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
Marka Ukrainy, Ukrposhta's printing house, cancelled plans to issue the
stamp because it erroneously depicted victims of an earlier famine in
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
The Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 9, 2003
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