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Canadians trained in security to observe Ukraine's presidential election

Mike Harris stands to be recognized at the Magna AGM in Markham, Ontario on May 4, 2011.


Special effort was made to select election observers for the Canadian-led mission to monitor Ukraine's presidential vote who had military or security backgrounds, the deputy head of this country's effort says as international volunteers prepare to scrutinize balloting in the beleaguered Eastern European country.

Canada has deployed 338 election observers as part of this Canadian-led mission to help safeguard voting in Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, an effort that will be led by former Ontario premier Mike Harris and senator Raynell Andreychuk, Ottawa announced Tuesday.

Yaroslav Baran, deputy head of the Canadian-led mission, said as always the observers were chosen to provide a representative cross-section of Canada.

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"We are a little bit overrepresented this time around with people who have military or peacekeeping experience," Mr. Baran said in an interview from Kiev. "That was a practical consideration because we wanted people with that kind of training and situational awareness if we are going to be deploying observers to certain regions of the east [in Ukraine]."

Canada is also contributing 162 observers to separate Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) missions that will stand watch over the vote.

Monitoring the May 25 balloting is a potentially risky job because of threats and intimidation from pro-Russian separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine.

Election officials in Donetsk, Ukraine, for example, have encountered trouble from pro-Kremlin separatists.

There are reports of officials shutting down election commission offices there in the face of violence.

Mr. Baran wasn't able to say what percentage of the Canadian-led election observers in Ukraine have a military or peacekeeping background.

But he said that at one point in the preparations it looked as if as high as 25 per cent of them "have some kind of background, either veterans or peacekeepers or reservists."

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Canadian election observers will begin fanning out across Ukraine on Thursday, organizers say. They will not be accompanied by Canadian soldiers or RCMP officers, but will have received two days of training.

They won't be heading into Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia earlier this year, Mr. Baran said, because there will not be voting there. The Canadian-led mission will also avoid danger zones in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian forces hold sway.

"We are obviously not going to send people right into harm's way. We're not going to send observers into the armed, fortified areas that are controlled by the Russian fifth columnists," Mr. Baran said.

Ms. Andreychuk, a Ukrainian Canadian , led Canada's observer delegations for Ukraine's 2010 and 2012 elections. She was one of a number of Canadians banned from travelling to Russia under sanctions imposed by Vladimir Putin in March, 2014.

Mr. Harris, who served as Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario for seven years until 2002, brings "first-hand political and electoral experience," Mr. Baran said.

Ukraine's latest elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the country after popular uprisings on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kiev's central square, that saw dozens killed in clashes with police.

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Ms. Andreychuk, speaking from Kiev, is hopeful about the May 25 vote.

"The Maidan [square protests] and the deaths there I think have mobilized a lot of people to understand that the country has to change," she said.

"I think this … could in the end and despite the deaths, be a turning point for a more democratic responsive government."

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