, which is Indigenous Veterans Day.
“I said, ‘Happy Aboriginal Veterans Day, son, I hope you’re doing well,'” she said. “He said, ‘Thank you, I’m fine here, Mom.’
On November 13, the family received a call from the Ukrainian embassy informing them that Raslin Berthier was missing. The embassy later confirmed that he had been killed.
His mother is currently on the phone waiting for updates from Ukraine. Her son’s body remains somewhere in Ukraine, and it’s up to his international brigade to rescue her son.
“If they can find him, they will help us prepare him and bring him home,” she said.
Raslin Berthier’s family To help with funeral costs and repatriation, please run a Go Fund Me campaign for Lucy.
Young said she hopes her cousin’s body will be returned soon.
“It’s a lot to take on physically not having him here,” she said. “It would make us all feel a little better if he was here.”
McCollister said the weeks after learning of her friend’s death were difficult.
“We need closure and we need a proper funeral for him,” he said.
“It’s really hard not having closure and just not having answers. I’m struggling with all of this and trying to work to keep myself busy.”
He said the Canadian government should help bring Rathlin Berthier home.
“I think that’s the least they can do,” he said.
Global Affairs Canada declined to discuss the matter, citing privacy concerns.
Young said Raslin-Berthier should be remembered for her strength and concern for others.
“He was a very genuine, very honest person,” Young said.