Arriving in Kyiv last month, Canada’s freshly appointed ambassador to Ukraine, Natalka Cmoc, was instantly overwhelmed with the sense of familiar unease. The sight of locals bearing the visceral scars of war – missing limbs – brought her back to the 1990s. It was a time when Ukraine, newly independent, grappled with the return of legions of soldiers wounded in the Soviet Union’s Afghan war.
“Ukraine is very close to my heart, and I long for its success,” Cmoc shared during an interview conducted at Canada’s embassy in Kyiv. Her journey to the city, marked on August 15, signaled the onset of a one-year term. This isn’t Cmoc’s first sojourn to Ukraine; she has found herself living in the country at different periods since its independence in 1991.
In a matter of two weeks, she has become attuned to the city’s sombre symphony of air-raid sirens. As she warned in a video conference call, 4 or 5 in the morning is when she might find herself instinctively falling into defensive postures.
Cmoc’s mission contains dual objectives. For the immediate, she is to contribute to Ukraine’s defence, supporting its security needs in the face of Russian aggression. This part of her duty, more often than not, involves strategic rendezvous with her G7 counterparts in Kyiv.
The long-term focus revolves around aiding Ukraine’s ascension into the European Union and the NATO military alliance. Such a goal can only be achieved by backing reforms and reconstruction, in addition to humanitarian aid initiatives.
Cmoc is primarily responsible for strategically directing these initiatives across diverse fronts while facilitating consistent communication between Ottawa and Kyiv.
Met with the backing and confidence of Western allies, Ukraine’s counteroffensive progress has been praiseworthy. According to Cmoc, the Ukrainian strategy replicates a NATO military manoeuvre designed to restrict life loss. Contrasting Russia’s merciless approach to warfare, she remarked, “They retreat when they must.”
Canada, however, is not limiting its Ukrainian support to military assistance. The vision is to lend hands in erecting a greener, democratic Ukraine.
August signals the month when Canada usually rotates its diplomatic personnel. It’s Cmoc’s hope that by October, a robust team of 22 diplomats will swiftly acclimatize to their duties. These range from assessing mine removal projects to financing programs that empower women to step into societal roles vacated by men who’ve headed to the battlefield.
These diplomats, Cmoc disclosed, will also aid Canada’s nuclear safety experts’ continual efforts to prevent warfare from escalating into an ecological and nuclear catastrophe.
Interestingly, Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction is already palpable in the Kherson region. The region experienced a flood in June due to a destroyed dam offering Canada and countries alike, an opportunity to aid locals in recovering farm equipment, secure safe water, and prepare efficient energy sources ahead of winter.
Plans and discussions are underway on facilitating Ukraine’s transformation into a private sector capital destination post-war. “We’re collaborating with them to establish a transparent investment environment,” Cmoc noted, stressing this is a priority at every governmental level.
Cmoc’s Ukrainian experience traces back to her undergraduate archeology studies where she periodically rotated between fieldwork and teaching locals how to perform excavations and exploit forensic-anthropology equipment.
Before her appointment as ambassador, Cmoc spent a decade in various federal departments in Ottawa and served as a technical expert in Canada’s former aid department, focusing on human rights and election monitoring missions.
Building from her extensive governmental experience, a crucial part of her ambassadorial role draws from her time in Canada’s peace and stabilization operations program. This program deploys police officers and civilian experts to post-conflict societies, helping localities prevent a recurrence of war.
Despite the demands of her “hardship posting” that has her distanced from family, Cmoc remains impressed by Ukrainians’ unity during these testing times. Yet, the signs of war remain ubiquitous – a haunting reminder that history often repeats itself.
For Cmoc, it’s a privilege to serve in Ukraine, a land she shares a linguistic bond with and one that holds her ancestral roots. Despite occasional points of disagreement, such as Ukraine’s request for a no-fly zone, the mutual respect between the nations remains untouched.
With a broader vision of battling corruption in Ukraine, Canada aims to expand its role, providing training for judges and forensic auditors. “They recognize this is a vital reform; they acknowledge that this is one of the requirements for EU accession,” said Cmoc.
“We challenge Ukraine; we support Ukraine.”