Editorial — Canada has a role to play in Ukraine

The horrors of last week’s shooting of protesters in Kyiv, Ukraine turned to euphoria by Friday, when it became clear that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych  had been all but deposed. He fled to an unknown location by Friday night, and on Monday the acting government issued an arrest warrant for him.

At the root of the lengthy protests was the decision to turn down closer relations with the European Union, instead turning to Russia, its neighbour and former master in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. While this decision was endorsed by many Ukrainian residents, particularly those of Russian origin, many others disagreed. They wish to move towards a more European way of life, with a more open society, better mobility and, hopefully, a stronger democracy and economy.

As the shooting started last week, in the midst of the 2014 Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi, Russia, many people wondered what the outcome would be. There was one good element in the timing — Yanukovych’s ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, could not in any way interfere while the Olympics were underway. Putin has interfered in former Soviet republics before, and he almost certainly was at least thinking of interfering in Ukraine, where Russia has many interests.

Yanukovych’s departure from Kyiv, and perhaps most importantly, the opening up of his former villa outside Kyiv to the public, showing his opulent way of living and documenting his spending, have likely put an end to any chance he has of being part of Ukraine’s future. This welcome show of glasnost has likely caused Putin to think twice as well.

Ukraine is still in a very fragile state. Now more than ever, it is important for Canada to offer support to the Ukrainian people and help ensure that upcoming elections are free and fair. Canada can have an important voice in Ukraine — this country has the third-largest population of people of Ukrainian background, behind Ukraine and Russia. Our tangible and meaningful support at this time is crucial.

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