By Laura Osman in Ottawa
Protesters called on Canada to “be brave like Ukraine” and maintain economic sanctions against Russia on Sunday, just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered essentially the same message to the prime minister.
In a phone call between the leaders, Zelenskyy told Justin Trudeau his stance on Russia sanctions ‘must be principled’ at a time when relations between Canada and the beleaguered country are somewhat strained by Canada’s controversial decision to send parts of a Russian natural gas pipeline to Germany.
Zelenskyy recapped their conversation in a short statement shared on Twitter, saying he thanked Trudeau for the continued strong defense support Canada has offered his country, but also stressed the importance of maintaining sanctions.
“After the terrorist attacks in Vinnytsia, Mykolaiv, Chasiv Yar, etc., the pressure must be increased, not decreased,” he said.
Trudeau reiterated Canada’s support for Ukraine against Russia’s military aggression, according to an official account of the Prime Minister’s Office discussion.
The two leaders also spoke of maintaining unity among their allies and imposing “high costs” on Russia, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Canada agreed earlier this month to grant an exemption from economic sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
The two-year waiver would allow six Siemens Energy turbines, which were in Montreal for repairs, to be returned to Germany for use in Russia’s Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline.
Trudeau previously defended the decision and said Canada’s German ally was dependent on natural gas supplies from the pipeline.
In a written and video address last week, however, Zelenskyy called the move “absolutely unacceptable.”
Russian state energy company Gazprom cut gas deliveries by 60% last month from its Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, which connects northeastern Germany, citing technical problems with the turbines.
The decision left several Ukrainian supporters who attended a rally in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon in a state of disbelief.
Canadian-Ukrainian Yuri Kolomiyets told the crowd of around 150 supporters gathered on the lawn of Parliament Hill that the decision will mean more oil and gas money for Russia to fund its attack on Ukraine. .
“I guess it’s fine to provide genocidal maniacs with technology and money, as long as it keeps German voters happy,” Kolomiyets told the crowd, drawing cries of “shame” in response.
“It is not their children who die in the missile strikes.”
Two young protesters, Arsenii Pivtorak and Ladislao Zaichka, have camped outside Parliament Hill for days and say they have been on a hunger strike since July 9, when the waiver was announced.
“This decision broke our hearts. We felt like the pockets of the Germans were more important than the lives of the Ukrainians,” Pivtorak, 19, said of the decision.
Zaichka said he was particularly passionate about the decision because he had family in Ukraine.
“What Justin Trudeau has done and what the Canadian government has done is heartbreaking for me as a Canadian, but even worse for me as a Ukrainian,” he said.
The Ottawa branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress planned the rally on Parliament Hill to urge the government to revoke the waiver.
Protesters called on Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who defended the turbine decision last week, to respond to the Ukrainian community in Canada. They also chanted for the government to “stand with Ukraine”.
Speaking to reporters on a teleconference after a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Bali, Indonesia on Saturday, Freeland said Germany’s ability to maintain support for Ukraine could be at risk if the turbines were not returned. She said a united G7 effort would be needed to support Ukraine and that allowing repaired parts to return to Germany was “the right thing to do”. The United States also came out in favor of Canada’s decision.
The congress’ parent organization, the Ukrainian World Congress, has asked the Federal Court for a judicial review in hopes of stopping the turbines from going to Germany.
“We believe that Canada and Germany have been manipulated here by the Russians,” National Executive Director of the Ukrainian Congress Ihor Michalchyshyn said ahead of the planned protest.
The group argues that Canada bowed to Russian blackmail and set a dangerous precedent that will lead to the weakening of the sanctions regime imposed on Russia.
“It’s a decision that angered Canadians and the Ukrainian government,” Michalchyshyn said.
He said Ukrainian-Canadians involved in his group initially expressed surprise and disappointment when they learned that Canada would allow the turbines to return.
The government also faced political backlash. In a video posted to Twitter on Sunday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney chastised the Liberals for helping fund Russian oil and gas and allowing the country to continue dominating the European energy market.
“Why do we have a government in Ottawa that is hindering efforts to export responsible Canadian energy to Europe while helping Vladimir Putin’s Gazprom continue to dominate European energy markets?” It makes no sense,” Kenney said.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is expected to appear at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the decision, along with the ambassadors of Ukraine, Germany and the European Union to Canada.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson were also called to the committee to answer questions about the exception.
Echoing Zelenskyy’s principled stance on sanctions, protester Oksana Bashuk Hepburn said Canada’s strength lies in its values. Standing in front of the Parliament Buildings in a straw hat adorned with a ribbon in the yellow and blue colors of Ukraine, she said Canada should stick to those values and abide by the sanctions.
“You have persuasion because you have an honorable reputation. Take it back,” she said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 17, 2022.