Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will visit Canada and address the House of Commons later this week to rally support as the Russian invasion of his country grinds on, sources say.
Mr. Zelensky on Tuesday addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he accused Russia of “genocide,” before heading to Washington, where he is set to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden as well as members of a Congress that is increasingly divided over continuing military assistance to Ukraine.
A visit to Canada has not been formally announced – and Mr. Zelensky’s travel plans are usually a closely guarded secret – but sources in Kyiv told The Globe and Mail that the Ukrainian President would travel to Toronto and Ottawa after the stop in Washington. He is expected to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other cabinet ministers, as well as prominent members of the Ukrainian diaspora, and will address the House of Commons, a source said.
The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the Ukrainian President’s travel plans.
Serhiy Leshchenko, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said Tuesday that part of the message would be to thank Canada “for being one of our main allies since independence, one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine.”
Mr. Leshchenko said that Mr. Trudeau was admired in Ukraine for being one of the first world leaders to travel to Kyiv after the start of the Russian invasion in February, 2022, “to see with his own eyes” the effects of the war. Mr. Trudeau had travelled to the Ukrainian capital in May, 2022, and did so again in June of this year, where he announced another $500-million in military assistance.
So far, $33-million of that promised amount has been allocated to buy air-defence equipment to help protect Ukrainian cities from near-nightly Russian using cruise missile and drone attacks.
It will be Mr. Zelensky’s second visit to Canada, and his first since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale invasion. Mr. Zelensky previously visited Toronto, and met with Mr. Trudeau, at the Ukraine Reform Conference, which was his first overseas trip after being elected in 2019.
Back then, Mr. Zelensky was a political novice – a television comedian who had shocked the world by defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Today, he’s a global celebrity who has become a symbol of defiance while leading his country’s resistance to the Russian invasion.
In his UN speech, Mr. Zelensky sought to win over countries, many of them in Africa and Latin America, that have refused to condemn the Russian invasion. He cast the threat from Moscow as going far beyond his country’s borders, referencing Mr. Putin’s blockade of Ukraine’s grain shipments. And he cited the deportation of Ukrainian children, taken to Russia and indoctrinated with anti-Ukraine propaganda, as the sort of act that makes Moscow a threat to all countries. Mr. Putin is personally accused of war crimes by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court over the kidnappings.
“We know the names of tens of thousands of children and we have evidence on hundreds of thousands of others kidnapped by Russia in the occupied territories of Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky said. “This is clearly a genocide. When hatred is weaponized against one nation, it never stops there. Each decade, Russia starts a new war.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to the Ukrainian President, said in an interview Monday that Mr. Zelensky was heading to the U.S. to lobby for specific weapons, such as ATACMS long-range missile systems that could strike deep behind Russian lines. Ukraine wasn’t seeking anything from Canada at the moment beyond continued support, Mr. Podolyak said.
“Canada is very supportive in terms of money and in terms of equipment. It is firm in terms of its support, like the United Kingdom. Canada has not taken a step back,” he said.
However, Mr. Podolyak hinted that Ukraine might press Canada and other NATO allies for more of the Leopard-2 tanks that were donated to Ukraine ahead of the three-and-a-half-month-old counteroffensive that has seen Ukrainian troops push Russian forces back from several small settlements in the south and east of the country. Earlier this year, Canada donated eight of its 82 Leopard-2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
Despite online videos that appear to show several Leopards being destroyed by Russian fire, military analysts say the fact that the tank crews can be seen in some of the videos escaping with their lives proved the Leopards’ superiority to the Soviet models Ukraine had been using previously.
“The tanks are great. The problem is there should be more and more,” Mr. Podolyak said.
While the counteroffensive has made only incremental progress so far, Mr. Leshchenko bristled at Western criticism “from a fancy café in Paris or a hotel lobby in Washington.”
He added: “Every metre gained in the counteroffensive is gained with a very high price – the lives of our soldiers, the lives of the best Ukrainians,”
In his own UN speech Tuesday, Mr. Biden exhorted the world and wavering U.S. legislators to keep backing Ukraine, as a far-right faction in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives wants to turn off the tap and is blocking Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to move forward on any spending bills. At stake is US$24-billion in proposed military aid, in addition to the more than US$44-billion the U.S. has sent since the start of Mr. Biden’s presidency.
“If we abandon the core principles of the United States to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?” Mr. Biden said. “The answer is no. We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.”