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Canada sanctions Putin, but Ukraine calls for no-fly zone against Russian bombardment

OTTAWA — As the Trudeau government trumpeted new sanctions against Russia's Vladimir Putin, desperate pleas from Ukrainian lawmakers for a no-fly zone to protect their civilians from Russian bombs went unanswered Friday by Canada and its NATO allies.
A Ukrainian Army soldier inspects fragments of a downed aircraft in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. It was unclear what aircraft crashed and what brought it down amid the Russian invasion in Ukraine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Vadim Zamirovsky

OTTAWA — As the Trudeau government trumpeted new sanctions against Russia's Vladimir Putin, desperate pleas from Ukrainian lawmakers for a no-fly zone to protect their civilians from Russian bombs went unanswered Friday by Canada and its NATO allies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday Canada would sanction Putin, along with his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and other top Kremlin figures, holding them responsible for the "brutal, needless attack" on Ukraine.

Trudeau also said Canada would support the removal of Russia from SWIFT, the digital payment and messaging network that connects thousands of banks worldwide, which he said would make it even harder for Putin to "finance his brutalities."

The White House also moved ahead with targeting Putin, Lavrov and members of the Russian national security team with sanctions Friday following conversations between President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said cutting Russia off from SWIFT remains on the table.

But the SWIFT option is fraught with difficulty because, as Canadian Sen. Ratna Omidvar pointed out, the "self-interest" of some European countries is preventing any co-ordinated action because some are too economically dependent on Russia, including for energy, to bring that economic hammer down on Putin.

The incremental pressure by Canada, the United States and its European allies came in the face of a desperate and dramatic plea by Ukrainian lawmakers to come to their country's aid as their army and civilian defence forces were attempting to stave off the second day of the massive land, air and sea invasion by Russia.

Russian forces are advancing on the capital of Kyiv, after invading the country on Thursday in a three-pronged attack that included ground forces, aerial bombardment and a maritime assault from the Sea of Azov in the fiercest fighting the European continent has witnessed since the Second World War.

Ukrainian lawmakers exhorted Canada and its allies on Friday to impose a no-fly zone against Russian airstrikes and be prepared to fight on the ground to defend their common freedom. The MPs made the appeal over Zoom — some from their homes, at least one from a bunker and one from a car parked on a darkened Kyiv street. 

Canada has about 3,400 troops on standby ready to deploy if needed, in addition to 460 additional troops pledged to NATO operations in Europe earlier this week. But Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko said that was simply not enough for her country to stand up to the third-largest military in the world, the largest in Europe and a nuclear power.

"It should not be just Canadian troops. It should be joint forces of several NATO member states who are also allies of Ukraine," said Vasylenko, 34.

"We need assistance to be able to wake up on Monday morning in an independent and free Ukraine. We have the power to withstand the Blitzkrieg attacks. But if it grows wider, and if their special units get to land, if they increase the airstrikes, then we're in trouble."

Speaking from her darkened car through a pair of white earbuds, MP Yulia Klymenko added: "This is dramatic change of the geopolitical landscape. Because now, if we will lose, the democratic world will lose, basically."

Klymenko, the 45-year-old chair of the Ukraine parliament's transport and infrastructure committee, explained that she was still on the street because, "I'm just coming back from the territorial defence. I brought them weapons and food. So, I just stopped in the car in the middle of the street. So, if (an) airstrike will happen, I will not able to shelter."

Klymenko said Russian planes bombed an orphanage building but 50 children survived because they were able to move.

Another lawmaker, Maria Ionova, 43, who at one point was balancing a young child on her lap, said a no-fly zone was needed to prevent Russian airstrikes that she said were targeting hospitals and a blood transfusion centre.

Ionova said while many older Ukrainians and children would have to flee the country, many more would be staying behind to fight along side the "heroes" of Ukraine.

"We destroyed a lot of tanks and armed vehicles and aircraft of the Russian Federation," said MP Yegor Chernev, a member of the Ukraine parliament's digital transformation committee. "Russia lost a lot of their soldiers. We are fighting, and we will continue to fight for our country, for our territory, for our nation."

Ionova, a leading member of her parliament's foreign policy committee, said international humanitarian organizations were needed in Ukraine as more people are forced to flee their homes.

Canada announced it will also match up to $10 million of donations to the Canadian Red Cross to aid relief efforts in Ukraine, which is seeing the most intense ground fighting in Europe since the Second World War after Russian strikes against Kyiv and other cities began Thursday.

The head of Save the Children Canada also urged Canadians to donate funds as part a US$19-million global appeal to help the humanitarian efforts on the ground as the fighting continued across Ukraine.

Danny Glenwright, the organization's president, said at least three children have been killed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is calling on both sides to cease their fighting.

"We can certainly be supporting people in Ukraine right now. We should not look away from what we're seeing," Glenwright said in an interview.

"We know that any war is a war against children."

Glenwright said his organization has verified the deaths of two children in shelling in eastern Ukraine, while a 17-year-old boy was killed in an attack on a village in the country's southern region. But he added the death toll of children is likely higher.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said its workers have verified 25 civilian deaths and 102 people injured from mostly shelling and airstrikes.

Save the Children also said two teachers were reported killed when a missile struck a school in eastern Ukraine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2022.

— With files from James McCarten in Washington, D.C.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press