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Sergey Gaydaychuk, president of CEO Club Ukraine, in Toronto on Nov. 23. Ukraine has a world-known brand, he said, with interest in post-war investment from countries around the world,Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ukrainian business and political leaders are urging Canadian companies to come to Ukraine to forge partnerships, invest and help rebuild their country.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of last year, Russian missiles have damaged or destroyed critical infrastructure as well as commercial and residential buildings. Ukrainian leaders, who gathered in Toronto this week for a two-day Rebuild Ukraine conference, said there are opportunities for business and investment in sectors across the country.

While they recognize that many Canadians may be fearful to invest in Ukraine while the war is continuing, they encourage them to visit and get the ball rolling because when the war ends, it will be a competitive field. Some Canadian companies have already started work there with great success.

As Ukrainian business leaders were making their pitch, members of Parliament voted on legislation for a renewed Canada-Ukraine free-trade agreement, which passed second reading on Tuesday. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s party voted against the legislation, alleging it would “impose a carbon tax on the people of Ukraine.” On Thursday, Ukraine’s embassy in Canada said it does not include a carbon tax.

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Speaking to conference delegates, Sergey Gaydaychuk, president of CEO Club Ukraine, outlined arguments for why it is strategically beneficial for businesses to come to Ukraine today – during the war. Those who come first, he said, will acquire better assets for better prices, lower operational costs, flexible local partners and support from authorities at all levels.

Ukraine has a world-known brand, he said, and interest from thousands of companies globally that want to come there after the war. There’s also interest from millions of tourists to see the country, and support from many governments. He said Ukraine could see the largest economic gain in Europe since the Second World War. And he added that Ukraine is expected to be part of the European Union.

Mr. Gaydaychuk’s final argument, he called the most important and the reason for the country’s success: “This emergence of a new Ukrainian society.” He said many foreign governments had predicted Ukraine would fall in the days after the invasion, but they didn’t consider that, over the past 10 years, a new Ukrainian society has emerged consisting of young, well-educated, global thinking and patriotic Ukrainians.

“We will be successful and if you would like to get all of the benefits, you should be first.”

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Gaydaychuk said he’s attended countless international conferences like this one and thousands of companies have expressed an interest in coming to Ukraine after the war. He anticipates Ukraine will not have the capacity to engage all of them.

“If you come first, the field is yours,” he said. “You can increase your market share, build relationships, establish your presence. Those who come first, benefit the most.”

Anatolii Komirnyi, a Deputy Minister for communities, territories and infrastructure, said he has seen a lot of interest from Canadians at the conference, but that some are concerned about the safety of their investments during the war.

He said his answer to that is insurance, adding that some countries already have insurance programs in place that protect businesses working there.

It will cost “a lot” to rebuild. Mr. Komirnyi said because Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, factories and buildings were built with that in mind, and now they need to rebuild considering the European Union.

For instance, he said, factories in the northeastern Sumy region were built for material that would go to Minsk and later Moscow. Perhaps they still need such a factory, but maybe it moves to the Odesa region, close to the Black Sea.

Many Canadian companies have already started working in Ukraine.

Cameco has a 12-year deal to provide Ukraine with uranium to power all of the country’s nuclear reactors in partnership with Ukraine’s electricity company Energoatom.

Tim Gitzel, CEO CCO-T of Cameco, said Ukraine approached the company asking if it could take over the fuel supply that had been previously provided by Russia. They signed a deal to 2035 and supply nuclear fuel for 15 reactors in Ukraine. Six of them, however, are in occupied Zaporizhzhia, so for now they’re supplying the other nine.

“They’re Russian-built, all of them, and they used Russian fuel until now. They don’t any more. They’re using Canadian fuel.”

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Residential buildings heavily damaged by permanent Russian military strikes in the front line town of Avdiivka, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Nov. 8.RFE/RL/SERHII NUZHNENKO/Reuters

Former Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who is now the president of Prince Edward Island-based Razom Invest Canada, said his organization is helping Ukraine with its potato production.

“Razom is on the ground tangibly demonstrating its commitment to rebuild-Ukraine efforts. There’s terrific results so far in the seed production as they indicated three times the yield. They’re using our methods and putting the proper inputs on.”

These are two success stories, but there are many conversations under way, in early stages, focused on restoring Ukraine’s infrastructure, said Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada.

“We don’t know the extent of damage that’s been done to transportation. Airports have been targeted, ports have been targeted, subways, railways – all areas where pension funds, infrastructure companies, engineering companies and others are looking at how to be supportive and collaborative.”

Andriy Sadovyy, the mayor of Lviv in western Ukraine, encourages Canadian companies to come to his city.

“I understand Canadian mentality,” he said. " A lot of people are afraid to make visits to Ukraine. But I told them Lviv is safer than different Ukrainian cities. … From time to time, we have sirens and we go to shelters; okay, no problem.”

The mayor’s work and life have completely changed since Russia’s invasion. Lviv became a massive humanitarian hub, with five million internally displaced people passing through.

Today, the city hosts 150,000 internally displaced people and supports thousands of wounded civilians and soldiers who require medical care and rehabilitation.

One example, among many, is the need for medical equipment and prosthetics.

Mr. Sadovyy said 70,000 Ukrainians need prosthetics, which they buy from two companies already, but officials are seeking out others.

“A lot of possibility. … Welcome to Lviv. I will show our different possibilities and I think together we will come up with good ideas about different topics in business.”

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