The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


By Lourdes Rodriguez-Florido, Staff Writer, South Florida's Latest News
South Florida, December 31 2003


Seventy years have passed since the horror, but the tears still flow with the memories.

For Hollywood resident Anna Snihatsch, 78, they are memories of a hunger so great that she was forced to eat grass and the parts of wheat that are usually fed to pigs.

For Alexandra Medwit, 83, of Pompano Beach, they are memories of watching her mother and brother starve to death.

For Antonina Husak, 80, of Davie, they are memories that include a neighbor gone mad with starvation who tried to eat his own child.

All three women were children during the forced famine that killed from 6 million to 10 million people in Ukraine in 1932-33. They shared their stories recently during a 70th anniversary commemoration of the famine at the Dormition-Assumption of the Theotokos Ukrainian Catholic Church in Miami.

The event included a prayer service, "fasting" lunch, candlelight procession, narrative dance and eyewitness accounts of this little known horror of the 20th century.

The famine came about as a result of Communist leader Joseph Stalin's drive to industrialize the Soviet Union, according to accounts in a film, documents and such books as Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust, by Miron Dolot.

A 1988 U.S. Congressional Commission on the Status of the Ukraine Famine concluded that "Stalin and those around him committed genocide against Ukrainians in 1932-1933."

Still, many people to this day do not know about the horror, mainly because it was hidden from the public at the time. Stalin had sealed the Ukrainian borders and the media at the time failed to report on the situation.

"We decided this anniversary had to be observed because hardly anyone knows about it," said Pompano Beach resident Daniel Krysa, a member of the coordinating committee of the South Florida Ukrainian Community, which organized the commemoration.

The group promotes cultural, educational and philanthropic activities, and draws participation from the approximately 400 Ukrainian-American families in South Florida's tri-county area.

About 150 people were present at the commemoration event. Many cried when the survivors spoke.

"I think that touched me the most," said Karyn Maksymowich Wilk of Weston. "It's one thing when you read about it, but to actually hear it from a survivor's point of view is powerful."

The famine started when Stalin, looking to finance his industrialization of the Soviet Union, enforced a collectivization of agriculture and enacted crippling grain quotas on peasant farmers to force them to join the collective farms.

Resisters were arrested and executed, and crops and grains were confiscated, leaving villagers with little or no food. While people starved, grain was sold to Western markets to help finance the industrialization.

"It was awful, awful, " recalled Snihatsch, her eyes filling with tears. "How can anyone do this to people? ... There was nothing, nothing. No bread. Nothing."

Medwit recalled how her brother turned into a living skeleton before he died; her mother, grandfather, cousins and uncle died. Only she and her father survived.

"My daughter is 53 now," she said. "My mom died at 33. She was a young woman. She didn't want to die."

Husak recalls the bodies of the dead being loaded in carts in her village. Sometimes the nearly dead were just loaded on top of the already dead, she said.

For years now, Ukrainians around the globe have spoken about the famine and genocide, and unsuccessfully lobbied to get the Pulitzer Prize board to strip the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for correspondence from the late Walter Duranty, a reporter for The New York Times who at the time covered the Soviet Union.

Critics claim that Duranty failed to report the truth about the famine. Many think that Duranty, who had been granted a rare interview with Stalin, wanted to retain his favored access to the Soviet government.

On Nov. 21, the Associated Press reported that the Pulitzer Prize board decided against rescinding Pulitzer because "there was not clear and convincing evidence of a deliberate deception" by Duranty, and because he was not alive to present his side of the story.

"[The decision] was very, very disappointing to me and to the whole community," said Oksana Piaseckyj, a Sunny Isles resident who is a member of the Ukrainian coordinating committee.,0,6824175.story?coll=sfla-news-broward