In late November 1991, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney received a phone call from U. S. Secretary of State James Baker III. He wanted to talk about Ukraine.

“As leaders of democratic nations, we should support Ukraine,” Baker said to Canada’s leader on the eve of the historic December referendum.

Mulroney knew that the U.S. was hesitant about Ukraine. Earlier that summer, President George H. W. Bush decried “suicidal nationalism” in his famous “Chicken Kyiv” speech, a phrase apparently provided by Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader.

At the same time, thousands of spectators took to the streets in Kyiv clutching blue and yellow flags and banners with slogans such as “Ukraine without Moscow,” “52 million Ukrainians demand independence” and “Ukraine has sacrificed 15 million lives for the Soviet Union.”


Baker suggested “not rushing into formal recognition” of Ukraine without some assurances from Ukrainian leaders on a few key issues, including nuclear weapons, human rights and minorities. But Mulroney said Canada would recognize the independence of Ukraine and then negotiate the establishment of diplomatic relations.

“We all sense it’s a lost cause regarding holding the (Soviet) Union together,” reads a now declassified U.S. memo dated Nov. 30, 1991.

On the day after the call, 92% of Ukrainians who voted in the national referendum backed the country’s Declaration of Independence, proclaimed earlier that year.

And a day later, on Dec. 2, 1991, Canada became the second country after Poland — owing to Canada’s day beginning six hours later — to officially recognize independent Ukraine.

Early promise

A few months before that phone call, Mulroney attended festivities in Edmonton, a western Canadian provincial capital, on the 100th anniversary of the 1891 Ukrainian immigration to Canada.

It was mere days after Aug. 24, when Ukraine’s leadership declared independence. The Ukrainian community in Edmonton and throughout Canada was spreading the joyous news like wildfire, recalls Ihor Broda, a first generation Canadian of Ukrainian descent.


At the time, Broda was a national vice president at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. He said he attended the congress’s private meeting with Mulroney in Edmonton in 1991. According to Broda, Mulroney was already aware that there was a national referendum planned in Ukraine for Dec. 1, 1991. He remembers Mulroney indicating that if Ukrainians approved the Declaration of Independence at the referendum, Canada would immediately grant official recognition and move to establish diplomatic relations with Ukraine.

“We all dreamed about it but never expected the events would unfold that fast,” Broda told the Kyiv Post.

In September 1991, then Acting President Leonid Kravchuk and Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko came to Ottawa. Mulroney and other Canadian officials met with them and conveyed the promise of recognition that had been made in August 1991 in Edmonton. They then met with a delegation from the National Ukrainian Canadian Congress and confirmed what Mulroney had told them.

“We learned later that President Kravchuk used this promise of recognition to buttress the case for the approval of the referendum,” Broda said.


After Canada became the first Western country to recognize independent Ukraine, the U.S. followed on Dec. 25, 1991. By the end of next year, Ukraine was recognized by 85 countries.

Diplomatic ties

After the referendum, the news about Ukraine was all over national and community papers in Canada.

Rev. Andriy Chirovsky of the Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Ottawa’s St. Paul University was quoted in The Ukrainian Weekly on Dec. 8, 1991, as saying: “Canada is not going to be bullied by George Bush on this. We share some striking similarities with Ukraine. Both of us are next door to a large and aggressive neighbor…and we have to find ways to co-exist with that neighbor.”

Canada became one of the first countries to open a Ukrainian embassy. But it took a village to raise this child: Ukrainian diaspora members in Canada — spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean — were instrumental in achieving the step.

In spring 1992, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress National Executive established the Ukraine Embassy Fund. The motto of the fundraising campaign was “The Ukrainian nation is being built today, stand up and be her builder.” The call for help was disseminated through all the organizations’ channels, in newspapers and on the radio.


Broda chaired the Embassy Committee and took an active part in the fundraising campaign. “We had a year to collect the money so we had to act fast,” Broda said.

Securing the building of the embassy was one of the original goals of the fund. Soon Toronto businessman of Ukrainian descent Erast Huculak presented the building at 331 Metcalfe Street in Ottawa (which now provides consular services) to Levko Lukianenko, Ukraine’s first ambassador to Canada. The building was first leased for a symbolic sum of one Canadian dollar and later purchased by Ukraine’s diplomatic mission.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress didn’t stop there. It wanted to make sure Ukraine’s diplomatic mission in Canada will be viable. They set to lease and then purchase an Ambassador’s residence close to downtown Ottawa where Lukianenko moved in with his family in November 1992. Broda said they paid $678,000 Canadian dollars (almost $900,000 in U.S. dollars today) for the 1,127 square meters building with an attached double garage, two fireplaces, hardwood and marble flooring, alarm system and heated driveway and walkway.

“You wouldn’t be able to get anything for that money today,” Broda said. Apart from the residence, the fundraised money was used to rent housing for the rest of the diplomatic staff, to purchase office furniture and supplies, a car and an insurance.

All of that wouldn’t be possible without donations from the Ukrainian community who responded eagerly to the needs of their ancestral land collecting over $1.5 million by the end of the campaign in December 1992.


The single largest donation came from Poltava native George Tuchaczewsky, who lived in Oshawa, Ontario. He died in July 1992, but before his death, Tuchaczewsky, who never married and had no children, left $450,000 for the Embassy of Ukraine in Canada. A deeply religious man, he was dedicated to giving everything he possessed for the good of the Ukrainian nation.

Broda says that many in the diaspora shared that dedication to the homeland, rooted for Ukraine’s independence and its connection to the rest of the world. So when the embassy finally opened its doors, for many Ukrainian Canadians the moment was as significant as for the whole of Ukraine.

“For most of the donors it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream,” Broda said.

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