Mr. Chair, I want to thank this House for the opportunity to lead this important debate on the extension of Operation Unifier, a critical part of our assistance to support Ukraine sovereignty, security, and stability. I am confident that all hon. members will support Canada's ongoing efforts to support the people of Ukraine and to help them defend their territory.
Earlier this month, the Minister of National Defence and I were pleased to announce the extension of Unifier until March 2019. The extension means that Canada will continue to support the professional development of the Ukrainian armed forces, an institution that is essential for the sustainable stabilization and development of Ukraine.
Canada is deploying approximately 200 Canadian Armed Forces personnel to Ukraine until the end of March 2019. Canadian Armed Forces members will come from all parts of Canada, bringing with them their unique skills and capacities in support of Unifier training programs.
Last summer, together with the Prime Minister, I had the honour of visiting our troops and seeing them in action, in Yavoriv, working with their Ukrainian partners. I was proud and I was impressed. We are privileged to have them represent us in Ukraine. On behalf of this House, on behalf of the government, I would like to say to all of our troops in Ukraine, we thank them very much. Dyakuyu.
Many members in this House know that the people of Ukraine have very close ties with the people of Canada. Diversity is our strength. In fact, our countries have enjoyed a close relationship going back more than 125 years. The first two Ukrainian settlers, and members can imagine how brave they were, arrived in Montreal on board the steamship SS Oregon in 1891. This marked the beginning of many waves of Ukrainian immigration to Canada, waves that would help build some of the most vibrant and caring communities across our country.
Ukrainian immigrants played a particularly important role in settling the Canadian prairies, where I, and many members of this House, grew up. Our Ukrainian-Canadian community played a central role in creating what I considered to be one of Canada's greatest political ideas and accomplishments: multiculturalism. There are now over 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent.
However, Canada's support for Ukraine goes beyond the strong and long-standing human ties between our countries. We support Ukraine because of our values. We support Ukraine because we support democracy. We support Ukraine because we support the sanctity of borders. We support Ukraine because we support the international rule of law.
Today Canada stands alongside Ukraine in defending its borders and sovereignty against illegal acts of aggression. Canada has led its G7 partners in condemning Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Crimea. We continue to take action to help the people of Ukraine defend their country and to stabilize and rebuild their economy. Canada has imposed sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian individuals and entities and has announced more than $700 million in assistance to Ukraine and more than $240 million in development assistance.
As Canadians have heard from the Minister of National Defence and from me, the extension of Operation Unifier will support the professional development of the Ukrainian armed forces, who are essential in deterring aggression and creating a safe space for the sustainable social and economic development the people of Ukraine need and deserve.
Last summer I was honoured to sign, in Kiev, in the presence of our Prime Minister and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. I am delighted and grateful that it was unanimously supported by all members of this House.
These measures, taken with strong cross-party support and with strong support across our country, are working. The Ukrainian economy has overcome the shock of this ongoing conflict and has actually been growing for the past year. Foreign investment, including by such Canadian flagships as Fairfax Financial, is resuming.
Decentralization, supported by our local economic development programs, is putting resources into the hands of grassroots communities, resulting in modernized hospitals and social services. An honest and trusted new police force, with a significant female presence, is on the streets of the country's 32 biggest cities, thanks in part to the great work of committed Canadians, like Montreal's Natalia Shuster, who I was pleased to meet in Ukraine last summer.
Canada's support for Ukraine has only grown stronger in the face of unprecedented challenges to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity stemming from Russia's illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its ongoing support to the separatists in eastern Ukraine.
We were in opposition at the time, but I and my party were pleased to support the government of the day when Canada joined the international community in immediately condemning Russia's occupation of Crimea, and we supported United Nations General Assembly resolution 68-262, which affirmed the General Assembly's commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.
Canada has also imposed sanctions against key officials involved in the annexation. Additional sanctions related specifically to Crimea were subsequently introduced. Most recently, in November 2016, our government imposed sanctions against an additional 15 individuals, including six who were elected to the Russian State Duma from the illegally annexed territory of Crimea.
Let me be very clear: Canada does not and will not recognize Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea.
We have also been clear that we will continue to strongly condemn Russia's continued support for the separatist insurrection in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine. The sharp rise in violence in and around Avdiivka earlier this year reminds us that the civilian population in the conflict zone pays a heavy price. An estimated 20,000 people had to go without electricity, potable water, or heating when temperatures threatened to drop to -20 degrees Celsius. That is why it was possible for Ukrainians to come to Canada.
We will continue to pressure Russia, including through the current sanctions, to fully implement the commitments it made under the Minsk agreements and use its influence on the separatists to meet its obligations.
The ultimate goal of our support is to promote the security, stability, and prosperity of Ukraine.
We will continue to build on the solid foundation that we have established with Ukraine and we will continue to engage in a rich and mutually beneficial partnership based on common values and a commitment to regional and international security.
When I was Minister of International Trade, I had the honour of attending the signing of the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. Now, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I look forward to exploring opportunities to further strengthen our close and mutually beneficial relationship with Ukraine.
One of my favourite Ukrainian poets is Ivan Franko, and one of his great poems is called To the Big Moment. In that poem he writes, “Let every one of you be ready for the great moment”.
This really is Ukraine's great testing moment. I think the people of Ukraine are showing themselves to be ready and I am proud that the people of Canada are showing themselves ready to support the people of Ukraine.
In this House we often disagree. Indeed, one of the reasons we are here is to highlight for Canadians the differences between our parties. However, when it comes to the issue of Ukraine and the issue of the values we are standing for in supporting Ukraine, all of us are united. This is truly not a partisan issue, and I am glad to be here to speak up for Ukraine and for Canada's support for Ukraine.