Australia looking for new ambassador to Ukraine but no plans to reopen embassy

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky last month urged Canberra to reopen its embassy in Kyiv at a televised live news conference after this masthead revealed a lengthy workplace safety stand-off between Edwards and senior bureaucrats in DFAT had kept the nation’s embassy in Kyiv shut.


The country’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, also revealed that Australia was missing out on direct access to sensitive briefings and information by not having a diplomat on the ground in Kyiv.

In a statement, DFAT said it “regularly advertises expected overseas vacancies to internal staff, including for Ambassadorial and other senior level appointments”.

It confirmed that Australia’s Ukraine mission was operating out of an entirely separate building to that of the embassy staff in Poland because of “space constraints”.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said the time was “well overdue” to reopen the embassy in Kyiv considering the overwhelming majority of foreign missions had reopened last year.

He said it would send a “very poor message” for the new ambassador to be appointed but unable to take up their post in Kyiv.

“We need an Australian ambassador working as safely as possible in Kyiv, able to secure information and undertake briefings in person to best inform our support for Ukraine against Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion,” Birmingham said.

“We have managed difficult situations over the years, including with embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq that delivered the practical benefits of representation, even in environments of great complexity.

“The Albanese Labor government should be more than capable of finding a way, whether it is in partnership with the UK, Canada or others, to ensure Australia has safe but effective representation.“

Australia’s former ambassador to Britain, George Brandis, said the decision not to return to Kyiv reflects a “culture of risk aversion which is such a feature of DFAT”.

“Australian embassies have been staffed in countries during wartime very commonly – for example in Afghanistan the embassy in Kabul was actually attacked by the Taliban,” he said.

“The fact that an embassy may be located in a country which is engaged in a war is no reason why the Australian embassy should not be staffed. A judgement has to be made about the immediacy of the threat.”


Brandis, who also served as attorney-general in the former Coalition government, said the fact that many journalists have gone to Ukraine, including from Australian media organisations, showed that diplomats could be sent back.

“If it’s good enough for journalists to accept going into a country which is at war … in a city which is not on the frontline where there have been negligible casualties or injuries, why isn’t it good enough for diplomats who are meant to represent Australia’s interests?

“And it’s frankly embarrassing, in view of what President Zelensky has said asking for Australia’s return, that we haven’t done so when our allies and partners have.”

Brandis said he couldn’t comment on whether Australia’s workplace health and safety laws were more stringent than other countries, but DFAT’s claim “tells you what is on their mind”.

He said that DFAT staff were asked to remain in countries such as Britain in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite thousands of people dying from the virus every day, suggesting the risk of death was much higher in that case.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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