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Ukraine protest planned for Toronto

A woman holds a sign protesting Ukraine's possible deal with Russia over the European Union during a protest in Toronto, Dec. 8, 2013. CITYNEWS

Ukrainian Crimean Tatars plan to protest in front of the Russian Consulate in Toronto on Friday morning, saying they are opposed to Russia’s interference in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress said the protest would begin at 11:30 a.m. at 175 Bloor St. E., near Church Street.

Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird met with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Kyiv on Friday , as part of his visit to observe developments in Ukraine following the ouster of president Viktor Yanukovich and massive casualties in clashes last week.

Tymoshenko, Yanukovich’s arch rival and the architect of the 2004-5 Orange Revolution that denied Yanukovich his first bid at the presidency, had been serving a prison sentence but was released last week. Yanukovich has not been seen since Feb. 21, but he was expected to appear before reporters in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don later on Friday.

Baird said he and other Canadians had followed Tymoshenko’s trial and imprisonment, which she and supporters said was politically motivated and directed by Yanukovich.

While serving her sentence, Tymoshenko’s health suffered from chronic back injuries and multiple hunger strikes.

“I have to tell you your personal well-being has been a big concern in the Canadian parliament, and from Canadians from coast to coast to coast. So we’re pleased to see you looking so well, and that you’re now free,” Baird told Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko praised the heroism of her compatriots who have occupied a central Kiev square for more than three months as a protest of Yanukovich’s rule.

“What the Ukrainian nation did is so heroic and and so crucial that I think it will change the history of Ukraine,” she said.

“Well, the courage of the Ukrainian people is incredibly inspirational,” Baird said.

What began as a peaceful demonstration against Yanukovich’s refusal to sign an association agreement with the European Union in November spiralled into clashes culminating in more than 75 protester deaths in just two days last week.

While Kiev is mostly peaceful, Baird’s visit came as tensions increased on Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.

Armed men took control of two airports in the region on Friday in what Ukraine’s government described as an invasion and occupation by Russian forces, stoking tension between Moscow and the West.

Russian-speaking forces took over a military airport near the port of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet has a base, and other forces took over Simferopol international airport.