Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a surprise trip to Ukraine on Sunday amid the ongoing Russian invasion.
He was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Secretary of State Melanie Joly. They arrived in Kiev this morning.
Prime Minister’s Office says he is meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to show Canada’s support for the country and its people.
Oleksandr Markushyn, the mayor of Irpin, posted photos on his social media account showing the prime minister touring the devastation in the Kiev suburb. The city was heavily bombed before the Russian troops withdrew.
Trudeau also hoisted the Canadian flag on the occasion of the reopening of the Canadian embassy in Kiev alongside Freeland and Joly. The embassy had been closed since early February as Western intelligence agencies warned that a Russian invasion was imminent. Diplomatic personnel were initially transferred to the western city of Lviv, but have all since moved to Poland.
“This flag fell on February 13 and we are very happy to be able to hoist it again,” the prime minister told reporters at the embassy. “The re-waving of the Canadian flag in Kiev is an incredible testament to the strength and solidarity of Canadians in Ukraine.”
A first attempt to raise the flag was hampered by a cable failure, before a second successful attempt in a ceremony shared by Canadian officials and Sergii Maier, one of the Ukrainian guards who looked after the empty building.
Maier was personally thanked by the Prime Minister who described the raising of the flag as an important symbolic moment of friendship between Canada and Ukraine.
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s former ambassador to Canada, says Trudeau’s visit sends a “hugely” important signal.
“It’s not just a sign of solidarity,” he told CTV’s question period on Sunday.
“(Trudeau) has a very good understanding of what’s going on here. But now he had the chance to see it with his own eyes,” Shevchenko said. “I think it’s very important that he has this understanding.”
The timing of Trudeau’s visit also falls a day before Russia’s Victory Day, which celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. Some observers believe Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the May 9 celebrations to either declare a symbolic victory over Ukraine or herald further escalations in the conflict.
“I think those who are here in Kiev have really appreciated the timing of this visit,” the former ambassador said. “Yes, it is true that the Russians are obsessed with this May 9 mythology and there is a lot of news and talk about what could happen in the next 24 hours.”
Trudeau also plans to hold virtual meetings with G7 leaders to discuss the war in Ukraine.
US First Lady Jill Biden also made an unannounced Mother’s Day visit to the country, where she met local mothers and her Ukrainian counterpart in the southwestern city of Uzhhorod.
With files from The Canadian Press