The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


Daniel MacIsaac, Kyiv Post Staff Writer -- News about Ukraine
Kyiv, Ukraine
21 November 2002

Seven decades after it occurred, Ukraine's Great Famine is still giving rise to controversy.

November witnessed the start of ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the man-made famine of 1932-33, which some claim resulted in the deaths of as many as 10 million Ukrainians.

Behind the ceremonies commemorating victims of the famine is a push by Ukrainian Diaspora residing in the United States and Canada to urge the Ukrainian government to recognize the famine as an act of genocide and erect a new, prominent monument in Kyiv.

"The significance of these observations is not merely to honor the victims but to raise consciousness that this forgotten famine was not a natural disaster, or even a general purge of the Soviet middle class, but genocide against the Ukrainian people," said Askold Lozynskyj, president of the Toronto-based Ukrainian World Congress. "Additionally, it should serve as a condemnation of the Communist Party, which even today disingenuously dares to voice its concern for the people's good."

The only monument to the Great Famine of 1932-1933 stands outside the St. Micheal's cathedral in Kyiv. Ukrainian Diaspora living in the United States and Canada are now pushing for a larger, more prominent monument to the victims of the famine
(Post photo by Oleksandr Medvedev)

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary, the UWC has stepped up efforts to compel the government and the people come to terms with the famine and its legacy. Lozynskyj said his organization hoped to unveil its new monument in August 2003.

To that end, Lozynskyj met with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh in Kyiv on Oct. 29. Lozynskyj said he succeeded in securing Kinakh's pledge to raise the genocide-recognition issue with the Cabinet of Ministers and to submit it to parliament for consideration. On Oct. 30, Kyiv's City Council and Mayor's office approved a proposal for the Diaspora-sponsored monument. The Diaspora community has reportedly offered to raise up to $250,000 for the monument, which it hopes will be erected on land provided by the city. No specific site has been selected as of yet.

E. Morgan Williams, the Washington, D.C.-based publisher of the Web site, said the issue has as much to do with righting past wrongs as erecting a physical reminder of the famine - or, as he argues - to the crimes perpetrated during the entire interwar period.

"The Soviets have never been held accountable for what they did, either in a court of law or in terms of paying compensation. It is most likely this will never happen, especially in Russia or Ukraine," he said. "[Though] in the past 10 years, the Baltic countries have had some success in bringing the horrors to light and holding trials for some of those responsible."

Williams said issues of accountability, blame and compensation have kept the famine controversial to this day, and have prevented it from being recognized as genocide.

"There are some in academic circles who feel that Ukrainians have overplayed what happened, that it was not really a drive to kill all Ukrainians," he said. "And, of course, there are those in various countries and various government who do not want this issue raised - especially if it means people going to trial or compensation having to be paid."

Kyiv's current monument to the famine is small and nondescript. Designed by linguist and lawmaker Mykola Zhulinsky on the occasion of the famine's 60th anniversary in 1993, it stands in front of St. Michael's Cathedral and takes the form of two figures set within a cross carved from a slab of stone. Aside from the inscription "1932-1933," it is unmarked.

Zhulinsky said the small monument was originally intended to be part of a larger project. He said the project was supposed to include a monument in Kyiv with a list of villages affected by the famine as well as a series of monuments in the villages themselves listing the individual victims.

Zhulinsky said a change of government led to the project being severely scaled back. For that reason, Zhulinsky said he now welcomes the initiative to create a larger memorial on the occasion of the 70th anniversary.

But not everyone agrees with the proposal for a new monument or with its timing.

Significantly, one of the detractors is American James Mace, a historian and political scientist who was at the forefront of research into the famine in the 1980s, when the Kremlin and Ukrainian authorities were doing their best to keep a lid on the issue.

Mace, whose work led to the U.S. Congress' recognition of the famine as genocide in 1988, said there's little doubt that the famine deliberately targeted Ukraine.

But he added that he doesn't know whether a newly independent Ukraine with a large Russian minority is ready to deal with its Soviet past. And, he said, that in part explains his decision to work in Kyiv, where he lectures at Kyiv Mohyla Academy.

"I'm teaching to try to help give the country a sense of its history," he said. "You have to understand that the Soviet Union in the 1920s was not really a Russian state; you have to understand what history was in this state and how people were not taught to analyze it - and how that situation is changing only slowly."

Kyiv-based historian and political scientist James Mace
(Post photo by Oleksandr Medvedev)

Consequently, Mace said he feels a new monument is not necessary.

He said Zhulinsky's monument-sign has already been accepted by the people and that with more and more monuments going up in Kyiv, the danger is that the new ones may simply be ignored and the existing ones forgotten. He added that while the issue of monuments should not be the priority, a compromise solution might be a larger version of the existing Zhulinsky monument.

"The issue is not monuments but coming to terms with what happened, the facts and the evidence," he said. "There is not yet a consensus on who Ukrainians are and what their history is."

Vitaly Mykhailovsky, a Kyiv-based historian, agrees, but for different reasons. He said a consensus exists on the academic level but that the issue has failed to attract widespread attention beyond that circle.

He said once Ukrainians were free to discuss the issue, they had other, more pressing matters with which to concern themselves.

"People over 70 may have had direct connection to the famine, those in their 50s would have heard about it from their parents, but those age 30 or younger are not interested," he said. "This is not a subject for public debate."

Mykhailovsky said that, by contrast, the famine has represented a rallying point for Ukrainian Diaspora, trying to show that "There is a Ukrainian nation, and that it has suffered."

Lozynskyj argues that a lack of concern for the famine in Ukraine is directly driving the Diaspora's current efforts. Certainly, these themes are explored daily.

The Great Famine Research Center in Kyiv has compiled a bibliography of some 400 works concerning the famine that have been published since 1990. And there are debates and articles posted on the Internet daily.

Ukrainians must wait until next summer to see what their government makes of the 70th anniversary of the famine. In New York, the UCCA held its annual observance on Nov. 16, unveiling plans for a monument to the victims to be built in Washington by 2008.

"Today we honor the heroic struggle of the Ukrainian nation when millions died fighting against Stalin's brutal regime," U.S. President George W. Bush said in a Nov. 16 statement.

"We preserve the memory and swear to always remember their suffering."

Williams said it would be interesting to see how the Ukrainian government reacts to the 70th anniversary memorials and how it deals with its history.

"The government has come to realize it has to recognize some of what happened between 1919 and 1939, and it knows that the famine is something they cannot hide," he said.

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