At Kozak Ukrainian Eatery in New Westminster, B.C., a jar sits next to the till, displaying a Ukrainian flag. A few loose coins sit inside.
Behind the counter, as the smell of fresh-baked pastries and simmering borscht wafts from the kitchen, Yana Naida doesn’t ask for a donation or acknowledge the jar. She smiles, thanks customers for their purchase, and continues on with her work.
The 19-year-old university student fled the Ukrainian town of Ternopil, outside of Lviv, three months after Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. She came to Canada because she not only knows English — it’s her major — but also because she knows the money she makes at Kozak will go a long way back home.
“For two dollars you can pay for a soldier’s supper,” she told Global News in an interview.
“I’m just a lot more useful here.”
Naida says she’s noticed a drop in donations for Ukraine, both in that jar by the register and in her other efforts to fundraise for Ukrainian-based charities over recent months. But she doesn’t doubt that Canadians, and the West overall, still supports her country.
“People can only give so much, especially after they gave so much at the start,” she said. “But people will ask about it at the store, when they hear my accent, and I know they still care.”
‘Canadians are where they need to be’
A year into the war — and with no end in sight — Canada and its Western allies are underscoring the need to keep helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia, despite the mounting economic cost.
Ipsos polling from January suggests people around the world remain supportive, although some signs of fatigue are showing. About two-thirds of those surveyed across 28 countries, including Canada, said they still follow news on the invasion closely, support taking in Ukrainian refugees and agree doing nothing in Ukraine will encourage Russia to invade elsewhere.
The support for refugees, however, has dipped seven points since March and April 2022, while the belief Russia will be encouraged if Ukraine is ignored is down five points.
But the poll also suggests Canadians are more willing to support Ukraine than most other countries surveyed. Canada was one of only three countries where a majority did not say their government can no longer afford to financially support Ukraine “given the current economic crisis” back home.
Those sentiments appear to be growing in countries like France, Germany, Poland, and Japan, according to the poll.
Canadians surveyed were also more supportive of economic sanctions against Russia, despite the impact on gas and food prices, and even deploying NATO forces to nations surrounding Ukraine.
The steadfast support is also noticeable in the halls of Parliament. Unlike in the United States, where a sizeable group of Republicans are openly questioning sending more aid to Ukraine, politicians of all parties in Canada have largely remained supportive.
“Canadians are where they need to be on supporting Ukraine … which undergirds the political support,” said Orest Zakydalsky, a senior policy adviser for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC).
Over the past year, the UCC, which represents the largest Ukrainian diaspora outside of Russia — nearly 1.4 million Canadians identify as Ukrainian — has lobbied the Canadian government to do all it can to help the war effort. That has included military, financial and humanitarian support as well as fast-tracking the entry of Ukrainians fleeing the war to seek temporary residency in Canada.
To date, Canada has provided over $5 billion to Ukraine, including more than $1 billion in military equipment and support.
The federal government has also paid nearly $290 million in direct financial assistance to Ukrainians arriving in Canada, and established a $500-million Ukrainian Sovereignty Bond to allow Canadians to essentially invest in Ukraine’s survival.
“In terms of economic support, in some ways, Canada has been a leader,” Zakydalsky said.
But he adds Canada still needs to do more, including further economic sanctions on Russia and the figures who support the war and peddle disinformation.
He also wants a firm commitment from the government to extend the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, which fast-tracks the entry process for Ukrainians and their families fleeing the war for Canada, beyond the current March 31 deadline.
“It’s creating some concern both in our community and amongst Ukrainians in Europe and Ukraine that the program may end,” he said.
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Since January 2022, 167,585 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada, including CUAET applicants and returning Canadian permanent residents. Over half a million applications through the CUAET program have been approved.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a statement to Global News it continues to “closely monitor the ongoing needs of Ukrainians,” but would not say if the CUAET program will be extended. The agency added some of the approved applicants who have not arrived in Canada have chosen to stay closer to home instead.
“We’re working very hard … at making sure people have some normalcy in their life,” Zakydalsky said, pointing to local efforts to help newly-arrived Ukrainians navigate filing their taxes, learning English and getting driver’s licenses. “This (uncertainty over CUAET) makes that work difficult.”
What happens to military support?
Zakydalsky is also pushing Ottawa to follow with the rest of NATO and continue to increase its military aid to Ukraine, including more advanced weapons and equipment.
But experts say that may prove to be difficult in the war’s second year.
“I think what this war has exposed is the limits of Canada’s military and Canada’s overall power,” said Andrew Rasiulis, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a former official in the Department of National Defence.
After weeks of requests by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the West to send Leopard 2 battle tanks, Canada last month donated four out of the 112 currently owned by the Canadian Armed Forces, which includes 82 designed for combat.
Defence Minister Anita Anand left the door open to sending even more tanks in the future, though she also emphasized the need to ensure the Canadian Army has enough of the heavy weapons to train and defend the country and its NATO allies.
Rasiulis suspects that means Canada still needs to hold onto its remaining tanks to meet its commitment to upgrade the 2,000-soldier battlegroup it leads in Latvia to a brigade, which will mean boosting troops and equipment.
Canada’s military, along with other Western nations, is also facing a recruitment crisis that Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre has told Global News makes him worried about the “collective ability to defend democracy at large.”
“I am concerned, but I’m concerned for the wider West as well,” he said last month in an interview with The West Block.
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While it is supposed to be adding about 5,000 troops to regular and reserve forces to meet a growing list of demands, the military is instead short more than 10,000 trained members — meaning about one in 10 positions are currently vacant.
In addition to a lack of recruits, the Canadian military continues to face longstanding challenges in procuring new equipment, maintaining aging gear, and tracking down replacement parts.
One area where the military does not appear to be having recruitment issues is in its cybersecurity force, which has been tasked with combating Russian cyberattacks and other forms of online warfare since before the invasion began.
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The head of that cyber force, Rear Adm. Lou Carosielli, told a parliamentary committee this month that his team has met recruitment targets over the past three years. That has allowed the Canadian Armed Forces to establish a cyber task force to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian hackers, and another as a permanent part of the Latvia brigade.
“The threat is not limited to Ukraine alone,” Carosielli said, noting the Latvia cyber force helps that country and other European allies in the cybersecurity sphere.
More recently, Canada’s military contributions to Ukraine have been largely focused on contracting and purchasing equipment from elsewhere rather than donating from its own stocks. This has included the procurement of over 200 armoured vehicles from Mississauga-based Roshel and the purchase of an American-made air defence system at a cost of $406 million.
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Rasiulis says that will likely be the strategy going forward, while putting more weight behind further financial and humanitarian aid and bolstering Western support for other initiatives like prosecuting Russian war crimes.
“That’s where Canada, politically-speaking, would be best placed and I think is where they are now moving,” he said.
“Canada is still a peacetime economy. And that means … money is always a limitation. But maintaining that moral high ground is important and also cost-effective.”
Back in New Westminster, Naida says she will continue to send a sizeable portion of her wages to a few select charities in Ukraine focused on military aid, and others that provide direct assistance like meals, clothing and essential items to refugees who fled the war-torn east.
Any additional help she receives from Canadians — whether it be the government or the next customer who walks into Kozak — will be welcome, she adds.
“People need to live their own lives. I get it. I cannot ask for more,” she said. “We are doing everything we can.”
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