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Trudeau makes surprise visit to Kyiv as Ukraine military steps up counteroffensive against Russia

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau landed in Kyiv on Saturday in a surprise visit as Ukraine's military stepped up its counteroffensive to drive the Russian army out of occupied eastern and southern regions of the country.

Zelenskyy briefs Japan, Netherlands PMs on rescue operations before Canadian delegation arrives

Man and woman meet with soldiers

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday as the Ukrainian military stepped up its long-anticipated counteroffensive to drive the Russian army out of occupied eastern and southern regions of the battered country.

Trudeau arrived in the Ukrainian capital as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government struggled to assess the damage and mount further downstream evacuations following the destruction of the giant Nova Kakhovka dam. The prime minister is in Ukraine with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Both Kyiv and Moscow blame each other for the collapse, which U.S. intelligence agencies and a Norwegian research foundation — citing seismic data — said on Friday was caused by some kind of explosion.

Trudeau's trip to Ukraine was planned under a strict news blackout.

It's taken him away from Ottawa as the political crisis over alleged Chinese foreign interference in the last two federal elections took a dramatic turn with the abrupt resignation of special rapporteur and former governor general David Johnston.

It also came after a week of intense efforts to squelch raging wildfires in Quebec and elsewhere that have reduced air quality for tens of millions of people in Canada and the U.S.

In Kyiv, Trudeau started his visit by attending a sombre wreath-laying at the Wall of Remembrance, a unique, deeply personal collection of photos and inscriptions marking those who've fallen in the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Moments before Trudeau arrived for the ceremony, a military funeral procession passed by. A coffin and mourners dressed head to toe in black marched into St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in central Kyiv to the mournful sound of bugles.

It was a stark reminder that this is a country at war.

Man visits memorial

'We see your heroism': Zelenskyy to soldiers

Before the Canadian delegation's arrival, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy briefed the prime ministers of Japan and the Netherlands on the rescue operations in the south and what kind of humanitarian assistance is needed.

They also spoke about further defence co-operation, Zelenskyy said in his nighttime address to his people.

He made no direct reference to the counteroffensive, which many Western intelligence agencies and media have said is underway.

Man visits hospital

Zelenskyy addressed his comments to the soldiers.

"We see your heroism, and we are grateful to you for every minute of your life — a life that is truly the life of Ukraine," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears convinced the counteroffensive is underway. He made reference to it Friday in a video published on his Telegram channel.

"We can definitely state that this Ukrainian offensive has begun," he said.

Intense fighting could go in a 'few directions'

Oleksandr Musiienko, head of the Center for Military and Legal Studies in Kyiv, said he believes the intense fighting of the last week signals the "beginning" of the long-awaited drive.

WATCH | Fighting becomes more intense in east and south Ukraine:

Fighting across Ukraine ramps up as talk of counteroffensive grows

4 days ago

Duration 1:58

Fierce combat is escalating in the east and south as Ukrainian forces move into more offensive positions. Ukraine hasn’t confirmed if its expected counteroffensive against Russian forces has officially begun, but officials admit the country will need more Western military aid to win the war.

What the world is witnessing, he said, are probing attacks looking for weaknesses in the Russian lines. He insisted the decisive blows are yet to come.

"I suppose it could [go in a] few directions — two or three directions," said Musiienko, an adviser to the former defence minister.

The destruction of the hydroelectric dam and the resulting flooding along the Dnipro River gave the Russians a modicum of military relief in the southern region near Kherson, where the river has become wider and not as easily a passage for Ukrainian forces, he said.

Musiienko said it has allowed Moscow to move troops that would have been normally guarding the region and move them elsewhere.

"They did it just to move their forces. They just took them from the left bank of [the city of] Kherson and just moved the Zaporizhia direction and protected the defence lines there."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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