A Kelowna man is now embedded directly with the Ukrainian military after arriving in the war-torn country weeks ago.
Bonnie Penner, who founded The Bravery Foundation, told Castanet her son is part of a group of 20 experienced international soldiers who originally planned to sign up with the Norman Brigade, which describes itself as a ‘Western volunteer unit fighting for Ukraine and the ones we love’.
Bonnie says when her son and the group of soldiers with him arrived near the front in Ukraine, they quickly decided the brigade was not for them.
“Once they got there they figured out what was going on and they got in contact with the Ukrainian army. And then it was just a matter of getting paperwork done,” she adds her son will be staying longer than he first planned to because it took some time to get embedded.
A National Post article quoting former members of the Norman Brigade has raised the ire of the organization. A Facebook post on the brigade’s website lashes out at "elements" it says betrayed what it stands for and accuses those elements of capitalizing on small issues.
The article highlights infighting within the Norman Brigade, telling the story of a Quebec man who is in command of the unit, and an Ottawa-based civil servant who was second in command, before quitting.
According to the National Post, infantry veterans claim the commander, who goes by Hrulf to protect his identity, is essentially building a “private army” with volunteers from around the world to defend the village of his Ukrainian wife and children. Allegations about reckless tactics and limited weaponry are also made.
Canadian sniper Wali claims he quit after the commander suggested they settle their differences with a fist fight.
The Facebook post by the Norman Brigade takes aim at Penner’s Bravery Foundation.
“We took the risks, reliable members were thrown in the fight alongside young Ukrainians in order to pass THEIR test while the individuals dragging us in the mud never reached the frontline proper and impersonated one of our members in order to financially scam people through the Bravery Foundation, which is not a registered charity. They will not issue any tax receipt and we NEVER saw a dime from that campaign which they claimed was for our fighters.”
Bonnie set up The Bravery Foundation when she found out her son and some of his former colleagues in the French Foreign Legion planned to travel to Ukraine to offer their expertise in defending the nation against Russian invasion.
At that time she made it clear it was not yet a registered charity and was not able to issue tax receipts.
So far, it has raised more than $13,000 that has gone to purchase medical supplies, body armour, tactical gear and airline tickets to get the 20 soldiers to their destination.
An Alberta man who donated $6,000 says he’s satisfied the money is being used appropriately.
“I have full confidence that they’ll use the money to the best of their abilities as to what resources are best for them in the situation that they’re in,” said Dean Shock of Medicine Hat.
He’s been to Ukraine a number of times and wanted to do something to help. “I’ve gotten to know families there. I’ve gone grocery shopping in Ukraine and seen the smiles of the elderly.
“It seems no different from Canada. It’s absolutely horrifying to me to realize what’s happening to them.”
Penner is now focusing the efforts and resources of The Bravery Foundation on helping displaced Ukrainians who come to the Central Okanagan.
A young mother and her two children arrived last month. The children are settling into school and Bonnie has helped the mother find a job.
Castanet has reached out to the Norman Brigade for comment but had not heard back by the time of publication.