The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


by Christopher Guly
Special to The Ukrainian Weekly
Ukrainian National Association
Parsippany, New Jersey
June 28, 1998


OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA - Some 100 people braved pouring rain to attend a June 14 (1998) memorial in honor of the estimated 7 million Ukrainians who died during Stalin's artificially created famine 65 years ago -the event that became "the model for the grand genocide of the century," according to Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, the newly elected president of the Ottawa branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

She said that while the Soviets confiscated farmers' grain, Stalin issued a decree in August 1932 that ordered the execution of anyone "violating the sanctity of socialist property."

For Ukrainians, it became a "Catch-22," said Ms. Bashuk Hepburn. "First of all, they took away people's private possessions - their land, their grain - and declared them to belong to the state, forcing them to starve, and shot anybody who wanted to get some of it back as if they were thieves, when in fact the thief was the state."

At the June 14 memorial, held at the human-rights memorial in downtown Ottawa, several wreaths were laid to remember the many Ukrainian lives lost. The week before, about 200 people gathered at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Ottawa to remember the famine victims through prayers, poetry and speeches.

Last month, over 500 people attended a Montreal march in memory of those who died.

The Ottawa event, meanwhile, also saw the launch of a scholarship fund organized by both the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) and Buduchnist Ukrainian Credit Union Ltd., located on Carling Avenue. Monies raised will be used to support scholarly research into the politics of famine and food, as well as anyone who wants to pursue this subject area in their university studies.

The UCC also wants a section on the Ukrainian famine included in the federal government's plans to build a Holocaust or genocide museum in the National Capital Region.

As well, the Ukrainian Canadian community is raising money for a "soup-kitchen" fund for those going hungry in Ukraine today. About four kitchens have already been established in Ukraine today. Hundreds more are needed.

Based on a poverty line of $50 (U.S.), almost three-quarters of Ukraine's population are estimated to be in need. Ms. Bashuk Hepburn said the idea behind the famine memorial events and initiatives is to ensure that history stops repeating itself and that subsequent genocidal campaigns, led by such brutal dictators as Hitler and Pol Pot in Cambodia, find themselves relegated to the dustbins of history. "Anybody has the power and ability to create evil," she said. "We would like to eliminate that in people's hearts and souls. But the point is that absolute power allows dictators with hidden agendas to do whatever they wish."

Part of the reason the Ukrainian famine has not penetrated the consciousness of most people is the "conspiracy of silence in the West" that covered up "absolute power in the East," explained Ms. Bashuk Hepburn.

"The Soviets had a lot of friends who thought that socialism was great social engineering and that the Soviet Union was this mecca of social policy, and didn't want to worry about these 'little hiccups.' They were seduced by this idea of utopia, which was really an instrument used by a dictator to gain absolute power."

While Moscow suppressed coverage of the famine as it was ravaging Ukraine by closing the country to foreign journalists, some did find their way in, producing results members of the Ukrainian communities in Canada and the U.S. still find distasteful.

Perhaps the most famous case involved New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, who earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his coverage of the USSR in which he downplayed the extent of the famine. But despite the lack of attention the Ukrainian famine has received over time, Ms. Bashuk Hepburn said it has undoubtedly marked subsequent generations of Ukrainians.

"We come from a stock of people who have had tremendous historical upheavals and have come out of them stronger every time. "We have a phenomenal heritage of survival and endurance, and we will not and don't intend to be put down," she underlined.

She said that while many doubted Ukraine would ever become independent, it has been since 1991. "I think that indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people is what we get out of these horrible tragedies," said Ms. Bashuk Hepburn. "No death is in vain. You build on those tragedies and go forward."

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the scholarship fund may send contributions to: Buduchnist Ukrainian Credit Union, 913 Carling Ave., Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 4E3. Checks should be made payable to the Ukrainian Famine Memorial Fund.

Donations for the "soup kitchens" fund may be sent to: Ukrainian Canadian Social Social Services Inc. of Canada, National Headquarters, 2445 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ontario M6S 1P7. Checks should be made payable to "Soup Kitchens."

The Ukrainian Weekly, June 28, 1998, No. 26, Vol. LXVI, Roma Hadzewycz, Editor-in-chief, 2200 Route 10, P. O. Box 280, Parsippany, New Jersey, 07054. Published by the Ukrainian National Association.
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