This week the committee met with a wide variety of Ukrainian specialists on the issue of Ukraine’s eroding democratic and political institutions. Witnesses included academics, members of Ukrainian Parliament, Ukrainian NGO leaders and leaders of Ukrainian diaspora organizations in Canada. The primary concerns of the witnesses were issues with the current government of Viktor Yanukovych, the leader overthrown in the Orange revolution in 2006, who regained power in 2010. Mr. Yanukovych has done a great deal to erode the democracy of Ukraine by taking a large number of political prisoners, including the previous president of the country, Yulia Tymoshenko. This has caused problems for Ukraine internationally and has resulted in the country being downgraded from “Free” to “Partially Free” by Freedom Watch. The result has been that the European Union has become more hesitant to engage in trade and political agreements with the Ukraine due to the political situation.
There were also suggestions regarding how Canada could help the situation. CIDA is currently providing funds of civil society groups in Ukraine as well as Ukrainian diaspora groups and further involvement was encouraged by the witnesses. The witnesses agreed that these initiatives were important in keeping Ukraine engaged with the international community, which is preferable to isolation and closer ties with Russia. Another way that was suggested was for Canada to send a large number of election observers for the upcoming election, as has been done in the past. In general the witnesses were very positive about the efforts that Canada has made to date and expressed their wishes that such initiatives continue.