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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Steve Evans

Give us Russian land in Canberra: Ukraine ambassador

Ambassador of Ukraine Vasyl Myroshnychenko taking a photo before the recent address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's to ANU students. Picture: James Croucher

The ambassador of Ukraine has asked the federal government if it can have the plot of land previously allocated to Russia so Ukraine can build an embassy there.

"I believe there shouldn't be a problem," His Excellency Vasyl Myroshnychenko told The Canberra Times.

He made his broad appeal for space for a Ukrainian embassy known to the Department of Foreign Affairs on his arrival in March, but he said the situation had now moved on because of the decision to take the plot in Yarralumla back from Russia.

And back in December, DFAT sent a survey to embassies asking about needs for land. According to the ambassador, Ukraine said then that it did want a purpose-built embassy and a residency for the ambassador. At the moment, Ukraine's diplomats are operating out of a rented office block in Civic.

"I haven't yet received a green light," Mr Myroshnychenko said, but he remained optimistic of an allocation.

"If it's confirmed, I will follow up with foreign minister Penny Wong to request that plot."

The opposition has called for the plot of land to be given to Ukraine.

Foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said on the radio that Australia needed to continue to support Ukraine in both practical and symbolic ways.

"It would send a very fitting message," he said. "Particularly right now we should be ensuring we support Ukraine in every way possible."

Russia was told earlier in August that its long-standing lease for the plot near Parliament House would be taken from it.

The National Capital Authority decided that too little construction work had been done to justify keeping the site undeveloped.

The authority's chief executive Sally Barnes said it had been many years since construction activity at the new site, where large parts remain unfinished.

"The block is a premium site in central Canberra, close to Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian Parliament House," she said in a statement.

"Ongoing unfinished works detract from the overall aesthetic, importance and dignity of the area reserved for diplomatic missions and foreign representation in the national capital."

Russia had been granted the lease for the site in 2008, and given approval for the construction in 2011.

As part of the lease, Russia had agreed to finish the new embassy within three years.

"While initial works have commenced, the block in question has been sitting as a building site with unfinished construction for many years now," Ms Barnes said.

The Russian embassy voiced its deep displeasure over the "unprecedented and highly unwelcome" decision to block the building of its new embassy in Yarralumla.

The National Capital Authority ordered it to clear the site within 20 days. That period ends at the end of the month.

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