Standing With the People of Ukraine

This op-ed was originally published in the Ukrainian-language Dzerkalo Nedeli (Weekly Mirror) on February 28, 2014.

Within weeks of the protests starting in November 2013, I personally walked around Kyiv’s Independence Square to speak directly to the Ukrainian people. Armed with nothing more than a scarf, I saw first-hand the peaceful nature in which the Ukrainian people had gathered to voice their strong opposition to corruption and cronyism, and the desire of the Ukrainian people for the respect of the basic principles of democracy—freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

What started as a popular protest against repudiating an agreement with the European Union has turned into a much broader call for the values of freedom and democracy.

If one seeks to place blame for the savagery and indiscriminate violence, they need to look no further than the abusive opulence of the presidential palace.

As a leader of a nation, Mr. [Viktor] Yanukovych held the solemn duty to not just protect the freedoms of his people, but also the safety of the people. The bloodshed in Independence Square and throughout Kyiv proved spectacularly that he failed the people of Ukraine.

Like Canadians, Ukrainians hold plethora backgrounds and beliefs. However, the common denominator that unites them is their country, their sovereignty, their flag.

The tears shed across Ukraine were for all Ukrainians. Those tears, and the lives lost, must not be in vain.

Ukrainians from every corner of their country have their future in their hands. They want to prove to the world that their unity cannot be shaken by repression, that their freedom will not be dismantled with violence and that their aspirations for a nation built on the fundamentals of democracy will not be curbed by intimidation.

For all that Ukraine has gone through in the past few months, Canadians have stood by you. They did so because they saw the passion in your eyes, the intimidation you felt and the peaceful way you called for change. Ukrainians of every socio-economic background, age and gender filled that square—and your message was united.

As I land in Kyiv again, I am reminded of those people. And while the landscape of Ukraine has changed dramatically since my last visit, the people have not. If anything, your passion should be invigorated, your desire to build a better future for Ukraine stronger than ever before.

The famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko once wrote:

“We were not cunning, you and I. We walked a true path; there is not a grain of untruth behind us.”

The road to democracy is one that is filled with many cracks and obstacles. But as Ukrainians will discover, the end of the road is worth the long journey travelled, worth the trials, worth the tears. And those lives lost over the past month will be the foundation upon which you have built your future, and they will never be forgotten.

Shevchenko went on to write, in the famous poem entitled “It Makes No Difference to Me”:

“When Ukraine is lulled to sleep by wicked men, only to awaken her later, robbed and in flames ... to this I will not be indifferent.”

Canada has never been indifferent. Canada will never be indifferent. Our country will continue to stand with you in your time of difficulty, and we will walk with you step-by-step in your journey to democracy.

John Baird
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister