A former Canadian Armed Forces sniper now fighting Russian forces in Ukraine says he was the last to learn of his own death.
The former CAF member – who goes through the War name Wali – told CBC News he returned to a safe place in Ukraine on Monday after a week spent fighting Russian forces on the front lines in the Kyiv region. When he turned on his phone, he discovered hundreds of urgent messages from people who believed he had been killed in action.
His wife, father, friends and complete strangers sent frantic messages to confirm he was still alive. His former commander in Kurdistan, who fought with Wali against the Islamic State, sent a note saying that the community had sacrificed a sheep in his honor.
“I’m alive, as you can see,” Wali said in a video call on Tuesday. “Not a single scratch.”
“I’m pretty much the last person to know about my death.”
Misinformation about Wali’s record has been circulating online for weeks, including claims he was the world’s deadliest sniper and held a record for the longest-range lethal shot. VKontakt, a Russian social media site, posted that Wali was killed by Russian special forces 20 minutes after arriving in Mariupol, now besieged by Russian forces.
“It’s so amateurish”
“I’ve never seen Mariupol in my life,” Wali said (CBC News agreed to identify him only by his pseudonym to protect his family’s safety).
“I don’t understand why they’re doing this because it’s so amateurish.”
He called the lies “obvious” and said rumors of soldiers’ deaths could easily be disproven within days. Reuters reported that the Tennessee National Guard last week denied false claims by Russian newspaper Pravda that three US veterans had been killed in Ukraine.
Wali – who joined the Ukrainian defense with another Canadian veteran nicknamed “Shadow” – said he was not the deadliest sniper in the world and did not hold any records. Just a few weeks ago, he says, he was working as a computer programmer in Canada and not actively training.
WATCH: Former Canadian Forces sniper offers proof of life from Ukraine
“I’m a good sniper,” Wali said. “Nothing less, nothing more…I haven’t killed any Russians yet. I’m helping to do that because the sniper does a lot of sightings, reporting.”
Wali said that over the past week he has seen Russian forces indiscriminately shelling everything in their path.
“They use a lot of artillery, guns and shelling,” he said. “They just shoot everywhere.
“I think I may have received hundreds of shells in the past few days.”
Once, he says, he felt the pressure of an explosion and turned around to see what he first thought was a “beautiful sunset”.
“It was the city that was burning,” he said. “Everything is destroyed in some places.”
Wali said he hadn’t slept or eaten for days amid the fighting. He said his journey back from the defense of kyiv to safety elsewhere in Ukraine had exposed him to “apocalyptic” scenes of devastation caused by relentless Russian shelling.
“The shells kept falling over our heads and exploding,” he said.
Wali told CBC News he was still trying to respond to a “cascade of new messages” from people who learned he had died. Some friends asked him about his personal history to test his identity, he said. Others have asked him for photos or videos to prove he is alive, he said.
“Finding me is not so easy”
Wali maintains a blog and has conducted interviews with media around the world. This activity, he said, may have put him on the radar of Russian intelligence.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “It is true that it can be very dangerous.
“I may be more interesting than a normal soldier, but finding me isn’t that easy. It’s not that easy to find someone in hiding.”
Wali said he left his phone in a secure base before leaving for the kyiv front because he didn’t want to risk alerting Russian intelligence to his whereabouts.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky has issued a worldwide call for volunteers to join his country’s defense, but foreign fighters who do not sign a three-year contract with the Ukrainian army are not protected by international law in the event of a capture.
Russia has said it will treat foreign fighters as mercenaries.