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You're reading: Ihor Kozak and Borys Potapenko: Time for unified response to Ukraine’s crisis

During his first visit, Harper focused attention on the growing
authoritarianism by the Yanukovych regime and the need for the world to support
human rights and democracy in Ukraine. During that visit Harper brought
attention to the alarming erosion of basic human rights and civil liberties including
freedom of the press and assembly.  He
also brought attention to the intimidation and repressions directed against
civic efforts to overcome Ukraine’s totalitarian past and to restore historical
memories.  It is precisely these legacy
issues that persist and are at the core of Putin’s justification for invading
Ukraine – dredging up Soviet-style propaganda about saving Russian language
speakers from an alleged resurgence of fascism and anti-Semitism, even at the
helm of the new Ukrainian government. 

Prior to meeting up with Harper at the Canadian Embassy in
Kyiv on March 22, we spent over a week in the country. We met with the new government
officials in Kyiv: Minister of Education, Deputy Prime Minister for
Humanitarian Affairs, Minister of Interior, Head of the Security Service of
Ukraine, Secretary of the National Defence and Security Council, members of parliament,
as well as the Canadian and U.S. ambassadors. We also met with civic representatives
of the EuroMaidan movement and many national and local civil society NGOs. We
then went to several cities in eastern provinces, including Sumy, Konotop,
Kharkiv and Poltava. Traveling by car, we stopped often to speak with locals
and with recently deployed military units at bridges and other strategic
defence positions.  

What was striking was that on the surface all appearances
were of a normal, peaceful and stable situation. It seemed that no one was
preparing for a disruption of their daily routines. No one was packing to leave
the area, hording supplies, or making preparations for an emergency situation. Also,
as quickly as they appeared, pro-Russia rallies had virtually stopped.
Similarly, there were few signs of pro-Kyiv rallies. Local media was focused on
the situation in Crimea, reaction of the West and speculation on what Putin may
try next.

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