The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

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FAMINE MEMORIAL IN KYIV
  

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" monument...

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 that 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 winter.

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 about million-dollar donations to the New York Public Library from grateful successful 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 and academic use only.
 
 

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