After a long day of photo ops, meetings and speeches before throngs of excited fans, Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko couldn`t resist the sweet temptation of one last unofficial stop in Winnipeg, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

And the staff at Bee Maid Honey are thrilled that Yushchenko, a hero for local Ukrainians who happens to be an avid beekeeper, included an evening shopping trip at the Roseberry Street store in his busy one-day visit to the city Tuesday.

"He bought every kind of thing that beekeepers use in beekeeping in Canada," said surprised CEO Gordon Marks, who`d been warned the Ukrainian president might stop by, and knew it was really happening when the parking lot suddenly filled with black cars.

Marks said Yushchenko stayed at the store for close to an hour, chatting about the honey industry and stocking up on all manner of books, tools and beeswax candle-making equipment.

"It was very strange, and very off the wall," admitted Marks, who kept the business open past normal hours to accommodate Yushchenko. "But he seemed like a very nice man, and his wife was very nice and extremely well-spoken in English."

The non-publicized shopping excursion capped off a day of rock-star treatment for the Ukrainian president, who drew crowds of supporters chanting his name, cheering madly and brandishing blue and yellow flags on each leg of his trip.

Fans crowded on the provincial Legislature staircase for his first stop of the morning, craning their necks to see the arriving motorcade, led by half a dozen police motorcycles with sirens blaring. The president stepped from his car to a burst of applause, blowing kisses and embracing some ecstatic supporters.

"I was raised with Ukrainian customs and culture, and I just felt the need to see him and hear him," said Melody Calvo. The 57-year-old`s grandfather came to Canada from Ukraine in 1923, she said, and a photo of his arrival is immortalized in a gallery of Free Press pictures displayed at the MTS Centre.

Yushchenko came to presidency in 2004 in an election marked by heavy protesting around Ukraine, a movement that become known as the Orange Revolution. He took power after initial election results were discarded amid reports of voter intimidation and electoral fraud.

The president survived dioxin poisoning during the tumultuous election period, but now appears robust and healthy, his face bearing only traces of the poison`s original scarring and discolouration.

Yushchenko`s visit to Winnipeg included a private meeting with Premier Gary Doer, as well as the signing of a memorandum of understanding to encourage rural partnerships and exchanges between Ukraine and Canada. Up to 1,000 people, including 300 children from some of the Winnipeg`s bilingual Ukrainian schools, flooded the Legislative grounds around a monument to famed Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, where Yushchenko gave a lengthy address in Ukrainian beneath a cloudless, sunny sky.

He spoke in part about the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine, which the Canadian government moved Monday to recognize as genocide, and said it took a toll on his grandmother, who hoarded bread long after the famine was over because she feared another.

"She would never leave a crumb on the table. Up in the attic, there would be three or four bags of bread crusts," he said.

"Year by year, step by step, the truth came alive. Now we`re creating a national register of victims of the Holomodor (famine)."

Yushchenko was praised as an "international hero for democracy" by Doer, who accompanied him as he waded through a sea of beaming faces. "It`s very exciting," said Galyna Lavrov, nearly breathless after talking with Yushchenko face-to-face. "Our president!"

"I don`t think Kate will remember this moment," smiled Shaun Becker after the president crouched to say hello to his 11-month-old daughter.Hundreds more people packed the University of Winnipeg`s Duckworth Centre Tuesday afternoon, where university president Lloyd Axworthy helped present an honourary law degree to the Ukrainian leader, flanked by his wife Kateryna.

"I receive this decision as a sign of special trust and real friendship," said Yushchenko at the special ceremony, with the aid of a translator.

Before the ceremony, Ira Vyshnevska posed for a photo with the president outside the U of W, after hanging around the doors hoping to meet him. Even getting into a minor car accident before arriving at the school couldn`t dampen her spirits.

"I`m so happy," said the grinning University of Manitoba student, who moved to the city from Ukraine seven months ago. "I`m very glad to see my president here."

Yushchenko wrapped up his official activities with a quick stop at City Hall, joining Mayor Sam Katz to place candles at the base of the Ukraine famine memorial.

By Lindsey Wiebe

Winnipeg Free Press