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Anti-government protesters throw stones during clashes with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)
Anti-government protesters throw stones during clashes with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Canada closes embassy in Kiev as Ukrainian violence escalates Add to ...

Canada has closed its embassy in Kiev and is threatening to bring in sanctions against Ukraine, after a crackdown by authorities on long-running protests left more than two dozen people dead.

A voice message at the Canadian embassy and its website both indicate the closing, but don’t say when it took place.

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“The Embassy of Canada in Kiev is closed until further notice for security reasons,” according to a recorded message on the embassy’s phone lines. The message said embassy staff continue to provide consular services, and asks Canadians in the country to contact the department if in need of help.

The decision to close the embassy comes after authorities on Tuesday stormed a camp of activists, triggering fiery clashes that killed at least 26 people, according to the Associated Press.

Adam Hodge, a spokesman for Foreign Minister John Baird, said “all Canadian personnel are safe and accounted for.”

Late Tuesday night in Canada, Mr. John Baird issued a statement condemning the government’s crackdown.

“The events in Kiev today have shaken a nation, rattled by months of unrest. Canada unequivocally condemns the violence that has led to the deaths of scores of Ukrainians,” the statement said.

Mr. Baird announced medical aid to an unidentified Ukrainian non-governmental organization, including first aid kits, training and other supplies.

“I will also be consulting our allies and like-minded nations to build a co-ordinated path forward in the coming days. All options remain available, including through the deployment of targeted sanctions against those responsible,” Mr. Baird said in his statement, adding: “Canada strongly supports the Ukrainian people in their fight for a free and democratic Ukraine.”

A Canadian government website said the embassy is “closed until further notice” and warned visitors of violence near the site. “There have been multiple incidents of violence associated with these protests, which have resulted in injuries and fatalities,” the travel warning says.

Callers to the embassy are told to stay on the line if they need help, or to call an Ottawa-area number, 613-996-8885.

About a dozen anti-government protesters sought refuge in the Canadian embassy in Kiev on Tuesday, entering the reception area and seeking shelter at the mission. With the embassy now shuttered, it remains unclear whether the protesters, whom Prime Minister Stephen Harper deemed “peaceful” in his comments from Mexico City, are still inside or have left. The whereabouts of the more than a dozen embassy staff also remains unclear.

Mr. Hodge wouldn’t provide an update on the status of protesters or embassy staff, reiterating Tuesday’s statements that the protesters “have not caused any damage to the premises or harmed staff,” that the government expects the demonstrators “to be able to leave the embassy safely, free from intimidation, arrest or further harassment,” and that Ottawa wouldn’t discuss security specifics at its missions abroad.

Joan Modjeski, of Beausejour, Man., spoke Wednesday morning with her daughter Cynthia Modjeski, an attaché at the Canadian embassy in Kiev.

“She said she feels pretty safe,” Joan Modjeski said in a phone interview, adding her daughter said the situation is “sort of blowing up again a little bit” in the country. Joan Modjeski said she visited Ukraine while her daughter was posted there and thinks of her often. “You sort of wonder what’s going to happen. It’s always on your mind… we think about her all the time. Back home is so far away, and you think about what can happen,” she said.

A relative of Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine, Troy Lulashnyk, said he hasn’t recently been in touch with his cousin, but added his thoughts are with the head of mission and his staff. “Certainly, I hope he’s safe and that things settle there,” Isadore Lulashnyk said from his home in Manitoba. Another cousin, Randy Lulashnyk, echoed those sentiments from his home in Saskatchewan and added that the ambassador works for “the love of his country and Ukrainian heritage.”

In Ottawa, one Conservative MP stressed the government was closely considering further action.

“We’re definitely looking at expanded sanctions above what we’ve already done,” said James Bezan, a Manitoba Conservative MP of Ukrainian heritage who has closely monitored protests in the country. Canada’s existing visa restrictions have focused on “high-ranking officials” in Ukraine, he said, adding the European Union “has still yet to do anything” and the United States has targeted mid-level and lower-level officials.

“We are looking at expanding [sanctions], and working in concert with our allies and like-minded nations, and particularly with Poland, in trying to bring about more pressure on [Ukrainian President] Yanukovych, his government and the oligarchs that support him,” Mr. Bezan said in an interview Wednesday.

However, he said EU cooperation is critical in pressuring the government and its supporters for meaningful change.

“The European Union are the ones that have the greatest opportunity to bring the financial pressures to bear on the individuals that are supporting this brutality against their own civilians,” Mr. Bezan said.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar called for government to announce sanctions, send a delegation and get Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally involved to put pressure on Ukraine’s government.  “Now is the time to do it,” Mr. Dewar said of sanctions following what he called “horrendous violence” in Kiev Tuesday. “I don’t know why our government is waiting. It’s something I think we need to be clear on, and that’s been our position. Now is really the time to act.”

Asked why Canada hasn’t yet brought in further sanctions, Mr. Bezan said there was hope they wouldn’t be necessary.

“We were seeing improvements until, you know, 48 hours ago,” he said, adding he was heartbroken, disappointed and angry the Ukrainian president refuses to compromise and ease his grip on government. “It is so disheartening to see that all the work that has been taking place, discussions that have been ongoing between Ukraine and the oppositions leaders, protesters, envoys that have been sent from around the world – it all has gone for naught. And we are back to square one.”

Taras Zalusky, the executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said he doesn’t second-guess Ottawa’s decision to shutter the embassy.

“I’m sure they’re looking out for Canadians there, but they’re also right at ground zero, near the Maidan,” Mr. Zalusky said, referring to Independence Square, where bloody clashes have erupted.

The Canadian embassy is in close proximity – a few hundred metres, Mr. Zalusky said – to the square.

“The government double-crossed the protesters, there’s no two ways about it: there was a deal to exchange hostages for real estate,” he said, referring to a deal that recently saw demonstrators vacate government buildings in exchange for amnesty of detained protesters.

Mr. Zalusky said it is “sickening” that the International Olympic Committee has refused to allow Ukrainian athletes to wear black armbands in competition, as a symbol of mourning for those killed in Kiev’s unrest.

Canada is home to upward of 1.3 million Ukrainian-Canadians, the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine and Russia.

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