Holodomor Commemorated at Alberta Legislature

The combined choirs of Ukrainian Bilingual Program students of St. Martin and St. Matthew Catholic Elementary Schools sing the Ukrainian National Anthem at the Holodomor Commemoration Ceremony at the Legislature Building in Edmonton on November 21. Marco Levytsky

Marco Levytsky, NP-UN Western Bureau.

Members of the Alberta Legislature held a Commemoration Ceremony in recognition of the 9th Anniversary of the Province’s Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day Act in the Rotunda of the Legislature Building in Edmonton, November 21.

This is an annual event hosted by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, in cooperation with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council.

Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day Act, sponsored by then-Deputy Government Leader (later Speaker) Gene Zwozdesky, came into effect on November 8, 2008.

Following the singing of Canada’s and Ukraine’s National Anthems by the combined choirs of Ukrainian Bilingual Program students of St. Martin and St. Matthew Catholic Elementary Schools, current Speaker Robert E. Wanner opened the proceedings, noting that it is estimated that at the peak of the devastation 33,000 people perished daily while at the same time a believed 1.7 million tonnes of grain were exported to western markets.

“For generations these inhumane acts went largely unknown and unrecognized outside of people from Ukraine. We must remember the worst of our history in order to realize a better future.

“Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ It is incumbent on us to ensure the horrors of this tragedy are remembered and to thwart denials that still occur to this day. Today’s event is an opportunity to recognize the struggle and strength of the victims but also to unite with survivors and honour the human spirit,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Government of Alberta and Premier Rachel Notley, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous stated that the plan behind Holodomor was deliberate: for collectivization to be deemed successful in Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe, independent farmers had to be eliminated.

“Beginning in 1932, all food was removed by Soviet forces from targeted areas of Ukraine and the country’s borders were sealed, denying people the opportunity to search for food.

“Outside of Ukraine, little was known about Holodomor, and even inside Ukraine, to speak of this event was forbidden.

“Once the campaign of engineered famine was complete, Ukraine’s religious, artistic, intellectual and political leaders were arrested, deported or executed. The russification of Ukraine followed,” he said.

Earlier that day, Notley issued her own statement in which she said:

“Holodomor touches every Albertan of Ukrainian heritage in a deeply personal way. Eighty-five years later, the deliberate destruction of families, learning and culture continues to be felt with profound sadness and loss.

“Alberta understands. We stand by our friends, neighbours and families of Ukrainian heritage. And since 2008, the fourth Saturday in November is proclaimed as Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day in our province.

“Remembering the genocide of Holodomor is for all Albertans. By honouring the memory of those who suffered and died in Ukraine, we reaffirm our vigilance against all racism, violence, hatred and persecution.”

Speaking on behalf of the Official Opposition, David Hanson, MLA for Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, noted that during 1932 and 1933 between 4 and 10 million people perished, their lives cut short due to starvation.

“The Holodomor saw the most fertile land in the Soviet Union overtaken in a violent campaign, where food was confiscated and farmers were stripped of their land, livestock and equipment. Some families were deported, many arrested and many more executed. This campaign of terror was organized to instill fear within the Ukrainian people and dissolve nationalism. Ironically, though, Stalin’s plan failed to destroy the spirit of the Ukrainian people.

“This afternoon we recognize the survivors of the Holodomor and pay homage to their resilience and fortitude to survive some of the most horrible conditions any human has had to endure. We honour the unconquerable spirit and strength that is reflected in ever the vibrant culture and ideals of the many Ukrainian communities that have contributed to building our province.

“While we cannot change our past or right the wrongs of history, we can remember the Holodomor to ensure it remains a tragic pad of our past and not a possibility in our future,” he stated.

Dr. Serge Cipko, Assistant Director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, and author of the book “Starving Ukraine: The Holodomor and Canada’s Response”, which launched on November 15, related how Michael Luchkovich, the first Ukrainian Canadian Member of Parliament spoke about the famine in the House of Commons, in 1934 and referred to the many demonstrations protesting the famine that had been held across North America, to the appeals made by Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of Vienna on behalf of famine victims, and to the efforts made by Johan Ludwig Mowinckel, the president of the Council of the League of Nations, to put the matter of the famine on the agenda of the League of Nations, without success.

“Why were Mowinckel’s efforts unsuccessful? In Luchkovich’s opinion, it was because there were ‘too many axes to grind’ and ‘too many impending non-aggression pacts.’ In fact, around this time the United States recognized the Soviet Union in November 1933 and the League of Nations admitted the USSR into its fold in September 1934.

“Luchkovich had a point. During 1932-1933 more pressure from the West could certainly have been applied on the Soviet regime on the issue of the famine. A major problem, though, was that the Soviet regime was denying that there was a famine and refused collective offers of aid when it was offered,” said Dr. Cipko.

Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, President of the UCC – APC, said that the Holodomor “is not simply a case of mass murder. It is a case of genocide, of the destruction, not of individuals only, but of a culture and a nation. However, Ukraine’s culture, its beliefs, its common ideas, which have guided it and given it a soul endured.”

“The importance of commemorations such as today is that now they carry even greater significance. As Russia continues to deny this genocide and suggest that the Holodomor was just the result of difficult circumstances, events like today will serve as reminders that the world, that Canadians and that Albertans know differently. Historical realities which are well documented and events like today help to educate in order to ensure that such genocides are no longer a part of world history on any continent.,” she added.

Following the addresses, the student choir of St. Matthew’s performed “Seeds of Hope”, while St. Martin’s choir sang “Do you hear me, Brother”.

The ceremony concluded with a candle lighting and prayer conducted by Bilous, Luciw-Andryjowycz and Holodomor survivors Natalia Talanchuk and Leonid Korownyk.