I am back from Ukraine and Norway, still replete with the memories of intense, exciting and often moving places, meetings and forums.
Everywhere we went, we were welcomed in friendship, focusing on the importance of not only celebrating and reinforcing our ties, but of gathering our ideas and strengths together to find solutions to the current economic and social challenges we face. In addition to official meetings, bilateral discussions and official ceremonies, we had many opportunities to meet with the public, and hold forums with young people, artists, representatives from civil society and people from the business community.
Ukraine is touched by the solidarity our country has always shown in times of humanitarian crisis and political upheaval, which pushed thousands of Ukrainians to find refuge in Canada in the 19th century. There are now over one million Canadians of Ukrainian origin. Ukraine has also never forgotten that Canada was the first Western country to recognize the Republic of Ukraine in 1991, after the referendum in which over 90 per cent of the population voted in favour of independence. We also followed, with great interest, civil society’s unprecedented mobilization in favour of the rule of law and democracy, during the feverish days of the Orange Revolution, in the winter of 2004. Our State visit was another way of showing our Ukrainian friends that they are not alone. The global economic crisis has hit them hard, as they are in the midst of an economic and political transition. The people we met at the forums we organized with civil society told us how difficult things are, but how crucial it is for them, now more than over, to not give up or succumb to gloom and doom. That is the challenge. Every day, they draw from their greatest strengths: a heightened sense of history; a feeling of belonging to a rich and remarkable culture; an ability to rise up from the worse hardships; and a profound desire to assert themselves, lend their voice to Europe’s dynamism, and play a role on the international stage.
During our bilateral discussions, there was a lot of talk of how to diversify our partnerships, energize the co-operation between our institutions, and build bridges between our non-governmental organizations. In short, how to make the most of our expertise and practices.
A new Canada-Ukraine chamber of commerce opened. There is a very clear desire to make it easier for young people to travel and take part in exchange programs. The Youth Dialogues held at the Arts Palace, in Lviv, and at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, in Kyiv, as well as the discussion with film students, were very lively exchanges. We touched on young people’s commitment to civil society; on the participation and support of youth throughout Ukrainian history; and on how they serve as the impetus behind change: the status of women; recognizing the rights of minorities for a more inclusive society; access to information and education; and the importance of strengthening educational infrastructure.
The Chornobyl Museum was troubling. Recalling and recognizing the extent of the events that took place, listening to survivors … it reminded us that we must all remain vigilant to prevent this type of disaster in the future. Canada still supports the people who were affected by radiation and helps Ukraine explore solutions to contain radioactivity (at the site) and develop a safer way to use nuclear energy.
There are strong networks of solidarity in Ukraine. This was obvious during our meetings with several organizations that assist families, especially those of children living with disabilities (for whom CIDA supports a school integration project), and associations that fight for the recognition of women’s rights and help those who are in crisis situations.
The Canadian delegation was mostly comprised of representatives from civil society. They each made remarkable contributions and important contacts for future co-operation, in the spirit of civic diplomacy, at a more human level—something we like to practice.