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Shevchenko says serving as Ambassador to Canada was “a life-changing experience”

Nov 17, 2021 | Featured

Marco Levytsky, NP-UN National Affairs Editor.

His term as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada was “a life changing experience for me and my family”, says Andryy Shevchenko.

“It was the greatest honour of my life to be representing Ukraine in a country like Canada,” he added during an interview with New Pathway – Ukrainian News following his return to Ukraine.

Shevchenko returned to Kyiv on November 1 after spending six years on the job – longer than any previous Ambassador of Ukraine to Canada, or Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine.

His appointment in 2015 came as somewhat a surprise as he was not a career diplomat, but a journalist and politician.

Nevertheless, he quickly adapted to the role and established excellent relations with both Canadian officials and the media, as well as the Ukrainian Canadian community.

“When I visited Canadian ministers, I saw briefs from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on their desks. I heard from ministers that prior to my arrival the Ukrainian community would discuss some very important issues with them.

“I can proudly say that during the last few years Ukrainian diplomatic corps and Ukrainian community in Canada worked as two wings or like two lungs. We consistently felt that we are working on a mutual affair and those mutual issues will be of benefit to both Canada and Ukraine.

“I also understand that the Ukrainian community is a very demanding partner. It can be a very sober and fair critic. If the community sees some troubling things in Kyiv, they will be the first to tell me ‘Mr. Ambassador. How are we to understand this? What will further happen?’ They always expressed their worries and concerns.”

He was impressed by the wide geographic reach of Ukrainian Canadians.

“Wherever I traveled, be it Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Inuvik, or Resolute bay in the north, I always met Ukrainians and saw how much they are respected by other Canadians.

“I think that every Ukrainian should travel to Canada at least once in their life and fill themselves with pride for those the Ukrainians in Canada who helped to build a wonderful society here and build beautiful country,” he added.

Shevchenko also says he was fortunate to represent Ukraine at a critical time in Canada-Ukraine relations. Among the highlights of his term are:

  • The Signing of the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement in 2017;
  • Operation Unifier by which 25,000 Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel have been trained by Canada Armed Forced personnel. Established just before he arrived and renewed twice during his tenure;
  • The Canada-Ukraine Mobility Working Group, which will improve opportunities for Ukrainians to travel to Canada after COVID-19 restrictions are removed. Shevchenko says he believes this will lead to visa free travel between both countries.

Shevchenko is particularly proud of the role Ukraine played in helping Canada deal with the January 9 Iranian shootdown of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet in which 138 of the 176 passengers killed were heading to Canada via Kyiv.

“Because Canada had no diplomatic relations with Iran, we became their eyes and ears, and arms and legs… This was great example of how Ukraine could be of great benefit to Canada,” he noted.

Born in 1976 in the town of Hvizdets, near Kolomyia, Shevchenko spent his youth in Fastiv, near Kyiv. In 1999, he received his master’s degree from the Institute of Journalism at Kyiv University; he also studied political science and economics at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

At the beginning of his media career in the 1990s, Shevchenko worked as a Kyiv-based correspondent for Edmonton-based Ukrainian News. A seasoned journalist, he was one of the founders of Ukrainian 5th Channel, the first 24/7 news channel in Ukraine, and in 2004 he was the face of the Orange Revolution for the TV audience. Prior to that, Shevchenko was a leader of the journalists’ movement against censorship. In 2002 he became the first chairman of Kyiv Independent Media Union. In 2005 he received the Press Freedom Award from ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (Vienna).

Asked about his plans for the future, Shevchenko replied:

“I’m looking at several possible options. The choice is wide – from civil service to work in the non-governmental sector, or the corporate world. One way or another, I want to do something beneficial to Ukraine and I want to take advantage of those lessons and that knowledge that Canada gifted to me.”

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