Trudeau says Canada backs Ukraine in seeking justice for Putin's 'heinous war crimes'
Prime minister also participated in ceremony reopening Canadian Embassy in Kyiv
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a surprise visit to Kyiv on Sunday, meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, touring a blackened, bombed-out suburban community and pledging enduring support for the embattled country.
He also reopened the Canadian Embassy and welcomed the ambassador back to the capital, Kyiv. Trudeau was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and an armed security detachment.
- What questions do you have about Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Send an email to email@example.com
Trudeau visited the city of Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, which was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in March as Russian forces attempted to storm the capital.
Ukrainian troops effectively halted the advance in the area and pushed back the invasion force.
At a news conference with Zelensky, Trudeau praised Ukraine's president for his leadership and the courage of Ukrainians in defending their country, including those in Irpin.
"It was a true inspiration to see people step up to defend their lives, defend their community, defend a bright future for themselves and their families in the country they love," the prime minister said.
He joined a parade of other leaders, dignitaries and celebrities who've visited Ukraine to show their support. Rock musicians Bono and The Edge of U2 gave a surprise concert at a Kyiv subway station several blocks from the presidential palace on Sunday.
Trudeau's visit came on the same day that Russian missiles pounded the southern port city of Odesa, and as rescuers combed the ruins of a school in the eastern Luhansk district, where more than 60 people are thought to have perished in a Russia strike. There was heavy fighting in other eastern portions of the country, including around Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine.
As Trudeau met with Zelensky on Sunday, air raid sirens sounded in the district near the presidential palace, an area of neatly trimmed hedges and gardens that are now cut with giant, jagged trenches and sandbagged barriers.
Trudeau said it was clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible for "heinous war crimes" and that Canada would support Ukraine in seeking justice. At the news conference, he also announced military aid in the form of additional drone cameras, satellite imagery, small arms and more artillery shells for the M-777 howitzers Canada has provided.
"I don't think it much matters what Putin says anymore," Trudeau said in an exclusive interview with Reuters. "He has demonstrated that he does not have a clear understanding of what's going on.
"He so profoundly miscalculated by not understanding the extent to which Ukrainians would fight like the heroes they are to defend their language, their identity, their territory. Nor did he understand the resolve with which Western countries would come together to stand up for our democracy and give Ukraine the tools needed to win this war against Putin."
'Ukraine will prevail'
At the news conference, the prime minister also announced that all duties on Ukrainian imports to Canada would be removed for the next year and that the federal government would place sanctions on Russian individuals and entities.
Asked whether NATO countries were concerned about threats of Russian nuclear warfare, Trudeau said that "no amount of irresponsible sabre-rattling" will deter Ukraine's supporters.
"Putin and his accomplices will fail. Ukraine will prevail," Trudeau said at the end of his remarks.
During the news conference, Zelensky said he welcomed Canadian support, referring to Trudeau as the leader of a country from which Ukraine could not ask for more support.
Zelensky noted, however, that Canada could be influential in persuading other, more heavily armed NATO members to provide more advanced weaponry to Ukraine.
He also pressed Trudeau to support Ukraine's call for a modern-day Marshall Plan — a reference to an Allied program to reconstruct the economies of western and southern Europe following the Second World War — for his war-shattered country.
G7 leaders pledge 'full solidarity' with Ukraine
Trudeau's visit was carried out under a news blackout. However, photos of his visit to Irpin were posted on Twitter by the city's mayor, who met with the prime minister. Trudeau's visit came on the same day G7 leaders were set to discuss the war in Ukraine, meetings in which Trudeau and Zelensky took part.
In a communiqué issued after the talks, the leaders condemned Russia — which was kicked out of the group in 2014 — and promised "full solidarity and support for Ukraine's courageous defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity."
The G7 leaders began their statement by marking Victory in Europe Day, the anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War, a day that is celebrated on May 9 in Russia and Ukraine.
Seventy-seven years after the end of the war, the G7 leaders said, "President Putin and his regime now chose to invade Ukraine in an unprovoked war of aggression against a sovereign country. His actions bring shame on Russia and the historic sacrifices of its people."
There is concern that Russia will use its Victory Day event on Monday to mobilize its population in support of escalating the war in Ukraine.
The G7 leaders also promised on Sunday "further commitments to help Ukraine secure its free and democratic future," including action on military aid, sanctions, cyber defence, financial support and human rights violation investigations.
"We remain united in our resolve that President Putin must not win his war against Ukraine. We owe it to the memory of all those who fought for freedom in the Second World War, to continue fighting for it today, for the people of Ukraine, Europe and the global community."
Earlier on Sunday, Trudeau took part in a low-key flag-raising at the reopened Canadian Embassy in Kyiv, a symbolic moment that went slightly awry when it was discovered the mechanism to raise the flag on the chosen pole was not working. The flag ended up getting raised on a pole at a metal stairwell on the side of the building.
"This flag came down on Feb. 13th, and we're really glad to be raising it again above the Canadian embassy," Trudeau said.
WATCH | Ukraine sees surge in Western support:
The prime minister made a point of thanking and shaking hands with Sergei Maier, the Ukrainian head of the security team that kept watch over the embassy while it was closed. Maier took the gesture in stride and said he was only doing his job.
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine's capital also reopened on Sunday.
With files from Reuters