The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

Commemorating Eastern Ukraine's Artificial Famine of 1932-1933

by Ingert Kuzych and Morgan Williams
The Ukrainian Weekly, Pages 13-14
Ukrainian National Association (UNA)
Parsippany, NJ, Sunday, November 30, 2003


SPRINGFIELD, Va........Concerted pressure from Ukrainian Diaspora groups in the US and Canada - led in no small part by the Ukrainian Philatelic and Numismatic Society (UPNS) - caused Ukrposhta, Ukraine's state postal service, to withdraw the design for a postage stamp commemorating Eastern Ukraine's artificial famine of 1932 and 1933. Marka Ukrainy, Ukrposhta's printing house, cancelled plans in late September to issue the stamp because it not only erroneously showed victims of an earlier famine in 1921 but, in addition, depicted victims that were Russian, not Ukrainian.

The stamp was intended to commemorate the genocidal famine referred to as the Holodomor (an untranslatable word that evokes the Ukrainian words for "hunger," "plague," and "torture"). During the famine, millions of peasants starved to death while Western markets were flooded with confiscated Ukrainian grain in order to fund the Stalin-era industrialization of the Soviet Union.

The stamp's introduction was originally planned to coincide with the Holodomor commemorations that take place during the fourth weekend of November every year. Postal officials had to scramble during October and early November to redesign and print a new stamp in time to meet a 21 November 2003 release date.

UPNS member and publisher of the Information Service (ARTUIS) Morgan Williams obtained a copy of the stamp from an undisclosed source. Several things immediately caught his eye. The first was that three Ukrainian famines were being commemorated on a single stamp (1921-22, 1932-33, and 1946-47). Such a grouping it was felt would dilute the real reason for issuing the stamp - to concretely recognize the immensity of the Holodomor of the 1930s that was imposed on Ukraine. (A tragedy that to this day continues to be glossed over by many Soviet-era holdovers still in government positions.) Additionally, the design was terribly cluttered with the word "Holodomor" repeated three times (Figure 1).


Ukraine. Holodomor. In Memory of Victims of Holodomor. 1921-1922, 1932-1933, 1946-1947
(Click on images to enlarge them)

What was really troubling about the image, however, was the starving peasants on the left side of the stamp. Mr. Williams recognized the figures of three women, a baby, and a girl with a swollen belly as having come from a 1921 famine photograph. He then asked two prominent scholars, Dr. James Mace at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and Dr. Roman Serbyn of Montreal, to confirm his discovery. Both men have extensively researched the famines that occurred in Soviet times. Not only did they agree that the photo was taken more than 10 years before the 1930s famine, but they also indicated that it pictured Russian peasants from Buzulak in Soviet Russia, not Ukraine. A subsequent minor alteration to the stamp design did away with the three famine dates (Figure 2), but did not really eliminate the clutter and still retained the unsuitable figures.


Ukraine. Holodomor. In Memory of Victims of Holodomor 1932-1933. 45 kopiykas

Williams sent emails to anyone he could, alerting them to the error, and trying to get them to contact Marka Ukrainy and have them change the design. On 29 September he contacted Ingert Kuzych, president of the UPNS, with details of the planned stamp (including the stamp design) and with information about its erroneous depiction. That same evening, Dr. Kuzych sent out a letter - with copies of Mr. Williams' sending - to over 100 members who have e-mails urging them to contact Marka Ukrainy and express their concern (see letter below).

On the following day, Mr. Williams was able to set up a meeting in his Kyiv office with Valentyna Khudoliy, director of Marka Ukrainy. Also present at the get together - called with just a three hour notice - were Ross Chomiak, an American journalist living in Kyiv; Dr. Anatol Lysyj, President, Minnesota Chapter, Coordinating Committee to Aid Ukraine; and Dr. George Krywolap, Secretary, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. (Dr. James Mace, internationally recognized expert on the Holodomor, was tied up teaching a class at that time period.)

During the meeting, the gentlemen tried to convey their profound concerns about the stamp design. Mrs. Khudoliy, however, informed them that it was too late to change the stamp's design since it had already received government approval. In addition, she was skeptical of Mr. Williams' claim that the stamp traced to 1921 and Soviet Russia since Ukrinform, the state information agency, had been commissioned to provide a historically accurate photo. Khudoliy also mentioned that the photo had recently been published in a book on 20th century Ukraine, where it had been labeled as being from Ukraine, albeit from 1921. She did not realize that very few images are available from the 1933 famine because of the clampdown on any photographs being taken that could verify the tragedy that was taking place.

Williams understood how crucial it was to use an image from the proper famine. In an otherwise excellent 1986 documentary on the Holodomor, "Harvest of Despair," the filmmakers had erroneously used photos from a Russian famine. This oversight gave some Russians a pretext to deny that the Holodomor had ever occurred. The fear was that similar allegations would again arise if the stamp design in question was used.

Recipients of Williams' and Kuzych's e-mail campaign responded quickly. Khudoliy later affirmed that Marka Ukrainy started receiving messages at about the time that residents of North America's East Coast were waking up on 30 September. By 4 pm that day, just hours after her meeting with Williams, she called to tell him that the stamp would be held and that Marka Ukrainy would try to find a new photo.

Khudoliy acknowledged that pressure from "our Ukrainian Diaspora" was the primary reason for the decision to hold the production and sale of the stamp. She admitted that Ukrposhta was "surprised but unimpressed" that the stamp's design had been leaked before its scheduled release date, an action she called a gross violation of the designer's rights.

In a distinct understatement Khudoliy allowed that, "The Americans were very worried about [the stamp]." As it turns out, they had every right to be. Marka Ukrainy planned to print 200,000 copies of the Holodomor stamp with a face value of 45 kopeks. Whether these had to be destroyed is currently unknown.

Nevertheless, some basic information - as well as the new stamp design - has emerged. The new Holodomor stamp was prepared by Kost Lavro, Marka Ukrainy's highest-paid designer. Unlike the earlier design, the new main image does not utilize any historical photos. Instead a simple, powerful, symbolic representation is used. Shown is a Kozak-style granite cross, out of which emerges the ghostly head of a child (girl?) with a frozen expression that can be interpreted as grief, regret, and/or despair (Figure 3).

Ukraine. Holodomor 1932-1933. 45 kopiykas


Harvest of Despair. In Memory of the Holodomor Victims. First Day of Cancellation

The expression is haunting and is somewhat reminiscent of Edvard Munch's "The Scream." The single word "Holodomor" says all that is necessary and the blood red year numerals contrast sharply with the grays and black of the rest of the design. A few spindly stalks of grain add to the poignancy of the image." All in all, it is a very effective and heart-rending design.

Only 100,000 copies of the new 45-kopek Holodomor stamps were reportedly printed, a ludicrous quantity for a nation with a population just under 50 million. Why such a miniscule amount was produced remains a puzzle. Once an acceptable Holodomor stamp design was approved, this particular issue should have been printed in far larger numbers to help educate the populace - and the world - of this greatest of Ukraine's tragedies. One can only hope that Marka Ukrainy will wise up and reprint further quantities.

The author's wish to thank the many people who took the time to contact Marka Ukrainy and express their views on the unsuitable original Holodomor stamp. In particular the activities of George Fedyk, Roman Maziak, and Lubomyr Onyshkevych are especially appreciated.

FOR THE RECORD: Philatelic Society's Letter to its Members:

Below is the text of the letter sent out to all UPNS members with e-mail addresses on the Society roster.

Dear UPNS Member or Concerned Citizen,

I have just been informed of the incredibly inappropriate stamp design that Marka Ukrainy has proposed to issue in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine (Holodomor). Although some may quibble about details of the overall design, the blatant use of a photo showing a starving Russian family instead of Ukrainian victims cannot be left unchallenged. (Details of the stamp design and verification that the persons depicted are Russian appear below.)

If such a stamp were to appear it would be an insult to the 7-10 million Ukrainian victims who were the victims of this Soviet Russian-instigated horror.

I am sending this letter to all UPNS members with e-mail addresses as well as to others who I hope will be able to help in a letter-writing campaign to change the stamp design. Unfortunately the time is short. The anniversary of the Holodomor is commemorated during the fourth weekend of November every year. I imagine the stamp would be issued a couple of weeks ahead of this time. That only leaves about six to seven weeks to cancel the present design and undertake a stamp change. Please join me in contacting Marka Ukrainy AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

The address of the head of Marka Ukrainy is:
Valentyna Khudoliy, Khreshchatyk , 22, Kyiv-1, 01001, Ukraine The e-mail address I was able to find at the Marka Ukrainy website ( was:

Please send copies of this request to anyone you can think of who would be willing to drop a line to Marka Ukrainy to see that the impending philatelic travesty does not occur.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Dr. Ingert Kuzych, President
Ukrainian Philatelic and Numismatic Society

Attached to this missive was information supplied by Morgan Williams documenting the fact that the persons shown on the stamp were Russian peasants from a photograph of 1921. [see links one and two at the end of this posting]

[This report by the author's (Ingert Kuzych and Morgan Williams) is slightly expanded from an article that appeared in The Ukrainian Weekly, 30 November 2003.]

The Ukrainian Weekly, Sunday, November 30, 2003, Pages 13-14
Roma Hadzewycz, Editor-in-chief, Ukrainian National Association,
P.O. Box 280, Parsippany, NJ 07054
The Ukrainian Weekly Archive:

EDITOR'S NOTE: For additional information about the new Ukrainian genocidal famine 1932-1933 Holodomor stamp published in November, 2003, click on the following links:

ARTUIS, Kyiv, Ukraine, September 25, 2003
ARTUIS, Kyiv, Ukraine, September 27, 2003
ARTUIS, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 3, 2003
The Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 9, 2003
The Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 9, 2003
ARTUIS, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 17, 2003
ARTUIS, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 26, 2003
ARTUIS, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 29, 2003
The Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 30, 2003
ARTUIS, Kyiv, Ukraine, November 1, 2003
ARTUIS, Kyiv, Ukraine, November 21, 2003