Opinion: Ukrainian Canadian Embassy staff should return to work in Ukraine

A man cycles past a residential building, which was heavily damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on April 18.ALEXANDRE ERMOCHENKO/Reuters

Michael Bociurkiw is a senior researcher at the Atlantic Council and former spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The weekend was violent in many parts of Ukraine. In the western city of Lviv, civilian infrastructure was targeted for the first time; seven people were killed and 11 injured, including a child, during a strike on Monday morning.

Without the ability to protect its own skies, all of Ukraine is within range of deadly long-range missiles fired from Russia. However, despite the dangers, several embassies – including the European Union, Turkey and Italy – have redeployed their diplomats to Kyiv.

It is courageous and important. I have witnessed diplomacy for a long time and know that diplomats are at their best when working face to face with their counterparts. That way they can probe, push, guide, scold, and do whatever it takes to get things done.

Canada turns out to be an embarrassing exception. The Canadian contingent, which usually cohabits with the Australians in a building near Maidan Square in Kyiv, fled Ukraine completely in late February for Poland, and has yet to return.

Canada has the distinction of being the first Western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991. This is one of the reasons why the maple leaf makes Ukrainians smile. Since then, it has injected millions of dollars into the country to help strengthen its patrol police, ministries, media and armed forces; he has been at the forefront of helping Kyiv in its war against corruption, particularly in the judiciary. During my time here, I have met many young Ukrainians who have proudly bragged about their participation in the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Internship Program.

But with the war now in its 54th day, with no end in sight, it is time for Canadian embassy staff to leave Poland and return to their office in Kyiv. There is a lot of work to be done here, not the least of which is to help with the huge reconstruction and rehabilitation effort to come. Canada has world-class experience in the sectors the capital needs, from telecommunications and aviation to major infrastructure and humanitarian aid.

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Canada has been slow to act. In mid-February, it finally delivered the lethal weapons that kyiv had been asking for for months, apparently due to the mistaken belief that sanctions work better than force. After several waves of sanctions, we now know that they are an ineffective deterrent to Mr. Putin; after all, no matter how severe the sanctions, they hurt the Russian people, not them. It’s as if Global Affairs Canada was aiming for a global peace prize, with that kind of reluctance.

Ottawa can do more to help Ukraine meet its immediate needs, by urging its allies to provide the technology and weaponry needed to defend its own skies against long-range Russian missiles. Those that hit Lviv on Monday are believed to have traveled more than 1,700 kilometers from the Caspian Sea, according to the city’s regional governor.

The Canadian government can also help build temporary accommodation in safe havens in Ukraine for displaced migrants. Some population centers have been completely razed by Russian bombardment, and the need for shelter is therefore enormous. And while it’s commendable that Canada has offered unlimited visas to Ukrainians fleeing violence, most displaced civilians I’ve spoken to want to stay near Ukraine.

And with reconstruction costs now estimated at more than US$560 billion, Canada can leverage its connections in the capitals of the world’s wealthiest nations to convene a summit of engagement. A multi-party event involving the Ukrainian government could set priorities and secure financial commitments for the huge reconstruction effort that will be needed when peace finally arrives.

But as a first step, let’s start by bringing our diplomats back to Kyiv. Every day of delay is another waste in helping Ukraine recover from more than 50 days of fierce Russian aggression.

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in the Canadian Parliament on March 14: “Can you imagine when you call your friends, your friendly nation, and ask them: ‘Please close the sky, close the airspace, please stop the bombing. How many more cruise missiles have to fall on our cities until you get there? And they, in return, express their deep concerns about the situation.

Every day the West fails to help build Ukraine’s ability to repel Russian aggression is another day in which more innocent civilians are slaughtered. Justin Trudeau and his globe-trotting envoy, Mélanie Joly, must ask themselves if this is a legacy they want to be part of.

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