Saturday, November 29, 2008

Remembering the 75th anniversary of Ukraine's holodomor

The above ad commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian Holodomor appeared in the Nov.28, 2008 St. Catharines Standard.
The original colour oil painting was created by artist Bohdan Pevney in New York in 1963, who wrote:
"My best known work is entitled "Zemliia" (Earth), it is dedicated to the memory of the 1933 famine in Ukraine, and based on a landscape clip from Oleksander Dovzhenko's film on the same subject. This painting is now part of the collection of the Ukrainian Orthodox Community Museum in South Bound Brook, N.J."
(Mr. Pevney wrote about his art and influences at:

Here’s a further thread of stories regarding the topic of the Holodomor:

Mike Zettel wrote in “Survivor recalls living through man-made famine, Ukrainians mark 75th anniversary of the Holodomor-Famine Genocide of 1932-33”, (Niagara This Week, Nov.7, 2008):

“The details of suffering through years of food shortages and witnessing outright starvation do not make for children's stories, so for years Ivan Glasko, who lived through such misery, avoided telling them.

Glasko was born in 1923 in a Ukrainian settlement near the Caucus mountains in south-western Russia. While still a young child, he and his family endured what is now called one of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century, the Holodomor-famine genocide of 1932-33. The famine, and other famines which affected other Soviet satellites around the same time, was the direct result of government actions to confiscate agricultural harvests, and led to the deaths of millions.

Though Glasko's daughter, Maria, knew that her father lived through the famine, it was only in her 20s and 30s that she learned the scope of what he went through. She recalls one conversation which occurred about a year ago after the airing of a television campaign to assist starving children in Africa. Pointing to images of children with extended bellies and twig-like limbs, her father told her that was exactly what he looked like at one time.

"When he told me that, it just stopped me in my tracks," she said. "I was shocked."

Glasko's family were wealthy farmers, the type of people targeted by Soviet authorities. In 1929, when he was only six, Glasko, along with his mother, five-year-old sister and three-year-old brother, were sent to a Siberian village, which had been emptied of residents and turned into a prison work camp.

There until 1933, Glasko had to look after his younger siblings while his mother was sent out to work in the bush.

"Nobody attended to us," he said. "Nobody looked after us. We just waited."
And hungered. With no food in the house, the children had to wait for their mother to bring food rationed to her, so she could work.

"She saved it for us," he said.

When that wasn't enough, they improvised, eating wild berries and grasses in the summer and hunting "anything that crawled" in the colder months. Sometimes, his mother would send him out to collect horse manure to separate and wash the undigested barley, so she could make soup.

Their father, after he found them, arranged for their return in 1933, and for the years leading up to the Second World War, they settled in a village near their hometown.

Though records show the famine ended in 1933, times were still tough for the next three years and there were still food shortages.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor-famine genocide of 1932-33. To mark the date, there will be a commemorative program Sunday afternoon at the Ukrainian Black Sea Hall. It begins with a prayer service, after which survivors will hold memorial candles. Afterwards, there will be a documentary shown about the famine.

The program begins 2:30 p.m. at the hall, located at 455 Welland Ave.

On Nov. 22, the world-wide Holodomor memorial day, there will be a morning ceremony beginning at 9 a.m., when people will be standing with candles on the Niagara Street overpass over the QEW. Similar ceremonies around the world are scheduled to take place at exactly the same time.”

Maria Munoz wrote in “Famine-genocide coverage appreciated”, (Niagara This Week, St. Catharines-Thorold edition, p.15, Nov.28, 2008) :

“Thank you for the recent piece entitled: ‘Survivor recalls living through man-made famine’. I read the story to my grandmother who also lived through that experience. Her family was part of a rather large minority group living in Ukraine, called the Germans from Russia.

She was only five years old at the time when Stalin ordered the harvests to be confiscated. I asked my grandmother how well she remembered the famine and she replied, “You can’t forget a thing like that.” She told me that their family survived partly due to her grandmother, who rationed the family’s meager food supply (they lived on a “soup” made of hot water, a little flour and a few beans).

Not an easy time by any stretch of the imagination. And that was really only the beginning of their troubles living under Stalin’s rule. My grandmother saw both her father and grandfather taken away to prison in the late 1930’s and early 40’s. Her grandfather’s crime? Speaking the Lord’s Prayer at a gravesite.

I’ve been engrossed in these histories for the past year or so. We are actually making an independent feature film based on the life of that grandfather. While the film is not about the famine per se, it is about the culture of fear and persecution set up by the Stalinist regime. And it makes me think… We really do have it good here in Canada.

I am also working on an oral history page about the 1932-33 famine on our film website:

I wish Munoz well with her film and famine documentary projects.

Ian Hunter wrote in “Telling the truth about the Ukrainian Famine”, (National Post, Nov.22, 2008):

“Today at Westminster Cathedral in London, England, two journalists will receive the Ukrainian Order of Freedom. Both men are dead. What did they do to deserve this posthumous honour?

They told the truth when all around them their press colleagues were inadvertently (or, in one case, deliberately) misleading the public.

Gareth Jones was born in Wales in 1905. He worked as a reporter for several papers before travelling through Russia and Ukraine-- where his mother had lived--in 1932. Jones found people starving everywhere he went, and he wrote about it. The Western press corps, mostly confined to Moscow, was manipulated by the Communist authorities into believing that all was well, and they rejected Jones's reports.

As the world now knows (although it took more than half a century and the opening of Soviet archives to confirm), approximately 10 million people were deliberately starved to death by the collectivization policies pursued by Joseph Stalin.

Malcolm Muggeridge was a largely unknown journalist when in 1932 he went to Moscow as a stand-in correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. By this time, Stalin's twin manias -- collectivization of agriculture and dekulakization of peasants -- were at their bloodthirsty zenith, but few knew this because of the sycophantic foreign reporting.

The Moscow press corps was then led by Walter Duranty of The New York Times. For two decades, Duranty had been the most influential foreign correspondent in Russia. His dispatches were regarded as authoritative; indeed, Duranty had helped to shape U. S. foreign policy. His biographer has demonstrated that Duranty's reporting was a critical factor in FDR's 1933 decision to grant official recognition to the Soviet Union. When the Pulitzer Prize committee conferred its prize on Duranty (in 1932, at the height of the famine), they cited his "scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional clarity."

Duranty, an unattractive, oversexed little man with a wooden leg, falsified facts, spread lies and half-truths, invented occurrences that never happened and turned a blind eye to Stalin's man-made famine. When snippets of the truth began to leak out, Duranty coined the phrase "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" -- meaning that the supposed benefit of communism justified the cruelty meted out by Stalin and his minions. This phrase, or a variant thereof, has since proved useful to a variety of tyrants and ideologues who contend that a worthy end justifies base means.

Meanwhile, in the spring of 1933, young Malcolm Muggeridge did an audacious thing; without permission, he acquired rail tickets and set off on a train journey through what had formerly been the breadbasket of the Soviet Union: Ukraine and North Caucuses. What Muggeridge witnessed, he never forgot.

In a series of articles smuggled out in the diplomatic pouch, he described a man-made famine that had become a holocaust: peasants, millions of them, dying like famished cattle, sometimes within sight of full granaries, guarded by the army and police. At a German co-operative farm, an oasis of prosperity in the collectivized wilderness, he saw peasants kneeling down in the snow, begging for a crust of bread. In his diary, Muggeridge wrote: "Whatever else I may do or think in the future, I must never pretend that I haven't seen this. Ideas will come and go; but this is more than an idea. It is peasants kneeling down in the snow and asking for bread. Something that I have seen and understood."

Few believed him. Muggeridge's dispatches were cut. He was sacked by the Guardian and forced out of Russia. He was vilified, slandered and abused. Walter Duranty's voice led the chorus of denunciation and denial, although privately Duranty told a British foreign office acquaintance that at least 10 million people had been starved to death -- adding, characteristically, "but they're only Russians."

Beatrice Webb -- Muggeridge's aunt by marriage, and a longtime Soviet apologist -- said that Muggeridge's famine reports were "base lies." The very Reverend Hewlett Johnson, Anglican Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, from the pulpit praised Joseph Stalin's "steady purpose and kindly generosity." George Bernard Shaw made a whirlwind tour of Russia and pronounced himself satisfied that there was ample food for all in the worker's paradise.

Vindication for both Jones and Muggeridge was a long time coming. In 1990, Walter Duranty's biographer, Susan Taylor, wrote: "But for Muggeridge's eyewitness accounts of the famine in the spring of 1933 and his stubborn chronicle of the event, the effects of the crime upon those who suffered might well have remained as hidden from scrutiny as its perpetrators intended."

Today, 75 years later, vindication is complete, as Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge posthumously receive the Ukrainian Order of Freedom. If there is a comparable Award for journalistic integrity, they deserve that too." "

(Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Western Ontario [Canada] and wrote the first biography of Malcolm Muggeridge)

Denis Walsh wrote in “A tale of two famines”, (National Post, Nov.25, 2008):

“Re: Telling The Truth About The Ukrainian Famine, Ian Hunter, Nov. 22.

Ian Hunter accuses Joseph Stalin of the "crime" of creating a famine in Ukraine. So was the famine illegal?

The Irish famine of the mid-19th century resulted in enormous numbers of deaths, mass peasant evictions and desperate emigration in coffin ships. This cut Ireland's population in half in only 10 years. And it occurred in the backyard of the richest, most powerful, most advanced and most civilized empire the world had known. But it was all perfectly legal.

I suspect Stalin's was, too.”

Why, sure, … it was 'all legal' – to a Stalinist. Were Irish farmers forced to hand over their harvest to the government at gunpoint?

Brian McGurrin replied in “Two famines II” (National Post, Nov.26, 2008):

“Re: A Tale Of Two Famines, letter to the editor, Nov. 25.

Letter-writer Denis Walsh argues that the 19th-century U. K. government was as blameworthy for the Irish potato famine as was Stalin for the Ukrainian famine of the 20th century. The principal difference between the two, of course, is that the Irish famine was precipitated by a fungal disease and the Ukrainian famine by government fiat.

Mr. Walsh is correct in describing the British Empire as rich and powerful, but otherwise displays a lack of respect for what has been called the "many-sidedness of historical experience." For instance, in 1845, Tory prime minister Sir Robert Peel purchased a large shipment of maize from the U. S. in order to feed the starving Irish. But a few months later, thanks to the opposition of the Irish nationalist MPs, led by Irish patriot Daniel O'Connell, the Tories were defeated and replaced by the more doctrinaire Whigs; and for the duration of the famine, says Irish historian Gearoid O'Tuathaigh, "the disciples of laissez-faire ruled the roost." Moreover, declares another Irish historian, Colm Toibin, "severe economic recession in Great Britain itself during 1847 ... limited sympathy for Ireland's problems, as did the apparent ingratitude for help given ... and the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848."”
Laurel Myers wrote in “Ukrainian community remembers man-made famine,” (Northern Life, Nov.26, 2008):

“The Ukrainian community of Sudbury united at Tom Davies Square Saturday afternoon to commemorate a devastating time in its cultural history: 75 years ago a genocide by starvation wiped out as many as 10 million Ukrainian men, women and children.

Between January 1932 and July 1933, countless people starved to death during a man-made famine. The Holodomor, or hunger plague, was a famine engineered by the Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin — a communist dictator — as part of a series of actions, including mass executions, designed to destroy the Ukrainian nation, according to

The government confiscated all agricultural food sources, including grains and livestock. Massive amounts of grain were sold to foreign markets to build factories and provide weapons for the military, leaving the Ukrainian villages barren and hungry. The Ukrainians were also kept from leaving their homes.

For years, the Holodomor went unrecognized as an act of genocide, and the mere existence of the famine was repeatedly denied by the Soviet governments.

On Saturday, the League of Ukrainian Canadians, in partnership with the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women, joined in a ceremony being held in countries across the world, to pay tribute to those whose lives were lost and to bring awareness to a topic that has been long swept under the rug.

“The Holodomor was a very tragic period of time. I still can't talk about this without getting choked up,” said Steve Ostafichuk, president of the Oshawa branch of the League of Ukrainians, and keynote speaker for the ceremony.

“The term humanity is a bit of an oxymoron — we're humans but we're the most inhumane beasts on the planet,” he continued. “This particular atrocity that happened to our people was a political and economic atrocity, and the way to break the backs and spirits of an emerging country and culture.”

He stressed the importance of spreading the word about the famine-genocide, to recognize it happened and to prevent it from ever happening again.

“Anything we can get into future generations about what genocide is all about, gives us an opportunity to hopefully evolve humans into a better class of humans so that we might actually live up to the term humanity, which is something we fall short of these days,” Ostafichuk said.
Orest Staneckyj, a member of the league of Ukrainian-Canadians in Sudbury, said the genocide has become a matter of education, and getting the word out that it happened.

“The famine-genocide in Ukraine was the direct result of the Soviet policy that crushed the nationally-conscious Ukrainian people,” he said. “In the early 1930s, the very part of Europe, in a region considered to be the Soviet Union's bread basket, established a communist regime and committed a horrendous act of genocide against millions of Ukrainians.

“They were subjected to starvation — one of the most ruthless forms of torture and death,” he continued. “It is our hope that starvation will never again be used by any government in the world to physically destroy and annihilate any of its people.”

He said the effect the Holodomor had on him was not having “the comfort of knowing my roots and a lot of family members. That's taken away from me.”

Last spring, Canada was one of the first countries to recognize the Ukrainian Famine as an act of genocide. In May, the government passed a motion to establish a Holodomor Memorial Day, to be held on the fourth Saturday of every November. It wasn't until November 2007 that the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill branding the Holodomor an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people as well.

As part of the commemoration ceremony, a travelling exhibit was displayed in Tom Davies Square, including 101 posters covering every aspect of the Holodomor. Ostafichuk is largely responsible for the ever-growing reach of the exhibition — there are now 250 exhibitions booked around the world, in schools, churches and city halls.

When he first came across the exhibition in Toronto, the first generation Ukrainian-Canadian said his ignorance of his own heritage made him mad.

“I thought I was well-educated, only to see all this information about the Holodomor that I knew little or nothing about,” he said. “I resolved to make sure this became an education program so people like myself in Canada, ... would know what happened to our own people.


For more information, visit”

see also:

The principle of Genocide by Famine

- Perspectives on the Famine - Terror in Soviet Ukraine

- Competitive martyrdom

- Walter Duranty hall of shame


No comments: