Holodomor Mobile Classroom Readying To Take to the Road

Alexandra Stadnyk, Uliana Hlynchak Toronto.

The Holodomor National Awareness Tour “Mobile Classroom” is preparing to take to the road this fall with the goal of increasing awareness of the Holodomor across Canada. A Fleetwood RV bus has been purchased as the centerpiece of the tour, a federally and provincially funded initiative to educate Canadians about the famine engineered by Joseph Stalin in 1932-33. Through the lens of the Holodomor, the tour will promote understanding of the consequences of hate and discrimination and highlight the values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The 40-foot RV is currently being customized, including the installation of state-of-the-art audio-visual multi-media capabilities such as 12 commercial flatscreen Samsung televisions, to ensure that the Holodomor Mobile Classroom offers a 21s t century learning experience.

Bohdan Onyschuk, past Chair of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation (CUF), the lead organization on the project, arranged for the purchase of the vehicle. Onyschuk traveled to Decatur, Indiana, for negotiations with Fleetwood Transportation. Initial quotes for an RV that could be retrofitted into a mobile classroom were in the $400,000 USD range.

“Fleetwood Transportation employs about a thousand Mennonites,” said Onyschuk. “Their community suffered greatly during the Holodomor. When we explained the purpose of the bus and also that we didn’t need the leather couches, granite counters, king-sized beds, fridges and washrooms found in their ‘rock star mobile vehicles,’ they sold us the RV for $235,000 USD, a drastic reduction. They saw how important this project is to educating the public about what the Soviets did to Ukrainians and the Mennonites.”

The exterior of the Holodomor Mobile Classroom (HMC) has been designed to serve as a dramatic Holodomor awareness medium in its own right, a moving billboard, as it travels the roads and highways and when parked in schools and at other venues.

Denny Dzerowicz, who is coordinating the technical details of the project to ensure that all the major components are ready and on schedule, says the bus project fulfills a lifelong goal. “I was determined to see this project realized. We as a community need to make sure that the Holodomor is widely known, and what better way than to bring the message directly to communities across the country,” says Dzerowicz.

The Canadian government is supporting the HMC through its Multiculturalism Inter-Action program, which has as its aim to build an integrated and socially cohesive society. The award was announced on January 13, 2015, by Jason Kenney, Minister for Multiculturalism (today Canada’s Minister of National Defense as well).
“It is by remembering the tragedies and atrocities of the past that we can equip ourselves to prevent them from happening again. That is why this national tour, which will reach Canadians of all ages and backgrounds, is an important initiative,” said Kenney on that occasion.

The CUF Holodomor Awareness Tour has received $1.5 million in support from the federal government and has raised $400,000 from The Temerty Family Foundation and other private sources.

On July 6, 2015, Ontario’s Minister of Education Liz Sandals met with the representatives of Ukrainian community in the Plast Huculak Centre and presented additional $750,000 for this project from the province of Ontario. “Ontario is one of the most diverse provinces in Canada. The Holodomor Awareness Tour will promote a deeper respect for human rights, social justice and democratic values, helping prepare students for their role as engaged, responsible and caring global citizens. This dynamic, real-world learning opportunity will build students’ critical thinking, analysis and 21st century learning skills,” said Liz Sandals. The minister was also able to meet with the children from the Ukrainian community. During the meeting, Bishop Allen Academy students Katharina and Lukian Davoudian read to the Minister Taras Shevchenko’s poem in Ukrainian and English.

In its first year, the HMC will focus on visits to schools in Ontario, as well as venues such as festivals and community events. In the second and subsequent years, the HMC will tour the country, reaching an estimated 7,000 students per year.

The Canada-Ukraine Foundation is working in partnership on the project with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre, and the Holodomor Research and Educational Consortium of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta (HREC).