Canadians in Ukraine stay put, despite evacuation orders: ‘It’s the right thing to do’

Jack Linton arrived in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv about a month ago, just as Global Affairs Canada began advising Canadians not to travel to the country as the threat of war with Russia mounted.

But Linton, of Oakville, Ont., had been planning a permanent move to Ukraine for months and didn’t consider the warnings severe enough to postpone his trip.

Even now, two days after the Russian President Vladimir Poutine recognized the independence of two breakaway regions of Ukraine and deployed forces there, Linton said the situation on the ground in Kyiv was “calm” and he was determined to stay put.

“I want to stay now because I had the option to leave weeks ago, right? And I just thought it was the right thing to do to stay,” Linton says.

Linton shares the same sentiment as many Canadians in Ukraine, who decided to stay in the country amid Russian troop deployments in the East, despite several warnings from Global Affairs Canada to leave the country as long as commercial flights remain available.

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Tensions escalate between Ukraine and Russia as sanctions are imposed

A senior government official says Global News earlier this month that they were concerned about the number of Canadians who had not yet left, urging them to leave.

In a statement released Wednesday, Global Affairs Canada said about 800 Canadians are registered with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service in Ukraine.

However, as signing up for the service is voluntary, a spokesperson said that number “is not a complete picture of the number of Canadians in Ukraine.”

At a press conference on Tuesday at announce new sanctions on Russia, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians in the country that their “safety and security is a top priority.”

This was followed by a strong message from Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly: “Let me also be clear to Canadians who are in Ukraine, please leave the country.

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Situation in Ukraine ‘calm’, Canadians say

Putin’s move on Monday follows days of heightened tensions in the east of the country, where an eight-year conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

Global Affairs Canada warned against non-essential travel to Ukraine since mid-January as threats of a full-scale Russian invasion loomed.

Global News spoke to nearly a dozen Canadians currently in Ukraine, all but one of whom have decided to stay put for the time being. Some referred to the difficulty of uprooting lives and families, while others spoke of the calm atmosphere in the country and said it seemed unlikely that a full-scale war would break out. However, most said they had a contingency plan and would leave if fighting became widespread.

Linton, who is half-Ukrainian and traveled to the country to “reclaim my inheritance”, says that despite the escalation in international tensions, the people of Kyiv remain “calm, but ready”.

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“A lot of people here walk around with smiles on their faces,” Linton says.

“If you’re walking down the street, you have no idea anything is really going on because no one is complaining. No one feels like anything bad is going to happen.

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Ukraine warns no country can ‘miss this crisis’ if Russia invades

Linton says that while many people in Kyiv he has spoken to have contingency plans in place, should the situation worsen, he believes he will stay no matter what. He speaks Russian and plans to enroll in university in Ukraine to study science.

He says many Ukrainians he knows say they are ready to stay and fight when the time comes. When asked if he would do the same, he replied, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

He acknowledges that his parents asked him to come home, but says he reassured them that he is safe.

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“The fear is not there, the fear is everywhere else,” he says.

Canadian Embassy, ​​expats move to Lviv

Last week, Canada has closed its embassy in Kyiv and transferred its diplomatic staff to a temporary office in Lviv, in the west of the country, “due to the rapidly deteriorating security situation”.

Mike O’Leary, from Edmonton, has lived in Lviv for six years.

After initially moving to work as a medical researcher, O’Leary then started his own business. He and his family remain in Lviv, where O’Leary says most expats he has spoken to currently feel “safe”, due to its location. Lviv is less than 100 kilometers from the Polish border.

Mike O’Leary, a Canadian in Ukraine, says the situation on the ground is calm.

Submitted: Mike O’Leary

However, he says his “concerns have increased” since Monday night when Russian troops entered the country, and he is prepared to evacuate if the situation worsens.

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“This morning when I woke up, I realized that the US Embassy had left Lviv. When the United States is here, everyone feels a little safer,” he says.

“I am in contact with a lot of expatriates. It’s a mixed bag, some have their “go” bags and some aren’t worried at all.

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O’Leary says he “never considered leaving” in January, when Global Affairs Canada warned Canadians in the country to leave.

“For me and my family…we felt like it was an overreaction. We were inspired by our Ukrainian friends.

“It gives us a lot of comfort to know that everyone around us is not panicking.”

O’Leary says if fighting breaks out in breakaway areas of Ukraine, he will evacuate to Poland and wait there for a few months.

However, he says he has not received direct emails from Global Affairs Canada for nearly a week and believes their recent communication on the situation is lacking.

Global Affairs said the government is “monitoring the situation closely” and will continue to provide updates through travel advisories, the Registration of Canadians Abroad service and on social networks “to reach as many Canadians as possible”.

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The spokesperson said requests for consular assistance “remain low” and reiterated the government’s position that “Canadians currently in Ukraine should leave while commercial means are available.”

“It’s not like people are jumping up and panicking”

Michael Lahoda, of Brantford, Ont., moved from Kyiv to Lviv in February as the situation became “tense”.

About 10 days ago, his company, Wix, moved employees and their families to Antalya, Turkey, to “decompress and relax”, he says, and had the option of returning to Ukraine or staying in abroad after February 28.

Lahoda says he’s ’50/50′ on what he’s going to do, but tells Lviv, ‘no one is openly worried’ about the situation.

“It’s been going on for eight years, so…nothing has changed,” he said.

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“I always get notifications (on Telegram) throughout the day about the next party, about the next art exhibitions, about who will play the next concert. Everything is pretty much the same old, same old.

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He admits he feels disturbed by the threat of war, but says he will decide whether to evacuate when the time comes.

“It’s more of a day-to-day, hour-by-hour sort of thing about the decisions you have to make. Because again, it’s not like people are jumping and freaking out right now. And that’s kind of the important thing, to keep a cool head in this situation.

“We have a good life here”

Christopher Glover, from Ottawa, has lived in Kyiv for 12 years. He and his wife and their two children recently moved to Lviv, to an AirBnb, due to the worsening situation.

Glover says that while the general feeling is that all-out war will not break out, he felt it was “irresponsible when you have two young children to play on a hunch so much.”

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He says he has not evacuated the country yet as it is now his home.

“We own a house, we have savings here. When we were packing up to leave for Lviv, I really hoped we would come back,” says Glover.

“We have a good life here and we don’t want to give it up.”

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Glover says he was reassured by news from inside Ukraine, from the military, that the situation is not as dire as it appears in international media.

However, he says a regime change would be a “deal breaker”. Currently, one of his favorite things about the country is that it’s “a hospitable country and they really like foreigners.”

Darren Snow, from Vancouver, moved to Kyiv eight years ago to work in IT. He says he didn’t leave because there are two children he shares with his Ukrainian ex-wife.

He says people are generally calm in the capital, but also “everyone is ready to fight”.

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