The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


by Lara Bradley The Sudbury Star
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
January 3, 1999


Young Ukrainians may now understand why their "Baba" insists they clean their plates. Baba, Ukrainian for grandmother, may be a survivor of Ukraine's "forced famine" also called "Ukraine's Unknown Holocaust."

As 1998 draws to a close and Canadians recover from the excesses of eating that the holidays always seem to bring, elder Ukrainian-Canadians are remembering a time when there was nothing to eat.

The 65th anniversary of the "Famine-Genocide" has finally been acknowledged by the Ukraine government.

Vice-president Valeri Smolij announced last month that a National Day of Remembrance would be held the fourth Saturday of every November in honour of the famine victims - a genocide he equated to the Jewish Holocaust.

"Now that it's no longer in the closet, it's a relief for the families of these people" says Walter Halchuk, chairman of the Sudbury Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

In Sudbury, events have been held throughout the year to raise awareness about this atrocity. Last spring, the video, Harvest of Despair, was aired and plastic food was served, Halchuk said. When people complained that they could see the food but not eat it, he had a quick answer: "So how does that feel?"

During 1932 and 1933, some where between seven million and 14 million Ukrainians were deliberately starved to death. Soviet records estimate seven million died, but Ukrainian sources place numbers as high as 14 million, say Halchuk.

The famine was not caused by weather conditions but by the policies of Soviet leader Josef Stalin. They were designed to break the backs of the Ukrainian peasants, he says.

In 1932, in an effort to crush any sense of Ukrainian nationalism, Stalin raised Ukraine's grain quotas by 44 per cent. This meant that the collective farms were unable to keep any grain to feed their own workers. Regular troops and members of the NKVD (which later became the KGB) executed those who hid as much as a handful.

Peasants were also prevented from leaving their farms and villages by a system of internal passports.

So they ate bark, their boots and even their dead babies.

Although Halchuk knows of 11 famine survivors living in Sudbury, he says most refuse to talk about such times. "Like many victims, they blame themselves" he says. But this year has provided the opportunity for "some healing and sharing" within families, Halchuk says.

He and other Ukrainian groups say the West, particularly the media, is partly to blame for refusing to report and acknowledge the famine, labeling it as the "bellyaching of immigrants."

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress had been lobbying the Ukrainian and other governments to get the genocide recognized. But, he says, the UN and the Canadian Civil Liberties Council still do not view it as an act of genocide. That means that "Stalin's willing executioners" living throughout the world, cannot be brought to justice for their crimes against humanity.

Halchuk has also joined another group - Canadians for a Genocide Museum - that is lobbying Ottawa to change its plans for building just a Jewish Holocaust museum. He says that they have counted approximately 18 acts of genocide over the last century.

"Fifty million people died during the Second World War alone, why focus on just six million?"

Many other ethnic groups - including people from Thailand, African and Arabic countries - have joined the project to get Canada, a multicultural country, to expand its approach.

Many Ukrainian-Canadians in their 20s and 30s never heard of the famine of 1932-33 because it is not taught in school, says Halchuk.

He believes education, through a display at a museum, is an important step in addressing Ukraine's Unknown Holocaust.

The Sudbury Star, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
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