We're going to split our time, but I'll start.
It's an honour to have the opportunity to testify here today. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is the umbrella organization for our community, which brings together our national, provincial, and local Ukrainian Canadian organizations. We have six provincial councils, 19 local branches, and 29 member organizations across the country. Since 1941, we've been leading, coordinating, and representing the interests of our community across Canada.
We are a member of and work closely with the Ukrainian World Congress, as well as ethnocultural communities across Canada. Through the Canada-Ukraine stakeholder advisory council with Global Affairs, we provide consultations with the Government of Canada on Ukraine-Canada relations. We meet regularly with government officials, politicians, stakeholders, policy-makers, as well as leaders in our community.
We're here today to talk to you about the situation in eastern Europe as you are undertaking what we feel is an extremely important study on the situation 25 years after the end of the Cold War.
In the last decade, we have witnessed the rise of an aggressive and imperialist Russian Federation, which seeks through force to return Russian hegemony to regions formerly part of the Soviet Union. For example, in 2008 Russian troops invaded South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. In 2014, Russia invaded and occupied Crimea in Ukraine and parts of the eastern Ukrainian oblasts or provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Provocations against the Baltic states, such as the kidnapping of an Estonian intelligence officer from Estonia and the seizing of a Lithuanian ship in September 2014, suggest that Moscow is testing NATO's commitment to its easternmost members.
For the first time since World War II, a state has attempted to change the borders of Europe by force. A Europe whole, free, and at peace is under direct threat from Russia. Russia seeks to replace the principles outlined in the Helsinki Final Act with the principles of Yalta, a Europe based on spheres of influence.
In Russian-occupied Crimea, Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and indeed anyone who opposes the occupation are subject to a regime of terror. Russian occupation authorities have banned the Mejlis, the representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar people, and have been persecuting its leadership. Dozens of Ukrainian citizens are currently illegally imprisoned in Russia or in occupied Crimea.
The House of Commons citizenship and immigration committee heard the testimony this fall of Gennadii Afanasiev, a young man who was illegally arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for two years before his release in 2016. I encourage members of the committee who are not familiar with his testimony to review it. His experience outlines the methods Russian authorities employ against those who dare voice dissent in any form.
In the eastern Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia's war against Ukraine has led to the death of over 9,900 people, over 23,000 wounded, and over 1.4 million internally displaced. Thousands of Russian troops are on sovereign Ukrainian territory, including over 700 tanks, 1,250 artillery systems, 300 multi-rocket launch systems, and more than 1,000 armoured personnel carriers.
Russia's war against Ukraine is very much an active war. Russian and proxy forces shell Ukrainian positions and residential areas on a daily basis. Since the end of January, shelling and violence by Russian and proxy authorities have increased, particularly in the areas near the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk oblast.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is currently the subject of a case brought by Ukrainian authorities to the International Court of Justice with regard to alleged violations of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. On March 6 at the ICJ, the deputy minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine Olena Zerkal stated:
The attacks on Ukrainian civilians are the logical conclusion of the Russian Federation’s support for groups that engage in terrorism. The destruction of Flight MH17 with a Russian Buk system did not stop Russian financing of terrorism.
Canada and Canadian foreign policy support the values of freedom, democracy, self-determination, and the right of sovereign states to choose their own alliances. These values are under threat by the renewed Russian imperial spirit. Canada has a vital national security interest in ensuring the return of peace and stability to the region, to the European continent, and a vital national security interest in opposing and deterring Russian aggression.
We share a long border with Russia in our north, and Russian actions represent a direct challenge to Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic. Experts have repeatedly pointed to the fact that militarization in the Arctic is likely to remain a top priority for Russia's military in the coming years.
I'd like to turn it over to my colleague, Orest Zakydalsky.