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75th anniversary of Holodomor — Great Famine of 1932–33
The word Holodomor — devastating famine, is used in Ukraine in reference to the Great Famine of 1932–1933 (similarly, the word Holocaust in English is used in reference to the massive destruction of human beings, Jews by the Nazis in WWII in particular). The year 2008 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the great tragedy.
Holodomor was artificially created and sustained in Ukraine by the soviet authorities, inspired by Stalin, to deal a mortal blow to the Ukrainian peasants who were firm and unyielding resisters to the soviet regime and the way the regime was running the economy, and agriculture in particular. Massive deportations were found to be not enough; then the vilest and most barbaric, yet unheard of method of mass destruction of people was applied — genocidal famine. All the food was taken away from peasants who lived in vast rural areas of Ukraine, all the stored grain were confiscated — and no food was delivered to the hunger stricken. Army and police cordoned off the villages to prevent people from seeking refuge and help elsewhere. Records of death were destroyed or hidden in the archives, witnesses and survivors were silenced, and as a result no statistics are available. The soviets never admitted officially that the horrendous crime ever took place. Neither did the soviet communist party and its leadership who are directly responsible for it never repented, apologized or said they were sorry. “It’s vicious anti-soviet propaganda, and is absolutely untrue,” was the tune they were singing for many decades.
After Ukraine had regained independence, research and studies revealed that up to seven, or even ten million people had died in the genocidal famine of unprecedented proportions. However, it was only Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko (president since 2005) who expended a lot of effort to raise awareness of this great tragedy, and of the crime committed in 1932–1933, both in Ukraine and among the international community. Ukraine called upon the world to recognize Holodomor as an act of genocide directed against the Ukrainian people.
The occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of Holodomor was marked in November of 2008 by a string of events across Ukraine. They culminated in Kyiv, on November 21 and 22 in a series of events, of which the central one was the unveiling of the Holodomor Memorial complex in the vicinity of the eleventh-century Pechersk Lavra Monastery.
On November 18, the Book of Memory, the first in the ongoing series of publications devoted to Holodomor, was presented at the Ukrayinsky Dim Culture Center. The book contains 6,000 testimonies of those who survived the Holodomor famine; the number of names mentioned in the book of those known to die during the famine is 825,510. Over 10,000 people took part in compiling this book and those volumes which are devoted to the events of Holodomor in many Oblasts of Ukraine (there are nineteen volumes altogether so far). The total number of testimonies in the database of this Holodomor Martyrology is over 200,000. The work on collecting the testimonies and other data will be continued.
The presentation of the Book of Memory was attended by President Yushchenko of Ukraine. He also saw an exhibition, Holodomor 1932–1933. Genocide of the Ukrainian People, which was mounted by the Institute of National Memory.
A special postal stamp, devoted to Holodomor, was released.
From November 17 through November 22, the International Press Center Holodomor. 75th Anniversary was working at the Ukrayinsky Dim Culture Center.
On November 21, a number of documentaries devoted to Holodomor were shown at the Ukrayinsky Dim Culture Center. The film director Serhiy Bukovsky presented to the public his documentary Zhyvi (Still Alive). Archive footage is augmented by a footage shot at locations in several Oblasts of Ukraine, and in Wales, Great Britain, where the family of Garret Jones lived (Garret Jones was a British journalist who was the first to inform the world about the terrible famine in Ukraine back in March 1933).
One of the films that premiered at the Ukrayinsky Dim Culture Center was that of the US film director Bobby Leigh Holodomor 1932-1933; Genocide of the Ukrainian People.
On the same day Yury Lanyuk’s Oratory Skorbna maty (Grieving Mother), based on the poetry of Pavlo Tychyna, was performed at the National Philharmonic Society of Ukraine. The oratory is devoted to the tragedy of Holodomor.
On November 22, the memorial Complex Svichka Pam’yati (Candle of Memory) was unveiled. The ceremony of unveiling was attended by President Yushchenko and his wife Kateryna Yushchenko, by the presidents of Latvia and Lithuania, by the representatives of diplomatic missions in Ukraine, by many Ukrainian officials, clergy, cultural and public figures, survivors of the Great Famine and other guests.
Addressing those gathered and television audiences across Ukraine, President Yushchenko said that it was not only Ukraine that suffered terribly during the soviet times — the soviet regime was responsible for the death of millions of people of other ethnic backgrounds, for mass deportations that killed hundreds of thousands, for summary executions of untold numbers of innocent people, for the suffering of millions in the GULAG, for invasions to suppress the rising democracies in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and for other appalling crimes. “Speaking about these crimes, I also say that they must never be forgotten — and must never be repeated.”
President Yushchenko lit the symbolic Eternal Candle in the Hall of Memory of the Holodomor Memorial Complex. Millions of people lit their own candles at their homes across Ukraine at the same time.
This year, the symbolic Candle of Memory was passed from Ukrainian community to Ukrainian community across the globe in 33 countries of the world. Its journey began in Australia on April 1.
On the morning of November 22, a memorial service was held at the Cathedral of Holy Sophia in Kyiv. Later in the day, an international forum, Narod miy zavzhdy bude! (My People Will Live Forever!) was held at the Opera House in Kyiv. It was attended by the presidents of Ukraine, of Georgia, of Latvia, of Lithuania, of Poland, by representatives of other countries of the world, of the European Parliament, UNESCO, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, by high-ranking officials and clergy, by public figures and other distinguished guests.
In his speech, President Yushchenko said, in part:
“…A recollection from Savyntsi village in the Kyiv region: ‘In Vasyl Tanchyk’s family, he and his wife died when their infant child was still alive and was holding tightly to its mother. This child was taken to the cemetery together with its parents and thrown alive into the common grave… the child was then covered up with earth...’
… Do we comprehend magnitude of this loss? Do we understand our responsibility?..
My words bear national pain.
My words bear the strength of a great nation.
This day unites millions. And death steps back.
We are alive. We are the state. We have overcome.
We have defeated evil…
After seventy-five years, the nation and state pay back our debts to our deceased brothers and sisters.
I am grateful to all my fellow countrymen and Ukrainians of the world, who have been seeking for, and restoring the truth about Holodomor. I call upon you not to stop this blessed work.
I am grateful to the heads of states, to parliaments and governments, to international organizations and to the public for brotherly solidarity with us…
At the peak of Holodomor, 25 thousand people died every day in our land.
Terror through famine in Ukraine was a well-planned act of genocide…
The territories of Ukraine and the Kuban, where Ukrainians were the majority, were cordoned off by military units…
… Stalin had only one aim: to subdue the peasantry, to exterminate Ukraine’s elites and to break the spine of Ukrainians, who were the second largest ethnic group in the soviet empire and potentially posed the biggest threat to it…
With brotherly respect and sympathy we bow our heads before all those who suffered from Stalin’s regime much as we did: before Russians, Belarusians, Kazakhs, Crimean Tatars, Moldavians, Jews, and dozens of other nations…
We call upon all, and first of all upon the Russian Federation, to condemn the crimes of Stalinism and of the totalitarian Soviet Union, together, as true brothers who are honest and pure before each other.
The culprit is the imperial, communist, soviet regime.
There are those who deny Holodomor today and justify Stalin’s actions as a ‘rational way of governing’ … We condemn even the slightest attempts to justify the butchers of our nation…
I ask forgiveness for all sins, conscious or not, that were committed during a thousand years of history…
Only through honesty with ourselves — no matter how painful it can be — only through our comprehension of belonging to all that is Ukrainian will we clear the path towards a new life and a new future…
I believe deeply and firmly that if today a candle of remembrance is lit in every window, we will understand the most important thing — our nation will live forever.”
President George W. Bush of the USA, and President-Elect Barrack Obama were among many heads of states and dignitaries who sent their greetings for the Holodomor observance, expressing their deepest condolences on this solemn occasion. They emphasized that everything should be done to prevent similar acts of cruelty from ever happening again.
The solemn events were overshadowed by fierce opposition from Russia. The Kremlin is resisting Ukraine’s campaign to win international recognition of the 1932–33 tragedy as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation, saying that other ethnic groups also suffered. President Medvedev of Russia, though invited, refused to come to attend the Holodomor observance, explaining his reasons not to attend in a letter sent to President Yushchenko. President Medvedev claimed that the issue of Holodomor was much too politicized, and that there were not enough grounds to call it genocide specifically directed against the Ukrainian people — “millions of people died in the Volga regions, southern Urals, western Siberia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. We do not condone the repressions of the Stalinist regime directed against the entire soviet people, but to say that the purpose was to destroy the Ukrainians means to go against the facts and to try to give the nationalistic context to the tragedy of all.”
At present, 13 states have officially recognized Holodomor as an act of genocide: Estonia, Australia, Canada, Hungary, Lithuania, Georgia, Poland, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, Columbia, Mexico and Latvia.
Many international organizations and states, though not yet recognizing Holodomor an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people, labeled the Great Famine of 1932–1933 “a crime against humanity.”
At the religious service commemorating the victims
of Holodomor. The Cathedral of Holy Sophia,
November 22 2008.
At the Memorial Complex Svichka Pamyati — Candle
of Remembrance during the Holodomor
observance on November 22 2008.
From left to right: a Holodomor survivor, President
Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, his wife Kateryna
Yushchenko, President Valdis Zatlers of Latvia, his
wife Lilita Zatlere, President Valdas Adamkus of
Lithuania, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yuliya
Tymoshenko at the Holodomor Memorial Complex.
November 22 2008.
President Valdis Zatlers of Latvia with his wife at the
observance at the Holodomor Memorial Complex.
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus helps plant
trees at the Memorial Complex as part of
the Holodomor observance.
Presentation of the National Book of Memory at the
Ukrayinsky Dim Culture Center. November 18 2008.
Ukrainian poet Ivan Drach with one of the volumes
of the National Book of Memory.