Maryna Tkachuk, Novynarnia
Yvan Baker is one of the most well-known figures in the Ukrainian society in Canada. And not only because this politician is of Ukrainian origin (his mother is Ukrainian, his father is English).
Yvan Baker, Member of Canadian Parliament of the ruling Liberal Party, has been actively defending the interests of Ukraine and our community in Canada for many years. Since 2020 he served as Chair of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group. He has repeatedly visited the ATO zone (Anti-Terrorist Operation); is an active (since 2014) lobbyist for the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine and for our state’s membership in NATO. Yvan Baker participated in crafting of the bill, An act respecting Ukrainian Heritage Month in Canada.
“We are doing everything possible to help Ukraine and will stand together until its final victory,” says Yvan.
Yvan Baker told Novynarnia about how Canada has already helped and is still going to help Ukraine, about Russian propaganda on the other side of the world and about ordinary Canadians’ attitude towards our war with the Russian invaders.
“We have already sent all the weapons to Ukraine that we could. And now we are buying what you need in order to send more.”
— Yvan, Kyiv recently hosted Canadian distinguished guests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland; the Embassy of Canada has resumed its work in the capital. Thanks to the large active Ukrainian community, your country was previously perceived as Ukraine’s “number one” partner. Is it possible to say the same in this challenging time for our state?
I think that Ukrainians and the Ukrainian state should be the ones to speak as to whether we are the top partner. But I know that the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, during the meeting with Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland, said, “The three Baltic states and Canada have already helped Ukraine so much that we can’t ask them for anything more.”
I think this shows the extent to which Canada is helping Ukraine. We are doing everything in our power, believe me! Military assistance, sanctions against Russia and its individual representatives, humanitarian aid, assistance to refugees. We work in all directions.
— At the same time, before the full-scaled invasion, Canada refused to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. But, in the end, Canada came to that decision. Was it difficult to achieve this?
It wasn’t hard for me, personally. Ever since the annexation of Crimea and the war of 2014 in Donbas I advocated for Canada to supply of weapons to Ukraine. All this time, I have advocated for stronger sanctions and for sending weapons. And I supported the idea of Ukraine’s membership in NATO.
But, I think, with the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Canada wanted to coordinate its actions with partners, so it turned out the way it is.
— Chrystia Freeland says that if you compare the amount of money allocated to support Ukraine by different countries, Canada will definitely be among the leaders. But in Ukraine, it sometimes seems that the United States and the United Kingdom are at the forefront here, and Canada is less active in the supply of weapons in particular.
We do not have military capabilities like the United States or the United Kingdom. The Canadian military is small. Our population is ten times smaller than in the United States. Nevertheless, Canada has already sent Ukraine all the weapons we could send. All that is left in Canada is the minimum we had to keep for our own defence.
“And now we buy weapons for Ukraine on the international market – what you need.”
Speaking in numbers, Canada has already sent more than 100 million Canadian dollars in arms to Ukraine (about 80 million US dollars). And in the budget that Chrystia Freeland presented to the Parliament a few weeks ago, she is proposing an additional $500 million in weapons.
We are cooperating with the United States, Canada is training Ukrainian soldiers how to use the provided weapons effectively. And this cooperation has been going on for a long time.
Over the years, Canadian soldiers have trained 33,000 Ukrainian military and security personnel (through Operation UNIFIER). We also continue to work on the diplomatic front, encouraging our partners to send weapons to Ukraine and impose newer and newer sanctions on Russia.
— Speaking of related economic assistance to Ukraine and sanctions. What other measures should we expect in the near future?
Canada is the first country to ban Russian oil and gas. We continue to impose new sanctions.
A few months ago, the international world cut off a group of Russian banks from the SWIFT system. My position: we should disconnect all Russian banks from SWIFT. And our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he supports this initiative. We must impose stronger sanctions! And Canada is also pushing other countries to do the same.
Regarding economic assistance, the new budget proposes to provide $1 billion in financial assistance to Ukraine to support the economy of your state. Canada has also allocated more than $300 million in humanitarian aid to Ukrainians in Ukraine. We accept refugees; like many other countries, we have separate programs for this. We are not ceasing diplomatic work with our partners and encourage them to help Ukraine as well.
I am proud of what we are doing. But I emphasize:
“This will not be enough until Ukraine wins.”
This assistance, this support should continue. We will not be happy with the results of our work until Ukraine is free and regains its territories, including Donbas and Crimea.
“Canadian Members of Parliament are unanimous in their support of Ukraine”
Canada is crafting new legislation that would not only freeze Russia’s assets but also confiscate them. If the bill is passed, Canada could be the first in the world. What are the chances of it being passed?
I am almost 100% sure that this bill will be adopted. The reason is it goes “in a package” with the Budget of Canada for 2023. If the budget is adopted, this law will be passed. This may happen in the coming weeks.
Is it difficult to make pro-Ukrainian decisions in the Canadian Parliament now? Is there resistance?
There are four parties in our Parliament, and we often have, as in many democracies, contradictions, different views. But regarding Ukraine, the Members of Parliament are unanimous. There is a great deal of unity about Ukraine, and I see no resistance. From time to time, the Members of Parliament push us to do even more in one aspect or another, there are always discussions. But there is always unity, and it is inspiring.
As a Ukrainian by origin, do you feel support in Parliament? What do your colleagues say behind the scenes?
Of course, my colleagues know about my Ukrainian origin. I am also the Chair of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group. Since the beginning of the war, especially in February-March, my colleagues have approached me almost every day and asked how I was feeling. Because they saw that I was very worried.
But many also approached and asked, “How can we help Ukraine? What else do we have to do?” And this support is vital. Because I sincerely want Canada to do everything possible to help Ukraine win. This is the critical moment where the whole world must do everything possible. And I believe that this is my responsibility.
Maybe you have personal initiatives on the Russian-Ukrainian war that you are working on now?
Canada recently recognized Russia’s war against Ukraine as genocide. I must say that the Canadian Parliament relatively rarely recognizes genocide, and this required the cohesion of Members of Parliament from all parties. And my work “behind the scenes”.
There is another initiative that we have been working on for many years (including me and Borys Wrzesnewskyj), but which has not yet been adopted. The point is to recognize the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 by the Soviet regime as an act of genocide against the Crimean Tatars.
It is important for the world to know that the acts of genocide that are happening now had been committed by Russia before. I think this will encourage us to support Ukraine and its people even more.
“It happens that Ukrainian churches are painted with the symbol “Z”. But Canadians support the government’s decision to help Ukraine.”
Tell us a little about the ambience in Canada itself. What are the general sentiments of Canadians about the Ukrainian-Russian war?
When I talk to Canadians, even in everyday conversations the topic of Ukraine appears all the time. Many of our citizens accept refugees into their families, offer them housing, assistance and jobs. Canadians themselves raised $1 million of their own funds for the humanitarian needs of Ukrainians.
And one more thing, I think, is the most important: they really support the government’s decision to help Ukraine. So this is not a private wish – mine, Chrystia Freeland’s or Justin Trudeau’s, but the Canadian people want to help and express their support.
My girlfriend Amanda is also an MP, her constituency is located near Ottawa, where relatively few Ukrainians live. But there are Ukrainian flags hanging in the streets – they are hung by Canadians themselves at their homes. They sincerely feel for and worry about what is happening in Ukraine. And the way Ukrainians are fighting for their country makes a big impression on Canadians.
Canadian Ukrainians have always been proud of their origin: tridents on cars, flags on houses. I know that the Ukrainian flag has been fluttering on the flagpole in your mother’s yard for many years. How did the war in Ukraine affect Canadian Ukrainians?
I feel that the Ukrainian community is very worried. The community has mobilized and is doing everything possible. It holds demonstrations, collects money and humanitarian aid and organizes meetings with Members of Parliament and Ministers. Every day I receive calls, messages, and emails from our Ukrainians. They are putting pressure on the Canadian government to make a decision faster so that there is more help.
We have heard about the annoying fact that Ukrainian activists and volunteers in Canada have their property damaged. A Ukrainian priest’s house was set on fire for his active position. There were other incidents. Is Russian influence felt even in Canada?
Unfortunately, such cases do happen. Churches are painted with the symbol Z, and rude comments are written on the buildings. In Toronto, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a former Member of Canadian Parliament of Ukrainian origin, had his bakery painted with pro-Putin propaganda phrases.
Unfortunately, hatred also occurs in Canada. But these are isolated annoying cases that do not reflect the opinion of our population.
Russia is actively promoting its news in Russian around the world. And there are people in Canada who watch and read this propaganda. We must fight as a democratic world to stop these means of propagating misinformation and lies.
And the first steps have already been taken. In particular, we banned the broadcast of the propaganda television channel Russia Today (RT). I think this is the first time that a channel has been banned in Canada. For the Western world, this is nonsense, it is unacceptable, because freedom of speech is a fundamental, inviolable right. But this move shows the extent to which there is support in Canada to stop these lies.
Unfortunately, there are other channels that promote lies, and this still needs to be worked on.
“My grandfather said, “We will still have to fight for Ukraine’s independence.”
In the first days of the war you visited Poland and Moldova and met with Ukrainian refugees. What impressed you the most during this visit?
It was an official government delegation from Canada, I was a member of it. We drove to the very border where refugees crossed from Ukraine. I asked them where they came from – there were people from different regions. An older man spoke about how his house was bombed and how people died nearby. And he was so distressed that he couldn’t, didn’t have the strength to finish this story… Another woman showed a photo of the remains of houses and bombs on her phone.
We introduced ourselves as coming from Canada. And all these people asked us to do everything possible to help Ukraine. Many of them were walking without any belongings. But many of the people we spoke to all wanted to go home. This really impressed and moved me.
And I think we need to create funds for Ukraine’s rebuilding after the war. So that people can return.
Yvan, your family knows well how to be a Ukrainian refugee. Your mother and your grandparents had to flee the Soviet Union during the World War II. Tell us a little about your family history.
My grandfather Ivan was a great patriot and a proud Ukrainian. In Ukraine, he was an activist in the struggle against the Soviet regime and for an independent Ukraine, he worked hard to spread Ukrainian culture and language. And continued this work in Canada. Thanks to him, my grandmother and my mother, I learned the Ukrainian language and went to the Ukrainian school in Toronto.
My grandfather, like many others here, dreamed of Ukraine’s independence. I remember well how Ukraine obtained it in 1991. That day we were watching TV together and my grandfather told me, “Ukraine is finally independent. But now we must continue to fight for this independence.”
I was 14 years old. And I was very surprised. I said, “Grandpa, I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Ukrainians want to be independent. The world has recognized this. Ukraine has already won, you have won this fight! Grandpa, you are wrong!”
And it turned out that I was wrong. The struggle for independence continues. We saw what Russia did in 2014 and what it is doing now.
My grandfather knew that the Russian government would not allow Ukraine to be independent.
Now I understand that he was right.
So our generation needs to complete this work. And we will fight. We will be there until Ukraine wins this war.