KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an emotional visit to a controversial shrine here Monday before meeting President Viktor Yanukovych to discuss, among other things, a slide in human rights since the February presidential election here.
Harper appeared to be fighting back tears after standing solemnly before the "sad memory of childhood" statue of a young, bone-thin girl with braids.
She symbolizes the many children who were among the millions who died during the 1932-33 famine, which has been recognized by the Canadian parliament as a genocide perpetrated by former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
The two monuments were constructed at the request of Ukraine's previous government, which was pro-West and hostile to Moscow. But Yanukovych, eager to woo Russia, has removed any reference to the famine — known as the Holodomor — from the presidential website.
Harper also laid a wreath at a Soviet-era "Park of Glory" that honours the heroes of the battle against the Nazis during the second world war, and was greeted by a Ukrainian honour guard that included soldiers wielding sabres with Cossack-style precision.
"There are issues that are of concern to Ukrainian-Canadians and to the government of Canada involving issues of human rights and the rule of law," Harper said in Montreux, Switzerland, Sunday after the conclusion of the two-day Francophonie summit.
Harper and Yanukovych are expected to announce a youth mobility agreement that will ease the way for young students to visit Canada.
Several members of the Ukrainian-Canadian community attended Monday's events.