March 4, 2022

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne [ + ]

I too would like to pay tribute to the courageous people of Ukraine, who have been victims of a deadly invasion launched by a dangerous autocrat.

The images we see every day are chilling. A nuclear plant bombed. Cities in ruins. Crowds of people in shock huddling in subway stations, weeping silent tears.

We cling to heartwarming signs of humanity, such as Dr. Julien Auger from Quebec’s Centre hospitalier de Saint-Jérôme, a father of two who volunteered to care for the wounded in Ukraine. As he told La Presse, “Where will it stop if nobody does anything?”

Another man who goes by Wali, a former soldier with the Royal 22nd Regiment, joined the International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine in response to brave President Zelenskyy’s call, leaving behind his partner and baby. He said:

When I see images of the destruction in Ukraine, what I picture is my son, suffering and in danger.

Meanwhile, Quebec welcomed one of its first Ukrainian refugees. I was stunned by Anastasia’s story. In her soft, singsong French, with surprising composure, Anastasia shared her story with Radio-Canada:

I feel safe, but I feel sad. There is a heaviness in my heart because my family is there. I worry about my family every day.

Anastasia does not believe that a truce is likely. Her cousins and her uncle are on the front lines. Her mother encouraged her to flee. Customs officers in Montreal let her through even though she had no proof of enrolment to go along with her student visa. Anastasia also told Radio-Canada, and I quote:

I could see in their eyes that they realized I came to Canada because of the war in Ukraine.

With a sense of urgency, Anastasia chose to continue her life in Montreal because she speaks French and English.

More Ukrainians will now be able to come and seek refuge in our great country as a result of the new Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel announced yesterday. We have all the necessary tools to welcome these refugees.

I am also heartened by the Canadian and European response to this vicious attack. However, we can’t help but note, with heavy hearts, the contrast between this response and the wait-and-see approach the West is taking to other, equally bloody, conflicts outside of Europe.

As a final point, this terrible invasion forced Quebec to do some soul-searching about the weight of words. We were still using the name “Kiev,” taken from the Russian, without really thinking about the political weight of that choice. This week, a few Quebec media outlets began using the Ukrainian spelling of the besieged capital city, Kyiv. This was long overdue. Journalistic objectivity is not in question.

Long live Kyiv, Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. I am hoping for a miracle.

Honourable senators, three years ago this month I was in Ukraine as part of the presidential election oversight effort. It was my first and only trip to that remarkable country.

Over the past week, I have been thinking a lot about one of the other Canadian parliamentarians on that trip. Mark Warawa was an energetic and youthful 68-year-old entrepreneur and the Member of Parliament for Langley—Aldergrove, B.C. He was on another of his countless trips back to his Ukrainian roots, heading to oversee polls in his ancestral home city of Lviv. His dedication to helping the Ukrainian people create the conditions for their increasing success was infectious.

I had several conversations with Mark, each one more enlightening. He was massively dedicated to supporting Ukrainian democratic reform and freedom. I cannot imagine how his heart would be breaking today if he were with us. Mark cut his trip short due to ill health and soon discovered he had pancreatic cancer. He died three months after returning home. Mark Warawa’s sudden death shattered his family, friends, constituents and colleagues — much like the events of the last two weeks have shattered us all.

I had no connection to Ukraine prior to this trip, but was instantly inspired. Hope was everywhere, and the electoral process and turnout were impressive.

Everyone was concerned over Russian involvement in election disruption. Already then, Russian disinformation sought to discredit the electoral process, using the rhetoric of a failed puppet state run by fascists, language all too familiar today. The Ukrainian Central Election Commission was under threat of repeated cyberattacks, again a recurring theme.

Starting in Kyiv, together with a Swedish MP, we travelled east from the city with our driver and translator. The polling stations were often in local schools and were run by incredibly strong, dedicated and disciplined women. They blew us away with their professionalism and their determination to prevent anything inappropriate happening in their polls. I would be comforted by their presence at a poll in my community.

In one of the villages, we met two elderly babushkas. They had walked several kilometres to the polling station to vote, but they did not really walk, they shuffled. I commented on their dedication and they looked at me as if I was the idiot that I instantly felt I was. They simply replied that they’d been in kindergarten together in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Nothing else needed to be said. They knew all too well a world without democracy. I can’t imagine how these two ladies feel today. I am hopeful about one thing, though, the people of Ukraine are incredibly courageous and strong-hearted. We must increasingly stand with them. Thank you, colleagues.

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