Ukraine – Yesterday and Today

The tense situation in Ukraine with Russian aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine has captured the attention of the world in recent months and particularly in recent days with the terrible tragedy of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.  While the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Durham has been following the troubling events in eastern Ukraine very closely, the shooting down of a civilian airliner has led to many constituents asking me about the situation in Ukraine and Canada’s position.  I am proud to say that our government has taken a strong and principled stance opposing Russian aggression and interference in the affairs of Ukraine.  In fact, Prime Minister Harper had an opinion essay in the Globe and Mail this past weekend that I think summarized our principled stance very well.  It is worth reading:

Our Duty is to Stand Firm in the Face of Russian Aggression

The wider issue of Russian aggression with respect to Ukraine and its impact on stability in Europe also brings to mind one of my favourite Winston Churchill quotes because the roots of the current conflict are found in the history of the two nations.

Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.

To truly understand the present situation and the fear and mistrust that Ukrainians feel with respect to Russia, you must understand the past.  There is no greater scar on the soul of Ukraine and on people with Ukrainian heritage around the world than memories of the Holodomor.  Even the word itself – Holodomor – connotes suffering as it means “death by hunger”.  In 1932 and 1933, the Soviet Union systemically starved the population of Ukraine killing millions of people.  There are still people alive in Ukraine and in Canada who were children that witnessed the horrors of this time.  Most scholars agree that one of the main reasons the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin engaged in this genocidal act was to quell Ukrainian nationalism at a time that Ukraine was a large and important part of the Soviet empire. (See: Stalin’s Genocides)

History shows clearly why Ukrainians fear Russian hostility from the Soviet era, but more recent events can explain why Ukrainians are wary of present-day Russian leadership and its apparent willingness to disregard international law.  Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence in 1991.  Since a large portion of the Soviet nuclear stockpile from the Cold War was stationed in Ukraine, the governments of Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom entered into negotiations to return the weapons to Russia and to promote security in the region.  The result was an international agreement known as the Budapest Memorandums ( ).  From the viewpoint of the Ukrainian government, the central commitment they secured from their surrender of the nuclear stockpile was that Russia agreed to respect the independence and the borders of Ukraine.  Even a cursory review of Russian actions in the last 6 months show that the commitments made in the Budapest Memorandums are not being respected both from the viewpoint of the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine and from a basic international law perspective.

The Durham Region and all of Canada have been made stronger by the contributions of Ukrainian Canadians who have been coming to Canada for opportunity for more than a century.  Last week I joined Colin Carrie, the MP for Oshawa and our colleague James Bezan ( ) for a roundtable with leaders from the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Durham to discuss the situation in Ukraine and to hear about some of the great aid and assistance being offered by the Ukrainian-Canadian community to their countrymen.

Canada’s foreign policy – or statecraft as Churchill might describe it – is firmly rooted in a deep understanding of the history of Ukraine and its desire to build a country rooted in the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law that Canada exemplifies.  I know that most Russians aspire to the same principles even if their leadership does not seem to value them.


(My recent visit to Euro-Maidan Square in Kiev with all-party delegation of MPs)

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