The RCMP has reversed a decision to let go more than a dozen Ukrainian nationals who were working on a police training mission in Kyiv, a move that would have left them without any income as Russia pounds the capital with daily bombings and artillery fire.
All 18 Ukrainians employed by the Canadian Police Mission in Ukraine (CPMU) will have their contracts renewed and are being notified of the new decision, the RCMP said in a statement late Thursday.
The change came after The Globe and Mail reported that the RCMP had sent termination letters on Wednesday to Ukrainian translators, drivers, administrative staff and analysts. RCMP Superintendent Bruce Prange, the officer in charge of the training program, expressed support for his Ukrainian colleagues in the “battle against Russia.” However, he then informed them that the program was being suspended and that they would no longer get a paycheque after March 31.
“We were fired. That was a surprise. I was honestly hurt,” analyst Kateryna Sapsai said in a Zoom interview from Kyiv on Thursday before the RCMP reversal. “It is not a human way to treat people.”
Earlier Thursday, the RCMP responded to The Globe report, saying it was a “difficult decision” to suspend the training mission and confirmed local staff in Ukraine had been terminated. However, the RCMP said it was “looking at options to support those contractors who were a vital part of the bilateral mission, contributing to its success.”
Hours later, the RCMP issued another statement, saying the letters were produced as a result of an administrative error and should not have been sent.
“The RCMP regrets the error and any additional stress this has caused,” the force said. “While the training was suspended for reasons of member safety, it was always our intention to continue delivering it.”
The termination letters were sent one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Parliament and Canadian politicians from all political parties offered to help the Ukrainian people stand up to Russian aggression.
Global Affairs said Friday Ukrainians employed at the now-shuttered Canadian embassy in Kyiv have not received termination notices and will continue being paid by Ottawa.
In Wednesday’s letter, Supt. Prange said the Canadian Police Mission Ukraine [CPMU], which trains Ukraine’s national police force, are watching “you battle for your sovereignty, freedom and identity.”
“Our thoughts are constantly with you during your battle against the Russian invasion,” he said.
“In light of the current hostilities,” he then continued in the letter obtained by The Globe, “CPMU will suspend all training operations in Ukraine, with all Canadian police officers returning to Canada. I regret to inform you that you will no longer be employed past March 31st, 2022.”
Ms. Sapsai, who has worked as a translator for CPMU for 5½ years and was recently promoted to an analyst, said she earned $2,000 a month. She would have understood if the RCMP reduced her salary, but added that it’s unfair to cut off all income during a war.
“I was not even counting on the full salary. At least $500 per month would not make Canada bankrupt,” she said.
What was frustrating about the terminations was Supt. Prange’s words of praise for the heroic fighting spirit of Ukrainians against superior Russian forces, Ms. Sapsai said. “Don’t tell me you support me unless you actually support me with actions and not words,” she said.
Some of her colleagues have children and their wives do not work, leaving them without any means to feed their families during this siege of Kyiv, Ms. Sapsai said.
“We are not just sitting around. Pretty much all the local staff are doing volunteering. I am doing English classes for refugees and our drivers take people to the border so they can evacuate them and they bring humanitarian aid back,” she said. “Some translators are helping the police.”
Peter Merrifield, vice-president of the National Police Federation, the body that represents front-line RCMP officers, said the terminations were “morally and unethically unacceptable.” Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said he can’t fathom how the RCMP could stop paying people with families to support in a war, calling it an “act of cruelty.”
A week before the Russian invasion, Ms. Sapsai said staff asked CPMU management if they could take body armour and helmets home. They never got permission to do so, she said.
In contrast, she said local staff working at the Canada-Ukraine Police Development Project (CUPDP), a police patrol technical-assistance project, provided free accommodation and office space so they could do volunteer work. They were also provided with first-aid kits, their salaries were paid and their phones topped up for a couple of months. CUPDP is run by Alinea International with $6.5-million funding from Global Affairs.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ms. Sapsai said she and her boyfriend left Kyiv for a nearby town to stay with her parents. It turned out to be a mistake, she said, as they faced daily shelling from the Russians and the family fled back to the capital.
“At this point, we are glad we are alive in Kyiv,” she added.
Canada has deployed RCMP and other police officers to Ukraine since 2015 to help reform the country’s police force. These officers serve in either the CPMU or the European Union-led police training mission. In 2021, there were 16 officers in the training mission but the number increased to 24 in early 2022.
These officers were redeployed from Kyiv to Lviv nearer the Polish border when the war started, but have now returned to Canada. Supt. Prange said in the letter to Ukrainian staff that he hoped training activities could resume in the near future and “you will consider rejoining the mission when the time presents itself.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said the RCMP fired Ukrainian nationals who were working for the force. It has been updated to clarify that the training mission was suspended.
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