Canada orders kids, families of Ukrainian diplomats to leave amid Russia tensions

Canadians urged to leave

Canada has ordered the children and family members of its embassy staff in Ukraine to leave the country as the possibility of a Russian invasion looms.

The decision comes after Britain said it would pull some of its diplomats out of its Ukraine embassy, and after the U.S. State Department decided to order the families of its Ukraine embassy personnel to leave.

"The safety and security of Canadians, our personnel and their families at our missions abroad is our top priority," Global Affairs said in a statement Tuesday morning.

"Due to the ongoing Russian military buildup and destabilizing activities in and around Ukraine, we have decided to temporarily withdraw Canadian embassy staff’s children under 18 years of age and family members accompanying them."

Russia has positioned about 100,000 troops across Ukraine's borders along with tanks and other heavy artillery, stoking fears across Europe of an invasion, something Russia has denied.

Tensions escalated on Monday as the U.S. placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert in Europe.

NATO also announced a series of what it called "enhanced deterrence and defence" deployments of ships, fighter jets and troops in an attempt to show heightened solidarity.

On Tuesday, Ukraine's leaders tried to project calm, saying that a Russian invasion was not imminent, but Global Affairs Canada said the time had come for the country to downsize the Canadian diplomatic footprint in Kyiv.

"Officials at Global Affairs Canada and at the Embassy of Canada to Ukraine in Kyiv will continue to closely monitor the situation," Global Affairs said Tuesday.

The decision follows a late Monday decision by Global Affairs to strengthen the language of its travel advisory to Canadians thinking of visiting Ukraine. The new advisory warns against non-essential travel to Ukraine, which has been in effect since last week.

The advisory now suggests Canadians who are in Ukraine consider leaving.

"If you are in Ukraine, you should evaluate if your presence is essential," says the new message, which Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly also posted to Twitter.

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that his government was "extremely concerned about the Russian aggression and the ongoing threat of further invasion into Ukraine."

"That is why we worked with our diplomats, our military in place and around the world to ensure that we're doing everything we can, whatever eventuality comes up. There are many contingency plans in place," Trudeau added.

The Russia-Ukraine standoff is high on the agenda as Trudeau and his cabinet enter the second day of a three-day virtual retreat that ends Wednesday.

Last week, Trudeau announced that Canada was giving Ukraine a $120-million loan aimed at bolstering the country's economy in the face of the Russian threat.

But the Ukraine government has also called on Canada to provide weapons to its military, impose further sanctions on Russia and extend Canada's military training mission of its forces beyond its expiry date at the end of March.

The Trudeau government also faces pressure from Ukrainians of Canadian descent to answer those calls for further assistance.

That is a request that has significant domestic political implications for the governing Liberals as well as the Conservative Opposition.

Canada's Ukrainian diaspora of 1.4 million people is an influential constituency in domestic political affairs, something that is recognized by the current Trudeau Liberal government and by previous Conservative governments under Stephen Harper.

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