Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands after laying flowers at a monument to Holodomor victims during his official visit to Ukraine. Photograph by: Konstantin Chernichkin - Reuters

Postmedia News (Canada).  Prime Minister Stephen Harper voiced Canada’s concerns here Monday to President Viktor Yanukovych about the deterioration of human rights since the February presidential election.

Mr. Harper, in his first visit to a country which has a 1.2 million-strong diaspora in Canada, also announced a youth mobility agreement.

“I would just say that I raised those matters and I raised them both generally and in some detail with President Yanukovych,” Mr. Harper told reporters in a joint news conference when asked about the reported decline of press freedoms and human rights.

“I won’t get into that in any more detail other than to say I appreciate the president’s firm commitments publicly in terms of respect of those critical freedoms.”

The labour mobility agreement allows Ukrainians and Canadians ages 18 to 35 to travel or work for up to a year in the other country.

Earlier Monday Mr. Harper was visibly moved while paying his respects at a monument recognizing the 1932-33 famine that killed millions of people.

Ottawa recognized that event in 2008 as a genocide perpetrated by former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

However, Mr. Yanukovych has sided with Russia’s version of the event, that the famine was caused by Stalinist policies but wasn’t deliberately targeted at Ukrainians.

Mr. Harper didn’t use the term “genocide” when he referred at the news conference to the Stalinist “crime” against Ukrainians.

Mr. Yanukovych also referred to the event as a Stalinist crime but said it impacted other nations as well, including Russia.

Bob Onyschuk, chairman of the Canada Ukraine Foundation and a producer of an award-winning film about the famine, said the comment was a “concession” that the event was a genocide.

But University of Alberta historian David Marples said Monday Mr. Yanukovych was echoing Moscow’s interpretation of the famine.

Mr. Yanukovych told the Council of Europe in Strasbourg earlier this year that it was wrong to describe, as the previous government did, the Holodomor as a genocide.

“We consider it incorrect and unjust to consider the Holodomor a fact of genocide of a certain people,” Mr. Yanukovych said, calling it “a common tragedy” of the Soviet people.

He called it a “common tragedy” of the Soviet people that impacted not only Ukrainians but also the people of Russian, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

“Those were consequences of Stalin’s totalitarian regime, his attitude to people.”

Peter O’Neil
Europe Correspondent, Postmedia News

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