Honour Victims of Holodomor, Says Museum Director

Olesia Stasiuk. Meletiy Zyla

Meletiy Zyla for NP-UN, Edmonton.

In commemorating the Holodomor, we must honour the victims and not “celebrate” the event, says the General Director of the National Museum “Holodomor Victims Memorial” in Kyiv.

“I would like to ask you, while speaking about the Holodomor (and its victims) not to use words like recognize or celebrate, we honour (the victims of the genocide),” Olesia Stasiuk said during a public discussion on public education about genocide at the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton, April 27.

The evening, which was co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council, the League of Ukrainian Canadians and the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women, was part of a Canadian tour acknowledging Genocide Remembrance Month.

Stasiuk was joined by John Young, the president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.

Stasiuk noted that the purpose of the museum in Kyiv is to serve as a respectful commemoration of those passed – an honouring.

Often international knowledge and understanding of the Holodomor is limited and it is for this reason that international leaders, guests, diplomats, and speakers who visit Ukraine are taken to the “Holodomor Victims Memorial” before meeting with the president so that they can be familiarized with the history of the tragedy. Stasiuk said that responses from various international figures are mixed.

Two notable instances that were mentioned by Stasiuk in her presentation were the refusal of the German Chancellor to visit the museum and the visit of several Israeli diplomats who visited and avidly learned about the Holodomor at the Museum.

Domestically, in Ukraine, knowledge of the Holodomor is widespread.

Recently, a film jointly created with the Canadian Museum of Human Rights was translated into Ukrainian and, “last year, presenters from [the National Museum “Holodomor Victims Memorial”] travelled over half of Ukraine, regionally gathered teachers, presented to them the film, and provided additional materials to facilitate the work of schools (in educating about the Holodomor),” she said, adding that there are often difficulties in convincing administrations of schools to permit teaching about the genocide and allowing students to travel to the Museum. Many of these administrative bodies are led by individuals who fear arrest for exposing the truth to Ukrainian students.

Stasiuk described several ways in which the Museum’s interactive exhibits cater to visiting students of various ages and strongly emphasized the overarching message of hope that the Museum hopes to instill.

“We don’t dwell on the tragedies, we want the youth, through art and performance, to demonstrate and understand that life endures, that there were negatives, that there was a genocide, but we survived, and the Ukrainian nation exists and continues to improve,”

A few of the exhibits discussed in the presentation were “Voices of the Victims” and “One Grain, One Man”.

The former is an exhibit in which the genocide victims’ voices can be heard though historical artifacts such as diaries and letters, theatrical performances, and survivors asked to present their stories at the museum. During her presentation Stasiuk told an interesting story about this exhibit in which she described a survivor who was initially set to present at the Museum but eventually refused due to fear of arrest for speaking out 90 years on from the genocide.

“One Grain, One Man” was the very well received attempt of the National Museum “Holodomor Victims Memorial” to use one grain to represent one killed individual and address the discrepancies in the different demographic studies.

Stasiuk spoke on the idea of “What can the museum do for you?” There are open archives for those in Ukraine and for Ukrainians outside of Ukraine who want access to the archives, their needs can be accommodated through the museum. These archives contain a collection of names of those who died because of the Holodomor and are bidirectional in that names as well as stories can be shared with the museum and subsequently added to the archives. Furthermore, the Museum is involved in mass grave exhumations and identifications.

Memory of the Holodomor lives on in everyday life. Roads in Kyiv have been, and continue to be, named after significant figures who worked to expose the truth about the Holodomor, for example, American historian and researcher, James Mace, who also will be recognized with a statue.

Young described the Holodomor as “something that belongs to our collective memory as Canadians” and described his work at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights as an expansion of “public memory”. He went on saying that “learning about the Holodomor is not just for the Ukrainian community, this is something that is critical for all of us as Canadians” and that “if we desire to cultivate the shared values of Canada, then our collective memory needs to be expanded to include understanding of these particular stories.”

The presentation was followed by a question and answer period plus informal conversation after the event.