The bilateral relationship between Canada and Ukraine was further strengthened at the top of the year when the Queen’s representative in Canada, former Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, visited Ukraine in mid-January and met with President Petro Poroshenko.
Ms. Payette, who was invested as Canada’s 29th governor general on October 2, 2017, also visited Canadian troops in Ukraine serving under Operation UNIFIER, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) training mission through which Canada provides military training and capacity-building assistance to Ukrainian Forces personnel. It was Governor General Payette’s first overseas visit in her role as Canada’s commander-in-chief to meet with Canadian troops, and she was accompanied by Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada’s chief of the defense staff.
“We were proud to be the first Western nation to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991. At the heart of our relationship are the 1.3 million individuals who comprise the vibrant Ukrainian Canadian community in Canada – the second-largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine,” Ms. Payette said during a January 18 joint news conference in Lviv with Mr. Poroshenko.
“Canada has been at the forefront of the international community’s support for Ukraine, because our countries share important values that include respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” she said. “I am here, Mr. President, to reiterate Canada’s commitment to your sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”
Operation UNIFIER received a boost later in January when it was announced that additional military trainers would be dispatched to Ukraine. On January 26, 48 CAF members were deployed to Ukraine, increasing Canada’s presence to approximately 240 personnel for the duration of a temporary increase in trainers to about 60 days to assist in the training of a battalion tactical group of Ukrainian troops.
On February 1, Ukrainian Canadian Conservative Sen. Raynell Andreychuk received the Gold Award of Merit from the Estonian Central Council in Canada. Council President Marcus Kolga, who presented her with the award at a celebration marking Estonian Independence Day in Toronto in the centennial year of Estonian independence, highlighted Sen. Andreychuk’s lifelong commitment to the defense of democracy and freedom in the Baltic states and Europe.
Also in February, the Canadian government announced a three-year grant valued at $1.5 million (about $1.1 million U.S.) for the Canada-Ukraine Foundation (CUF) to support the Holodomor National Awareness Tour until 2020. The funding announcement was made on February 22 in Toronto by Member of Parliament Arif Virani (Parkdale-High Park), parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism to the Мinister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly. In April, CUF received $750,000 (about $561,000 U.S.) from an Ontario government agency to promote Holodomor awareness.
The main feature of the tour is a mobile classroom – an interactive multimedia learning center housed in a 40-foot RV that has toured Canada since 2015 and which attracted more than 25,000 visitors to promote awareness of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, along with the value of multiculturalism, diversity, human rights and respect for human dignity.
On March 2, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) issued a statement welcoming the Canadian and American biathlon associations’ decision to boycott the Biathlon World Cup event that was held in Tyumen, Russia from March 19 to 26. “Ethics in sport has been consistently undermined by Russia, through a wide-ranging government-controlled doping program which led to Russia being banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics,” the UCC said. “The goal of international sport is to promote comity and peace among nations. Russia is waging a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine… [and]has shown time and again that it seeks neither comity nor peace, but rather war and destruction.”
Russia was also top of mind in early spring at the political level when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that his government’s expulsion of four Russian diplomats in late March was partly based on a 2017 online smear campaign against Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in which allegations were made that her late maternal Ukrainian-born grandfather was a Nazi collaborator.
Following an April 4 meeting in Ottawa with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister Trudeau was asked to elaborate on his government’s decision to expel the Russians, and recalled “efforts by Russian propagandists to discredit our minister of foreign affairs through social media and by sharing scurrilous stories about her.”
On March 26, after the nerve-agent attack against former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury, Global Affairs Canada – the department Minister Freeland heads – announced that Canada was expelling four members of Russia’s diplomatic staff at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa and the Russian Consulate-General in Montreal. “The four have been identified as intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy,” the statement read.
One of the diplomats sent back to Russia was the Embassy’s spokesman, Kirill Kalinin, who was revealed to have sent photos and links to stories about Ms. Freeland’s grandfather, Michael Chomiak, to Canadian news outlets.
In early April, Minister Freeland said that a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting to be held in Toronto later in month would focus on Russia’s ongoing annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the recent chemical attack against the Skripals, and “the Putin regime and the actions they are taking” that challenge “rules-based international order.”
A 61-point communiqué from the ministerial meeting held on April 22-23 included two sections – under the heading “rules-based international order” – on Ukraine, which reiterated the support from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, along with the European Union, for “Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. This includes our non-recognition of Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The G-7 ministers decried “the degraded human rights situation” on the Crimean peninsula, “and the violations and abuses committed against its population by Russia in Crimea.” The communiqué also said: “Given Russia’s responsibility in the conflict, we urge [it]to stabilize the security situation in the Donbas without delay.”
Ms. Freeland said that the G-7 reaffirmed its “unity in support of Ukraine and a rules-based international order where state sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected by all.”
During the ministerial summit, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin met with the UCC’s then-president, Paul Grod, along with Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko, and Liberal and Ukrainian-Canadian Member of Parliament (MP) Borys Wrzesnewskyj.
Also in April, an online petition was started – and sponsored by Conservative MP James Bezan, also a Ukrainian Canadian – calling on the Canadian government to address the deteriorating condition of the internee cemetery at Spirit Lake, Quebec.
The petition states that “whereas the government of Canada needlessly categorized many Ukrainians and other Europeans as ‘enemy aliens’ during Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914-1920; an internment camp was set up at Spirit Lake, Quebec, one of 24 across Canada; at least 16 internee burials took place at the Spirit Lake cemetery; the [Canadian] Department of Agriculture sold these lands to Quebec in 1936 and the province sold them to a farmer in 1988; attempts to restore and re-consecrate the Spirit Lake internee cemetery have been rejected by the property owner and the cemetery is all but lost to the boreal forest; [and that]federal officials, repeatedly informed about the deterioration of the cemetery, claim this is Quebec’s problem, abrogating all legal and moral responsibility for a cemetery established under federal authority and for the remains of the unfortunates buried there.”
The petition, which attracted 1,391 signatures, called on Ottawa “to use whatever measures necessary to provide for the archaeological examination, restoration, re-consecration and limited ongoing site visits for commemorative and religious services to the Spirit Lake internee cemetery.”
In August, The Ukrainian Weekly published an editorial supporting the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s petition campaign to save the Ukrainian internee cemetery at Spirit Lake, which at its peak held 1,312 internees, among them about 60 families.
In October, Canadian Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna provided the government’s response, stating that Parks Canada, which falls under her portfolio, “does not have legislative authority with respect to decisions of non-federal owners and no permissions are required from the federal government with respect to work or interventions on these properties.”
She wrote that “in Canada, protection of heritage property not owned by the federal government falls within the purview of provinces and territories, in accordance with their respective heritage legislation. Additionally, each province or territory has its own legislation that relates to burial sites and human remains… [and that]archaeological concerns related to the Spirit Lake Internment Camp… fall under the purview of the Government of Quebec.”
In May, Quebec Lieutenant Governor J. Michael Doyon visited Spirit Lake Internment Interpretative Center located on the original grounds of the site that operated from 1915 to 1917 where some 1,200 to 1,300 men, women and children, most of whom were of Ukrainian descent, were interned.
Also in May, the UCC called on the Canadian government to take a strong stand in support of Ukrainian political prisoners jailed by Russia. In a May 17 letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, Mr. Grod outlined that “the Russian regime has illegally imprisoned over 50 Ukrainian citizens,” and that Canada should call for their immediate release. The UCC also expressed its disappointment that the Canadian government had “taken no action against [the]Russian officials responsible.”
On May 5, the biannual National Ukrainian Teachers’ Conference was held for the first time online with the participation of teachers from across Canada and from Ukraine. The event was led by the Ukrainian Language Education Center (ULEC) of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta and the National Ukrainian Educational Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, and covered such topics as digital literacy and teacher preparedness for new technologies.
On June 6, Ukraine International Airlines (UIA), the largest Ukrainian airline, launched its first nonstop flight from Kyiv to Toronto – the first such connection since AeroSvit stopped flying to the Ontario capital in 2012 and then ceased operations a year later.
UIA began its cross-Atlantic run with three flights between Kyiv and Toronto each week – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays until October, when the schedule was reduced to two flights per week, until May.
Ukrainian Ambassador Shevchenko welcomed the airline’s non-stop service between Toronto and Kyiv as a boost to the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. “When we signed this agreement [in 2016], we hoped it would help us to navigate new business contacts between Ukraine and Canada,” he said. “The direct flight will be a wonderful opportunity to create people-to-people ties into a strong business context from which both countries will benefit.”
Meanwhile, Canadian Ambassador Waschuk was featured in a profile published in June in which he spoke of how Ukraine has changed since taking up his post in October 2014 as Canada’s eighth and first fluent Ukrainian-speaking ambassador to Ukraine.
Ukraine has become a “millennial nation,” according to Mr. Waschuk, the Toronto-born son of Ukrainian immigrants. A “decline of deference” is present in Ukrainian society, along with some self-entitlement. “Ukrainians often feel poorer than they are because their expectations now are largely driven by EU [European Union] countries where Ukrainians are measuring whether or not they are as well off as someone in Poland or Germany,” he said.
“People don’t have a clear vision as to where they’re heading or a sense of security in terms of the future,” said Mr. Waschuk while in Canada after attending a biennial, four-day meeting in Ottawa of the country’s global heads of missions.
During the FIFA World Cup, which was held in Russia from June 14 to July 15, the UCC called on Canadians to support the #RedCard4Putin campaign that would issue multiple “red cards” to the Russian regime which the congress said was guilty of violating international law and abusing internationally recognized human rights.
The #RedCard4Putin campaign was an initiative of the International Coalition for Human Rights (ICHR) of which the UCC is a founding member. “At a time when Russia wages war against its neighbors…and illegally imprisons over 150 political prisoners, including 70 Ukrainian citizens, it is unacceptable that Russia is hosting the FIFA World Cup,” said the UCC’s Mr. Grod, who heads the ICHR.
On June 8, UCC officials appeared before the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights on the human rights situation in Ukraine.
UCC CEO Ihor Michalchyshyn and Orest Zakydalsky, senior policy advisor with the congress, called on the Canadian government to immediately implement sanctions against Russian officials responsible for the violations of the human rights of Ukrainian political prisoners jailed by Russia. They said that hosting the G-7 leaders’ summit on June 8 and 9 in Charlevoix, Quebec, gave Canada a unique opportunity to focus international attention on ending Russia’s war against Ukraine and ending Russia’s occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
On June 14, the UCC and the Canada Ukraine Foundation revealed the grant recipients from the Defenders of Ukraine Fund to assist wounded soldiers and veterans who have defended their country against Russia’s ongoing military aggression in Ukraine. A total of $100,000 (about $75,300 U.S.) was to be distributed among four projects, including the Ukrainian Social Academy for “Boots to Business” entrepreneurship training program for veterans.
On June 27, Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland announced that Canada will host the next Ukraine Reform Conference in 2019.
The following month, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau visited Ukraine for the first time. Her trip from July 18 to 23 was mainly in the country’s war-torn eastern region. She was the first Canadian minister to travel to Ukraine for as long and the first G-7 minister to visit the country’s conflict zone in eastern Ukraine.
On July 19, Ms. Bibeau announced in Kyiv that as part of the Canadian government’s $50 million (or about $38 million U.S.) annual commitment toward assistance programs in Ukraine, $30 million ($23 million U.S.) of that money will fund projects to “enhance” the economic security of rural women – particularly those caught up in the conflict in eastern Ukraine – as well as projects that will provide support for small and medium-sized businesses, and “increase employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for women, and for vulnerable and marginalized groups.”
In a July 22 telephone interview from Kharkiv International Airport following a meeting with Ukrainians who have to regularly cross the Ukrainian-controlled checkpoint at Mayorsk in the Donetsk region, the minister said that the funding package she unveiled will address some of the fallout from the war in the Donbas by helping to stimulate Ukraine’s economy, such as by supporting agricultural cooperatives and creating jobs, especially for men unemployed because of the conflict.
Minister Bibeau, who met with Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman in Kyiv, described the Ukrainians she met as “very resilient, but very suspicious in the beginning, until you gain their trust.”
In September, The Ukrainian Weekly reported that a retractable three-foot-wide by six-foot-long metal banner, commissioned by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation, would be distributed free the following month in Canada to mark the 85th anniversary of the end of the Holodomor. Centered on a graphic drawn in 1933 by the Ukrainian avant-garde artist Vasyl Sedliar, the banner also includes a map showing the regional geography of famine losses in Soviet Ukraine, along with quotations from diplomats and eyewitnesses of the famine. A leaflet providing a reading list of additional sources accompanies the banner.
Commenting on this initiative, UCCLF spokesperson, Borys Sydoruk, said: “Thanks to the generosity of an UCCLF supporter, we are able to offer Canadian Ukrainian organizations a ready-made display, easily assembled, taken down and stored, which offers the public a chance to learn about the Holodomor and recall the millions of victims of this Stalinist genocide.”
Meanwhile, a Consulate General of Ukraine was officially opened on September 7 in Edmonton with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Klimkin, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Canadian Science and Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan, Ukrainian Ambassador Shevchenko and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. “This is a landmark event, through which Ukraine recognizes the special role played by the Ukrainian community in the west of Canada and which opens the door for trade and investment contacts,” said Minister Klimkin.
Premier Notley noted the special significance of the Consulate opening taking place on September 7, which was designated as Ukrainian Canadian Heritage Day in Alberta. Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian flag was raised at the Alberta legislature in a special ceremony. “Ukrainians settled in Alberta more than 125 years ago, and generations of Ukrainian Albertans have made an enduring impact on our province with contributions that span business and industry, academia, public service, culture and sports,” said Premier Notley.
Minister Duncan said the opening of the Consulate and celebration of Ukrainian Canadian Heritage Day was deeply personal, as her own family had emigrated from Ukraine in the early 20th century.
The Edmonton Consulate, headed by Nadiya Kostenko, will serve western Canada – Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia – and will meet the growing demand for consular services. Western Canada is home to over 670,000 Canadians of Ukrainian descent and many Ukrainian citizens.
To the east in Toronto, the 22nd annual Bloor West Village Toronto Ukrainian Festival was held on September 14-16, with a record number of street vendors (89) and some firsts, including a rock musical called “Got To Be Free.” Prime Minister Trudeau and federal Conservative Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer were among the estimated crowd of 2,000 people who attended the festival parade.
The following month, on October 21, Toronto joined Kyiv, Washington and Edmonton as the latest city to unveil a Holodomor memorial.
The monument, located on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition, was spearheaded by the UCC’s Toronto branch and features a bronze sculpture called “Bitter Memory of Childhood” – the original of which is located in Kyiv.
Also in October, the Canadian Ukrainian Students’ Union (known by its Ukrainian acronym SUSK) announced a partnership with Postcards for Prisoners – an activist group dedicated to raising awareness of and providing moral support to Ukrainian prisoners incarcerated in Russian prisons through letter-writing campaigns at post-secondary institutions across Canada.
The Holodomor’s 85th anniversary was commemorated by the UCC with a statement released on November 24, Holodomor Memorial Day, which recalled that “the Ukrainian nation was condemned to death by starvation because of the Ukrainian people’s aspiration for independence, and their desire to maintain their culture and traditions and speak their language.”
“To break the resistance of the Ukrainian people to Soviet rule, the totalitarian Communist regime turned food into a weapon. In one of history’s greatest crimes, the Soviet regime committed genocide against a nation of grain growers who sought to live free on their own land,” said the UCC. “Despite the Soviet attempts to destroy the Ukrainian nation, the Ukrainian people persevered and, decades later, won their independence [in 1991 that]is again under threat from Russia’s tyranny.”
Today, “In Ukraine’s east, Russia wages a brutal war of aggression, seeking again to subjugate Ukraine to Moscow’s rule. A generation of Ukrainians again takes up arms in courageous defense of their freedom and right to self-determination,” the statement added.
Prime Minister Trudeau also issued a statement on November 24, which read in part that “between 1932 and 1933, the [Soviet] regime used starvation as a weapon, seizing farms and crops across Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians died from hunger. Countless others lost their lives in mass arrests, deportations and executions. The Holodomor was a deliberate attempt – part of a systematic genocide – to crush the spirit and identity of the Ukrainian people.”
Minister Freeland issued a similarly worded statement that added the Holodomor was also “denied by its perpetrators in Moscow.”
On November 20, the UCC, the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group and the Ukrainian embassy in Ottawa commemorated the Holodomor on Parliament Hill, where survivors of the famine – Julia Woychyshyn and Halyna Zelem – lit the ceremonial candle at the beginning of the ceremony.
Among those who delivered remarks were Canadian National Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Trudeau; Sen. Andreychuk, who spoke on behalf of Opposition Leader Scheer; and Ambassador Shevchenko, on behalf of the Ukrainian government.
In early December, The Ukrainian Weekly reported that the Canadian government was not planning to provide Ukraine with arms as the country has long requested in its war against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region.
Canada’s priority is “not about equipment,” but focused on “capacity building,” Mr. Sajjan said in an interview. He said the goal is to help train Ukrainian soldiers on using specialized military equipment “effectively” and to assist them with eventually expanding the size of their units from battalion level, which normally consists of between 500 and 800 soldiers, to that of a brigade with 1,500-plus people in uniform.
The idea, Mr. Sajjan explained, is to “modernize the Ukrainian Armed Forces” to fit within the model used in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which Ukraine aspires to join.
Since September 2015, members of the Canadian Armed Forces have worked with more than 10,100 Ukrainian soldiers in 219 training courses ranging from military engineering and explosive-device disposal to casualty evacuation and combat first-aid as part of Operation UNIFIER. About 200 Canadian soldiers have been deployed every six months to several sites across western and central Ukraine as part of the Canadian mission, which is scheduled to end in March 2019. Minister Sajjan declined to say whether his government would renew UNIFIER beyond next year’s deadline.
In mid-November, he met with Mr. Klimkin on the margins of an international security forum held in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Mr. Bezan also had a huddle with Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister and said that Ukraine’s requests for further Canadian military support are considerable. “They want Operation UNIFIER extended, not just by one year but five years,” said Mr. Bezan, who serves as the Official Opposition Conservatives’ shadow minister of national defense, and added that Ukraine would also like the mission to be increased in “size and scope.”
“Ukraine has been asking Canada to advocate for a peacekeeping mission for Ukraine to get control of Donbas, and we should champion that request,” he said. The opposition Tories have called for a Canadian-led U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine.
Mr. Bezan said that Ukraine also wants weapons. “Even though Canada is delivering some sniper rifles, they are not provided by the government of Canada and are being bought by the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Mr. Bezan explained.
Last summer, PGW Defense Technologies Inc., a Canadian arms company, signed a deal with the Ukrainian military to provide it with LRT-3 .50-calibre sniper rifles. Global Affairs Canada, which is headed by Minister Freeland, approved the deal, worth $1 million (about $756,000 U.S.), in August, according to Mr. Bezan’s office.
In May, the Canadian Conservative Party said that were it in power, it would provide Ukraine with lethal weapons originally allocated to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters against the Islamic State in northern Iraq, and claimed, in a news release, that $9.5 million (about $7.2 million U.S.) worth of arms “have been sitting in warehouses in Canada and Jordan.”
“Other than adding Ukraine to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List [in December 2017], there hasn’t been anything new” regarding Canadian military assistance toward Ukraine since Operation UNIFIER was launched in 2015, said Mr. Bezan.
On December 6, Ministers Freeland and Bibeau announced up to $24 million (about $18 million U.S.) in support for Ukraine’s democracy ahead of the 2019 election cycle in Ukraine. Of that, $11 million (about $8 million U.S.) was earmarked for observer missions to monitor Ukraine’s March 31 presidential and October 27 parliamentary elections, overseen by CANADEM.
Meanwhile in the Ukrainian Canadian community, Alexandra Chyczij was unanimously elected as president of the UCC at the nationwide body’s annual general meeting in Montreal on December 8. Outgoing President Grod, who in November was elected president of the Ukrainian World Congress, will chair the UCC’s Endowment Fund-Raising Campaign. Andrea Kopylech became the UCC’s first vice-president, and Alex Ilchenko joined the UCC Executive Committee as second vice-president.
The year ended with the December 13 release of a unanimous all-party report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defense on Russian aggression against Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in the Black Sea region, which included 13 recommendations to the Canadian government. Among them: to strengthen Canada’s support for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia; renew and enhance Canada’s military training of the Ukrainian Armed Forces through Operation UNIFIER beyond March 2019; impose more sanctions against Russia; advocate for an increased NATO presence to respond to Russian escalation in the Black Sea; and support the aspirations of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to join NATO.