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Monday, April 4, 2016

The Ukrainian Famine – A Nation Still Hungers for the Truth

By Christina Lidia Dykun
One of the greatest hidden tragedies of the Twentieth Century, on a scale comparable to that of the Holocaust, is the Soviet sponsored famine that ravaged Ukraine in 1932-33. Canada, unlike other countries, has officially recognized the ‘Holodomor’ (‘Great Famine’) as genocide in 2008, only two years after Ukraine. This year’s commemoration coincides with the 75th Anniversary of the Holodomor, with November 22nd dedicated as the International Holodomor Memorial Day. This day is a progressive step for civil liberties, as years of Russian and international denials have concealed this event from the public eye. Decades of history censored and rewritten by Soviet intelligentsia has also minimized the gravity of this Holodomor. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the restoration of an independent Ukraine 17 years ago, progressive steps towards understanding this dark chapter of Ukrainian history have commenced. Today, universal acknowledgement of this genocide is necessary in cementing the forgotten history of the Ukrainian people.
The Famine of 1932-33 was by no means a naturally occurring event. Instead, it was the primary result of ruthless Communist policy and Russian disdain for Ukrainian citizenry. Stalin not only planned the famine beforehand, but continued to implement the policy of collectivization, using famine as a tool in eliminating the regime’s greatest enemy – the peasant. However, the quotas were so unrealistic that starvation was inevitable. Peasants who did not look as though they were starving were viewed suspiciously by officials. In January 1933, Stalin ordered grain collection to be further accelerated. Ukrainian peasants were reduced to eating pets, rats, bark, leaves, and garbage. Incredibly, Stalin denied the existence of famine and prevented any foreign humanitarian aid to this region until 1934. By that time it was too late. Whole villages had died out, turning fertile fields into barren wastelands.
There is some uncertainty as to how many Ukrainians died, due to inconsistent Soviet records. One thing is for certain – it was many millions. Modest figures declare anywhere from 3 to 6 million people died, while other projections estimate at least 7.5 million died, and information received from official Soviet sources place the number between 10 and 15 million. The actual mortality rate is difficult to confirm, due to terrible record keeping, with many buried in mass unmarked graves.
There are still some historians who reject the application of genocide to the Ukrainian famine, instead viewing it as a tragic result of Soviet policy. Similar to the agreement upon 6 million for the Jewish Holocaust, the focus on the Holodomor tends to revolve around the agreement upon a number. However, establishing a number is of little significance when some biased individuals out rightly deny the Holodomor. The Soviet Union initially kept the famine hidden, since their leaders feared that negative publicity would hurt their world stature. Although some Western newspapers reported the tremendous extent of suffering and death in Ukraine, most media sources dismissed these accounts. Walter Duranty, the Moscow-based reporter for The New York Times, even won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for positive descriptions of Soviet life in the Ukraine - now accepted as politically motivated fabrications.
As growing numbers of governments have accepted the presence of this genocide, the Ukrainian past is becoming better understood. A proponent for this cause, such as York University’s Professor Orest Subtelny (a Ukrainian Canadian historian) has not only considerably furthered the field through research, but whose publications have allowed for the widespread dissemination of information on the topic of the Holodomor. His book “Ukraine: A History,” published in English in 1988, has found great popularity in Ukraine since 1991, with over one million copies in circulation. Other outlets, such as cinema productions, are proactive vehicles of education. Very few documentaries exist – the first being released in Canada in 1983, during the 50th Anniversary of the Holodomor. Today, a Hollywood production of the documentary “Holodomor: Ukraine’s Genocide of 1932-33,” with Bobby Leigh (best known for his work with Neil Young, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Aerosmith, and Kiss) as director, Marta Tomkiw as producer, and Nestor Popowych as executive producer, has already garnered considerable hype. With the movie’s short form already introduced at the Cannes Film Festival, and West Hollywood International Film Festival, it is set to debut in its entirety in Kyiv this month [November 2008].
The turbulent history of the Ukrainian nation should undoubtedly be acknowledged by all, especially in the wake of the 75th Anniversary of the Holodomor. A voice must be given to those millions forgotten by the world, who perished, and whose personal stories were silenced for decades. It is in the fields of Ukraine where Europe’s breadbasket is found, and it is in the same fields where millions of Ukrainians now rest. The Flag of Ukraine – with its brilliant blue of the surrounding sky, and the golden yellow of the bountiful wheat fields below, should remain an epitaph for the triumph and will of a people, who overcame adversity, and found freedom. Their story must be told.
Author: Christina Lidia Dykun
Source: Ukrainian Echo, Vol. 21 No 4 March 31, 2009
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