Canada is sending 150 military personnel to assist Polish authorities with processing and resettling millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion.
Defence Minister Anita Anand, speaking at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton Thursday, said Canada would deploy 100 military members in the immediate term to assist Poland with the influx of Ukrainian refugees. The deployment is set to last two months, but could be extended.
“I cannot imagine the heartbreak felt by millions of Ukrainians who are forced to flee Putin’s shelling and bombing, the heartbreak of thousands of Canadians with loved ones who remain in Ukraine now,” Anand said.
“But in the face of unspeakable acts of violence carried out against innocent civilians and despicable … attacks on schools, apartment buildings, train stations in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Bucha, Mariupol, and of tragic desperation, Canadians and our Canadian Armed Forces will continue to step up and offer a safe haven and to welcome with open arms the people of Ukraine, our friends.”
According to the UN, approximately 4.736 million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24. The vast majority of those displaced people – some 2.6 million – have sought refuge in neighbouring Poland.
The Canadian Forces members will come primarily from Edmonton and Kingston, Anand said, and will be deploying in the coming days.
It’s the latest in a line of supports and aid pledged by Ottawa for the Ukrainian government, now in its second month of attempting to defend against a numerically superior Russian force. Last week, the Trudeau government committed an additional $100 million in humanitarian aid for the country, on top of $145 million already pledged to various UN agencies, the Red Cross and other non-government organizations.
Speaking at an event in Ottawa on Thursday, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of creating “the most significant threat to global order since the Second World War.”
“This is a very dangerous moment,” Eyre said, who was scheduled to speak to his Polish counterpart later in the day.
“If you want to look for a similar moment in history, where we have multiple powers at play, a confluence of new technologies and a level of geopolitical uncertainty, you only need to look back at 1914,” Eyre said, referring to the outbreak of the First World War.
“We are determined to continue supporting Ukraine, but also keeping the conflict from spilling across the borders of our NATO allies and broadening (in) scope.”
After launching the war, which has been called an illegal invasion by Ukrainian’s western allies, Putin said Tuesday that peace talks between Russia and Ukraine had hit an impasse.
Putin also brushed off the economic sanctions imposed by the West, which have wreaked havoc on the Russian economy.
The comments cast doubt on the possibility of a diplomatic solution, at least in the near term, even as Russia withdrew troops who had failed to take the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. NATO leaders have warned that Russia is regrouping for a renewed offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.
As the conflict has dragged on, Canada created a new immigration program for Ukrainians fleeing their country, allowing them to work or study in Canada for up to three years.
Anand said that the CAF members in Poland will also help refugees travel to other countries to resettle and provide limited medical care, psychological and spiritual counselling for refugees at “reception centres” run by the Polish Territorial Defence Force.
With files from the Canadian Press and Reuters.