U of T hosts Prime Minister Trudeau, Ukrainian president for global conference

World leaders, diplomats and other officials gathered at the University of Toronto in July as the university hosted the ministerial meeting at an international summit on the future of Ukraine.

A succession of delegations arrived at Simcoe Hall on the downtown Toronto campus, representing over 30 countries at the U of T-hosted portion of the three-day Ukraine Reform Conference. It was the third annual meeting to set the agenda for reform in Ukraine after conferences in London and Copenhagen. 

U of T President Meric Gertler greeted the dignitaries, which included recently elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is of Ukrainian descent and delivered part of her opening remarks in Convocation Hall in Ukrainian.

President Gertler said it was an honour for U of T to host the high-profile meeting.

“It is a great privilege to welcome world leaders and to facilitate their discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing not only Ukraine, but the whole world,” he said.

“The University of Toronto strives to foster an international outlook among all members of our community, and to serve as a convenor of global conversations on the most important issues of our time. U of T, therefore, is an ideal setting for this event, which is devoted to democratic ideals and universal concerns.”

Freeland, for her part, lauded U of T for hosting global summits like the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting last year and this year’s Ukraine Reform Conference. 

“Universities occupy an essential space in our society by promoting research, innovation and debate,” she said. “The University of Toronto is a premier international institution of higher learning that connects Canada to the world – and vice versa.

“I am continuously struck by the energy and ambition of students at U of T. They rightly see themselves as global citizens and have bold ideas for how Canada can play a constructive role in the world today.”

Aurel Braun, a professor of international relations and political science at U of T Mississauga, who specializes in the challenges of transformation of socialist systems in the former Soviet bloc, says one of Ukraine’s top priorities going forward will be to address corruption.

“Ukraine is a potentially wealthy country,” he said. “It has tremendous human talent, including scientific talent. It has vast natural resources – and yet it is desperately poor, and corruption has been one of the key elements.”

He added that the location of the conference is fitting both because Canada is home to 1.3 million Ukrainians and because U of T has a “glorious tradition” in Slavic studies.

“We were among the first universities to develop a major centre for Russian and east European studies,” he said.

By Geoffrey Vendeville