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A protester in Kiev reinforces a barricade with a line of riot police in the background, Feb. 1, 2014. Ukraine's embattled president Viktor Yanukovych is taking sick leave as the country's political crisis continues without signs of resolution. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AP)
A protester in Kiev reinforces a barricade with a line of riot police in the background, Feb. 1, 2014. Ukraine's embattled president Viktor Yanukovych is taking sick leave as the country's political crisis continues without signs of resolution. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AP)

Mark MacKinnon

Canadian embassy staffer’s car torched in Kiev Add to ...

A car belonging to a staff member of the Canadian Embassy in Ukraine was set ablaze Friday in what appeared to be retribution for her attendance at anti-government rallies in Kiev.

“An arson attack on the car of locally engaged staff was reported to police and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The MFA undertook to ensure a full investigation,” said Rick Roth, director of communications for Foreign Minister John Baird.

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The attack came six days after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada would deny visas to unnamed top Ukrainian officials in response to escalating violence against protesters.

A photo widely shared on Twitter showed a woman, identified as Inna Tsarkova – a political and economic affairs officer at the Canadian Embassy in Kiev – pulling at the door of a red, four-door hatchback while a small fire blazed inside the car.

In a Facebook exchange, the 49-year-old Ms. Tsarkova confirmed that it was her car that had been attacked. She said the incident was “not accidental. [It was] well directed.”

A source said that Ukrainian police were “unsupportive” in dealing with the case, and that officials had suggested Ms. Tsarkova had been targeted because of her participation in protests against President Viktor Yanukovych.

The website for Zik, a pro-opposition television channel, said Ms. Tsarkova’s car was one of eight lit on fire Friday night, all of them belonging to opposition supporters. “Car arson attacks are done by government-hired goons who operate with the connivance of the police,” the report claimed.

The Kiev-born Ms. Tsarkova had made no secret of her political beliefs: the main image on her Facebook page is a merging of the words “Ukraine” and “Europe” so the “EU” in the middle is highlighted. The anti-government protests began on Nov. 21, after Mr. Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.

The 49-year-old Ms. Tsarkova is also a member of Automaidan, a group of motorists that organized mobile protests around Kiev. According to media reports, she was convicted in December of participating in a car rally outside a residence belonging to Mr. Yanukovych, and had her driver’s license revoked for six months. She did not respond to questions about the case on Saturday, but is believed to be appealing.

Ms. Tsarkova defended her decision to join the protests against Mr. Yanukovych’s government. “I don’t want my daughter, and others like her, to suddenly find themselves in prison under the ’protection’ of a big and an absolutely dominant and aggressive brother.”

Ms. Tsarkova also belongs to a Facebook group calling for former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko to be freed from jail. Ms. Tymoshenko has been in jail since 2011, when she was convicted of embezzlement and abuse of power on charges that many Ukrainians believe were politically motivated.

“Like all Ukrainian citizens, local Embassy staff have a right to engage in legal expression of their views,” Mr. Roth said in an e-mail. “The government of Ukraine needs to listen to the Ukrainian people and to urgently work with the opposition to find a peaceful solution to this crisis. This is the only way to stop the violence and put Ukraine back on the path to freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

Canada has strongly sided with the protesters throughout the showdown on the streets. Mr. Harper warned recently that Ukraine was sliding back towards its “anti-democratic Soviet past” under Mr. Yanukovych.

The antigovernment protests – peaceful for most of the past 10 weeks – have devolved into violence in recent days. At least six people have been killed, and hundreds injured.

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused each other of meddling in the conflict. “Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” Mr. Kerry said after meeting leaders of the anti-Yanukovych opposition at a conference in Munich. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight.”

Follow me on Twitter: @markmackinnon

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