The family of a Saskatchewan farmer who served with the Canadian military in Afghanistan says he has been killed fighting in Ukraine.

Joseph Hildebrand, 33, died recently in Ukraine, said his brother Jake. The family was notified by some other people in his unit.

“He was a good man with strong values who stood up for what he believed,” Clayton Hildebrand, his third cousin, said Tuesday.

Clayton Hildebrand said family and friends were told Joseph Hildebrand was out on a mission around the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which has become a key target of Russia's offensive in the eastern Donetsk region. 

The city has been under attack for months, but bombardments have recently picked up.

Ukraine's deputy defence minister said last week that the Bakhmut area is “the epicentre” of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Local media has said the 15,000 remaining residents are living under daily shelling and without water or power.

Clayton Hildebrand said his cousin was with 12 other soldiers and only three of them made it back alive.

Marilyne Guèvremont, a spokesperson with Global Affairs Canada, said the department is aware of the death of a Canadian citizen in Ukraine but did not provide further information. Guèvremont said in an emailed statement that they are in contact with local authorities and the family. 

Joseph Hildebrand grew up working on his family’s farm near the village of Herbert, west of Regina, his cousin said. After high school, Joseph Hildebrand served two tours in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces. 

Clayton Hildebrand remembers the local school students writing letters of support to his cousin while he was deployed. 

When Joseph Hildebrand returned, he worked for the family on their farm properties. He also worked at the local salt mine. The cousins often worked together and would carpool. 

Clayton Hildebrand opened his phone and the first contact that came up was his cousin. He became emotional talking about how Joseph Hildebrand was loved and respected throughout their small community.

“Every Christmas he and his brother Jake would drive around to all of the neighbours here handing out boxes of chocolates and Christmas cards,” Clayton Hildebrand said. 

Joseph Hildebrand was also loved by his longtime partner and her daughter, the cousin said.

The family doesn’t have any ties to Ukraine that Clayton Hildebrand is aware of, but he said Joseph Hildebrand always wanted to do what was right. He did not say when Joseph Hildebrand went to Ukraine.

“He felt compelled to go over there and help the Ukrainian people.”