Anna Zakharova for Calgary Herald.
I will never forget the paralyzing fear I felt when I was fleeing my homeland Crimea that had been occupied by the Russian Federation in 2014. After several people had been murdered and abducted in Crimea, I knew that this was just the beginning. A few weeks later, Russian troops invaded two eastern regions of Ukraine. Russia’s war against Ukraine is now entering its fifth year. The 2014 Russian military invasion of Ukraine is a direct result of the Famine Genocide of Ukrainians 85 years ago committed by Soviet Russia, and which took millions of lives but has yet to be officially recognized by the United Nations.
For several hundred years, Ukraine has been struggling against the imperialism of its northern neighbour, Russia. The inability of the international community to call “a spade a spade” in terms of the Holodomor and to make a step towards historical justice only further emboldens the perpetrator. The so-called “Russian world” is slowly spreading its tentacles to the West by interfering with democratic institutions, backing extremist parties around the world, spreading disinformation, and occupying and invading countries at the cost of thousands of lives right on the border of the European Union.
The Holodomor was a deliberate attempt to exterminate the Ukrainian population. The locals who survived the Holodomor became terrified of acknowledging their cultural identity. Any mention of the Holodomor was forbidden by the Soviet government, and out of fear, survivors remained silent. Many forgot their history, their roots, who they really were. People who lost their original identity became targets for manipulation — like many of my own family members who blocked out their Ukrainian origins.
My grandfather lived through the Holodomor as a three-year-old boy. He remembered pancakes made of acorns, which made him feel sick. He never knew his grandfather, because his grandfather was shot to death and thrown into a river for opposing the forced collectivization of agriculture. Others were either forcefully deprived of what they earned through hard work or gave it away in fear of reprisals. People were starving, while grain was being exported abroad. It was impossible to escape the deadly trap because the borders were sealed. These actions unequivocally demonstrate that this was a deliberate extermination of the Ukrainian peasants, whose lands were later populated by migrants from other parts of the U.S.S.R.
The main message of contemporary Russian propaganda in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine justifying the invasion focused on the need to save the Russian-speaking population from Ukrainians, ridiculously and falsely labelled by Russian propaganda as “Nazis.”
The same message of defending the Russian people was spread from Russia to other eastern and southern regions of Ukraine following attacks on Ukrainian public activists. Just two weeks ago, my friend and former colleague, public activist Kateryna Handziuk died as a result of a sulfuric acid attack. The fact that she was a tireless opponent of the “Russian world” in the Kherson region (neighbouring Russian-occupied Crimea) leaves many questions regarding who ordered this murder. Taking into account that Russian agents have infiltrated countries such as the U.K. and the U.S., their presence in Ukrainian structures should not be surprising.
Invasion, occupation, genocide and assimilation are the four stages of colonization identified by Gord Hill (2009) in his book “500 years of indigenous resistance.” Ukraine went through these stages of colonization by the Russian empire and then Soviet Russia. Today, Putin is again seeking to subjugate Ukraine. Both Stalin and Putin realized that without Ukraine there can be no imperial Russia.
Raphael Lemkin, a legal expert who defined the term “genocide” for the UN Convention of Genocide, described four precise steps of the Ukrainian genocide perpetrated by the Soviets: destroy the intelligentsia (the brain), extinguish the Ukrainian independent church and the clergy (the soul), exterminate the independent peasantry (the national spirit and culture), and move in non-Ukrainian population to deteriorate the cohesion of the Ukrainian population.
The Holodomor has never been officially recognized nor condemned by the collective international community. The Holodomor has been recognized as a genocide by 17 countries. To this day, however, the UN has not recognized the Holodomor as a genocide.
Disinformation during the Holodomor played a key role in the implementation of the genocidal policy. The truth about the Holodomor was carefully hidden by the Soviet secret police. It was only thanks to a few western journalists and the testimony of survivors who left Ukraine after the Second World War that this horrific crime was revealed. It is only since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of historical archives in Ukraine that the truth and extent of this genocide are becoming known. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” (2005) and today he is using the same methods of disinformation used by the Soviets.
By failing to learn from the past, the international community risks repeating the same mistakes. Does the United Nations have the courage to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide and consequently, to stand up for the values of freedom and democracy in an era when the enemies of freedom and democracy are becoming dangerously powerful? As Ukrainian political prisoner Oleh Sentsov, sentenced by Russia to 20 years’ imprisonment for his opposition of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, said, citing Pontius Pilate — “Cowardice is the main and the worst sin on Earth. I don’t know what your convictions are worth if you aren’t ready to suffer for them, or even to die.”
Anna Zakharova is a civil rights activist who had to flee from her native Crimea, Ukraine, due to the 2014 Russian invasion. She holds a master of social work in international and community development from the University of Calgary, and a master of arts in international studies, conflict and co-operation from Old Dominion University, Fulbright Program. Anna has several years of work experience with the UNDP in Ukraine, including work with the Internally Displaced People from the war zone in Eastern Ukraine. A member of the Ukrainian Youth Association and the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women, Guardian Angels Ukraine project. She now resides in Calgary.