Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly made a surprise visit to Ukraine Friday as the two-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion approaches where she announced a new initiative to address the forced deportation of children by the Russian military.
Estimates of the number of children taken by Russia since its full-scale invasion began in 2022 range in the thousands.
"Children cannot be used as pawns in war. In their faces, we see our humanity and Canada is proud to lead the effort alongside Ukraine to ensure their return home to Ukraine," Joly said in a media statement announcing her trip.
Speaking to reporters in Ukraine, Joly said Canada will make efforts to develop a consular case for each missing child, using its diplomatic network around the world to raise awareness about their plight and the effort to return them to Ukraine.
"We will work with countries that have direct relations with Russia to make sure that these children come back home," Joly said. "Every child that is being brought back to its family is a victory in itself."
As part of the initiative, Canada has offered "technical expertise and resources" to help repatriate Ukrainian children, the news release said.
Last March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country's children's commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for the unlawful deportation and transfer of children.
The Canadian government recently announced that it's contributing another $35 million worth of military equipment to Ukraine.
Feb. 24 will mark two years since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
'Canada is one of our closest friends'
During the trip, Joly is also planning to meet with Ukrainians affected by the war, including children, as well as organizations that support victims of sexual and gender-based violence and war-related trauma.
Canada and its allies have pledged to support Ukraine for "as long as it takes," including support to contain the risk of Russian aggression after the eventual end to the conflict.
Yet public support for Ukraine has waned in places like the U.S. amid persistent inflation and war in the Middle East.
Canada still hasn't signed a formal bilateral security commitment for Ukraine, with negotiations persisting for months over how much Ottawa will commit to help secure the country.
Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba praised Ottawa's support, saying through an interpreter that "Canada is one of our closest friends," in part because it raises issues at G7 meetings.
He said negotiations for a security commitment are going well, and are not clouded by diplomatic niceties.
"We can discuss things, in essence, quite sincerely and openly," he said.