In the month since Russia’s retreat from Ukraine’s north, the capital Kyiv has seen a frenzy of high-profile visitors: 11 prime ministers, Austria’s chancellor, the U.S. secretaries of state and defence, its House speaker, the UN secretary-general — even Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.
Canada has not sent even a cabinet minister.
Ukraine has noticed.
“When you physically see a friend, an ally … present in the capital, that would mean a lot,” said Andriy Shevchenko, who was until recently Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada.
It’s not just the question of a visit.
Twenty seven nations have reopened diplomatic posts in Kyiv — but Canada’s embassy in Kyiv remains locked up, vacated prior to the start of the war.
“Canada was one of the first countries to move the embassy out. We do not want Canada to be the last one to return,” said Shevchenko.
Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly has said plans are in the works to reopen.
“We need to make sure the security situation on the ground allows for it,” her office said in a statement.
Others have moved faster. Poland and Georgia never left. Italy and The Netherlands reopened their mission, as did the United Kingdom.
Kyiv is “the right place to be,” Britain’s ambassador told The Guardian newspaper.
With the largest Ukrainian diaspora outside former Soviet states, Canada has claimed to be one of Kyiv’s biggest supporters, making the absence of a high profile visit and an open embassy all the more puzzling for some.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office did not directly respond to a question about a possible visit, but said in a statement that he and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “remain in frequent contact, in addition to regular contact across the federal government with their Ukrainian counterparts.”
Why a visit is important
Many VIP visits to Ukraine’s capital include stops north of the city where Russia left a trail of destruction in its aborted northern front.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited Bucha, scene of mass graves, and Irpin, a leafy suburb outside the capital where half the buildings were razed in Russia’s initial invasion.
At a joint news conference concluding that visit, Zelensky said leaders “have to be here and I am grateful to the secretary-general for coming to Kyiv.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov visited the smoldering ruins of Irpin, and told a CBC News crew it is imperative that world leaders visit because “it’s very different when you make public statements from the comfort of your office. It’s very different to see it first hand.”
Canada’s contributions to Ukraine
Since the outbreak of the latest chapter in nearly a decade of on-and-off conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the federal government has pledged support. That process went into overdrive after February’s invasion.
But some countries have been far more generous, relative to the size of their economies.
Poland, for instance, is approaching 1 per cent of its total GDP in contributions of both financial and military support.
Canada did not rank in the top 12 of donors in a tracker established by Kiel University in Germany at the end of March.
Since then, Canada has committed an additional $500 million in support.
The Biden Administration has requested an additional $33 billion US in aid for Ukraine, the majority for purchases or transfers of military equipment.
American and Canadian soldiers are training Ukrainian soldiers — outside Ukraine — on the use of sophisticated M777 howitzers, which have a range of 30 kilometres. When equipped with high precision Excalibur shells, they are accurate to within 10 meters.
“We greatly appreciate all the Canadian help, the weapons and the military training and the financial support,” said former ambassador Shevchenko.
Canada gave Ukraine four of these big guns. Australia, with a smaller population, offered six. The U.S. transferred 90.
European nations have also purchased or dispatched military equipment from their own stocks, though they are more at risk of Russian retaliation.
Many remain reliant on Russian gas to power their economies. Poland and Bulgaria were cut off last week. Others may follow. Canada, however, does not depend on Russian gas and, by virtue of its geography, is less vulnerable to Russia’s orbit.