Politics

How Ottawa plans to help Canadians trapped in Ukraine

Canadians in Ukraine are being urged to flee the country if it's safe to do so — or shelter in place if it isn't. Here's how Ottawa plans to help them as the Russian military advances.

Canada closed its Ukrainian consulate and embassy early Thursday morning

A woman hugs her son on Thursday after crossing the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. The federal government says Canadians can safely cross into Hungary and other nations on Ukraine's western border. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

The federal government is urging Canadians in Ukraine to either escape the country immediately or to shelter in place if a safe exit is no longer available.

The advice comes on the first day of a full-scale attack by the Russian military, which began sending soldiers into Ukraine and raining bombs near major cities before dawn.

"Your safety and security are now our top priority," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians still in Ukraine on Thursday.

Here is what the government says it will do to help Canadians in Ukraine.

Consular services

Consular services for Canadians in Ukraine became severely limited on Thursday after Ottawa closed its Ukrainian consulate and embassy.

Those offices were relocated from the capital to Kyiv to the western city of Lviv earlier this month, but the government opted to shut them down within hours of the Russian invasion.

All Canadian personnel fled across the border to Poland.

Despite the closure of diplomatic offices, Global Affairs Canada says consular services will remain available to Canadians in need of assistance.

Anyone needing help is asked to call the government's 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre, which is based in Ottawa.

The centre can be reached:

  • By telephone at 1-613-996-8885
  • By email at sos@international.gc.ca
  • By text message at 1-613-686-3658

"Should there be a surge in demand for consular services, we are ready," Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said. "Our teams in Ottawa, Warsaw and major European cities are on standby to support."

Global Affairs Canada said it will reopen the embassy and consulate "as soon as the security situation in Ukraine allows us to ensure the adequate delivery of services."

Safe passage to the west

While Canadians close to Russian military action in the eastern and central regions of Ukraine have been advised to shelter in place, Canadians in western Ukraine are being urged to leave immediately if it is safe to do so.

Trudeau said on Thursday that Ottawa has arranged safe passage for Canadians into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova.

Canada has been advising its citizens to leave Ukraine since Feb. 1.

A man sits outside a destroyed building after bombings on the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv on February 24, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

The government did not provide an estimate of the number of Canadians and permanent residents still in Ukraine.

There are approximately 800 Canadians in Ukraine with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service, a voluntary service which provides updates and advisories to Canadians overseas.

Travel to Canada and immigration

Trudeau said the federal government will begin "urgently" issuing travel documents to Canadians, permanent residents and their immediate families.

Ottawa also will prioritize immigration applicants from Ukraine during the crisis.

Canada is already home to an estimated 1.3 million people of Ukrainian descent, the largest such population outside of Ukraine and Russia.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said his department already has approved more than 1,800 Ukrainian immigration applications on a priority basis.

"We will be looking to do more," he said Thursday at an event in Nova Scotia.

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