On September 17, 2014, an atmosphere of anticipation engulfed Parliament Hill. Thirty-three Ukrainian Interns were among the many Canadians from Ontario and Quebec who came to Ottawa to greet Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.
This was without doubt a response to Canada’s unparalleled support for beleaguered Ukraine. Canada was the first after Poland to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991 and continues to be one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies. This support only increased after Ukraine fell victim to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas.
The Interns of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program had the honour to meet President Poroshenko as well as Canadian parliamentarians, Senators and members of the Diplomatic Corp at a reception following the President’s address to both Houses of Parliament.
It was easy to notice the preparations for Mr. Poroshenko’s visit. Ukraine’s blue and yellow national flag was displayed at every major building and avenue around Parliament Hill. Soldiers from various Canadian military regiments were on Parliament Hill going through a final dress rehearsal. Canadians of Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and Czech heritage made their way to the front of Centre Bloc of Parliament to observe the arrival of President Poroshenko and his host, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Ukrainians by the hundreds wearing traditional Ukrainian vyshynvanky swelled the large crowd. The festive mood signaled that Parliament was waiting for the arrival of Canada’s favourite guest.
Positive sentiments increased further, once President Poroshenko arrived at Parliament’s central entrance. The anthem of Ukraine, played by the military band, was accompanied with the roar of cannons, which is the traditional welcome for the highest-ranking visitors to Parliament. After a brief exchange of greetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Petro Poroshenko proceeded to the House of Commons for President Poroshenko’s address.
“Mr. Poroshenko is a very humble man,” said one of the MPs during the President’s speech. The crux of it demonstrated how deeply the President of Ukraine values the support of Canada’s politicians and Canada’s Ukrainian community. President Poroshenko’s address was interrupted numerous times with thunderous applause and voices of approval from CUPP Interns and special guests who were admitted to the public galleries of the House of Commons Chamber.
President Poroshenko had to pause to express a sincere “thank you” after each round of applause. The sense of humility and appreciation to his hosts permeated the President’s words – he demonstrated respect to Canada’s bilingual culture by delivering part of his address in French. He also addressed Canada’s Ukrainians in Ukrainian, which he referred to as “the third official language of Canada.”
The long history of friendship between the two nations and the achievements of Ukrainian-Canadians – from hockey superstars Terry Sawchuk, Mike Bossy, Johnny Bower, Turk Broda, Wayne Gretzky, Walt Tkachuk and Bill Barilko to Senators Raynell Andreychuk, David Tkachuk, Paul Yuzyk, Denise Batters, Martha Bielish, Michael Wall and former Governor-Generals Ramon Hnatyshyn and Edward Schreyer, Members of Parliament Michael Starr, James Bezan, Michael Warawa, Antin Hlynka, Norman Cafik, Harvie Andre, Don Mazenkowsky, Premiers Ed Stelmach, Ernie Eves, Roy Romanow, Gary Filmon, to astronaut Roberta Bondar, artists William Kurelek and Leo Mol, photographer Edward Burtynsky, journalist Victor Malarek, entrepreneurs Eugene Melnyk, James Temerty, Leo Ledohowski and Bill Teron – testify to the contribution of Ukrainians in building of free and prosperous Canada.
In President Poroshenko’s words, “Canada is the most Ukrainian nation outside of Ukraine.” By the same token, Poroshenko assured that Ukraine is “the most Canadian nation outside of Canada”.
Canada is at the forefront of providing Ukraine with non-lethal military aid; particularly bulletproof vests and helmets, which have saved numerous lives. Another moment of surprise for many parliamentarians came when Mr. Poroshenko said that he was not only the President and citizen of Ukraine but also a father of a soldier. Few knew that the President’s own son is serving in the war for the territorial integrity of the country.
Despite the difficult times, Ukraine successfully ratified the Association Agreement with the European Union on September 16. “This was our final farewell to the Soviet past,” said Petro Poroshenko and all present rose spontaneously and exploded with thunderous applause and cheers. At each such juncture CUPP Interns raised Ukraine’s flag, respectfully to observe House of Commons protocol.
On September 16, the Parliaments in Kyiv and Strasbourg adopted the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. In the European Parliament, 535 deputies supported the agreement, 127 voted against and 35 abstained. In Kyiv, all 355 deputies present voted in favor, while 95 did not attend the vote. The two sessions were connected by video transmission. It was left to the Chairman of the European Parliament, the German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, to praise the adoption of the agreement as a “triumph for democracy”.
President Poroshenko emphasized that Ukraine has embarked on an ambitious program of reform to create a free, just and transparent state. The first step in this initiative will be the pre-term parliamentary elections on October 26, which the Ukrainian President pledged would be decisive in forming a pro-European coalition and bringing about long-awaited changes. Canada is going to provide one of the largest missions to observe the elections.
To great delight of CUPP Interns and Alumni throughout the world, towards the end of his address, President Poroshenko stated, “I cannot help but mention one particular program that has played a significant role in enhancing our people-to-people contact. I am talking about the Canada-Ukraine parliamentary program. During the years of independence, CUPP has hosted over a thousand students from Ukraine who were able to work as interns right here in the Canadian Parliament, helping us build Ukrainian democracy. Welcome back, dear colleagues.
I also want to thank the Canadian Parliament and the Ukrainian diaspora for helping us breed a new generation of democratic and free Ukrainian leaders.”
These words brought the entire assembly to their feet once again. Thunderous applause greeted President Poroshenko’s recognition of this unique and powerful program in existence in Parliament for the past 24 years. CUPP was Canada’s first program of assistance to Ukraine.
The President of Ukraine finished his address by quoting Winston Churchill who praised Canada as his second home. This choice of personality was not accidental – it was Churchill who delivered two speeches that fundamentally changed the modern world. In one speech, he stated that the British Prime Minister had nothing to offer but “blood, sweat and tears” in 1940 when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, while Churchill’s second speech in Fulton, in 1946, marked the beginning of the Cold War. Today, President Poroshenko stands firm against the ruthless Vladimir Putin, who employs tactics and rhetoric reminiscent of the 1930s, and is resurrecting conditions of the Cold War.
The numerous standing ovations, which interrupted President Poroshenko’s address, demonstrated that Canada’s elite is overwhelmingly supportive of Ukraine, while a large rally with Canadian, Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, and Crimean Tatar flags, in front of Parliament, buttressed that support.
The longest and loudest round of applause came after President Poroshenko’s final words “Slava Ukrayini!” (Glory to Ukraine) to which the people responded “Heroyam Slava!” (Glory to Heroes). The spirit of Maydan to bring freedom, democracy and dignity to Ukraine was clearly supported by the government and ordinary Canadians throughout this memorable day.
Born in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He attended “Professional” Lyceum in Kharkiv and Alexander Gymnasium in Kyiv. Graduated from the University of Cambridge with an undergraduate degree in History. He is a 2014 Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program Intern with Member of Parliament Mike Wallace of Burlington, Ontario. He was awarded the Michael Starr scholarship to participate in CUPP 2014.