The events that overshadowed all others for the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Canada took place in Ukraine: the Maidan in Kyiv, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the invasion of eastern Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk – by Russian forces. Because the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, chose to play a leading role in opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, Mr. Harper involved all of Canada in standing up for Ukraine.
When, at the beginning of the year, violence erupted on the Maidan and the Verkhovna Rada passed draconian anti-protest laws, an emergency debate on a motion tabled by Member of Parliament (MP) James Bezan in the Canadian House of Commons on January 27 resulted in a motion calling on the Ukrainian government to bring those responsible to justice and on other nations to consider sanctions. The motion concluded by stating that “this House stands united with the Ukrainian people, who believe in freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
The debate was followed by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announcing to the Ukrainian ambassador that Canada was concerned with the conduct of the Ukrainian government which was not addressing the fundamental demands of the Ukrainian people. Two days later, Prime Minister Harper met with a delegation of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) to discuss the situation in Ukraine. The discussion topics included: Russian interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine; the need for targeted individual economic sanctions; diplomacy and humanitarian assistance; and the importance of ensuring Ukraine’s European future.
Ministers Baird and Alexander both committed to work with the UCC to take immediate and concrete action condemning Russia’s continued economic and political coercion of Ukraine. Minister Alexander said the recent actions of the Ukrainian ruling elite in the face of protests were compelling Canada to restrict access to Canada of key Ukrainian government figures.
In response to the increasing violence in Ukraine, sanctions were announced by Canada on February 20. On March 3, the prime minister called again on President Putin to withdraw his military from Ukraine and informed him that Canada had suspended all preparations for the G-8 summit planned in Sochi, recalled its ambassador to Russia, cancelled any Canadian representation at the Paralympic Games and was reviewing all planned bilateral interaction with Russia.
On the occasion of the Russian takeover of Crimea in February, the UCC strongly condemned the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Paul Grod, who was in Ukraine with a Canadian delegation from External Affairs at the beginning of March, pointed out that, in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons arsenal in 1994, Ukraine had received security and territorial integrity guarantees from the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation, the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. Ukraine’s Parliament passed a request that the memorandum’s signatories reaffirm their commitment to the principles enshrined in the political agreement.
The UCC called upon the international community to influence President Putin to cease all actions violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity, including political and economic pressure, as well as to remind the signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to fulfill their treaty obligations to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine from Russian aggression.
Prime Minister Harper made a one-day visit to Ukraine on March 22 to meet and show solidarity with acting President Oleksandr Turchynov and interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Mr. Harper became the first G-7 leader to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded Crimea, which the prime minister condemned. Mr. Harper said that the effect of President Putin’s attempt to impose the law of the jungle ought to be to redouble the free world’s unwavering fervor and to reinforce the growing diplomatic and economic isolation of the regime in place in Moscow. He characterized the actions of Russia, whose expulsion from the G-8 had been aggressively advocated by Canada, as “unacceptable behavior” not seen since Germany’s Nazi regime annexed Austria in 1938.
While in Kyiv, Mr. Harper also paid a visit to the Maidan, where he laid a wreath as a symbol of Canada’s respect for those who had died there. Mr. Harper added that he believes the Cold War had never left Mr. Putin’s mind. Canada suspended bilateral military activities with Russia and announced economic sanctions and travel bans against Russian officials and members of the Yanukovych regime. Russia responded by imposing travel bans on 13 Canadian officials, including UCC President Grod.
Canada pledged more than $220 million toward the International Monetary Fund and Prime Minister Harper also announced a $775,000 contribution toward a political and security-monitoring mission to Ukraine to be led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Vadym Prystaiko suggested that Canada could be a future source of natural gas for Ukraine or, at least, help Ukraine become energy independent of Russia.
Prime Minister Harper announced on April 23 that Canada would be sending up to 500 election observers to monitor the May 25 presidential elections in Ukraine – both long-term observers (LTOs) and short-term observers (STOs). They would be deployed through CANEOM (Canadian Election Observation Missions) and the OSCE. The work of the Canadian observers would be in addition to the work being undertaken by the Ukrainian World Congress election observer mission. Canadian election observers have monitored the last several elections in Ukraine. Тhe government of Ukraine has called upon Canada and its Ukrainian Canadian community to continue playing an important role as independent, impartial, international election observers during the May elections in Ukraine.
On May 8 Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) met with Prime Minister Harper in Ottawa to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Patriarch Sviatoslav told the prime minister that the Russian Federation’s aggression had undermined the Church’s efforts to maintain calm. “There was no tension between Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine until the Russian government annexed Crimea,” he noted. “It is the illegal actions of the Russian government – following upon years of Kremlin-backed corruption in Kyiv – that have brought strife to the country.”
Patriarch Sviatoslav met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Baird, to whom he emphasized the danger of allowing Russia to disrupt the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine. The patriarch pointed out the situation of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church which, after Joseph Stalin banned the Church in 1946, became the largest outlawed religious body in the world. The Russians have continuously attempted to destroy the Church which has been targeted anew since the Russian takeover of Crimea, he said.
On August 7, Prime Minister Harper announced non-lethal security assistance to Ukraine. Non-kinetic military equipment that Ukraine would be able to use to secure and protect its eastern border against Russian aggression would be supplied. This equipment would provide physical and medical protection.
On September 17, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko received a “rock-star-like” welcome when he became the second Ukrainian president to address a rare joint session of Canada’s Parliament. Mr. Poroshenko was accompanied to Canada by his wife, Dr. Maryna Poroshenko. Canada’s parliamentarians underscored the deep emotional and cultural connections between Canada and Ukraine.
In his welcome address, Prime Minister Harper said that, “It is not only history that [binds]us; it is also shared values that make Canada and Ukraine an integral part of the global family of democracies.” The effusive introduction by the Canadian prime minister contained a warning to President Putin: “We cannot let Putin’s dark and dangerous actions stand, for they have global security implications,” he said. Mr. Poroshenko pointed out that, “For more than two decades we proudly stated that Ukraine gained its independence without shedding a single drop of blood. Now that is no longer true. Now we are engaged in a true battle for our independence.” Mr. Harper, the only leader of a G-7 country to attend Mr. Poroshenko’s presidential inauguration in June, emphasized that “Canada recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February, the Harper government had been a fierce critic of Mr. Putin and, on the eve of President Poroshenko’s visit, further economic sanctions and travel bans were announced. Foreign Affairs Minister Baird called Mr. Putin “a bully.” The UCC called on Canada and other member countries of NATO to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression, although President Barack Obama’s administration declined to include weapons in its $53 million aid package for Ukraine.
In his address to the Canadian Parliament, Mr. Poroshenko underscored that Ukraine requires “sophisticated and state-of-the-art” assistance to defend itself. He added that “those who were equipped, trained and financed by Russia, shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July, which killed 298 passengers and crew.”
Mr. Poroshenko conveyed a desire for Ukraine to gain the status of a Major Non-NATO Ally and expressed hope that a Ukraine-Canada free trade agreement would soon become a reality. Mr. Poroshenko also told the CBC that he is also seeking Canadian petroleum to help reduce Ukraine’s dependence on Russian energy. On his day-long visit, President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Harper signed a $200 million (about $183 million U.S.) stabilization loan to Ukraine.
On November 26, Minister of National Defense Rob Nicholson announced an additional $11 million in aid to Ukraine’s armed forces. “These contributions are a clear demonstration of our support for the people of Ukraine, and their pursuit of a secure and stable future,” he said. The new assistance included: protective gear, cold weather gear, ordinance disposal equipment, communications equipment, night and thermal vision equipment and binoculars, medical training, as well as a mobile field hospital. “As Ukraine continues to face invasion by the Russian Federation, this gear will increase the effectiveness of Ukraine’s military,” commented the UCC’s Mr. Grod.
In November, a specialized team of Canadian health professionals returned home after completing a medical mission in Ukraine during which, working alongside Ukrainian doctors and nurses, they performed reconstructive complex surgical procedures on victims of the Euro-Maidan movement and Russia’s invasion into eastern Ukraine. The mission was organized by the Canada Ukraine Foundation (CUF) and Operation Rainbow Canada, under the patronage of the UCC.
The medical team of 25 professionals was assembled from across Canada and was composed entirely of volunteers. It included surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses. Over 60 patients from across Ukraine, with complex post-traumatic defects and deformities, were seen in consultation; a total of 37 reconstructive procedures were performed on 30 patients. Most defects and deformities resulted from explosive blast wounds and high-velocity missile wounds. The surgical procedures were complex, technically demanding, and time-consuming, some lasting for as many as seven hours.
The medical mission spanned 10 days (including travel), November 6-16. Funding for the mission came from “United for Ukraine,” a gala fund-raiser organized by CUF with the attendance of Prime Minister Harper. More than 1,200 people attended and $200,000 was raised. Stryker Canada awarded the mission a grant for virtually all surgical hardware and implant materials for the medical procedures. Operation Rainbow Canada provided guidance in terms of planning a mission of this scale. There was a large number of sponsorships from corporations, family foundations, banks and credit unions.
Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn, who headed the mission, said: “This mission was groundbreaking in terms of the collaboration between medical professionals in Ukraine and Canada. It has allowed us to establish critical relations with medical professionals and health administrators in Ukraine, and provides a foundation for future collaborations in health delivery and surgical education.”
In September, diplomat Roman Waschuk, a Canadian Ukrainian, was appointed as the country’s ambassador to Ukraine. Mr. Waschuk began his diplomatic career in 1987 as second secretary in Moscow and subsequently served in Kyiv and Berlin. Mr. Waschuk has also been deputy director and director of several policy setting divisions in the Department of External Affairs. His previous posting, in 2011, was as ambassador to Serbia. In Ukraine, Mr. Waschuk replaced Canada’s Troy Lulashnyk, whose family traces its roots to the Ternopil region of Ukraine. Mr. Waschuk, who was born and grew up in Toronto, holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in history from the University of Toronto. He was an active member of the Canadian Ukrainian community in Toronto and Ottawa and continues to take part in activities of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization whenever this is possible.
Another noteworthy development in the realm of Canada-Ukraine relations came on May 30 when Prime Minister Harper spoke at the Tribute to Liberty dinner, devoting much attention to Ukraine. Tribute to Liberty is a Canadian charity whose mission is to establish a Canada memorial to commemorate the victims of communism. After enumerating all the peoples who had come to Canada in the 20th century fleeing Communist governments, Mr. Harper pointed out that, in 1991, Canada was the first Western country to recognize a newly independent Ukraine. He added that, “there is no Western country that has been closer and has had closer ties to Ukraine than Canada, and you must know that we are all fiercely proud of that.” Although Mr. Harper admitted that he could not predict what the future holds for Ukraine, Europe or Canada, he reassured the audience that Canadians have always supported freedom and democracy for all people and will continue to support Ukraine.