Two foreign aid workers volunteering in Ukraine were killed on Sunday after coming under Russian attack near Bakhmut, their organization confirmed over the weekend.
The volunteers, part of a humanitarian team sponsored by the nongovernmental organization Road to Relief, were headed toward the bitterly contested city from Slovyansk to assist civilians in need in the eastern Ukraine town of Ivanivske when their vehicle was struck by Russian artillery fire.
Canadian volunteer Anthony “Tonko” Ihnat, and the organization’s director, Emma Igual, both died in the blast.
According to a statement on Instagram by Road to Relief, the vehicle, which also held German medical volunteer Mawick and Swedish volunteer Johan Mathias Thyr, took a direct hit, flipped over and caught on fire while passing Chasiv Yar. Ruben and Johan were severely injured, but were taken to hospitals away from the scene and are now in stable condition. Ihnat died as a result of the blast.
Igual’s status was initially unknown, but Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares confirmed her death hours later while speaking to Spanish press.
58-year-old Ihnat also volunteered with Brave to Rebuild, an initiative that rebuilds Ukrainian homes destroyed by the Russian invasion. The organization announced Ihnat’s passing on their Instagram page, noting that he was “A wonderful, compassionate, always joyful, bright, caring, hardworking man.”
A Canadian of Slovak descent, Inhat lived in Ontario and worked freelance gigs until 2022, when he sold his truck and came to Ukraine to provide aid during the war. He volunteered with multiple organizations moving bags to people on the Polish border, evacuating people and repairing schools.
“The news of what you have going on hit me in the heart. My parents are from Slovakia, I didn’t get to visit there, but it’s close by,” Inhat previously listed as the reason he decided to volunteer. “To Ukraine I have warm feelings. That’s why I’m here to help in any way I can.”
Leonid Knysh, another volunteer at Brave to Rebuild, remembered Inhat as someone who “always smiled,” was “very active,” and befriended all of the other volunteers—even people that didn’t speak English.
“I can’t forget about his Coca Cola ‘addiction,’ as he called it,” Knysh remembered. “Actually, it was nearly impossible to see him without a bottle of Cola.”
Besides Coca Cola, Inhat was also a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club, according to Road to Relief’s post.
“One thing I know for sure, he wouldn’t want us to be upset or cry,” Knysh said. “He would want us to keep fighting.”
The area in which the international aid team was struck remains the scene of heavy fighting and has been the source of a number of non-combatant casualties over the past year. Ukraine valiantly held onto Bakhmut for nine months while under heavy Russian attack beginning last year, with the city ultimately falling in May.
A pair of British volunteers, Chris Parry and Andrew Bagshaw, were killed just a few miles north of Bakhmut in January amid heavy fighting—while Pete Reed, a former U.S. Marine Corps member and the head of a charity called Global Outreach Doctors, was also struck and killed by a laser-guided missile outside Bakhmut in February.
Then in May, Arman Soldin, a videographer working for Agence France Presse, was killed by rocket fire near the same site where Inhat and Igual died.