Mr. Chair, Ukraine means a lot to me. I wish I could explain why I feel so attached to this country, but it is hard. I suppose many can relate. Sometimes you become attached to people in foreign lands through travels or cultural discoveries. You find a place where you feel good. All of a sudden, you understand the people. You tell yourself, “I am going to come back here.” It is a question of natural predilection.
That is what I experienced with Ukraine. When I was there, in Crimea, for the very first time, I had no idea that I just happened to open the door to a whole new cultural and emotional experience.
That was in 2006, two years after the Orange Revolution. I was coming from Russia. I was able to see first-hand the difference between those two countries, because, despite the many political highs and lows in Ukraine, Ukrainian society was still openly capitalizing on the steps it had taken toward freedom two years earlier. The energy released by the Orange Revolution was almost as strong as that from the 1990 declaration of independence. The country was rising enthusiastically in its own image, according to its own will and in total freedom. Even though the material and economic conditions were not the best, Ukraine, with the Baltic states, represented at the time the best hope of leaving the post-Soviet misery behind once and for all.
Then, in February 2010, everything shifted. Yanukovych's victory in the presidential election was not a good sign. I will go over the events of the past three years, which have been a slow and grotesque nightmare from which we have just woken up.
In the days following the victory of the Party of Regions, western democracies were stunned. The election results were clear. The election was fairly clean. We had to recognize that the Ukrainian people had expressed their democratic will. The United States accepted the election results, as did Europe.
The attitude taken by western democracies ranged from pragmatism born of necessity to the most absurd denial. There had been many electoral irregularities, incidents of intimidation, shell games, in short, the usual scheming, but we did not want to get too involved. The message was that the time for revolution had passed.
As for Yanukovych, we put up with him, as we would a monkey that we think we can eventually train. After all, we are now free to say out loud what we were whispering at the time. I would like to remind members that when Yanukovych was elected, everyone suspected that he was behind the attempted poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko. It was neither a legend nor hearsay. All the literature from that time confirms it. Basically, it was no secret.
Disgrace was inevitable in his case. Now, there is an international warrant for his arrest. I do not know how long he will be able to hide.
Let me get back to 2010. At first, Europe felt that it had built strong enough ties with Ukraine to gently guide Yanukovych's administration in the right direction. While I am sure that European diplomats did not have high hopes, they likely thought Europe could play a positive role in Ukraine, if only by setting an example.
What was the response on the ground? Reactions were mixed. Ukrainians had seen just about everything in their 500-year history, and this was not the first time they had been disappointed. The public believed that the fact that opinions in the country were sharply divided would be enough to keep the government nervous, even if the opposition was weakened by internal power struggles.
On February 22, 2010, Tymoshenko, then a defeated candidate, did not mince words when she said that the oligarchy needs cheap labour and poor and disenfranchised people who can be forced to work at their factories for peanuts. They also need Ukraine's riches, which they had been stealing for the last 18 years.
It turns out that her words perfectly summarize Yanukovych's four-year reign. His refusal to sign the agreement with the European Union last fall was simply a logical consequence of this systematic plan to bring Ukraine to its knees. Tymoshenko's warning was materializing.
Things were quickly going to get worse as far as she was concerned. Her unlawful conviction in August 2011 after a long, rigged trial confirmed the worst. Yanukovych was seeking revenge and he was prepared to blatantly and shamelessly bend the rules to stay in power. The international community unequivocally condemned this trial.
Canada also did not waste any time. In the fall of 2011, this Parliament decided to warn the Ukrainian government that it would not tolerate such serious affronts to the rule of law and human rights.
In May 2012, a parliamentary delegation, which included myself and several of my colleagues who are here tonight, went to Ukraine to get a first-hand look at what was happening.
Our embassy in Kiev made it easier to communicate with over 50 stakeholders from various political and civil circles. For a week, we were able to listen to enlightening testimony.
We came to the astounding realization that, despite the well-developed networks of civil actors and the united message they were sending, the country seemed to have returned to the uncertain days of the post-Soviet transition. Insecurity, corruption and worthless legal processes were weakening the state and society.
I was able to see the difference given my familiarity with the country. The winds of freedom that were blowing in 2006 had died. Conversations with friends were heavy and sad. Ukrainians were seeing all the efforts they had made since 2004 being undermined by the regime. A dark curtain just been drawn over their future. Do hon. members understand what such a crisis meant for a people who had already experienced so many setbacks?
In frustration, Ukrainians put on their old, well-worn blinders just so they would have the strength to continue to live in this country that history refused to liberate.
However, history teaches a lesson that no one can deny. The Ukrainian spirit is strong and always resurges. I told myself this repeatedly, saying that, in this end, this extraordinary people, these Cossacks, would react.
In November 2013, the Yanukovych administration refused to sign the agreement to join the European Union that had been in progress for years. In one fell swoop, it was as if the country's heart had been ripped out.
People spontaneously took to the street, assembling at Independence Square, as they did in 2004, to demand government accountability. Yanukovych's selfish and indefensible decision to favour the exclusive customs union with Russia shocked Ukrainians deeply. Their only door to a better future had been shut, forcing them to accept an uncertain role in an area under Moscow's control with predictable consequences.
If the question is whether the Russian government is involved in everything that has happened, the answer is yes, of course. As are Europe and the United States. We need to stop being surprised that the Russian government is doing everything it can to keep a grip on the former Soviet republics. Who can they turn to? What we can see is that it is not working.
Let me paint a quick picture. Kazakhstan and its wealth turn to China, its neighbour. Georgia, through Turkey, went to the West. Azerbaijan conducts its own small and very lucrative business and is as happy as a clam. Ukraine turns to Europe. At the end of the day, there is not much left for them, except Lukashenko.
I followed the incredible series of events last week very closely. If someone had told me last Wednesday that I had to speak to the situation, I would not have had the words to express my utter dismay. Things seemed so irreparable that I was starting to lose hope.
On Thursday, when I found out that snipers had indiscriminately shot peaceful protesters, my worst fears were realized. However, the Cossack spirit prevailed and everything turned around in matter of 24 hours. The revolution that seemed impossible had become a reality.
On the weekend, I could not take my eyes off the news, as Yanukovych's support collapsed and the Verkhovna Rada deposed the president. Seeing Yulia Tymoshenko in a wheelchair in Independence Square, in front of a huge, but silent crowd who were listening to her impassioned speech, was indescribable.
I am immensely proud to be here today to express how I feel about this. I want to reiterate my deep affection for Ukraine and its people. I want to send my deepest condolences to the families of the victims, killed because they believed in freedom for Ukraine. To them I say:
[Member spoke in Ukrainian as follows:]
I am calling on the Government of Canada to follow the example of the European Union and the United States, support the new transitional government and reaffirm its unwavering support for Ukraine and its democratic aspirations.
[Member spoke in Ukrainian and provided the following translation:]
Together we will prevail! Glory to Ukraine!