Memory of Holodomor turned Ukrainians into a nation, Keynote Speaker says

Singing of Ukraine’s National Anthem at the Holodomor monument. The woman in the wheelchair is Holodomor survivor Natalia Talanchuk. All photos: M. Levytsky

Edmonton commemorates Holodomor.

NP-UN Western Bureau.

The memory of the Holodomor turned Ukrainians into a nation, said the keynote speaker at the commemoration of the Holodomor at Edmonton’s City Hall, November 23.

“Today the memory of the Holodomor makes us stronger,” said historian and Ukraine’s newest Member of Parliament, Volodymyr Viatrovych, at the ceremony organized by the Edmonton Branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. “We understand that the death of millions of Ukrainians occurred because we failed to defend the independence of our state after the revolution of 1917-1921. And that is why we are now ready to defend it.”

“This memory is our revenge for the millions killed. It makes us stronger as they come to life in our memories and stand by us in our current struggle.

“That is why the heirs of the murderers of that time are still trying to erase our memory. They tried to rewrite history books in Ukraine, they closed archives, and they spread lies about the Holodomor in the world.

“But the truth turned out to be stronger, and the memory insurmountable. And this memory has made us stronger.

“The hands of the child who 20 years ago first lit a candle of memory have become the hands of soldiers holding guns, protecting their parents.

“The eyes, washed with tears listening the story of a grandmother about the experiences of 1932-1933, are now looking at the enemy through a rifle scope.

“A nation that united to commemorate those who died of hunger in the past, is now united to protect its future, and has created a powerful army. Our grief over our slain ancestors gives us the strength to protect ourselves and our children,” he added

Speaking mostly in Ukrainian, Viatrovych outlined the period leading up to the Holodomor including the revival of Ukrainian national consciousness and culture during the Ukrainization period of the 1920s, followed by Stalinist repression and forced collectivization.

Volodymyr Viatrovych places a candle at the monument to victims of the Holodomor

“By the summer of 1932 a mass wave of farmer protests and hunger riots took place. Farmers, experiencing mass starvation were now struggling not only for their own plot of land, but for their very lives. During seven months in 1932 more than 56% of protests in the Soviet Union occurred in Ukraine,” he noted

Viatrovych said Soviet authorities wanted to destroy Ukrainian identity, but failed.

“The Holodomor of 1932-33 nevertheless failed to transform Ukrainians into ‘Soviet people’. The truth about the genocide, which could not be hidden despite an information blockade and could not be killed despite millions of claimed lives, became a step toward freedom,” he noted.

Two opposition MPs brought greetings from the Parliament of Canada.

Speaking on behalf of the federal Conservatives, Kerry Diotte, MP for Edmonton Griesbach, said the Holodomor was the deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians and carried out by the Soviet Union “as a means to undermine Ukrainian statehood.”

“We must never forget the lessons of the Holodomor. Even today Ukraine continues to fight back against Russian attempts to undermine its statehood.

“It fights back against Russians trying to crush the Ukrainian Dream of living in a prosperous and independent state.

“The Ukrainian spirit will never surrender against this aggression,” he added.

Speaking on behalf of the New Democrats, Heather McPherson, MP for Edmonton Strathcona, noted that in 1932-33, governments around the world, including Canada, failed “to acknowledge and act in the face of the Ukrainian genocide”.

“As Canadians, we take pride in our role as peace keepers, of having a strong international role to play in ensuring justice for all people, but in 1932 and 33 we turned a blind eye towards Ukraine, denying the existence of the famine and the deliberate genocide and failing to fulfill our international moral obligations to act,” she said.

“So, as we commemorate the atrocities perpetrated against Ukrainians, let us all pause to remember those who suffered at the hands of Soviet despots. And, as we come together to remember the men and women and children who lost their lives, let us also recommit to our responsibility as Canadians to intervene in the event of similar atrocities today and in the future. Let us recommit to ensuring that Canada will never again stay silent in the face of injustice,” added McPherson.

Representing the Government of Alberta, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk said “today we remember the victims of millions of Ukrainians who faced starvation standing up to the regime.”

“Many of us have family members, including myself, who perished at that time and today remember them,” she stated, adding that in recognizing the Holodomor we have to ensure that it never happens again.

Bringing greetings from the City of Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson outlined three reasons why the Holodomor should be remembered:

First, because the truth matters;

Second, because every human life is sacred; and

Third, because we must speak out against injustice wherever it occurs.

“And so, we must remember the truth of what happened, remember the sacredness of all life and remember that now and always we must speak out when we see injustice anywhere, near or far,” he said.

UCC Alberta President Orysia Boychuk and Ukraine’s Consul-General to Edmonton Oleksandr Danyleiko place candles by the Holodomor Monument.

Speaking on behalf of the Government of Ukraine, Edmonton’s Consul-General Oleksandr Danyleiko informed the audience about the Flowers of Remembrance program through which he talked with hundreds of students about the Holodomor and then asked them to create blue and yellow flowers to put on a map of Ukraine illustrating the victims. That map was on display at the ceremony.

“It symbolizes that the children, the new generation, will remember that tragedy of the Ukrainian people and will remember that it should never, never be repeated,” he said.

UCC Edmonton President Anastasiya Khoma noted “that the Edmonton Ukrainian Community played a significant and leading role in uncovering the truth and recognizing Holodomor as an act of genocide against Ukrainians.

“In 1983, Edmonton became the home of the first Holodomor monument in the world.

“On October 30, 2008, former speaker of the house Gene Zwozdesky was instrumental in leading the Alberta Legislature with passing Bill 37 to annually commemorate the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day Act.

“I would also like to recognize that in 2011 the Edmonton Catholic School District declared the last Friday in November as Holodomor Memorial Day within the school system.

“Currently, the Holodomor is included in the Alberta curriculum in Social Studies 20 and 30.

“We must continue to keep Holodomor in the forefront by educating our community and our children to prevent history from repeating itself,” she added.

MC Vasyl Yavorsky stated that “with today’s commemoration we are letting the world know that the Holodomor did happen, and we will never forget about millions of people who were starved to death in Ukraine in 1932-1933.”

The commemoration opened with a Memorial Prayer Service led by Bishop David (Motiuk), Ukrainian Catholic Eparch of Edmonton and Very Rev. Archpriest Georg Podtepa, from the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, with concelebrating clergy from both eparchies. Responses were sung by the St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church Choir, conducted by Dr. Irena Tarnawsky.

St. Matthew Ukrainian Bilingual School Choir, under the artistic direction of Natalia Onyschuk sang “Dry Tears”, which was written on the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor. The intent was to teach students about the Holodomor by looking at the events through the eyes of children; school age children that were innocently living their daily lives at that time. The chorus reflects the voices of children who will one day hold the future in their hands.

Following the ceremony inside City Hall, a procession of flag bearers led participants to the monument to victims of the Holodomor outside the hall, where they laid wreaths and lit candles in memoriam.