Saturday, 11 March 2017 19:47

A Tradition of Thrift

by Lucy Slavianska

Victoria Bechkalo, a social worker from Ukraine, and Aleksandr Aksenov, a bank analyst from Russia, had only five guests at their Toronto wedding — the groom’s brother, his wife and children, and a family friend. Since their home countries were at war with each other, dividing their friends, and their parents couldn’t make it to Toronto due to visa issues, Bechkalo and Aksenov couldn’t plan a big wedding.

Still, they say their ceremony at Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral was the happiest moment of their lives, because what mattered to them was not the number of guests, a drive in a limo, or a lavish reception, but the decision to create their family in peaceful, tolerant Canada and their ability to do this by blending traditions from their respective homelands with those from their new home.

One of these traditions is affordability.

There is a long history of church weddings in eastern European communities, not just because of the opulent atmosphere — the candles, richly decorated altars, clerical vestments, murals, and iconography — but because the churches make a point of keeping costs down.

Many churches, for instance, charge more than $1,000 for wedding ceremonies (the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto charges $1,500 for a wedding, and the Anglican St. Clement Church charges $1,725), but eastern European churches tend to have much lower fees. Some, like the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church and St. Mary’s Polish Roman Catholic Church, charge between $100 and $500, but if a couple cannot afford to pay, even those charges may be waived. Others don’t charge for weddings at all, though couples often make a donation. 

Elena and Joseph Peccoreli chose to marry in the same Russian Orthodox cathedral as Bechkalo and Aksenov. Before the ceremony, Elena bought a small icon and her wedding ring from the cathedral’s shop. “These things are cheap [there] and everybody can afford them,” she says. “I chose a white gold ring that was brought to Canada from a Russian monastery. But in general, the crosses and the rings don’t have to be golden. The idea is that nobody should be stopped from getting married because of money.”

Aliaksei Androsik, originally from Russia, and Julia Gorbunova, from Belarus, had been wanting to get married for more than a decade. “We met when I was 13 and she was 14 years old,” Androsik says. “At that time we were both attending school in Poland, and she told me to wait till we grew up. We lived in different countries for years, keeping in touch over the internet, and we finally decided that she [would] come to me to Canada.”  They married in a small Belorussian church in Toronto, with 40 guests in attendance. After the ceremony, there was a party in the church hall with cake and vodka, and then the couple hosted a barbecue at home.

This is very much in keeping with cultural beliefs shared throughout eastern Europe. Salaries are significantly lower there than in western countries, so frugality is generally valued. Eastern European priests here presume that young couples, and especially new immigrants, might not have much by way of savings. There is also a widespread belief that couples should use their money for more practical purposes, such as buying a home or providing for future children. Priests emphasize that saving is righteous, and they discourage couples from going into debt over a day of celebrations.

Archpriest Vasily Kolega, from Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral (which doesn't charge for weddings), considers the overspending that's so common unwise: “In Canada, we see a lot of couples who use up their savings or borrow money and spend a lot on big weddings, and then spend years paying [it] back.”

By contrast, he says, couples like Bechkalo and Aksenov (whom he married in the summer of 2016) have a different perspective when it comes to celebrating their wedding. “Such couples who come to us believe that the wedding ceremony is much more significant than a big wedding party or than going to Mexico or somewhere else to spend money. They start their family life. They declare their love for each other, take their vows very seriously, and believe this more important than the material sides of the weddings.”

Lucy Slavianska is a Toronto-based journalist and editor who has lived and worked in Canada, Japan, Bulgaria, Venezuela, and the Netherlands.

This story is the product of a partnership between and New Canadian Media.

Published in Arts & Culture
Saturday, 22 October 2016 14:26

One Year In, Big Shift in Foreign Policy

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Did the seismic shift in Canada's political landscape, a year ago, following the election on October 19, 2015, also trigger a shift in Canada’s diplomacy, defence and development agenda? To a large extent, yes, and for the most part for the better.

The first strong signal of change in policy came immediately after the election when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada’s intention to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas 2015. The former Conservative government of Stephen Harper had been dragging its feet on this issue and most of Western Europe was devising ways to block their entry.

Canada re-surfaced at the United Nations – the world family of 193 nations. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s disdain, disrespect and disapproval of anything to do with the UN was well-known, resulting in Canada’s isolation at the UN, including losing its bid for a seat at the Security Council, the ultimate decision-making body on world affairs. While Harper rebuffed the UN, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraced the world body, and addressed the General Assembly in September declaring, “Canada is back” on the international scene.

Good money after bad

In re-emerging at the UN, Canada also pledged financial assistance to various UN agencies that was withdrawn by the previous Conservative government. One must, however, caution against throwing good money after bad, in the case of UN agencies, as they are rife with inefficiency. The previous Conservative government was adamant in demanding accountability before approving funding for any UN requests for financial assistance.

A country the size and strength of Canada can leverage its influence effectively and efficiently through multilateral organizations. Hence, Canada seems to be enhancing its role in various international and regional organizations, including, the G-20, NATO, and the African Union, among other forums. While pursuing the Canadian agenda through multilateralism remains an essential part of Canadian diplomatic strategy, bilateral relations are also playing an important part, as with Prime Minister’s state visit to China in September and various foreign heads of government knocking on Ottawa’s door.

Pursuit of free trade agreements goes on with the same vigour as under the Conservatives. The Canada-India Free Trade agreement seems to have died with the defeat of the Harper Conservative government. Much too much energy was wasted on this agreement, which at the end was designed to appease Canadian voters of Indian origin, most of whom were not too impressed or thrilled with the blatant and transparent vote-getting antics.

Canada’s relations with the United States of America are foremost on Canada’s diplomatic agenda. Trudeau has restored much needed personal diplomacy with U.S. President Barack Obama, who addressed the Canadian Parliament in June. And, Trudeau was the first Canadian Prime Minister to be hosted at a White House State Dinner, in March, in almost two decades.

Within a year of coming to power, the Liberal government has kept its commitment to climate change agenda, by signing the Paris Agreement on controlling carbon emissions.

Canada has resumed an active role in defence matters, too, with a promise to participate in UN peacekeeping operations. The problem is that while Prime Minister Trudeau committed to providing 600 Canadian Armed Forces troops, we have not found a place to deploy them. The government seems to have put the cart before the horse. 

Showcase our pluralism

Consistent with the previous government, Canada is actively monitoring Russian jockeying in the Baltics and Ukraine. It has pledged to contribute more troops, as part of NATO’s efforts to protect and ensure sovereignty of the Baltic states.

Whereas the Harper government was hostile to an international development agenda and inflicted serious financial cutbacks to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Liberal government has resumed Canada’s role in providing humanitarian and development assistance, be it immediate help in the aftermath of the recent hurricane in the Caribbean or funding women’s education and literacy programs to furthering gender equality, under the aegis of UN agencies.

As for the future, the volume of consular matters will continue to increase and become more challenging, both because of changing demographics and dealing with countries that have different value and legal systems.

Instead of indulging in cost-cutting exercises, Canada needs place more diplomats in foreign missions. We should end the practice of replacing Canadian diplomats with locally-engaged staff.

One hopes that the year-old Trudeau government will continue to make Canada’s presence felt on the international scene, as it has in the past year, and showcase the Canadian experiment in building a pluralistic and multicultural society.

Bhupinder S. Liddar, is a former Canadian diplomat and publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

Published in Commentary

Canada's commitment to send troops to Latvia to strengthen NATO in its stance vis-à-vis Russia has reverberated in the ethnic media with at least 55 stories over the last two weeks. Most reports were in the Chinese (12) and Punjabi (9) media, which is to be expected because these language groups have numerous high-frequency media (daily papers and full-time radio stations in the language). Interest in this issue was over-proportionally high in the Tamil media (12 stories) and naturally, the Russian media (6 stories). Multiple mentions were also found in the Italian and Spanish media (3 stories each), but interest in the European media was relatively low. One news item was reported in an Urdu paper. Most reporting was neutral in tone, with a few showing a slight positive or negative slant.

- Mirems

Read more here

Published in Top Stories

by Jane Lytvynenko (@JaneLytv) in Kiev, Ukraine

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Stephen Harper signed a free-trade agreement between the two countries Tuesday. Meeting in Chelsea, Quebec, the two politicians solidified the deal which is largely seen as a political gesture of goodwill from Canada while Ukraine faces a war with Russia and a nation-wide recession.

The finalization of the free trade agreement comes months before a federal election campaign is set to begin in Canada. Over 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent live in the country, making for the largest diaspora in the world outside of Ukraine itself.

The agreement will drop nearly all tariffs on Ukrainian imports and 86 per cent of tariffs on Canadian goods. Five years in the making, both Ukrainian and Canadian politicians are excited about the support.

This is increasing economic opportunity for Canadians and Ukrainians and the ability to create jobs in both our countries,said Harper during the announcement.

This is a step toward helping Ukrainians realize the future that they want,he said. Ukrainians do not want a future based on oppression and a Soviet past. Ukrainians want a Western future, a future of prosperity and democracy. In completing this trade agreement we are taking one small step in competing that transition.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ive never noticed Canadian products here before. I would buy them to show my support if I knew.[/quote]

Politically, the deal is meant to be a gesture to Russia and the rest of the world of Canadas faith that Ukraine can clean up corruption and get back on its feet. But Ukrainians are not as optimistic about the agreement, which is yet to be implemented. Speaking to New Canadian Media in the streets of Kiev, Ukraines capital, many were unsure about concrete benefits of the agreement.

Small, but symbolic

You could say its a small step forward but its a symbolic one. I doubt it will make a difference,” said Oleg Sokolov. He said he understood the political significance on top of the other help Canada already provides to Ukraine but does not know what, if any, benefits it will bring.

Its an interesting situation but I dont know which of our products will interest Canada,” said Sokolov.

Canada will get duty-free access to meats, grains, canola oil, processed foods and animal feeds, according to the press release issued by the Canadian government. In turn, Ukraine will benefit from forestry and industrial goods, and fish products which have grown in price since the annexation of Crimea.

Political significance

The negotiations for the agreement began in 2010.

This deal has been in the works for longer than our government has been ruling,” said Egor, who works for a financial institution in Kiev and asked his last name not be published. It has a political significance and Im glad Canada is still helping Ukraine but I dont know if it will affect day-to-day life. I guess we will have to wait and see.

The Canadian PMO says trade between two countries averaged $347 million in 201113. It is expected to increase by 19 per cent as a result of the deal and Ukraine could see an additional $23.7 million in exports. Ukraines current annual GDP is $181.71 billion.

The potential increase in the amount of trade did not impress Sokolov, who said he is in the know about Ukrainian business.

It would be a good number for a company but when it comes to a country, that's a very small number [of trade],” he said. When put in the context of Ukraines GDP, that number does not make a difference.

Ukrainians also wonder whether they have products that interest Canada on a larger scale and where the projected 19 per cent grown will come from during time of war.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The agreement will drop nearly all tariffs on Ukrainian imports and 86 per cent of tariffs on Canadian goods.[/quote]

Canadas a big country and have their own products and trades, Im not sure what Ukraine has to offer,” said Lyudmila Mihailik. Ive never noticed Canadian products here before. I would buy them to show my support if I knew.

The trade agreement is the latest of Canadian measures helping Ukraine. Earlier this year Canada provided a $200 million low-interest loan to Ukraine for a total of $400 million in financial help over the last two years. Its aim is to help stabilize the country, which is about $50 billion in debt. Canada also provided non-lethal military supplies to Ukraine and participated in the training of its new police force.

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Published in Economy

This is an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel from Yaroslav Baran of Euromaidan Ottawa and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on the occasion of Merkel’s current visit to Ottawa to discuss the Ukraine crisis with Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Dear Chancellor Merkel:

As head of government of the Federal Republic of Germany, there is no question that you are a friend of Canada’s and a friend of freedom-loving peoples throughout the world. As an important NATO ally, as the backbone of the European Union, and as the country of origin of some two million Canadians, there is no doubting Germany’s influence and importance to Canada as a friend nation.

It is in this spirit of friendship that we appeal to you in this critical time of both crisis in Ukraine, and shuttle diplomacy seeking a lasting resolution to the war that has been escalating between the sovereign government of Ukraine and the proxy militias of the Russian Federation. To date, this war has resulted in the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of two oblasts (regions) and significant parts of two other oblasts. It has killed more than 5,300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

Your efforts in seeking a peaceful resolution to this armed conflict should be commended. Everyone in Canada wishes to see a peaceful resolution, and we may safely presume that this same sentiment is shared throughout the European Union.

It is precisely at a time of momentum in negotiation, however, that we must pause and reflect on several fundamental points:

First, there must be no question that Russia is indeed a party to the conflict. NATO intelligence, Ukrainian intelligence, third-party and civilian intelligence all point irrefutably to the presence of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil, actively taking part in hostile manoeuvres. Moreover, there is no longer any question that the military hardware being used by the pro-Russian militias in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts has been supplied by Russia — and that a steady flow of tanks and other heavy artillery continues.

Second, as you negotiate with President Putin, we urge you to take serious stock of the meanings behind his words. Putin himself has stated repeatedly that he wishes to see a “peaceful solution”, that the solution must respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and that he is willing to entertain serious proposals that would be mutually acceptable.

On the point of mutual acceptability, it is difficult to imagine a country insisting it is notinvolved in a conflict, and then turning around and suggesting it must be consulted and satisfied with any proposals to settle that conflict in which it is unengaged.

More significantly, what does Putin mean when he says he wishes to see a peaceful resolution that respects Ukraine’s integrity (setting aside occupied Crimea for a moment), but a deal with which the Kremlin must be satisfied? Taken together, this is clearly a code for a federalization of Ukraine with such a devolution of power as to give Donetsk and Luhansk virtual autonomy with respect to domestic affairs and veto power over both foreign affairs and defence policy.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ukraine needs modern armaments — particularly anti-tank systems and more sophisticated communications capabilities. More tanks have crossed from Russian to Ukraine in the last month than in the preceding year.[/quote]

It is perfectly understandable that such a proposal would seem tempting to international diplomats, particularly in seeking solutions to end further bloodshed. Drastic? Yes. Seemingly reasonable under the circumstances? Also yes — if it ends the fighting.

This, however, is precisely the outcome Putin wants, and precisely the kind of deal that must be avoided at all costs. This is why:

Such an arrangement would be the easiest and most cost-effective way for Russia to permanently destabilize Ukraine in a manner that minimizes Kremlin fingerprints. An autonomous Donetsk and Luhansk — particularly if governed and represented by the thuggish Russian and Chechen militiamen and Russian regulars currently calling the shots — would use their foreign and defence policy vetoes to prevent Ukraine’s entry into both the European Union and NATO … forever. Ukraine’s westward integration would be instantly stymied — but this would apply to all of Ukraine, not just the two eastern regions.

Simultaneously, Donetsk and Luhansk effectively would become Russian protectorates, yet without the Kremlin footing any of the cost of post-war rebuilding, both physical and social. Russian imperialism would realize all the benefits, but would incur none of the costs.

Given your own country’s history — from the unworkability of the Weimar constitution to the process of reunification in 1990 — Germany will be particularly sensitive and sympathetic to so-called “peace” deals brokered by powers that leave insufficient tools for the legitimately elected government to take control over all aspects of governance over its sovereign soil. Coming from the East of your country, there is no doubt that you would remember the realities of an unofficial Russian-controlled vassal state.

Given recent events in Moscow, with a legislative movement afoot to declare even German reunification illegal, and to declare the events of 1990 an illegal occupation of East Germany, how can the people of Germany continue to be blind to the real dangers of this new Putin combination of revanchism and irredentism?

The only solution is to give Ukraine the tools it requires to assert and preserve its own sovereignty. Ukraine needs modern armaments — particularly anti-tank systems and more sophisticated communications capabilities. Your Defence Minister von der Leyen has stated that the potential arms supply for the rebels is limited. Recent events have demonstrated it is not. More tanks have crossed from Russian to Ukraine in the last month than in the preceding year. President Poroshenko has also noted that whenever the imbalance of armaments between the two sides has become more acute, the fighting has indeed intensified — not abated. With the latest anti-tank and communications systems available, the cost of a renewed military push into Ukraine would simply be too high for Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg has endorsed the concept of sending defensive arms to Ukraine to allow the country to defend itself from this slow-motion foreign invasion. Moreover, he has stated that arming Ukraine is a question for individual states — not for NATO as a whole. We urge you to reconsider your position, and for Germany to show leadership in demonstrating that Russian imperialist aggression will not be tolerated by the great countries of Europe.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We also urge you to use your leadership and global influence to lead a renewed international push for Russia’s exclusion from the SWIFT network of international digital commercial transaction.[/quote]

We also urge you to use your leadership and global influence to lead a renewed international push for Russia’s exclusion from the SWIFT network of international digital commercial transaction. Immediate exclusion from SWIFT, and an expansion of sectoral sanctions against Russia, could finally provide sufficient pressure and economic impact to force the Kremlin to reverse its actions. Exclusion from SWIFT, in particular, would demonstrate that a country incapable of playing by the international community’s rules will not be able to use the international community’s tools of trade. Rhetoric and threats will not work. Action and decisiveness will.

Madam Chancellor, the 20th Century saw Europe’s soil soaked with the blood of tens of millions of unnecessary deaths. The world order in which we now exist was designed to preclude any repetition of the horrors of that century. Countries may not invade neighbours at will. Boundaries may not be redrawn by regional bullies. Parties to conflict and aggression are no longer to be met with appeasement. These are truths and values that lie at the heart of the new Europe.

We urge you, as the core and greatest steward of the new Europe, to defend these values, and to do so fully and effectively.

Yaroslav Baran is a member of the board of Euromaidan Ottawa, a grassroots group formed in solidarity with Ukraine’s pro-West and pro-democracy movement. He is a principal at the Earnscliffe Strategy Group, a former communications director to Stephen Harper, and also current president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (Ottawa). This open letter has been republished from

Published in Commentary

by Mariusz Galczynski & Ratna Ghosh in Montreal

One year ago, as Sochi geared up to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, Canadians united in condemnation of Russia’s anti-gay laws. Now, in preparation for hosting the Pan Am Games this summer, the city of Toronto has teamed with PrideHouse to ensure the “most inclusive games ever.”

Yet as Canada gets ready to showcase its inclusionary multiculturalism to the rest of the world, an antithetical debate over LGBTQ inclusion in schools has raged on the provincial level for weeks. Since mid-November, after Liberal Member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly Laurie Blakeman introduced Bill 202 (entitled the Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act), the Alberta government has been embroiled in a debate over the legislation (as well as its hasty successor, Bill 10).

Blakeman explained her Bill’s intention was to make schools inclusive of sexual minority youth by preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation and by safeguarding the establishment of gay-straight peer support groups, usually termed “Gay-Straight Alliances” (GSAs).

We agree that such clubs improve school climate for LGBTQ students and are particularly effective as a preventative measure against bullying and cyber-bullying. But as deliberation over GSAs in Alberta schools continues, let us take a moment to review the distinct differences of proposed Bills 10 and 202, as well as to consider how the debate itself represents a contradiction of Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism.

Divisive debate

In videos uploaded to her YouTube channel, Blakeman explained the provisions of Bill 202. Firstly, it would revise Alberta’s Education Act so that it cross-referenced the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Alberta Human Rights Act. Secondly, it would move the “Parental Opt Out” section from the Human Rights Act into the Education Act, thus making it possible for parents to excuse their children from classroom activities related to sexual health education—as they already could do in the event of religious or patriotic exercises. Thirdly, and causing the most controversy, Bill 202 would take away the power of school boards to deny students’ requests to organize GSAs.

Whereas Premier Jim Prentice described Bill 202 as “unnecessarily divisive,” a few days later Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government advanced its own Bill 10, called the Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children. In contrast to Bill 202, Bill 10 would grant school boards the final decision on whether students could form GSAs, in an effort, “to protect children and respect the role of parents and school boards.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Every time a kid has to leave the school… they will be reminded that they are second-class in relation to every other kid who is looking for out-of-school, voluntary, extracurricular support groups.” - NDP Leader, Rachel Notley[/quote]

Those refused by their school boards would be permitted to make legal appeals, but critics challenged such difficult, and potentially lengthy, recourse as unfair to students. Subsequently, the Bill 10 proposal was amended, empowering the Education Minister to allow the establishment of GSAs even if school boards denied them, though the clubs may need to meet outside school grounds.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley spoke against the amendment, arguing that it would lead to segregation of gay youth: “Every time a kid has to leave the school… they will be reminded that they are second-class in relation to every other kid who is looking for out-of-school, voluntary, extracurricular support groups.”

In further deliberations, Bill 202 author Blakeman expressed that parents were grossly misinformed about GSAs and insisted that Bill 10 failed to protect at-risk students. By early December, Premier Prentice acknowledged Bill 10’s own divisiveness and issued a statement announcing that the legislation would be paused for further consultation with Albertans.

Inclusive citizenship

While discussion of Bill 10 remains on hold, let us take a moment to look at Alberta’s GSA debate through the lens of multiculturalism, Canada’s federal commitment to inclusive citizenship. In this case, we see how multicultural policy still struggles with the politics of recognition — the power relations embedded in the way groups and individuals see themselves and are recognized by others — at a provincial level.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Denying students the ability to assemble in the form of a GSA is in itself discrimination.[/quote]

Bill 10 acknowledges that LGBTQ youth deserve protection from discrimination and bullying because of their sexual identity, but it would allow individual school boards to deem GSAs as incompatible with their school missions. This is contradictory because denying students the ability to assemble in the form of a GSA is in itself discrimination.

Here, we see how the Alberta provincial government fails to recognize sexual minorities as one of Canada’s many cultures, denigrating the LGBTQ community as the “other” by permitting the “heteronormative” majority to restrict LGBT rights.

Multicultural education

In our book, Redefining Multicultural Education: Inclusion and the Right to Be Different, we discuss how inclusivity in Canadian society is founded upon the right to be different. It is precisely through our differences — in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, and (dis)ability — that we all come to represent the multicultural heritage of Canada. This is what makes Bill 10 so untenable: it fails to respect the differences among children in the province of Alberta.

The problem is that Alberta policymakers have given credence to the flawed argument made by the province’s Catholic school boards. As articulated by Calgary’s Catholic Bishop Fred Henry, the school boards argue “parents should be able to teach their children according to their religious beliefs without pressure from the government.” That’s fine, but vetoing all students’ opportunities to belong to such groups is intolerant.

In schools where GSAs exist, no one forces students to join them. Participation is purely voluntary. But students cannot even contemplate joining organizations that do not exist, which explains why the Catholic boards seem eager to maintain the status quo: “23 of 40 public school boards reported having at least one GSA, while all 17 Catholic boards and the four provincial Francophone boards reported no clubs back to the province.”

Discussions for the classroom

Even if Bill 10 has proven to be divisive in Alberta, discussion of the legislation is necessary in classrooms. Teachers who are committed to values of justice and fairness must face controversial issues head on. Taking a “neutral” approach by avoiding discussion of intolerance and homophobia is just pretense because it implies supporting the status quo, and, therefore, is not neutral.

Moreover, it is never neutral when a teacher, administrator, or school board exerts the power to dictate how students spend their time in school. Indeed, as Red Deer principal Dan Lower expressed, students deserve the right to steer the discussion on GSAs.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We challenge teachers to infuse their curriculums with multicultural values by finding room to bring up the topic—and, in doing so, getting their students to think critically about difference.[/quote]

So the question that remains is how educators can turn Alberta’s GSA debacle into a “teachable moment.” We challenge teachers to infuse their curriculums with multicultural values by finding room to bring up the topic—and, in doing so, getting their students to think critically about difference.

For instance, an English language arts teacher can modify a lesson on tone by asking students to contrast the heartening title of Bill 202 with the foreboding title of Bill 10. A history teacher can teach about the Canadian Constitution by tracing the establishment of separate, minority-faith school systems.

A math teacher can rework a lesson on ratios to utilize data on GSAs. A science teacher can ask students to apply understanding of symbiosis to societal relationships. A physical education teacher can demonstrate the advantages of diversity in team building. An art teacher can highlight design principles like contrast and juxtaposition with projects aimed at “challenging binaries.”

Meaningful discussions are sure to result.

Mariusz Galczynski is a lecturer at McGill University, administrator of the Québec Ministry of Education’s English Exam for Teacher Certification, and a former secondary school teacher.

Ratna Ghosh is a James McGill Professor and William C. Macdonald Professor at McGill University. The recipient of several awards from national and international organizations, and honours which include the Orders of Canada and Quebec, and most recently India’s prestigious Hind Rattan Award for 2015, she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and was featured in Time magazine as one of “Canada’s Best in Education.”

The third edition of their book, Redefining Multicultural Education: Inclusion and the Right to Be Different, was published by Canadian Scholars’ Press in 2014.

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Published in Commentary
Thursday, 18 September 2014 16:55

Ukraine: Very Canadian, says President Poroshenko

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave a historic speech to a joint session of the Canadian Parliament yesterday (Sept. 17, 2014). New Canadian Media is reproducing the main elements of his speech, especially sections that are of interest to immigrant and Ukrainian diaspora communities.

Dear Friends,
It is a deeply felt honor to address this distinguished legislative body.
I must thank you, Prime Minister, for inviting me to come to Canada, Speaker Kinsella and Speaker Scheer – for giving me such outstanding opportunity to address the Canadian Parliament. I see this as a tribute to my country and the Ukrainian people, and an expression of the unique, distinctive partnership that our nations enjoy.
Let me also just once use the third “official language” of Canada – Ukrainian:
Дякую вам за цю честь, дорогі друзі!
To be frank with you – I feel very much at home with you here today in a country that is very close to Ukraine. Not distantly but through our hearts and common ideas.
Indeed, Canada has become home to so many Ukrainians. The descendants of those early Ukrainian settlers who came here more than a century ago. In 1892, a century before Canada was the first to recognize Ukraine’s independence, the first Ukrainian emigrants Ivan Pylypiv and Vasyl Yelynyak arrived. They launched further numerous Ukrainian emigration to the Pacific Coast settling across the woods and prairies of Canada. The Ukrainian community has easily integrated into the Canadian society. They built railways and towns, schools and churches, heroically fought against the Nazi during the World War Second, contributed to the Canadian economy and culture. Later, the sons and daughters of farmers became prominent members of Canadian society – businessmen, scientists, artists, athletes and politicians. One of them, Ramon Hnatyshyn, became the Governor General of Canada.
The list is long and impressive – Premiers of Saskatchewan and Manitoba Roy Romanow and Gary Filmon, senators Raynell Andreychuk and David Tkachuk, artist William Kurylyk, hockey superstars Terry Sawchuk and Wayne Gretzky, and woman-astronaut Doctor Roberta Bondar.
We highly praise great Ukrainian-Canadian sculptor Leo Mol who crafted one of the best Taras Shevchenko monuments in the world, in Washington DC.
If I continue with the list, we will run out of time for this session.
Today the Ukrainian Canadian community is over a million people. It is strong, it is consolidated, it preserves the language of their Homeland, faith and traditions. Ukraine has always felt proud of Ukrainian Canadians and is grateful for their lasting support.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Today the Ukrainian Canadian community is over a million people. It is strong, it is consolidated, it preserves the language of their Homeland, faith and traditions. Ukraine has always felt proud of Ukrainian Canadians and is grateful for their lasting support.[/quote]
On behalf of the people of Ukraine, I would like to express gratitude to you, brothers and sisters, for your lasting support!
However, it is not only history that bonds us, but also the shared values that make Canada and Ukraine integral parts of a global family of democracies.
Today Ukraine pays a very high price for defending what we believe in – democracy and freedom to choose our own future. For more than two decades we proudly stated that Ukraine gained its independence without shedding a single drop of blood.
Governor General of Canada Ramon Hnatyshyn in his speech at the Ukrainian Parliament in 1992 stated: “We must not forget people’s suffering which we are witnessing”. That day he spoke of brave Ukrainian and Canadian soldiers who kept the peace across the world in conflict and unrest zones. These words remain so true, as never before.
Today thousands of brave Ukrainian men and women are sacrificing their lives for the right to live the way they chose to, on their land, under the blue and golden colors of the Ukrainian flag, colors which are so dear to many Canadian Ukrainians. In these dark days we feel your support.
It is time we see our friends in our need. And there is no other way to put it – Canada is a friend indeed.
As Commander-in-Chief, as a Ukrainian and a father of a soldier, I thank Canada for each life that is being saved today in the Ukrainian Donbas by a bulletproof vest or a helmet you gave us.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I have a long list of sincere gratitude. I really feel your support. I am confident that we will have peace, we will stop the war with the assistance of the whole world.[/quote]
We will do everything for the world to be united. Canada helps us, it shows that it is with Ukraine. Thank you!
Without this support provided by the Government of Canada, by all parliamentarians and by the Ukrainian Canadian community under the leadership of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, it would be much harder for Ukraine to face the challenges of today.
No other leader or nation, no one, I mean it, with the possible exception of Poland was so straightforward and earnest when sending the signal across to Russians and the rest of the World that fighting a nation which is trying to chart its own path is just conceptually wrong. That arming rebels with advanced antiaircraft systems, providing them with operators, intelligence and flight data is wrong. Those who were equipped, trained and financed by Russia executed a terrorist attack shooting down a civilian MH17 flight killing 298 innocent lives of nationals of Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia and others. One Canadian was killed as well.
I think that war in the East of Ukraine is war against terrorism. It is our common war. I am confident of that.
With your support, with the support of global community we will win this struggle. And we will fulfill the dreams of many Ukrainians in our homeland and across the world – Ukraine will be a strong, independent European nation.
Yesterday was one of the most important days in the history of Ukraine. The Verkhovna Rada ratified the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. When I was in the Parliament yesterday, it was the last “goodbye” from Ukraine to the Soviet Union.
It was the last Rubicon that we had to cross. We will never return to our awful past. I am confident that our values, our freedom, our democracy, our European future and prospects of participation in various international organizations can be achieved. For Ukrainians passed one of the most difficult tests. We paid the highest price for the desire to be a European country. That’s why we will defend our independence and freedom. We want to become a fully-fledged member of the EU.
This happened simultaneously with the ratification at the European and broadcasted in the two parliaments.
I thank the Canadian Parliament and the Ukrainian Diaspora for helping us breed a new generation of Ukrainian leaders.
Mr. Prime Minister,
I remember you mentioning that Canada is probably the most Ukrainian nation outside Ukraine itself. This is true. Let me reciprocate. There are great European nations, which stood at the source of foundation of modern Canada. Canada has friends all over the Globe, and the closest one next to it. However, I doubt that you will find another nation, which could tell, so sincerely, what I am about to tell you. Ukraine is probably the most Canadian nation after Canada itself.
I had this feeling today at the meeting with a lot of Canadians. Thank you for that.
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ukraine is probably the most Canadian nation after Canada itself.[/quote]
Let me refer to Winston’s Churchill’s words who truly loved your country and visited it 7 times from 1900 to 1954. We recall him as brave leader who confronted the Nazi aggression with courage. In summer 1929 he wrote from Canada to his wife: “Darling, I am greatly attracted to this country…I am profoundly touched and I intend to devote my strength to interpreting Canada to our people”. 
These words resemble my feelings today. I won’t write these words to my wife since she is here with me today. I will simply tell her this.
And again, please let me quote Churchill once again: “I love coming to Canada. God bless your country”.
Thank you! Merci! Дякую! And Glory to Ukraine!
Published in Top Stories

by Lin Abdul Rahman (@linabdulrahman) in Toronto

The plane departed from Amsterdam en route to Malaysia. It was shot down by two BUK missiles while flying over eastern Ukraine. All 298 passengers and crew members were killed.

Only one passenger was confirmed to be Canadian and most passengers were Dutch, many of whom were top HIV/AIDS researchers on their way to a conference in Australia. Several passengers and all of the crew members were Malaysians; most were flying back to Malaysia to celebrate Eid with their families, in some cases, after years of living away from home.

This tragedy could not have happened at a worse time.

In March of this year, another Malaysian aircraft, MH370 disappeared without a trace while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Investigations are still ongoing and the search area has shifted several times. No discoveries have been made as to the whereabouts of the missing plane.

Both MH17 and MH370 were Boeing 777 aircraft.

Hotspot Malaysia

These tragedies have catapulted Malaysia into the limelight. After former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stepped down in 2003, Malaysia has essentially faded into oblivion on the global political stage. Now, within just four months, Malaysia is suddenly making international headlines -- for all the wrong reasons.

Most Malaysians I know are still reeling from shock. Since the majority of Malaysians subscribe to one religion or another, many are dealing with their grief and confusion through prayer and trust in God.

“Allah has better plans for her,” says Anna Samsudin, 31, of her close friend Nur Shazana Mohamed Saleh who was listed as a crew member on MH17. Samsudin says the perplexing circumstances of the plane crash made it even harder for her to come to terms with her friend’s death.

“Of all things, a plane crash?” Samsudin asked. 

“She was very a very kind-hearted and caring person, so when this happened, everyone felt it was a great loss,” Samsudin added. “We never thought she would be the first among us to go,” she said.

Samsudin says she last saw her friend in May and was looking forward to seeing her again on Eid.

Flight attendant Nur Shazana had even made plans to break her fast with friends upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur. 

Putin the target?

MAS has offered to fly family members of the victims to Ukraine but specific details are still forthcoming.

As was the case with MH370, theories abound on social media. However, sources have confirmed MH17 was shot down by ground-to-air missiles over eastern Ukraine. 

An unnamed source speaking to Russia Today claimed that the original target was President Vladimir Putin's presidential jet, which followed the same flight path a mere 30 minutes after flight MH17 passed through the area. This theory is further bolstered by Putin's jet’s close resemblance to the MAS airplane.


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has unequivocally condemned the shooting as a terrorist attack and denied any involvement. Both Russia and Ukraine have offered their full cooperation in investigating the crash. The U.S. has also called for a complete ceasefire in the region to open a humanitarian corridor for international crews to carry out their investigation.

As a Malaysian observing these events unfolding from a distance, I can see two possible implications from the twin airplane tragedy: the first is that international media attention will be diverted from reporting on Israel's assault on Gaza. Media observers and pro-Palestinian activists have noted a slight shift towards fairness and balance in Western media’s reports of Israel’s escalated assault on Gaza. MH17’s tragic loss will help reignite international fervour over the Ukrainian-Russian conflict and draw attention away from Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As a Malaysian observing these events unfolding from a distance, I can see two possible implications from the twin airplane tragedy: the first is that international media attention will be diverted from reporting on Israel's assault on Gaza.[/quote]

Airline bankruptcy

The second potential implication from these crashes is that Malaysia Airlines may finally go bust. The nationally-owned flag carrier is notorious for corruption within its highest echelons, which has led to near-bankruptcy losses. One of the more infamous corruption cases involved the airline's former managing director, Tajuddin Ramli.

Ramli’s control of Malaysia Airlines was rife with nepotism and projects contracted out to Ramli’s own family companies. The company was reporting losses between RM10-16 million a month while operating out of Frankfurt airport. By the time Ramli left MAS in 2001, the airline lost over RM8 billion (U.S. $2.54 billion). The Malaysian government dipped into public funds to bail the airline out of bankruptcy.

The airline also suffered intense criticism over its poor handling of MH370’s disappearance. Many passengers’ families, most of whom were Chinese nationals, remained clueless for days before receiving any definitive answers about the plane’s whereabouts. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s administration was slow to respond to inquiries and exposed serious breaches in Malaysia’s border security. When it was revealed that two passengers on board the plane travelled on stolen passports, the immigration department came under fire for not cross-checking them on Interpol’s list of stolen travel documents.

Allegations of MAS’s and the MH370’s mismanagement remain largely unaddressed.

Angst among crew

“When I first signed up with MAS years ago, I never imagined this could happen,” says an on-duty flight attendant who will not be named for obvious reasons. “Now I feel very unsafe,” she said, adding, “I couldn’t digest this information in the beginning.”

She knew many of flight MH17’s crew, which makes continuing on her shift as an attendant on tomorrow’s flight even more challenging. “I feel sad, scared, just mixed emotions. I keep wondering what is going to happen next?” she said.

Now, the shooting of MH17 over Ukraine’s contested territory raises old concerns about MAS’s poor management: why didn’t the airline divert its flight path as some airlines (including Air Canada) did following escalating hostilities between Russia and Ukraine? The presumed answer to this question may be that the path over eastern Ukraine was more cost-effective.

MAS is already facing stiff competition from Air Asia, a relatively new budget airline that is making headway in expanding its service delivery across the globe. With two planes lost within the span of four months and continuing allegations of corruption and mismanagement, the airline may finally find it hard to bounce back from these serious losses.

Lin Abdul Rahman is a Malaysian-born freelance journalist and social justice advocate based in Toronto, Ontario.

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Published in Commentary

by Mark Semotiuk

On March 16, Crimea will hold a referendum on joining the Russian Federation. The referendum seeks to legitimize Russia’s current occupation. If the referendum in Crimea is free and fair, as verified by international election observers, Crimea should be free to join the Russian Federation. It is already clear, however, that the referendum will be illegitimate.

On February 24, the Crimean Prime Minister recognized the new national government formed as a result of the protests in Kyiv.  On February 26, the media began to report that Russian soldiers entered Crimea.

On February 27, professional and heavily armed Russian speaking gunmen seized Crimea’s parliament. Under siege, the Crimean parliament approved a no-confidence vote and unconstitutionally appointed the head of the Russia Unity party as Prime Minister. On February 28, the full scale occupation of Crimea began and Russia soon gained full scale operational control of the peninsula.

On March 6, the Crimean parliament approved the referendum on the future of Crimea. A recent poll shows that only 41% of Crimeans wish to unite with Russia. Just as the Crimean parliament elected the Prime Minister under the barrel of a gun, the Crimean people will vote to join Russia under the barrel of a gun.

A clean break

Already there are signs that international observers will not be able to monitor the referendum. Journalists have not been allowed in Crimea since March 1. On March 4, the Senior UN Envoy was threatened by a group of 10 to 15 gunmen and cut his mission short. On March 6, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) cancelled its military observer mission as the observers were not granted access.

Putin understands the significance of the current events. Unlike 2004’s Orange Revolution, the ousted government’s actions resulted in the death of 100 people. This left such a deep wound on the Ukrainian psyche that there was a clean break with the old political guard.

Putin’s pretext for occupying Crimea is that he is defending Russian citizens. This is a thin excuse. Crimea has an ethnic Russian majority and the Crimean constitution protects Russian as a language. Putin also hasn’t shown much concern for the actual Ukrainian and Crimean Tartar (Sunni Muslim) minorities.

The conventional thinking is that this pretext allows Putin to protect his interests in Russian naval bases in Crimea. These bases give Putin access to the Mediterranean, like the old Soviet naval base in Tartus, Syria, for example.

New narrative

But potentially there is a darker and more troublesome narrative: having consolidated control of Russia, Putin is beginning to believe his own propaganda. Putin styles himself as a modern Tsar Nicholas I. He wishes to develop a stronger sense of religious and national identity within Russia to act as a counterweight to the West’s liberal ideologies.

Ukraine was the cornerstone of Putin’s Eurasian Union. The Union was an effort to restore some of the glory of the Soviet Union, whose collapse Putin called the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. Under such a narrative, Putin genuinely believes that he is saving Ukrainians from a mob of fascist and neo-Nazi protestors. Putin may not stop in Crimea. He may also attempt to gain control over Eastern Ukraine.

Tactically, Putin is drawing firm red lines. Crimea is under Putin’s control unless he decides to back down – he has the initiative.

By contrast, the West’s response has been hesitantly reactive. In 1994, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum on Ukraine’s denuclearization. By signing that document the West committed to respecting Ukraine’s territorial and economic sovereignty.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Since then the West has mostly ignored Ukraine.[/quote]

Instead, Russia has kept Ukraine on a tight economic leash through reliance on gas subsidies. Had the West truly enforced the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine could have slowly drifted out of Russia’s economic orbit over the last 20 years.

Western credibility on test

Unfortunately, inaction manifested itself into the Crimean crisis. The stakes are high. Instead of economic assistance, Western values and credibility are now on the line. The crisis serves as a reminder that in geopolitics tension builds over long periods of times and often snaps in large and unpredictable ways.

Consider the current nuclear agreement under negotiation with Iran. How will Iran respond if it sees that the West does not enforce its nuclear agreements over time? Or take China. If tensions flare between China and Taiwan or Japan, the Crimean crisis will serve as a modern precedent.

The Crimean referendum will not be legitimate. For Putin to drop the narrative that Crimea is willingly joining Russia, the West must threaten sufficiently large consequences. If a diplomatic solution is not reached and action is limited to economic sanctions, Putin may become isolationist. This may embolden him to make additional land grabs in former Soviet territories.

To prevent this, the West should signal that if Crimea illegitimately joins Russia, the rest of Ukraine will accede to NATO. [quote align="center" color="#999999"]Threatening to put NATO on Russia’s border increases the pressure on Putin to work within a credible international law framework.[/quote]

As a worst case scenario, after secession, it limits Putin’s land grab to Crimea. It demonstrates that the West enforces its international agreements.

Prior to World War II, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement which allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland. Then in opposition, Winston Churchill issued sharp criticism. He said: "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonor and you will have war."

The West now faces the same choice. To prevent war it must signal that it is ready for it. NATO must allow Ukraine to accede as a consequence of illegitimate Crimean secession. Otherwise, the West may again lose the initiative on the crisis. The consequences of which would be large and unpredictable.

Mark Semotiuk is a Fordham University Law Student currently studying European Union Law in Paris at Pantheon-Assas (Paris II). Mr. Semotiuk has been an international election observer in Ukraine on multiple occasions. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary


KIEV, Ukraine – As tensions rose in Crimea with the takeover of government buildings Thursday by armed pro-Russian groups, news agencies reported from Moscow that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has asked for and received a security guarantee from Russia.

The armed men seized the local parliament and the regional government headquarters early Thursday in Simferopol, the capital of Ukraine’s Crimea region, barricading themselves inside both buildings and raising Russian flags, according to Ukraine’s new interior minister.

“Obviously, the people in southeastern Ukraine and Crimea are refusing to accept the anarchy and actual lawlessness in the country where ministers are elected by the mob on a square,” Yanukovych said in a statement distributed to Russian news organizations Thursday. He was referring to the selection of a new Ukrainian cabinet in Kiev, after interim authorities had conferred with a self-organized council of protesters at Independence Square, popularly known as the Maidan.

Yanukovych still considers himself the rightful president of Ukraine, according to his statement, and believes that his opponents have violated a deal reached last Friday that would have allowed him to remain in office until a presidential election could be held in December.

Over the weekend, after he fled Kiev, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove him from office and scheduled elections for May 25.

In his statement, Yanukovych said the current government is illegitimate, and he called on the Ukrainian military to resist any orders to interfere in pro-Russian protests in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a leader of the Kiev protests who was approved by parliament Thursday as Ukraine’s new prime minister, told reporters that Yanukovych is not the president.

“He is no longer president. He is a wanted person who is suspected of mass murder, a crime against humanity,” Yatsenyuk said.

Yanukovych’s whereabouts were not clear, though a Russian newspaper, RBK, reported Wednesday that he had arrived in Moscow the day before.

A Ukrainian news Web site,, also reported that it had spoken with a witness who saw Yanukovych in Moscow, at the Ukraine Hotel, on Tuesday. With him, it said, were the former interior minister, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, and the former chief prosecutor of Ukraine, Viktor Pshonka.

Russian wire services quoted unidentified government spokesmen as saying that Yanukovych’s security would be guaranteed as long as he is on Russian soil.

Ukrainian authorities want him tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and have put him on a wanted list for charges of “mass murder.” Almost 90 people were killed last week in clashes between protesters and police during a crackdown by Yanukovych’s government. Russia apparently intends not to comply with any Ukrainian request to turn him over — if in fact he is in Russia now.

“I officially declare my determination to fight until the end for the implementation of the important compromise agreements concerning the Ukrainian recovery from the profound political crisis,” Yanukovych said.

In Simferopol, the armed men who took over the parliament and regional headquarters of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea before dawn were reported to be wearing plain uniforms without designating marks. The Interfax news agency quoted a local authority as saying the men were from a Crimean self-defense group. Local reporters said the men threw flash grenades at them.

A few thousand protesters gathered outside the regional parliament building in support of the armed men.

The mood was defiant, at times celebratory. The protesters were organized into so-called self-defense militias, whose leaders said they oppose decrees from Kiev. They denounced the actions of the new government as illegal, and while they did not demand a return of ousted president Yanukovych, they called the new leaders in Kiev “bandits” and “hooligans.”

The protesters said they were there to assert their rights to remain allied with Russia and to continue to speak Russian.

The militias were associated with the political group called the Russian Bloc, which wants to maintain close ties with Moscow. Many were from Sevastopol, one of the most Russian cities in Ukraine and the home port for Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet.

A hastily constructed barricade blocked the front doors to the parliament. National police formed a cordon around the building but did not brandish shields or batons.

There was no word from the men inside, who were assumed to be pro-Russia militiamen.

Asked what he thought would happen next, a Russian Bloc politician from Sevastopol, Gennadiy Basov, said, “I have no idea.”

Basov said the pro-Russia militias in Crimea “are prepared to defend our homes and families” from any forces sent from the central government in Kiev.

“Everything coming out of Kiev is illegal,” Basov said.

In the Ukrainian capital, Arsen Avakov, the interim interior minister, said: “Measures have been taken to counter extremist actions and not allow the situation to escalate into an armed confrontation” in the centre of Simferopol. Avakov, whose responsibilities include state security, said the occupied buildings were being sealed off by police.

Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s interim president, warned Moscow that any movement of military personnel off Russia’s leased Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol “will be viewed as military aggression.”

Speaking in the Verkhovna Rada, or parliament, on Thursday, he said, “Ukrainian enemies should not try to destabilize the situation, should not encroach on our independence, sovereignty and territory.”

Then, following three months of protests during which opponents of Yanukovych occupied public buildings in Kiev and in cities across Ukraine, Turchynov declared: “Any attempts to seize administrative buildings will be viewed as a crime against the Ukrainian state.”

In a public statement Thursday before a closed-door meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was “extremely concerned about the most recent developments in Crimea.”

Calling “this morning’s action by an armed group . . . dangerous and irresponsible,” Rasmussen said: “I urge Russia not to take any action that could create misunderstanding and . . . all parties to step back from confrontation, refrain from provocative actions and return to the path of dialogue.”

The alliance later urged Russia “not to take any action that could create misunderstanding.”

In a series of statements, NATO has tried simultaneously to warn Russia not to intervene in Ukraine while insisting that there is no indication it intends to.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was “arranging a call” to his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in light of the pro-Russia demonstrations in Crimea and an announcement of Russian military exercises on the Ukrainian border.

“It’s a time for very cool, wise leadership, on the Russian side and on everybody’s side,” Hagel said in a news conference. “Yes, we’re concerned, and we will continue to talk to our Russian counterparts about what their motives are.”

Rasmussen said the alliance has “no information indicating Russia has any plans to intervene militarily.” He added, “Having said that, obviously, it doesn’t make things easier that there is a coincidence between the timing of this exercise and the ongoing events in the Ukraine.” He noted, however, that NATO had been informed of the exercises and said the Russians had “lived up to all their obligations as regards transparency.”

Rasmussen also said that Ukraine, whose acting defense minister met with NATO Thursday morning, has not requested any alliance assistance.

The takeover of government buildings in Simferopol, which brought tensions in Crimea to a new high, came after Moscow ordered surprise military exercises in a district bordering Ukraine and put troops in the region on high alert.

The developments stoked concerns about divided loyalties in Ukraine and raised the question of Russian military intervention, which Secretary of State John F. Kerry said would be a “grave mistake.” Russia insisted that the exercises were routine.

While the demonstrations have quieted in Kiev — the protest council called on members of “self-defense” groups to remove their ski masks and put down their weapons — they are just beginning in Crimea. In Simferopol, pro-Russia demonstrators clashed Wednesday with thousands of Muslim Tatars who were rallying in support of the interim pro-Europe government in Kiev.

Police mostly succeeded in keeping the two sides apart, though fists flew as the two groups staged dueling rallies outside the regional parliament. A dozen people were injured Wednesday, and one elderly man died of a heart attack at the demonstration.

The Tatars, who as a people were deported to Asia by Joseph Stalin after World War II and who returned to their ancestral homeland only in the 1980s, are Russian-speakers who strongly oppose the idea of joining Russia.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, there were some signs of reconciliation. In the fervently anti-Yanukovych city of Lviv, in the Ukrainian-speaking west, activists organized a campaign Wednesday to have everyone there speak Russian for the day. In Odessa and in Donetsk, Yanukovych’s home town, there was a move to have residents and businesses use only Ukrainian for a day.

The most independent television company in the country, Channel 5, which came to be identified with the protests, announced that it will now present the evening news in Russian.

The country’s interim authorities presented their list of nominees Wednesday for a new cabinet headed by Yatsenyuk, one of the three political leaders who helped maintain the protest movement over the course of the past three months. Neither of the other two — Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion who is running for president in the May election, or Oleh Tiahnybok, a member of the nationalist All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” party — was on the list.

The roster was approved in consultations with a self-organized council of protesters from the Maidan but was greeted with little enthusiasm by the thousands gathered there.

“Too many politicians. We don’t trust anyone,” said Svetlana Kravtsova, 50. “We need to see real people.”

Parliament confirmed the list Thursday. The move came amid concerted efforts to secure foreign aid, with the Ukrainian currency dipping to a new low.

Military drills at issue

Moscow’s military exercises — which, intentionally or not, are a stark reminder of Russia’s armed power — were announced by Defense Minister Shoigu. He said the maneuvers were not related to Ukraine’s turmoil but were ordered by President Vladimir Putin to check preparedness “for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security.”

The exercises, due to start Friday and last four days, will also involve elements of the Russian navy and air force, Shoigu said. Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet is at a leased base in Sevastopol’s deep-water harbor.

Russia has held at least six such snap exercises in the past year to test readiness, the RIA Novosti news agency said.

The exercises, Shoigu said, involve the western military district, which abuts Ukraine’s northeastern border, and units of the central district, which covers a vast swath across the middle of Russia. The district closest to Crimea is not involved.

Russian officials have said their country has no intention of intervening militarily in Ukraine. Valentina Matvienko, speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, said Wednesday that intervention was out of the question.

In a brief news conference in Brussels on Wednesday, Rasmussen made no direct mention of the Russian exercises but said, “We take it for granted that all nations respect the sovereignty and independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and this is a message that we have also conveyed to whom it may concern.” He made the remarks as NATO defense ministers assembled for a scheduled meeting.

Although Ukraine has not sought NATO membership, it has long cooperated with the alliance’s operations, sending troops to Bosnia and Afghanistan and participating in NATO anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

Ukraine’s acting defense minister is expected to attend a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission on Thursday.

A city loyal to Russia

Sevastopol embraced news of the Russian military exercises and took them as a sign of sabre-rattling and support.

Sevastopol looks, sounds and feels like a little corner of Russia, and activists here have declared that it will remain that way, no matter what happens in the rest of Ukraine.

“We have our Russian language, Russian heroes and Russian culture,” said Valeriy Bespalko, who stood in the drizzling rain earlier in the day to support the city’s new de facto mayor, who is a Russian, not Ukrainian, citizen and who took over City Hall two days ago.

Hours after the new Ukrainian interior minister announced Wednesday that he would disband the elite police force that spearheaded most of the attacks on protesters in Kiev last week, its members were offered sanctuary here in Crimea, further stoking concerns about divided loyalties and old schisms in turbulent Ukraine.

“These people adequately fulfilled their duty to the country and have shown themselves to be real men,” said Alexey Chaly, the new head of the Coordinating Council of Sevastopol.

Chaly said the police unit had been “abandoned to the mercy of this rabid pack of Nazis,” a reference to the protesters in Kiev.

“At this difficult time, our city needs decent men who could form the basis of self-defense groups and, in the future, the municipal police. We are ready to provide for them if they join us in our struggle, and to offer safety to their families,” he said in a post on his Facebook page.

The special police unit, known as the “Berkut,” was reviled by the protesters in Kiev after attacks that included the use of live ammunition. Dismantling such units can be difficult business. A similar outfit, the Latvia OMON, was disbanded in 1991, and its members became the backbone of organized crime in St. Petersburg.

Re-published with permission.


Published in Top Stories
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