President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday, the women celebrated in Ukraine who fight against Russia and condemned the sexual violence widely attributed to Moscow’s forces, calling the invasion “a war on women’s rights.”

Speaking to a joint session of parliament on the eve of International Women’s Day, von der Leyen stressed that women, who were once banned from joining Ukraine’s armed forces, were “breaking down the doors” and “shattering the glass ceiling right over the heads of their Russian invaders” to fight for their country.

“These women are an inspiration to us all,” she said, receiving one of several standing ovations from MPs and senators.

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The President of the European Commission pays tribute to Ukrainian women ahead of International Women’s Day

Von der Leyen recalled his visit to Bucha, Ukraine, the site of atrocities against civilians believed to have been carried out by Russian troops, shortly after its liberation last April and the stories of “rape and cold-blooded executions”.

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“The UN says Russia is using rape and sexual violence as part of its military strategy in Ukraine,” she said.

“This is not only a war against Ukraine. It is also a war against human rights and it is a war against women’s rights.”

The UN says it has verified the killing of at least 2,296 women and girls since the start of Russia’s invasion over a year ago, adding that the real number is “likely significantly higher.”

Almost 70 percent of Ukrainians displaced by the war who remain in the country are women, it added, putting them at higher risk of sexual violence, human trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence.

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EU chief praises Canada’s contribution to Ukraine’s war in parliamentary speech

Von der Leyen devoted most of her 30-minute speech to the situation in Ukraine, emphasizing Canadian and European cooperation and commitment to help the country fight its invaders “for as long as it takes.”

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“We will never accept that a military power with fantasies of empire rolled its tanks across an international border,” she said.

“We will never accept this threat to European security and to the very foundation of our international community. And I know Canada’s commitment is as unwavering as ours.”

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She also thanked Canada for its leadership in providing military training to Ukrainian fighters under Operation Unifier, which is based in Europe, and its continued support.

Von der Leyen, who is the first woman to be elected president of the European Commission, concluded her statement by calling for further action on gender equality.

She said Canada and the EU have shown the world the benefits of a gender-balanced government in decision-making, but more needs to be done.

“We have an obligation to set an example for society and the economy of what a world of fair chance looks like,” she said.

Earlier in the day at an event with von der Leyen in Kingston, Ont., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will extend the Operation Unifier mission to provide engineering training in Ukraine until at least October, and Canadian medical trainers will be sent to help Ukrainians forces with combat medical skills.

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Trudeau, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen promise to stand “shoulder to shoulder” for Ukraine

Trudeau announced that Ottawa will also spend $3 million to support the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance in Ukraine, on top of $32 million already committed to mine action. The European Union is spending 43 million euros on the same effort.

The EU has now designated Canada as a partner country for economic sanctions against Russia, and the two are working together to send Canadian energy transformers to support the Ukrainian power grid, seven of which will soon be delivered.

The two leaders also met with Canadian Armed Forces personnel at CFB Kingston who have been deployed to Poland to assist Ukrainian refugees.

“As long as it takes, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our European partners for Ukraine,” Trudeau said.

Von der Leyen is due to meet Governor General Mary Simon on Wednesday morning.

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— with files from the Canadian Press

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