The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


By Prof. James Mace
Consultant to The Day
The Day, Kyiv, Ukraine
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The February 12 Verkhovna Rada hearing on the Holodomor , the Great Ukrainian Manmade Famine of 1932-33, was a triumph not of any one person, but of historical justice for millions who perished - not only in the countryside but for the Ukrainian people as a whole, for a nation literally dismembered by terror against those who had taken part in the earlier policy of Ukrainization and suppression of what they had done, dismembered by being cut off from much of its own history and culture, which were fed them in such a distorted form that the very word, Ukrainian, seemed to become second rate, an object of derision for a people that seemingly could not become a nation and could not quite make it to a supposedly superior Russian culture.

Photo by Mykola Lazarenko, The Day

The five minutes I was given to describe the work of America's Ukraine Famine Commission did not suffice for even a fraction of what I should have said, other than that we did the best we could with what we had. Ukraine, with a few exceptions like Communist leader Petro Symonenko, has now come to basically the same conclusion we did in 1990: that Ukrainians had been the victims of genocide in the 1930s and were crippled to an extent that many of the shortcomings of their contemporary state directly result from the lack of what could otherwise have been.

As a foreign citizen I am far from comfortable making policy recommendations even in the face of catcalls from some Communists that I would do better to go back to my American Indians. Yet, the years I have spent researching this tragedy compelled me to try to give one piece of advice that I am not certain was understood.

As one who unsuccessfully attempted to establish an institute for the study of genocide a decade ago I can only welcome the current initiative by various political figures to establish an institute to study the famine.

The call by Communist Borys Oliynyk to name the names of all the guilty and all their victims, while far easier said than done, is also commendable as is the belated movement to erect a monument to the victims.

I attempted only to counsel an act of national memory accessible to everyone - that on the national day to commemorate the victims of 1933 (fourth saturday of November) a time be appointed when each member of this nation where almost every family lost loved ones will be invited to light a candle in their window in memory of those who suffered.

It would be only a fitting response to the words of Father Oleksander Bykovets, son of a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox priest who himself became a priest in America: Everybody worried about one thing - everybody was ready to be a martyr and knew that if not today they would be destroyed tomorrow but they worried whether the world would know about this and whether the world would say something. And there was another problem of a still more intimate character: Would there be somebody to pray for those who were perishing?

Even after seven decades, lighting a candle in the window seems to me a fitting answer.

The Day, Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Photo by Mykola Lazarenko, The Day