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The Ukrainian flag is raised over a newly established checkpoint in Hushchyntsi, Ukraine, Feb. 27.Brendan Hoffman/The New York Times News Service

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says it’s up to individual Canadians to decide whether they want to join Ukraine’s new foreign legion to help the country fight the Russian invasion.

As Moscow’s forces are laying siege to the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the formation of an “international legion” of volunteers to help defend Ukraine.

Ms. Joly in a news conference on Sunday reiterated that the government has warned against travelling to Ukraine because of the insecurity there. But she says Canadians can decide if they want to join the fight.

“We understand that people of Ukrainian descent want to support their fellow Ukrainians and also that there is a desire to defend the motherland and in that sense it is their own individual decision,” Ms. Joly told reporters at a news conference Sunday. “Let me be clear: we are all very supportive of any form of support to Ukrainians right now.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said she would support British citizens who decide to head to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion.

On Sunday, Ottawa announced it would be sending $25-million in non-lethal gear to Ukraine. Ms. Joly said this includes helmets, body armour, gas masks and night-vision goggles.

And Defence Minister Anita Anand said more weapons shipments to Ukraine are “not off the table.” Canada recently shipped $7.8-million in lethal aid to Ukraine.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday invited foreigners to join the fight against Russia. He urged people around the world to contact their local Ukrainian embassy to enlist.

“Foreigners willing to defend Ukraine and world order as part of the International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine, I invite you to contact foreign diplomatic missions of Ukraine in your respective countries.”

Ottawa also announced Sunday that it would be lending additional airlift – two Hercules C-130s – support to be used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in delivering aid to Ukraine, Ms. Anand said. Further, Canada is lending cybersecurity to experts to help protect Ukraine’s infrastructure from cyberattacks, she said.

The Defence Minister emphasized that Canadian soldiers are not being deployed to fight Russia in Ukraine.

“To those asking whether Canada will send troops to fight in Ukraine, a combat mission is not on the table at this time,” Ms. Anand said. “Nor is it on the table for our allies, including the United States.”

Ottawa, however, has announced plans to deploy 460 more Canadian Armed Forces personnel to Europe as part of NATO’s reassurance campaign to demonstrate it’s ready to defend the military alliance’s eastern flank that borders Russia.

Ottawa is sending an artillery battery of 120 gunners in the weeks ahead as well as an additional frigate and surveillance aircraft. This is on top of about 800 soldiers, sailors and air personnel already part of the NATO effort to deter Russian aggression and expansionism in Europe. Canada has led a multinational battlegroup in Latvia for nearly five years.

Ottawa has placed 3,400 military personnel on standby for deployment to Europe if necessary as part of a NATO response force should they be needed to defend member countries of the alliance. Ms. Anand reminded Canadians of NATO’s collective-defence arrangement where “an attack on one is an attack on all.”

Ms. Anand denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to put his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert as “bellicose and irresponsible rhetoric.”

Ms. Joly also appealed to Canadians to help counter what she called Russia’s propaganda machine, telling them to send photos or videos of the attack on Ukraine to their friends or relatives in Russia.

“The Russian regime has a powerful propaganda machine that is selling falsehoods and lies about their motivations and invasion of Ukraine.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister said Ottawa is expediting the delivery of non-lethal gear to Ukraine in co-operation with Poland.

Kyiv remained in Ukrainian government hands Sunday, with Mr. Zelensky rallying his people daily despite Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure.

As missiles fell on Ukrainian cities, nearly 400,000 civilians, mainly women and children, have fled into neighbouring countries. Hundreds were stranded in Kyiv on Sunday waiting for trains to take them west, away from the fighting.

Ms. Joly said Mr. Putin is behaving irrationally. “Nobody who decides to bombard a sovereign nation can be rational in doing so.”

Ms. Anand was asked Sunday whether Canada and the United States would expedite the planned modernization of the U.S.-Canadian North Warning System that is supposed to detect incoming threats to the continent. The price tag for this upgrade is expected to exceed $10-billion. She said she’s had a number of conversations with her U.S. counterpart on the project. “The bottom line is we will remain firm and unwavering in defending Canada’s sovereignty.”

Ms. Joly accused Mr. Putin of trying to divide the NATO alliance and said he has achieved the opposite, noting the increasingly harsh sanctions being applied to Russia including efforts to cut off the country from the SWIFT international payments system.

“We are working together to suffocate the Russian regime,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said. “Measures that were described as a last resort just days ago are now moving forward with consensus.”

With reports from Reuters

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