The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

Remembering Everything, Remembering Everyone

By Natalia Dziubenko-Mace
The Day Weekly Digest, Kyiv, Ukraine, 28 September 2003

Volodymyr Maniak in his Foreword to the book, Holod 33: Narodna Knyha-Memorial [Famine '33. The People's Memorial Book] warned that "this publication is very special, not meant to be read just once. Perceiving the dark chronicles of the Holodomor in Ukraine, in 1932-33, in a consecutive manner, by reading every page, tries one's nerves. Reading it is not easy, but it is necessary. Without knowing the full truth of the past, however frightening, the process of rejuvenation and purification underway in this country appears unthinkable."

Take another quotation. It was written in 1989, it is full of civic courage, and it reads surprisingly topical: "We should not look for words to stand in place of words, we must call things by their proper names. Genocide is genocide. International law qualifies it is as one of gravest crimes against humanity... Genocide is triable. It was that way yesterday and it must be regarded the same way today and forever."

(Click on images to enlarge them)

Everyone involved in and with this truly great book, from the proofreaders to artists to linotypists treated it with jealous care. People worked nights and even gave up their vacations to put it in print. In all many years as an editor with the Kameniar Publishers, then with Ukrayinsky Pysmennyk, I had never seen such an attitude. I was fortunate enough to edit Holod 33 and the whole thing is best described using Ecclesiastes's words, ... in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow. The book cannot be simply read, it has to be lived through. Living through it, at a time when the project was beginning, was far from easy.

In my apartment, additional materials on that tragic page in Ukrainian history appear every week, sometimes even more frequently. Lidiya Kovalenko and Volodymyr Maniak had to work on the project in Ukraine still under the Soviets, meaning that everything was immeasurably more complicated for them. Yet they did it and had it appear in print by exerting inhuman efforts, and then passed away one after the other, filled with pain and suffering.

Volodymyr Maniak died from a road accident, and Lidiya Kovalenko died of a heart attack while in conference six months later. The two were the first in Ukraine to be awarded Shevchenko Prizes for such a book. Although recognition came their way while both were still alive, it was too late.

The book was bequeathed as a collection of memories [originally titled] Tysiachi Svidchen Ochevydtsiv [A Thousand Eyewitness Testimonies]. The archival documents were still to be declassified, but Volodymyr Maniak was known for his fantastic intuition and his wife Lidiya Kovalenko for a great intellectual potential. She was editor of a number of prestigious Ukrainian journals, she knew all the secrets of editorial work, and no one would find any mistakes in anything she undertook to print.

The problem was something else: the very concept of the book - needless to say, the project was under close surveillance. I can with full certainty say that had it not been for the tough and at times insufferable character of Volodymyr Maniak, who never waited for obstacles but was always on the offensive, the book would have never have been published. He could attack party functionaries at all levels, including the highest officials in charge of Ukrainian literature to defend the project.

This author was more than friends with Volodymyr and Lidiya; we were sworn brothers and sisters, yet working with them was very difficult as well as extremely interesting. I edited Volodymyr's books of stories and novels, stories about the Ukrainian countryside; even then he was aware that our villages were falling into an abyss; he took a keen interest in the way common people - peasants and miners - lived. He worked with an energy that defied imagination, leaving the finishing touches to his wife. She, with her innate sense of humor and patience, never said no and edited and retyped his manuscripts, helping him in every way she could.

However, Holod 33 was an exception from their family work routine. Her article "Dukhovna Ruyina" [The Spiritual Ruin], was at the same time a prayer and a damnation. It was more than a panoramic view of a tragedy befalling Ukraine at that dark period, it was also a brilliant analysis, a stunning revelation.

The book contains eyewitness accounts, commentaries by historians and publicists, and lists of names of those who died from starvation. It all makes one's blood run cold. Dozens of files with photos and manuscripts heaped on my desk kept me glued to the chair. I could not leave the office for fear that some would vanish - and some indeed did. Once someone cut off the names and addresses from the photos in my absence. Fortunately, they were later found in a garbage can. I picked them up, put them in a bag with the photos and fled to the writers' retreat in Irpin where I pasted them together, relying on my memory - accurately, as it turned out, much to my surprise, perhaps owing to the utmost concentration and dedication.

At the time the whole publishing company staff was very sympathetic and helpful. From I can remember, the last time I spoke with Volodymyr Maniak was during the Putsch in Moscow. He came to collect his photo archives, fearing that his manuscript would be destroyed and the archives stolen. Later, we would see each other during meetings of the Memorial Association and later the Association of Independent Researchers of the Famine Genocide.

Each time I noticed his worried, strained face. I did not know why - I still don't and probably never will. He was on the organizing committee of the first international symposium marking the sixtieth anniversary of the Holodomor, but journalists were not admitted. In fact, a group of television journalists with me among them were denied admittance. I am not sure that the Ukrainian press carried as little as a couple of lines on the event.

After her husband's death, Lidiya Kovalenko continued her Holodomor studies in an altogether different format, using large auditoriums with hundreds of people in the audience eager to share their eyewitness accounts and frank views. She had many plans, we often met and discussed them. Her energy was awe-inspiring. She was a born leader and a charming woman.

Lidiya wrote, "They had grain at the time. Amidst the famine-stricken villages stood churches with boarded-up windows, packed with grain. There was grain rotting in thousand ton heaps at railroad stations. It seemed that all one had to do was reach a hand and take it, to save oneself. Yet there was no salvation."

Many of my friends - artists, poets, writers, journalists - seem to have passed away "quickly, while on the go," as once fatefully described by Vyacheslav Chornovil. Perhaps, it is because someone's evil intent is compounded by all the risks involved in this hurried lifestyle. Volodymyr Maniak and Lidiya Kovalenko met their death in that crucible of haste, so one can only pray that the Lord rest their souls and hope that people will remember them.

Finally, I have several questions to ask. What about all those huge boxes filled with eyewitness accounts and audio tapes, collected by Kovalenko and Maniak all over Ukraine, that seem to have vanished into thin air? Why does the title of a book containing such testimonies, printed in French, refer to a certain Sokoloff who decided that the foreword, being not entirely competent, warranted his signing someone else's book, thus implying that he was presenting it as his own?

Also, what has happened to Volodymyr Maniak's memorial book Spaleni sela [Burned Villages], telling about every Ukrainian village put to the torch in World War II? I held in my hands a beautifully designed and printed advance copy, but then could not find a single copy in any bookstore, kiosk, or library.

The book Holod 1932-33 rokiv na Ukrayini: Ochyma istorykiv, movoyu dokumentiv [The Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Through the Eyes of Historians, in the Language of the Documents] was put out almost simultaneously with the one containing eyewitness accounts. Both were meant as the first reliable reference source for researchers. On the one hand, it was a powerful outburst of people's memories; on the other, the iron-clad logic of documents not to be contested referring to emotional overstatement or vague recall. They say that victims do not lie.

People's memories prove the most authentic historical source. This book was the first attempt in Ukraine to return us to ourselves, to force us to face our own identity. We have remembered things. We want the the world to know that two most important Commandments - Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal - were grossly violated with regard to the Ukrainians. The famine of 1932-33 was a weapon of mass destruction used against us. We will long search for an answer to the question of why.

We will do so jointly with the good newspaper, The Day, which is capable of publishing if not a tome then a bibliography of articles dealing with the subject. Staff journalists dedicate serious efforts to foreign research in this domain (e.g., works by Robert Conquest, James Mace, and others). This is very important, yet the main effort is being exerted in Ukraine now that we light candles on our ancestors' common graves. Perhaps now is the time for us to awaken from our long historical coma, so we can return to our own history and our future.

The Day Weekly Digest, Kyiv, Ukraine, September 28, 2003