Winnipeg Free PressThrong welcomes Yushchenko
Ukrainian president visits Winnipeg
By: Lindsey Wiebe
Updated: May 27, 2008 at 04:12 PM CDT
Throngs of Winnipeggers filled the Manitoba Legislative Building grounds this morning to catch a glimpse of Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko on his first stop of his day-long visit to the city.
Hundreds of school children and Ukrainian fans of Yushchenko gathered around the statue of 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 premier Gary Doer as the pair made their way through the Legislature, security staff hovering nearby to keep supporters at bay.
Doer praised Yushchenko as an "international hero for democracy".
The Ukrainian president waded across the legislative grounds through a crowd of hundreds of giddy fans, many thrilled to have snapped a photo or, in some cases, exchanged a few words with Yushchenko.
Three hundred young school children introduced the president with the Ukrainian and Canadian national anthems, after which Yushchenko and Doer laid baskets of flowers at the monument to poet Taras Shevchenko, and Yushchenko offered a lengthy address in Ukrainian.
"It's pretty exciting," said Bernice Tkachyk, who said coming out to the president's arrival 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.
Visitors included Ukrainian priest Father Michael Skrumeda.
"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," he said.
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.
Highlights of Yushchenko's visit include the signing of a memorandum of understanding to foster development of rural communities in both the Ukraine and Canada by building on previous partnerships and encouraging sharing of agricultural and rural development science. He will also be presented with an honourary doctorate of laws from the University of Winnipeg.
Yushchenko met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa 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.
--With files from Canadian Press and Geoff Kirbysonhttp://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/v-printerfriendly/story/4178452p-4767584c.html
VIDEO: Yushchenko in Winnipeg http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/multimedia/video/story/4178599p-4767856c.html