The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


By Roman Zakaluzny, Kyiv Post Staff Writer
The Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, October 9, 2003

Ukrposhta, the state postal service, has decided to withdraw the design for a postage stamp commemorating Eastern Ukraine's artificial famine of 1932 and 1933, citing pressure from Ukrainian Diaspora groups in the U.S. and Canada.

Marka Ukrainy, Ukrposhta's printing house, cancelled plans to issue the stamp because it erroneously depicted victims of an earlier famine in Russia.

Ukraine. Holodomor. In Memory of Victims of Holodomor 1932-1933. 45 kopiykas
(Click on image to enlarge it)

The stamp was intended to commemorate the genocidal famine known 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 Ukrainian grain - sold, historians have argued, to fund the Stalin-era industrialization of the Soviet Union.

The stamp's introduction was originally planned for Nov. 22. Though postal officials are attempting to redesign the stamp in time for the planned rollout, they expressed uncertainty as to whether a revised stamp could be prepared by that date.

ArtUkraine President E. Morgan Williams said that he obtained a copy of the stamp from an undisclosed source. What caught Williams' eye was the depiction of starving peasants on the left side of the stamp. He recognized the image of three women, a baby, and a girl with a swollen belly as having come from a 1921 photograph.

"I immediately knew [that the image] was from 1921," said Williams.

Williams said that he asked two scholars, James Mace at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and Roman Serbyn of Montreal, to confirm the origin of the photograph. Both men have researched the famines in the former Soviet Union. Not only did they agree that the photo was taken more than 10 years before the 1930s famine, but they also said it pictured Russian peasants from Soviet Russia, not Ukraine.

Serbyn, a retired history professor, has studied Soviet famines extensively. He said that he had seen the photo before.

"I have seen both the little girl by herself, and with the adults, in photographs labeled as being from Buzuluk, Russia, from the famine of 1921 to 1923," said Serbyn. "I have a photocopy of a brochure published by Le Comite Francais de Secours aux Enfants entitled, 'La Famine en Russie.' Inside, there is a map of the 1921 to 1923 famine. One of the photos reproduced there is of the little girl."

Williams sent emails to thousands of people, alerting them to the error, and he organized a Sept. 30 meeting with Marka Ukrainy director Valentyna Khudoliy.

During the meeting, Khudoliy said that it was too late to change the stamp's design, that the stamp already had received government approval, and that Ukrinform, the state information agency, had been commissioned to provide a historically accurate photo.

Khudoliy also said 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.

Mistakes like that occur too often, Williams said.

"Ninety-five percent of the photos that are represented as being of the Ukrainian famine are from Russia," he said. "That's a sore point with me." "[The gaffes] are then used by people who say we exaggerate the extent of the famine. Or even worse, by people who deny [that the famine ever occurred]," he said.

Yuri Shcherbak, Ukraine's former ambassador to both Canada and the United States, called the error "frightening."

"It's a scandal," the former diplomat said from his home in Kyiv. "How could Ukraine, which lost 10 million people in the famine, use a photo from he wrong decade and from the wrong country? The Russian-language press would say 'There go the Ukrainians again, lying about the famine.'"

Shcherbak said that "anti-Ukrainian propaganda" resulted after the release of a 1986 documentary, "Harvest of Sorrow." In it, the filmmakers erroneously used photos from a Russian famine to illustrate the Holodomor, giving some a pretext to deny that the Holodomor ever occurred. He said that he feared that similar allegations would arise again if that stamp were issued.

Recipients of Williams' email campaign responded. Khudoliy said that Marka Ukrainy started receiving emails at about the time that residents of North America's East Coast were waking up.

By 4 p.m., just hours after her meeting with Williams, Khudoliy called Williams to tell him that the stamp would be withheld and that Marka Ukraina would try to find a new photo.

Khudoliy said that pressure from "our Ukrainian Diaspora" was a primary reason for the decision to hold production and sale of the stamp. Khudoliy said that Ukrposhta was "surprised and 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.

"The Americans were very worried about [the stamp]," Khudoliy said. "But we' re going to try to have a different stamp ready for the Nov. 22 unveiling, as planned."

She said that, while she does not know how much the new design will differ from the original version, the starving Russian peasants from 1921 will not be depicted.

Marka Ukrainy planned to print 200,000 copies of the stamp, which carries a face value of 45 kopecks. Ukrainian commemorative issues are popular with Diaspora collectors.

The Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 9, 2003