Skip to main content

The Canadian Armed Forces plans to withdraw the 200 troops it currently has in Ukraine and replace them with a skeleton force next month to hold the fort until the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

That means the soldiers will be returning to Canada as scheduled, though there was no immediate word on what quarantine restrictions the returning troops will be under, including whether they will be allowed to stay in their homes or barracks.

The soldiers arrived in Ukraine in October and are the latest Canadian contingent to take part in what is now a five-year mission to train Ukrainian soldiers.

Story continues below advertisement

The training mission was launched in 2015 after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and started to support separatist forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people and left tens of thousands more wounded or homeless.

Military commanders had been weighing their options in recent days over what to do with the mission, dubbed Operation Unifier, amid strict orders against non-essential travel and activities to protect the Armed Forces from COVID-19.

“In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic situation both at home and abroad, and the suspension of non-critical activities on our deployed operations, the decision has been made to reduce the number of personnel departing in early April on Op Unifier,” Capt. Alexia Croizer of the Canadian Joint Operations Command said in an email on Thursday.

“Where approximately 200 CAF members were scheduled to deploy, approximately 60 members will now relieve the current rotation of personnel expected back in Canada at the end of April following the completion of their six-month deployment.”

With training efforts suspended due to COVID-19, the replacement force is expected to largely hunker down to ride out the pandemic while maintaining the Canadian military’s presence in the country.

The other 140 military personnel who were scheduled to deploy to Ukraine will remain on high alert back home in case they are needed on short notice, Croizer said. Commanders will reassess in June whether they should join their comrades or not.

“Every measure will be taken to ensure the health and safety of our deploying personnel to Ukraine, as we are currently doing so with our deployed (Canadian Armed Forces) members under Op Unifier,” Croizer added.

Story continues below advertisement

Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance this month ordered a halt to all non-essential military movement and activities to protect the force from COVID-19 while those involved in the training mission – like most Canadian troops deployed overseas – are on lockdown due to the pandemic.

The military’s “operational pause” was expected to last only three weeks, but in a letter to military personnel last week, Vance said Forces members must “face the reality” that it may last longer to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and the respiratory illness it causes.

Ukrainian public health officials reported 156 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country as of Tuesday, with five deaths. There were two confirmed cases in the western city of Lviv, near where some of Canadian troops are based.

Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, emphasized the importance of the training mission in an interview earlier this week, noting the war in the Donbass region continues to rage nearly six years after it started.

Ukrainian and Canadian military officials are looking at ways to resume the training mission while preventing the virus from spreading, he added.

Concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 among military personnel were underscored this week when the U.S. Navy reported the respiratory illness has infected members of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Story continues below advertisement

The vessel was patrolling the Philippine and South China Seas but has since been ordered to Guam amid reports the illness was spreading throughout the ship.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters.

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to globeandmail.com. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies