Spreading the truth about the Holodomor

By Oksana Levytska, Chairman of the National Ukrainian Educational Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress

Published in Ukrainian People, June 2, 2017

Back in the early 1980s, the Ukrainian diaspora of North America threw out a serious challenge to the information blockade surrounding the Holodomor. They began preparing for large-scale actions, dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy. A massive publicity campaign was launched, with the participation of leading scholars, journalists, American and Canadian politicians. The world, which did not suspect the tragedy of the Ukrainian people, was to hear the truth.

To draw the attention of the world’s press and politicians to the problem of the silence surrounding the Holodomor, the Ukrainian Diaspora held numerous protest rallies and pickets at Soviet diplomatic embassies. One of the largest events was held on October 2, 1983 in Washington, DC – next to the Soviet embassy. About eight thousand people attended it. The head of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in exile, Yaroslav Rudnytsky, sent a memorandum to the Secretary-General regarding the Holodomor and accusations against the USSR in the genocide against the Ukrainian people.

Only with the fall of the Soviet Union did Ukrainians gain the freedom of a public memory. But the over 50 years of silence was only official. The memory of the Holodomor has always lived in the hearts of Ukrainians. Today, our task is to spread the truth about the genocide of the Ukrainian people to different peoples of the world, to teach about the Holodomor to present and future generations.

On May 5-7, 2017, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the 2017 Holodomor Education Conference: Education–Awareness–Action took place. This forum invited a wide range of educators – teachers and school administrators, community leaders, faculty members of higher educational institutions, and librarians to participate. The conference brought together about 90 participants from Canada and the United States, 27 speakers, and session leaders.

The conference was hosted by the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) and sponsored by the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, the National Holodomor Education Committee of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the Holodomor Awareness and Education Committee of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress–Manitoba Branch, the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in Canada, the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Center (UCRDC) in Toronto, The Shevchenko Foundation in cooperation with Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

Among the invited guest and keynote speakers were Dr. John Young, Director of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights; Blair Yakimovsky, Minister of Education and Training, Manitoba; James Bezan, Member of Parliament, Manitoba; Dr. Joyce Apsel, Director of the Institute for Genocide Studies; professors from the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg. Much of the work on the organization of this educational forum was conducted by the Director of Education of the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC), and the conference committee Chair, Valentina Kuryliw, and members of the committee.

The conference provided an opportunity for educators interested in issues of human rights, social justice, democracy and the genocides of the 20th century, to learn more about the methodologies, resources, and technologies that would help them integrate the topic of the Holodomor into their teaching. The conference program held sessions on the methodology and approaches to teaching the Holodomor from elementary school students to seniors. The conference also featured the use of technology in the training of human rights and the Holodomor. Participants of the conference also had the opportunity to visit the exhibitions and halls of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The very name of the conference, “Education–Awareness–Action,” speaks to the purpose of the meeting. The participants talked not only about the importance of this topic but also about how to disseminate information about this 20thC tragedy of the Ukrainian people and how to properly teach and convey this material to students of all ages. The conference structure included scientific reports, panel discussions, practical sessions and various types of discussions on the theme of the Holodomor. Educators were enriched with practical materials for conducting lessons on this topic.

The panel presentations continued the discussion on the importance of teaching the Ukrainian genocide in a wider perspective, in particular in conjunction with the theme of social justice and human rights. It is through comparison and in-depth analysis that students will be able to best understand this page in the history of not only Ukraine but of all mankind, to equally express and be able to defend their point of view and participate in the dissemination and awareness of these historical events. The methodologies, materials and resources presented at the conference also enable Canadian educators in the English-speaking environment to teach about the Holodomor as part of courses in history and social sciences in various provinces of Canada and beyond.

Today, an important ​​area of action for educators and the community is to spread learning about the Holodomor and raise awareness about it for present and future generations.