Throng Welcomes Ukraine President In Winnipeg

WINNIPEG, Canada -- Throngs of spectators filled the grounds of the Manitoba legislature Tuesday to catch a glimpse of Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko on his first stop of a daylong visit to Winnipeg.

University student Ira Vyshneskya (R) has her photo taken with Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko as he arrives at the University of Winnipeg to receive his Honorary Doctor of Laws degree May 28.

Hundreds of giddy fans and schoolchildren gathered around the statue of revered Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, many waving Ukrainian flags.

One woman carried a huge sign reading, "Welcome to Canada, Dear President."

Other supporters filled the legislature steps, craning their necks to see the arriving motorcade.

"I just felt the need to see him and hear him," said Melody Calvo, whose grandfather came to Canada from Ukraine in the early 1920s.

Yushchenko chatted casually with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer as the pair walked through the grounds, and Doer praised Yushchenko as an "international hero for democracy."

Three hundred young schoolchildren introduced the president with the Ukrainian and Canadian national anthems, after which Yushchenko and Doer laid baskets of flowers at the monument to Shevchenko, and Yushchenko offered a lengthy address in Ukrainian.

"It's pretty exciting," said Bernice Tkachyk, who said coming out to see the president was a no-brainer.

"If he came all the way from there, I should be able to come from here to see him," said the 65-year-old.

Ukrainian priest Father Michael Skrumeda also showed up.

"I've read a lot about him, I've seen him on TV," said the Orthodox priest, whose relatives came to Canada from Ukraine in the late 1800s.

"I feel a bit excited, because he represents the land from where my great-grandparents come from."

Yushchenko was elected in the fall of 2004 after the results of an initial election were voided amid widespread cries of fraud and electoral abuse. Nearly two weeks of popular protests around the country became known as the Orange Revolution.

Yushchenko met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa on Monday. He thanked Canada for its support over the years - starting with quick recognition of the country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"Every Ukrainian will always remember that," Yushchenko said. He also thanked Canada for its impending recognition of the 1932-33 genocide, and for its historical role in welcoming Ukrainian immigrants.

"I'm filled with very tender feelings to your country and to this land. For me, as for millions of Ukrainians, this country and this land is sacred," Yushchenko said.

"It became a motherland for millions of Ukrainians for many generations of my native people who in different times came to seek for their destiny here in Canada.

"We are very grateful for the support that our country has always felt from Canada."

Harper expressed support for a private member's bill that would recognize the Ukrainian famine - orchestrated by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the 1930s - as an act of genocide. The prime minister made the pledge beside Yushchenko, who was granted the distinction of addressing a joint session of Canada's Senate and House of Commons.

During his Winnipeg stop, Yushchenko will sign a memorandum of understanding to foster development of rural communities in both the Ukraine and Canada. He will also be presented with an honourary doctorate of laws from the University of Winnipeg.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press