By R.L. Chomiak
Svoboda Newspaper In Ukrainian
Parsippany, N.J., November 29, 2002
Translated into English by R. L. Chomiak
at the request of ArtUkraine.com
KYIV -- It's autumn in Ukraine, and that's when people write and talk about
the famines: the big one of 1932-33, the post-revolution one of 1921, and
the post-war one of 1947. There are 2-3 conferences, several newspaper
articles, 3-4 TV programs. And, of course, a big concert, attended by the
country's highest officials. This year, however, there was an additional
element: talk about a really big monument in memory of the victims of the
artificial famine. The [Ukrainian] diaspora will fund a "proper"
There is a monument to the victims of the 1932-33 famine in Kyiv, near the
St. Michael's monastery complex and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is
not grand, but symbolically meaningful and in a good location. Lately, it
has become fashionable to criticize it, because it is not imposing enough,
and this, too, is the government's fault. In November, on the grounds of
Kyiv's International Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP), another
famine monument was unveiled. This one is a little bigger, and includes an
angel and a bell.
By interesting coincidence, talk about an "imposing" monument gained
currency about the time that news of an accident in the Vernadsky Library on
Volodymyrska Street ("Kyiv's spine" as Valeriy Hruzyn, a journalist and a
Kyivite calls it) became known. Mountains of rare books and periodicals
stored there were damaged by hot water from a radiator pipe that burst in
the middle of a night. For about a week everyone kept silent about it --
"Soviet-fashion." Then news of the calamity leaked into the media.
Among others, Prof. James Mace, former executive director of the American
commission on the Ukrainian famine and today a teacher at a Kyiv university,
wrote about it in the newspaper "Den'", where he also works. He recalled
some years ago, he shipped from the commission to the Verkhovna Rada
(parliament) copies of materials the commission gathered, including tapes of
interviews with the famine survivors. When he moved to Kyiv, he learned
that the shipped materials were stored in some basement and were beginning
to rot. And this wasn't because of someone's ill will. They just didn't
know where to deposit the materials.
There is a dearth of state-of-the-art libraries, archives and museums in
Ukraine. And not just. Ukraine is a recognized world leader in botanical
research. A few years ago Ukrainian botanists worked in Cape Kennedy
developing for NASA plants that could be grown aboard the space station. At
the same time their colleagues in Ukraine were taking home rare plants from
their laboratories, because the laboratories were inadequately heated in
But a proper memorial to the famine should be built in the capital of
Ukraine. The question is -- what kind?
There is no lack of granite and bronze monuments in Kyiv. Recently the city
announced a competition for a new monument to unification: the January 1919
unification of the Ukrainian People's Republic with the West Ukrainian
People's Republic. One can expect that this new one will be similar to the
Independence monument on Independence Square.
There is nothing here, however, resembling Washington's Holocaust Museum.
And that one is not just a museum, but a research center, an archive,
conference facilities, in other words, a living, active memorial. Here is a
chance for the diaspora to show Ukraine what a modern museum-library-archive
is all about; a center open to all.
An aside is in order here: In Ukraine, access to research libraries is
limited. I know this from personal experience. To use the Vernadsky
Library, the one that was flooded by broken radiators, I was told to bring
three things with an application: 10 hryvnyas -- got it! a passport -- got
it! proof that I have higher education -- a problem! Yes, I did graduate
from college, but I usually don't carry my diploma with me. In fact, it has
been so many years since I had it in my hands, that I am not sure where my
diplomas are filed. So what that I managed to earn "two higher education
diplomas" as people here like to say (and oh, how frequently!) I don't have
the papers to prove it.
I had to resort to "blat" that is so abhorrent to me; had to use connections
to the library hierarchy. And I did receive the picture ID to use the
library. While working on it, I recalled several times the news stories
million-dollar donations to the New York Public Library from grateful
industrialists, without higher education diplomas, simply because when they
were poor laborers they went to the library to keep warm and to read, or
because they got a successful idea while using the library. You meet all
kinds of people at the New York Public or the Library of Congress!
Library science is highly developed in the US, and Ukrainians in America
have more than their share of library specialists.
Why don't we build a living memorial to the famine in Kyiv, including an
archive, a library, a museum, a research center, conference rooms, with
modern heating and security systems, like those in the new "elite" buildings
going up in Kyiv. And access to this memorial complex should be democratic,
as it is in similar American and Canadian facilities. It should be open to
people with "three university diplomas," as well as to those whose education
is limited to what life taught them, because the famine managers in Ukraine
didn't check the diplomas of their victims. In time, such museum-archive
will receive donations from successful Ukrainian entrepreneurs, even those
without a higher education, as is the case in North America.
Today, libraries and archives in Ukraine survive in dreary conditions. The
flood in the Vernadsky Library was hardly an unusual calamity. A few weeks
earlier a village library in the Poltava region burned to the ground. This
became generally known through the efforts of a popular TV personality Olha
Herasymyuk, who with the help of the newspaper "Den'" collected from the
viewers and readers thousands of books for the village library. (It
happened to be in her father's native village, as well as the place where
the 18th century Ukrainian philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda was born.)
A library-archive-memorial to the famine in Kyiv would give the diaspora a
chance to show how such complexes should be built. As for building a bronze
or a marble monument, or to raise a symbolic grave mound, they know how to
do it here better than we do. Years ago Taras Shevchenko wrote: "They
piled the earth, and returned to their homes, and no one remembers." Not,
at least, till the next anniversary.
NOTE: ArtUkraine.com Information Service asked Mr. Chomiak if he would
be willing to provide us with an English translation of his important
article that was originally published in Ukrainian. We especially thank Mr.
Chomiak for providing us this English version of his article. For personal
academic use only.