Members of the Prince Albert rugby community mourned the loss of a former teammate who was killed in action while fighting against the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
Grygorii (Greg) Tsekhmistrenko was killed sometime during the night of Jan. 14 and early hours of Jan. 15 in Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine. Tsekhmistrenko played roughly three seasons for the Prince Albert Whiskey Jacks in the North Saskatchewan Rugby League. He also suited up for the Saskatoon Wild Oats.
“He was a salt of the earth kind of guy,” the Whiskey Jacks said in a statement. “He was super friendly, super nice, and then on the field, he was tough as nails.”
Tsekhmistrenko was originally from Ukraine, but became a Canadian citizen after moving to Canada. He survived the conflict in Crimea earlier in his life, but gladly returned home to defend Ukraine after Russia invaded.
The Whiskey Jacks lauded Tsekhmistrenko as a hero in their statement, and said the club plans to honour him when rugby season starts this summer.
A Whiskey Jacks spokesperson said news of Tsekhmistrenko’s death was shocking for current and former team members.
“We had been in contact with him over social media,” the spokesperson said. “Some of the boys were supporting him. I know I was personally supporting him myself my bit, we sent him a couple things here and there.
“We were a bit concerned about him, but we didn’t think he was on the front, because we hadn’t been in much contact with him.”
The Saskatoon Wild Oats honoured Tsekhmistrenko with a short tribute on their team Facebook page. The tribute included quotes from current and former Wild Oats and Whiskey Jacks players, who described Tsekhmistrenko as one of the kindest, most humble people they had ever met.
“He just loved life and was kind to everyone,” reads the tribute. “He could have been big and scary, but he was just a sweetheart of a guy.”
Bakhmut is a city in the Donbass region of Ukraine with a population of more than 71,000 people. News wire service Reuters reports that Ukrainian forces have engaged Russian units, Donetsk People’s Republic separatists, and members of the Wagner mercenary group during the fighting.