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Ukrainian president basks in Canadian adulation during joint Parliament

Ukraine has “crossed the Rubicon” to a new westward-looking future that leaves behind the darkness of its Russian past, President Petro Poroshenko said Wednesday in a moving, historic address to a joint session of Parliament.

Amid waves of thunderous applause from gathered MPs and senators, Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed Poroshenko, who lauded Canada for its unwavering support of Ukraine, not just in recent months but over the years as well.

 

Earlier this week, Poroshenko signed a co-operation agreement with the European Union that will deepen economic and political ties and help cement Ukraine’s focus towards Europe and away from Russia.

“You know that I felt … that was the last farewell from Ukraine to the Soviet Union,” Poroshenko said.

“That was a Rubicon Ukraine crossed and we never, ever turn back to our awful past.”

It was a decision last fall by former president Viktor Yanukovych to abandon an EU co-operation pact in favour of closer ties with Russia that sparked the popular uprising and plunged Ukraine into months of turmoil.

About 3,000 people have been killed, leaving the West and Russia — with Ukraine caught in the middle — mired in their worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Poroshenko was visibly moved even before he started his speech, putting his hand over his heart and mouthing the words “thank you” in the face of a standing ovation.

“I never feel anything like that,” he said as he took the podium.

There are some 1.2 million Ukrainians in Canada, and they form a powerful voting bloc in some key Toronto ridings as well as in communities across the Prairies. “Ukraine is probably the most Canadian nation,” Poroshenko said.

As for the EU co-operation agreement, he said not only will it harmonize Ukraine’s trade and customs structure with Europe, it will bring it closer to the western world, economically and politically.

He branded the Russian-backed uprising in his country as “terrorism” and said Ukraine is united with its western allies to end the violence and live in peace.

For his part, Harper pledged the support of all Canadians, across party lines, for Ukraine’s fight for freedom from Russian aggression “whether it takes 50 years.”

EU member Denmark welcomed the arrival of the 28-country bloc’s new economic co-operation pact with Ukraine, and said more sanctions against Russia could be in offing.

“Ukraine, with this, sends a clear signal that they belong to Europe and they want a strong relation with the European Union,” Danish Trade Minister Mogens Jensen said Wednesday during a separate visit to Ottawa.

“We are strongly opposing Russia’s approach and we have, together with Canada, strongly supported the sanctions that have been put upon Russia. Even a new regime of sanctions is to come.”

Jensen said Europe and the world must send “a strong signal to Russia because they are endangering not only eastern Europe but world peace by having such an aggressive approach to neighbouring countries.”

Earlier Wednesday, Harper and the Ukrainian leader exchanged warm greetings and affirmed their mutual solidarity and support in brief remarks, after Harper gave Poroshenko a red-carpet welcome to the Centre Block.

“I know it’s a very difficult time and we’re greatly honoured that you were able to share this time with us on your visit to North America and to give us the opportunity to express our support for your government,” Harper told his visitor during a photo opportunity in his office.

Speaking in English, Poroshenko replied: “Canada is one of the very closest partners to Ukraine. We still remember that Canada was the second country after Poland to recognize our independence.

“Canada is the most Ukrainian country outside Ukraine.”

A nearly two-week-old cease fire is holding in Ukraine, but tension continues between government forces and Russian-backed rebels in the east. A building in Donetsk was hit by rocket fire today, killing at least one person.

The Harper government has been a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, joining an international sanctions effort. Harper has blamed Putin personally for threatening world peace by provoking the unrest in eastern Ukraine and annexing the Crimean peninsula.

On Tuesday, Canada announced more sanctions and travel bans aimed at ratcheting up the pressure on Putin, and will send 200 election observers and a dozen MPs to monitor Ukraine’s parliamentary elections next month.