Justin Trudeau makes surprise visit to Ukraine

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 Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly. They arrived in Kyiv this morning.

The Prime Minister’s Office says he is scheduled to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to show Canada’s support for the country and its people.

Oleksandr Markushyn, the mayor of Irpin, posted photos to his social media account showing the prime minister touring the devastation in the Kyiv suburb. The city was badly bombed before Russian forces retreated.

Trudeau also raised the Canadian flag to mark the reopening of the Canadian embassy in Kyiv alongside Freeland and Joly. The embassy had been closed since early February, as western intelligence services were warning that a Russian invasion appeared imminent. Diplomatic staff were initially relocated to the western city of Lviv but have since all moved to Poland.

“This flag came down on February 13 and we’re really glad to be raising it again,” the prime minister told reporters at the embassy. “Having the Canadian flag fly in Kyiv once again is an incredible testament to the strength and solidarity of the Canadians in Ukraine.”

A first attempt at raising the flag was hampered by a cable glitch, before a second successful try in a ceremony shared by Canadian officials and Sergii Maier, one of the Ukrainian security guards who looked after the empty building.

Maier was personally thanked by the prime minister who described the flag raising as an important symbolic moment of friendship between Canada and Ukraine. 

Andriy Shevchenko, the former Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, says Trudeau’s visit sends a “massively” important signal.

“It’s not just another sign of solidarity,” he told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday.

“(Trudeau) has a very decent understanding of what is 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 Second World War victory over Nazi Germany. Some observers believe Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the May 9 celebrations to declare either a symbolic victory over Ukraine or announce further escalations in the conflict.

“I think those who are here in Kyiv — they have greatly appreciated the timing of this visit,” the former ambassador said. “Yes, it’s true that the Russians are obsessed with this May 9 mythology and there are a lot of news and conversations about what can happen in the next 24 hours.”

Trudeau also plans on holding virtual meetings with G7 leaders to talk about the war in Ukraine.

U.S. First Lady Jill Biden also made an unannounced Mother’s Day visit to the country, meeting with local mothers and her Ukrainian counterpart in the southwestern city of Uzhhorod.

With files from The Canadian Press

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