The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

(Death by Forced Starvation)

COMMENTARY by Marta Kolomayets, Kyiv, Ukraine
The Ukrainian Weekly, The Ukrainian National Association
Parsippany, New Jersey, Sunday, December 14, 2003, Pg. 7, 16

Seventy years after the fact, there are still people in Ukraine who either deny or don't know that their countrymen were tortured to death by the artificially created famine in 1932-33, according to a survey published in Den, a daily Ukrainian newspaper on November 22.

Holodomor Commemoration Procession from St. Sophia Square to St. Michael's Square....Nov. 22, 10:00 a.m. Information Service
(Click on images to enlarge them)

The public opinion poll, conducted by the Kyiv Institute of Sociology and the sociology faculty at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, surveyed 2020 Ukrainian citizens, over the age of 18. When asked, which statement best reflects your own thoughts, 40 percent responded that the famine in Ukraine in the 1930s was a genocide of the Soviet regime against the Ukrainian people; 25 percent said that the famine was a result of the Soviet regime and its actions, directed not only at Ukrainian peasantry, but at peasants from other Soviet republics; 10 percent of the respondents said the famine was due to natural conditions, and not the result of authorities' actions, and 13 percent said that they do not know anything about the famine in Ukraine in the 1930s. Twelve percent of those surveyed found the question difficult to answer.

Granted, during Soviet times most people in the Ukrainian SSR could not speak about this tragedy and only after Ukraine became independent could these eyewitnesses alleviate their pain and begin to tell their stories. But the fear that was instilled in them during communist times made it difficult for many to relate their stories and thus revisit the horrors they endured.

In the West, a new campaign to let the world know about the famine-genocide of 1932-33 began in the early 1980s, on the occasion of the Great Famine's 50th anniversary, when more than 15,000 Ukrainians marched past the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. to protest this terror by starvation. [LINKS:]

Although some attempts were made in the 1950s by the Ukrainian diaspora to highlight the atrocities of the Bolshevik regime, it was not until the 1980s and the formation of the U.S. Commission on the Ukrainian Famine that some light was shed on these dark pages in the history of the Ukrainian people. [LINK:]

I come from a family that suffered because of these Stalinist repressions. In the Poltava region, the land of chornozem, (black earth) my great grandparents died during the winter of 1933, my father's aunts and cousins succumbed to death by starvation and the reason that I am on this earth today is because my grandfather [Ivan Kolomayets] saved his wife and two sons from a similar fate by escaping to the big city, Dnipropetrovsk.

Despite this family history, I learned about this "deep dark secret" only in the 1980s, from my grandfather's memoirs, written in the 1960s, and published by Suchasnist in the 1980s, long after he had died. (This year those memoirs were published in Ukraine as a separate book of remembrance, "Holodomor: the Memoirs of One Family.") [LINK:]

To this day, I remember my grandmother's eyes swelling up with tears as she remembered how she tried to save her family. She died in 1987, never having said more than a few words about the holodomor (literally, death by forced starvation).

But today, Ukrainians must know about the famine, they must speak out about it. It must become part of the national consciousness. Ukrainians must know their history, must learn from their history if they want to be emerge as a strong, proud and dignified people on the map of the world. I cannot imagine a single Armenian who knows nothing about the Ottoman Empire's massacre of Armenians, or one Jew who will not condemn the atrocities of Hitler's regime.

Yet, today, in Ukraine, we still have historians who are be Stalin's apologists, who bicker over the reasons for the famine and quibble over whether 7 or 10 million peasants died from hunger in the 1930s. We still have communists who, in May, at a special session the Verkhovna Rada held to remember the victims of the 1932-33 famine, insisted that the famine was brought on by a bad harvest. [LINK:]

And unfortunately, we have a Ukrainian government that seems ambivalent about the past, seems to say the right things, but does little to educate its people about their own history and shies away from contact with its citizens.

Case in point: Although President Leonid Kuchma, has decreed that every year, the fourth Saturday of November will be a day of commemoration for the victims of the 1932-33 famine, there has been no government-sponsored public awareness campaign to get this message out to 48 million Ukrainians. There is no museum to honor the victims of this tragedy and the small monument erected in 1993, (it's actually been called a marker, rather than a monument) in memory of those who died 60 years earlier, does not reflect the magnitude of this Ukrainian holocaust. And there are no textbooks, media programs or information services that can provide such materials. [LINK:]

Over 2,500 people came to honor the memory of those who perished in 1932-33, at a famine memorial service, organized by Victor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc on Saturday, November 22. The campaign, called "Light a Candle" was a noble effort and the leaders of this bloc brought together Ukrainians from every region of the country to mourn their brethren. But these numbers represent just a small fraction of the number who perished. Newly released figures from declassified Soviet archives show that about 25,000 people died every day in Ukraine in 1933 (or 17 people every minute). [LINKS:]

Unfortunately, on Saturday [November 22, 2003], members of the Ukrainian government, including Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych and Rada Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn were not there with the people. (President Kuchma is currently in the hospital, recuperating from abdominal surgery.) They did come to lay wreaths at the famine memorial before the service, but they did not stay to honor the memory of those who died, did not stay to condemn the actions of the government of the past.

Nov. 22, 2003 Information Service

To be fair, the Ukrainian government did sponsor a 40-minute memorial concert - by invitation only -- at the National Opera House on November 22, but the government committee to commemorate the 70th anniversary commemorations, formed 10 months ago and headed by Mr. Yanukovych, met only once this year - on November 19. [LINK:]

The lack of Ukrainian government involvement and understanding of such commemorations is worrisome and distressing.

Indeed, it is a great honor that the Ambassadors of both the United States and Canada took time out of their busy schedules to visit an art exhibit in Kyiv's Ukrainian House, titled "To the Dead, and the Living and the Unborn," on Friday evening, November 21. The exhibit featured over 100 works of art related to the political famines in Ukraine in 1921-22 and 1932-33. It was collected by E. Morgan Williams, a senior adviser to the US-Ukraine Foundation, who has no blood connection to Ukraine, but over the past decade has become a loyal friend and passionate supporter of Ukrainian culture and history. [LINKS:]

It is stimulating to see Dr. James Mace, who has spent more than 20 years researching collectivization in the 1930s, continue promoting the cause of recognizing the famine as genocide against the Ukrainian people by the Communist regime. Dr. Mace, who also has no Ukrainian blood, but is now married to a Ukrainian poet and scholar, lives and works in Ukraine, inspiring students to look into Ukraine's past. [There are many articles by Dr. Mace about the genocidal famine in Ukraine posted at the following link:]

Nov. 22, 2003 Information Service

It is refreshing to see Fulbright scholars, such as Natalia Feduschak, guest-lecture to journalism students at Kyiv State University, raising awareness about the famine of 1932-33. Her second-year university students will be reading books about the famine and finding survivors to talk to about what happened in Ukraine in the year that the United States recognized the Soviet Union.

And, it is encouraging that the Ukrainian diaspora is still going strong with its public awareness campaign in the West; the diaspora can still get people out to commemorate and honor a cause we should never forget.

And although it is disappointing that Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize was not revoked, the effort was valiant and we should be proud of that campaign and the fruits it bore: a greater awareness of the Famine-Genocide and its deniers.

Seventy years after this crime against humanity and in the 13th year of Ukrainian independence, Ukrainians are only beginning to learn the truth about this horrific crime.

Questions arise: who is responsible for making the truth known? Who will tell Ukrainians what really happened in 1932-33? Who will provide them with the facts? And who will teach them about their past so it is not repeated?

In five years, Ukrainians will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Great Famine: it is my hope that in Ukraine 10 million people will come out to light a candle to honor every innocent victim who died in this genocide.But that all depends on Ukraine's political will and commitment to its history.

The Ukrainian Weekly, Ukrainian National Association,
Parsippany, New Jersey, Sunday, December 14, 2003
The Ukrainian Weekly Archive:

NOTE: The links in the article above were added by the Information Service (ARTUIS). They were not part of the original article.

NOTE: Marta Kolomayets, the granddaughter of Ivan Kolomayets, is a Ukrainian-American who lives and works in Kyiv, Ukraine. She have been very active for many years regarding Ukrainian issues in the USA and in Ukraine, as a journalist, and as an senior executive of private voluntary organizations (PVO's) whose programs are working to assist in the economic and civil society development of Ukraine.

Marta and her family were responsible for the re-publication of her grandfather's book in Ukraine in 2003. She is presently translating her grandfather's book from Ukrainian into English. Marta is an active member of the "Public Committee for the Commemoration of the Victims of the HOLODOMOR," in Kyiv, Ukraine.