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Ukrainian Americans commemorate 75th Anniversary of Holodomor

By Halyna Myroniuk, IHRC Senior Assistant Curator

Many Ukrainians who came to the United States after the Second World War as Displaced Persons were survivors of Holodomor, the great famine of 1932-1933. Some came as children with memories; others heard about it from their parents or the elders in their respective communities.

The year 2008 marks the 75th anniversary of Holodomor (which literally means murder by starvation). Ukrainian Americans, along with their countrymen and Ukrainians throughout the world, are commemorating this tragedy in November of this year, the month officially designated by Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko.

Many of the eyewitnesses to the tragedy perished, leaving empty villages that in time were populated by incoming Russian settlers. Survivors who came to the United States commemorated the famine, but few shared their personal stories until the latter 20th century.

Famines still occur even in the 21st century. Darfur, Rwanda and other countries are often on the news and in the press. However, little if anything is known about the horrific tragedy of a man-made famine that took place in Ukraine during the years 1932 and 1933. An estimated 6 to 10 million people died of hunger. Historically, Ukraine was considered the “bread basket? of Europe. Although there was a drought prior to those years, the grain harvest was average in 1932 and there was no danger of famine. Instead, it resulted from forced appropriation of harvests, harsh measures against peasants who refused to participate in collectivization, and attacks against the social importance of Ukrainian villages, which were at the heart of the Ukrainian national revival (Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Toronto, 1984).

Reports of this horrific event reached the West but were played down by the Soviet government. Individuals like British correspondent Malcolm Muggeridge and Welsh journalist Gareth Jones traveled to Ukraine to investigate reports. Jones wrote eyewitness accounts of Holodomor based on his travels through Eastern Ukraine in early 1933 (www.garethjones.org). Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty, a New York Times correspondent, publicly denied that there was a famine. However, privately he acknowledged that peasants were dying in the thousands.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the establishment of an independent Ukraine, access to archives previously closed to scholars is shedding more light on the famine as genocide. People in areas affected by the famine are finally able to speak of the horrors of those years, previously forbidden to mention the famine – were told to forget and that it never happened. There are about 400,000 famine survivors still living in Ukraine today.

Archival sources documenting Holodomor in the IHRC’s Ukrainian American Collection include the papers of Alexander A. Granovsky, Luba Mensheha, a community activist; Oleksander Kaniuka, a graphic artist; and Ivan Baczynskj. Baczynskj’s materials include a questionnaire from a survey conducted in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany of famine survivors. The IHRC also holds the records of the Ukrainian National Association’s Washington Office, the lobbying arm and national office of the largest Ukrainian fraternal organization.

Secondary sources available on this topic include, among others, Robert Conquest’s The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the terror-famine (New York, 1986), The Man-made famine in Ukraine (Washington, 1984), and The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (London, 1968); Dmytro Solovey’s The Golgotha of Ukraine: Eyewitness Accounts (New York, 1953), Viktor Kravchenko’s I Chose Freedom; the personal and political life of a Soviet official (New York, 1946); and the three volume Oral History Project of the Commission on the Ukraine Famine (edited by James E. Mace and Leonid Heretz, Washington: 1990). The latter has recently been translated and published in Ukraine. A more recent publication to consult is Famine in Ukraine 1932–1933: genocide by other means, co-authored by Taras Hunczak and Roman Serbyn (New York, 2007). In Ukraine 17 regional, Kyiv city and all-Ukraine volumes of the National Memory Book have been published just in time for the November commemoration.

World community awareness of the Ukrainian famine-genocide Holodomor has brought some positive results for Ukrainians everywhere. In America, thanks to efforts of Rep. Sander Levon (D-MI) the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved H. Res. 1314 – a resolution recognizing the 75th anniversary of the Ukrainian Famine (Holodomor). The latest development is that The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) has approved and awarded a parcel of federally-owned land to the Ukrainian Government as the site for the Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Genocide of 1932-33.

Ukraine has been seeking acknowledgement of the famine as genocide by submitting a resolution to the United Nations. The UN didn’t pass the resolution but instead tabled it; the United States also hasn’t. Canada has, however, recognized Holodomor as genocide. Canada also was the first to recognize independent Ukraine. Most recently, the European Parliament has recognized Holodomor as a “crime against humanity.?

Many commemorative events taking place in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Diaspora include the International Holodomor Remembrance Flame traveling through 33 countries, starting in Ukraine and returning in November for nationwide observances of the 75th anniversary. This torch of light is being carried in remembrance of those who perished during the famine. Also a number of national (Harvard, Columbia University) and international (Kyiv) conferences are underway, as are screenings of documentary films such as Harvest of Despair (1984) directed by Slavko Nowytski and Eternal Memory: Voices from the Great Terror (1991) directed by David Pultz and narrated by Meryl Streep, and exhibits in New York at the Library of Congress, The Ukrainian Museum and Ukrainian Institute of America. Documents related to Holodomor can also be found in the archives of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in New York.