National Defence Minister Anita Anand told reporters outside the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv on Monday that Canada’s soldiers are moving west of the Dnieper River — which splits Ukraine — “out of an abundance of caution.”
“The safety and security of the Armed Forces is my top priority at all times, and out of an abundance of caution we are repositioning some of our troops,” Anand said.
“We are continually monitoring the evolving and concerning situation, and made a decision to move troops in that regard.”
Canada had 200 Canadian Armed Forces members throughout Ukraine as part of Operation Unifier, a years-long mission designed to bolster Ukraine’s defence forces, which was recently extended and enhanced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The move west of the Dnieper River puts Canada’s forces farther away from the Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s borders in the east. A possible Russian military incursion could try to incorporate land on the east side of the river.
Many western nations fear a Russian military invasion of Ukraine is becoming possible. While diplomatic talks to calm the tensions are ongoing, western nations are scrambling to support Ukraine as Russia continues its war games around the region.
The movement of troops comes after Canada ordered non-essential staff at its embassy in Kyiv to leave on Sunday, a move the country’s president cautioned against on Friday.
“I think that embassy employees should be here. I’m sorry, but these are the captains of the diplomatic cause, they’re the representatives of their respective countries and the captains are the last to be leaving the ship,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said through a Ukrainian translator at a foreign media briefing.
“I don’t think we have a Titanic here. Ukraine is moving forward.”
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly tried to project calm as the West worries an armed conflict is impending.
“I don’t consider the situation now more tense than before. There is a feeling abroad that there is war here. That’s not the case,” Zelenskyy said.
“I am not saying an escalation is not possible … (but) we don’t need this panic.”
But while officials are projecting calm, some Ukrainians are preparing for worst-case scenarios.
Over the weekend, nearly 1,000 Ukrainian women signed up for hostile environment training in Kyiv. Oleksandr Biletskyi, a member of the Ukrainian Consortium for Social Research, told Global News the program was created with the help of Canadians.
“The key thing in the training is collaboration of people,” he said.
“People should collaborate to help each other and organize themselves … to protect themselves and to do things together, because it’s much easier to survive together in groups and to survive as a family, as a person.”
Olena Biletska, whose Ukrainian Women’s Guard helped organize the training, told Global News most participants want to learn how to survive in different crises.
“It’s all about critical thinking,” she said through a Ukrainian translator.
“We realised that before we get any substantial help, we have to first of all survive and do our best to maintain calm and really live through this.”
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Zelenskyy there is a “distinct possibility” Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February.
The United States and Russia squared off Monday at the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow lost an attempt to block a public meeting on Moscow’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s borders and Western fears of an invasion.
The meeting kicked off more high-level diplomacy this week, though talks between the U.S. and Russia have so far failed to ease tensions in the crisis.
Russia denies it intends to launch an attack, but has demanded NATO promise never to allow Ukraine to join the alliance, halt the deployment of NATO weapons near Russian borders and roll back its forces from eastern Europe.
NATO and the U.S. call those demands impossible.
— with files from The Associated Press