Holodomor ‘one of the darkest chapters in human history’
The famine is long over, but a certain hunger still remains.
A hunger for memory and learning. The Ukrainian community wants — needs — the world to not only acknowledge “Holodomor” (for decades the world didn’t) and to mourn with it, but also to teach succeeding generations about it in their schools.
You could hear that hunger in the voices of many who spoke Sunday at the 84th Anniversary Holodomor Famine-Genocide Commemoration at the Hamilton Police Services building on King William. It was organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Hamilton Branch.
Holodomor, Ukrainian for extermination by starvation, was one of the worst famines in human history, among the costliest in terms of lives lost. Estimates vary, but most agree that at least four million died; and more likely seven to 10 million were killed by hunger, chiefly between 1932 and 1933.
What makes it more horrible is that it was not so much for a lack of food that so many Ukrainians died, but the deliberate denial of food, precisely because they were Ukrainian, by the regime of Joseph Stalin.
“We are grateful to Canada for being the first country (in 2008) to recognize Holodomor as genocide,” said Antonina Kumka, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Hamilton Branch.
In the world press, there was a smattering of reports of the crisis in Ukraine as it was happening in the 1930s. But mostly it was ignored or smudged over by the crude eraser marks of repressive Soviet censorship, information control and enforced silence. For decades it was as though the famine-genocide never happened. It could not be spoken about in the Soviet Union; the penalty was execution or long internment.
This and much more was discussed in a keynote speech by guest Valentina Kuryliw, a retired teacher who is preparing curriculum for this tragic episode in human history to be taught in Canadian schools.
“It was denied and covered up,” said Kuryliw, whose own family suffered under the famine. Those committed to the truth strove “for five decades to validate the existence of a forced famine (perpetrated by Russia), and many of the problems (Ukraine is experiencing) now are simply a continuation of aggressive policies by Russia.”
It was heartbreaking for her, she said, to meet a man who, even in the 1990s, was still digging holes in the ground to hide food: “It made my blood run cold to think of that lingering terror of starvation.”
The famine was the result of Soviet attempts at collectivization of farmland, Russification and denationalizing Ukraine, including the removal of their language, said Kuryliw, retired director of education with the Holodomor Research & Education Consortium.
Now the Holodomor is taught in some Ontario schools and schools in several other provinces, and the curriculum, developed by Kuryliw, includes a Holodomor Mobile Classroom and designation of the fourth Friday in November as Holodomor Memorial Day in schools.
The commemoration ceremonies at the police building also included a showing of the short film “Konstantyn,” which told the story of a boy during the famine; singing by the Svitanok Choir under the Ukrainian Youth Association, Hamilton; prayers; and lighting of candles, with a two-minute silence in memory of the victims.
A special candle was lit by Lyuba Kochmar, who was 12 the year of the famine (she lived through it) and is now in her 90s.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said, “The sad part is we see signs of these things continuing in our world. We should stand up and speak out against those who try to divide and marginalize people.”
Madeleine Levy, of the Hamilton Police Services Board, said: “It was a systemic, horrific genocide. Children, women and men were starved and executed for nothing more than trying to keep their language. It was intended to break their spirit and 15 per cent of the population (of Ukraine) perished. One of the darkest chapters in human history.”
Source: The Hamilton Spectator