Joly makes low-key visit to Ukraine, offers funds to combat wartime sexual violence

Canada's foreign affairs minister wrapped up a semi-stealth visit to Ukraine early Thursday by announcing another $21 million in assistance — most of it intended to respond to cases of war-related sexual violence.

Funding package includes new money to eliminate landmines

Canada's foreign affairs minister wrapped up a semi-stealth visit to Ukraine early Thursday by announcing another $21 million in assistance — most of it intended to respond to cases of war-related sexual violence.

Melanie Joly's visit included a meeting with both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife Olena Zelenska. It was supposed to be conducted under a news blackout but the president's office revealed her presence in a statement and photograph, which were picked up by local and international media.

The minister's office still insisted that the two-day trip — which saw Joly visit a de-mining training centre and some bombed-out buildings in Kyiv — remain under the radar for undefined security reasons.

Speaking before her departure, Joly said her goal was to deliver a message of reassurance on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the full Russian invasion.

"Canada has been a steadfast supporter [of Ukraine]," she said. "We're all in and Canadians know this is the right thing to do. And we'll be there until the victory and even afterwards."

Nearly $14 million from this latest funding package will go toward efforts to counter sexual violence by, among other things, improving the capacity of Ukrainian police to respond to such crimes.

More Canadian money is being earmarked for de-mining efforts; $7.5 million is going to a company called Tetra Tech to help fund equipment and training.

The de-mining training centre Joly toured on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital is operated by the HALO Trust, a non-governmental organization.

It previously received $2 million in funding from the Canadian government to train volunteers from several local communities to safely clear mines using a painstaking metre-by-metre system.

Joly spoke with several volunteers during her tour. She said she wanted to understand what motivated them as individuals "to do such dangerous work."

An estimated 30 per cent of Ukraine's landmass has been contaminated by landmines or unexploded munitions.

Canada's latest contribution is in addition to the $15 million it announced in December for equipment needed by Ukraine to clear landmines.

Jasmine Dann, a Canadian and operations officer with the HALO Trust, said her organization is "trying to make life safe for people so they can return to their homes, return back to their livelihood so they can live safely again."

It is a "painstaking effort where you're literally clearing metre by metre," said Dann, who is in charge of all of the trust's training in Ukraine.

Those doing the work of clearing mines are finding all sorts of munitions on the ground, including booby-trapped grenades, anti-tank mines and butterfly mines.

Soon after it launched its full invasion of Ukraine, Russia was accused of dropping thousands of miniature PFM-1 'butterfly' mines, also known as pedal mines. Since then, there have been reports of the anti-personnel explosives raining down on a built-up area of Russian-occupied Donetsk last July.

The U.K. defence ministry again blamed Russia. However, Ukraine — which signed the Mine Ban Treaty of 2006 — still has stockpiles of millions of butterfly mines left over from its time in the Soviet Union.

Russia is not party to the treaty but is still subject to humanitarian law, which outlaws deliberate attacks on civilian populations in the absence of any military objective.

"Cluster munitions are definitely something we have come across in our work," said Dann. "We come along after so we have no way of verifying how they were laid."

CBC News has been on the ground covering Russia's invasion of Ukraine from the start. What do you want to know about their experience there? Send an email to Our reporters will be taking your questions as the one-year anniversary approaches.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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