By Carol Sanders, Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, November 28, 2003
I remember going to a friend's house after school when I was a kid and her
quiet, smiling "baba" pinched my cheeks and offered me freshly baked cookies
and bread. The only time I ever heard her Ukrainian grandma raise her voice
was when I took a big piece of bread, had one bite and threw the rest in the
At the time, it seemed like an overreaction. With so much food, what's the
Thirty years later, I found out. This week I met some of the survivors of
the Ukrainian famine-genocide of 1932-33.
When we were children, my friends and I played with Barbies and wasted food;
70 years ago in southern Ukraine, kids were scrounging for scraps of
anything edible and were surrounded by people starving to death.
(Click on image to enlarge it)
I'd heard about the famine orchestrated by Communist dictator Joseph Stalin,
but didn't feel it until I listened to the people who lived through it. I
saw how their experiences shaped them. And how years of official denials,
the apathy of other governments and a coverup at the time by a New York
Times reporter in Stalin's back pocket kept them from talking about it.
Not long after Stalin succeeded in the collectivization of their farms,
closure of their churches and the killing of nearly one-quarter of the
population, the young Ukrainians who made it through the "famine" had to
deal with Hitler. They were rounded up and sent to work camps in Germany. If
they survived till the end of the Second World War, they were placed in
displaced persons camps before coming to Canada. In a new country they had
to find their way, start their own families and learn to speak English.
There was no time to dwell on the past.
And for decades, no one believed them, so what was the point in discussing
Now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, they can finally take a breath and tell
their stories. Some, like 92-year-old Peter Trimpolis of Winnipeg, have
written about the famine of 1932-33. Trimpolis's book, My Rocky Road of
Life, documents his first-hand account of collectivization of the farms in
Ukraine and the adventures and hardships that followed.
Edith Friesen, another Winnipegger, wrote Journey Into Freedom about her
mother's experience as one of the many Mennonites living in southern Ukraine
who survived the artificial famine.
The man-made disaster isn't an event that's buried in the past. The
thriftiness, devotion to family and strong ties to the church as the
cultural centre of the community have been passed down through the
generations. And the importance of sharing when there's not much to share is
Friesen goes back to that part of Ukraine every year and is struck by the
kindness of the people, most of whom are living in poverty.
"It's amazing they can still be so generous having experienced that."
This weekend, the Ukrainian community is hosting a symposium on the
famine-genocide of 1932-33 at the St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian
Orthodox Cathedral in Winnipeg. It's their chance to tell their story and
for us to listen.
For anyone who's wondered about their friend's quiet baba who loves to cook
and hates to waste, it's a big deal. firstname.lastname@example.org
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