'Canada is a friend, indeed,' Ukrainian president tells Parliament
Published Wednesday, September 17, 2014 7:39AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 17, 2014 3:55PM EDT
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko heaped much praise on Canada for its support in the face of a Russian military incursion, in a speech to Parliament punctuated by cheers and standing ovations.
Poroshenko is in Ottawa for a series of meetings about Ukraine-Canada trade ties, and was invited to address parliamentarians during what would have been question period Wednesday afternoon.
“To be frank with you, I feel very much at home with you here today in a country that is very close to Ukraine,” Poroshenko said, after thanking Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella and House Speaker Andrew Scheer for the opportunity to speak.
He thanked Canadian Parliamentarians and citizens profusely for their support in the face of Russia’s military incursion into eastern Ukraine.
“In these dark days, we feel the strong support of you. Thank you very much for that,” Poroshenko said.
“Canada is a friend, indeed.”
Poroshenko spoke primarily in English, but peppered his speech with some French and Ukrainian. He also closed with two quotes from former British prime minister Winston Churchill who once wrote to his wife: “Darling, I’m really attracted to this country.”
Again evoking Churchill, he said: “I love coming to Canada. God bless your country. Thank you very much, indeed.”
The visit marks Poroshenko’s first official visit to Canada. Earlier Wednesday, Poroshenko and Harper reached an agreement on a loan Canada had previously promised to help foster economic and financial sector reforms in Ukraine.
Canada also pledged additional humanitarian assistance, including medical supplies, food, emergency supplies and other help for the millions of Ukrainians living in areas affected by violence.
Canada has previously shown solidarity with Ukraine against the Russian aggression by announcing a series of travel bans and economic sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. Canada will also send about 300 observers to next month’s parliamentary elections in Ukraine.
In introducing Poroshenko, Harper acknowledged the strong ties between the two countries, with more than one million people of Ukrainian heritage living in Canada.
He further pledged Canada’s support in the face of a Russian incursion that led to the annexation of Crimea, and fierce protests and fighting that have left some 3,000 people dead.
“Canada recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, all of Ukraine. And whether it takes five months or 50 years to liberate it, we will never, ever recognize the illegal occupation of any Ukrainian territory,” Harper said.
“This is a matter of kinship, this is a matter of family, this is personal, and we will stand by you.”
During his speech, Poroshenko noted Ukraine gained its independence in the early 1990s “without shedding a single drop of blood.
“That is not true anymore.”
He added: “Today, Ukraine is bleeding for its independence and its territorial integrity.”
There were also lighthearted moments during Poroshenko’s speech, as he joked about the number of Ukrainian-Canadians who have made their mark on Canada, from hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky to astronaut Roberta Bondar.
He said that he could “go on,” but that his speech would go on all day if he catalogued all of the achievements of the Ukrainian-Canadian community.
“Mr. Prime Minister…you mentioned that Canada is probably the most Ukrainian nation outside of Ukraine itself. You know what? This is absolutely true,” Poroshenko said.
He added that “Ukraine is probably the most Canadian nation after Canada itself.”
He also hailed the ratification Tuesday of an agreement that deepens political and economic ties between Ukraine and the European Union, a deal he characterized as “the last farewell” from Ukraine to the Soviet Union.
“That was a Rubicon Ukraine crossed, and we will never ever return back to our awful past,” Poroshenko said. “I strongly believe that our values, or freedom, our democracy, our European future is possible for the Ukrainian nation.”
After his address, Poroshenko joined a rally in support of Ukraine on Parliament Hill. After a passionate speech to the crowd gathered outside Centre Bloc in both English and Ukrainian, Poroshenko ran toward supporters who had gathered up against a security gate, followed quickly by his worried-looking security detail.