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Canada abandoned Ukrainian embassy employees despite their likelihood of being on Russian hit list

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Ottawa told leaders at the Canadian embassy in Kyiv to withhold information from Ukrainian officials and leave them behind.Spencer Colby/Globe and Mail

Before withdrawing Canadian diplomats from Ukraine weeks before the Russian invasion, Global Affairs Canada said Russia intended to wage war against its neighbor and Ukrainians working at the Canadian embassy We have received information confirming that they are likely on the list of people Moscow is trying to hunt down.

Despite the apparently dire situation, Ottawa told leaders at the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv to withhold this information from these Ukrainian staff and leave them behind.

These events were described to The Globe and Mail by three Canadian diplomats with first-hand knowledge of what happened, haunted by the way Canada endangered its Ukrainian employees. Grove has not released the name of the diplomat.

The revelations highlight the inconsistent treatment of local workers at Canadian embassies. They are sometimes offered federal aid in times of crisis, and sometimes left to find their own way out.

According to sources, in January diplomats working at the Kyiv embassy received a secret briefing from an intelligence alliance known as the Five Eyes (whose other members are the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand). Russia was not bluffing about its intention to invade Ukraine.

But there was another thing. Russia has drawn up a list of Ukrainians the alliance believes Russia intends to track, detain or kill. It was unclear exactly whose names were on the list, but diplomats were told it likely included a Ukrainian who worked at the Western embassy in Kyiv.

At the time, most international observers expected Russia to rapidly overrun Kyiv within days of its invasion, taking control of the Ukrainian government and exposing anyone on Russia’s list to imminent danger. was

Canadian officials had received instructions from Ottawa on what to do with a warning that Ukrainian officials could be arrested or executed before they were withdrawn from the embassy ahead of the February 24 invasion. .

The instructions were clear: don’t tell them.

The 50 or so Ukrainian employees, many of whom had worked with Canadians at the embassy for years, were forced to fend for themselves without recognizing the risks.

Sources told The Globe that after the briefing, several embassy officials expressed concerns about the Ukrainian staff to senior management in Ottawa.

They were told by two senior Global Affairs officials that Canada has no liability to its local employees in this situation, known in policy terms as “duty of care”, but that Ottawa has no responsibility for local embassy officials. I was told that I didn’t want to create a precedent to protect the . .

No evacuation plan was made for Ukrainian staff likely to be on the list. Instead, they were told to take refuge in their homes if Russia attacked Kyiv.

Canadian diplomats stationed at the embassy left for the relative safety of Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, on February 12 and fled to Poland on February 24. rear The Russian invasion has begun. According to one source, Ukrainian staff asked if Canadian staff could work away from Lviv or Poland as they planned to evacuate, but Global Affairs officials confirmed their request. Rejected.

After the Canadians left, officials at the Ukrainian embassy were frightened and angry, according to three sources. They learned about the threat to their lives as U.S. Embassy officials told some of the local officials about the Russian target list and helped some of them flee Ukraine.

Sources say no Ukrainian who worked at the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv has ever died in the war, but many remain angry.

Canada has since returned ambassador Larisa Galaza to Kyiv on a rotating basis, along with several other top diplomats, but the embassy has not yet reopened. Most Canadian Embassy staff remain in Poland providing consular services. What was previously offered by the Kyiv embassy is still offered today.

Sources say Ukrainian staff are still getting paid, but many are not working and most of the women have left Ukraine.

decision to leave without Notifying local staff and ensuring their safety was based on Canadian policy as specified in the 2014 Harper Government memorandum. According to one of his diplomats who spoke to The Globe, the document said staff on the ground should not be held to a duty of care. When the embassy was abandoned. Another diplomatic source said the memo was written to justify Canada’s 2012 decision to close its embassy in Iran without evacuating local staff. It is said that it is a thing.

When asked about this policy and the event at the Ukrainian embassy, ​​Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Sabrina Williams said in an email that department staff “ensure the safety and security of our personnel and overseas operations. We are taking all appropriate steps to do so,” he said. Williams also said Global Affairs “does not discuss the operational details of overseas missions due to security considerations.”

Garraza didn’t respond to a request for comment. So did Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie.

The duty of care that diplomats have to local officials has long been interpreted in various ways by Canada. Halberd Leila, Fellow of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, wrote in a recent article in The Hague Journal of Diplomacy that during the fall of Saigon in 1975, the United States killed thousands of Vietnamese, including embassy staff, and their migrants. He wrote that he evacuated his family. , “The Canadian Embassy in Saigon evacuated with souvenirs and cars, but no local staff.”

In contrast, when the Canadian Embassy in Beirut was evacuated in 1985, local officials were given the option of emigrating to Canada.

Leila said the United States frequently creates special visa programs for potentially at-risk local embassy employees.

When Canada was evacuated from its embassy in Kabul as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the federal government sought local migrants through a special immigration program for Afghan nationals that supported Canadian missions there. proposed the resettlement of staff members engaged in

Ukraine banned Ukrainian men from leaving the country during the war, so when the war broke out, locally hired male embassy officials were stranded in the country. Some of the Ukrainian officials have high public profile and remain at risk of persecution if captured by invading Russian forces, according to one source.

Ukrainian officials told diplomatic sources they found it particularly painful to see Canadian Embassy staff trying to evacuate. Pets while local employees are left behind.

Our Ukrainian employees do not receive official support from the Canadian government, but our Canadian colleagues unofficially support us. An online fundraiser by Canadian Embassy staffer Alexandra Formanek was largely spread among Canadians working in Ukraine and raised about $90,000 for local staff. This fund has helped many to evacuate the country on their own.

One of the listed donors is Oksana Smerechuk, the wife of former Ukrainian ambassador Roman Waschuk.

“Some of these employees have been working in Canada since the early 1990s,” she wrote on the fundraising website. Now is the time to step up and help them. ”

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