Why it is so important to commemorate the Holodomor

Famine victim lying on the street. Photo taken by Austrian Otto Wienerberger who managed to smuggle them out of the USSR

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

On Saturday November 28, Ukrainians and other people around the world will commemorate the horrendous act of genocide which has come down in history to be known as the Holodomor.

Due to the restrictions on public gatherings imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s commemorations will be much different than in previous years. Much will be done virtually. For example, the annual Holodomor commemoration on Parliament Hill will be replaced this year by a virtual commemoration being organized by UCC National staff and, as in the past, in partnership with the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group and the Embassy of Ukraine in Canada. It will be streamed at 12 Noon (Eastern Time) Saturday November 28 on Facebook. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1844334992374460. After the initial airing it will remain available for viewing anytime.

Also, on Saturday, the National Holodomor Awareness Committee of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress is encouraging all Canadians to take a moment to remember the victims:

  1. At 19:32 (7:32 p.m.) local time pause for a moment of silence wherever one may be to honour the memory of the victims.
  2. Light a candle of remembrance in one’s home.
  3. Post photos of your candles on social media with your thoughts of remembrance.
  4. Request local churches to toll their bells at 19:32 in honour of the victims.

As well this year, the Holodomor National Awareness Tour, a project of the Canada Ukraine Foundation, has launched a campaign including a petition for the inclusion of the word “Holodomor” in English-language dictionaries. For more on the campaign and the petition visit www.deeptruth.ca.

One may well ask why is it so important that we commemorate the Holodomor every year? Because this is the act of genocide by which Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin attempted to wipe out Ukrainians as a national entity by starving countless millions of people to death.

It has been described as a classic case of genocide by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish legal expert of Jewish origin who wrote the United Nations definition of the term. He described the Famine as a four-pronged attack by the Communist regime against the Ukrainian nation with the intent to destroy: (1) the intelligentsia (“the national brain”); (2) the national churches (“the soul of Ukraine”); (3) the independent peasants (“the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit of Ukraine”); and (4) the cohesion of the Ukrainian people by forced in- and out-migration with the aim of changing the republic’s ethnic composition by reducing the number of ethnic Ukrainians and increasing the number of non-Ukrainians.

That particular fact is very relevant today. Those millions of Ukrainians who were starved to death were replaced by ethnic Russians. And those millions of Ukrainians who survived, but were forbidden even to speak about it, became so traumatized, they buried their language, buried their culture, and buried their national will, deep in the ground strewn with the bones of their relatives, friends and ancestors. They became Russified – in other words — “Russian speakers”.

And it is the “defence” of these “Russian speakers” that Stalin’s successor in mind, spirit and deed – Vladimir Putin – claims as an excuse to justify his brutal aggression against Ukraine. The genocide of the 1930’s has led to the invasion of today.

That is what makes it so critical for Putin’s Russia to deny the Holodomor, or — failing to repudiate outright a very clear historical fact — to minimize it to the greatest degree.

The first of the fallacies being perpetrated is the myth that the Holodomor was not a genocide — merely a tragedy. This myth is propagated by Moscow and echoed by its stooges, like former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

It basically goes like this: the Holodomor wasn’t a genocide of Ukrainians because other nationalities suffered deaths as well.

Well, that’s the equivalent of saying the Holocaust wasn’t a genocide of Jews because other ethnic groups were also killed.

Even though both Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin committed mass murder on a gargantuan scale that involved people of all kinds of backgrounds, Jews were specifically targeted in the Holocaust and Ukrainians were specifically targeted in the Holodomor. That’s what makes both actions genocide.

The other refuge of Holodomor detractors is to question the numbers. Some academics have even gone so far as to suggest that Ukrainian nationalists cooked up the figure of 7 to 10 million in order to play up their martyrdom.

Let’s then see where these numbers came from. First, the 10-million figure came directly from the perpetrator of the Holodomor himself — Joseph Stalin — in a private conversation with Sir Winston Churchill, which the British statesman later recorded in his memoirs. Second, it was echoed by Stalin‘s biggest apologist and most notorious Holodomor denier, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, in a secret briefing recorded by the British Embassy and later released publicly.

Most important, however, is that the 7–10 million estimate (and we stress that it remains an estimate) is an internationally accepted number that was included in a Joint Statement on the Holodomor issued at the United Nations on November 10, 2003, and signed by 26 delegations including those of Canada, the United States, Ukraine and the Russian Federation – yes Putin’s Russia (17 years ago that is).

Today one often hears the figure of 4 million being bandied about. This is a result of new demographic studies. Quite notably, these studies include only the territory of the 1933 Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic – not the ethnic Ukrainian territories of the 1933 Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic – most particularly the overwhelmingly Ukrainian region of Kuban where the Ukrainians as a cultural entity were virtually annihilated.

But, on what basis can demographic studies be made? Unlike the Nazis, who kept meticulous records of their genocide, the Soviets deliberately covered up the Holodomor figures. When the results of the 1937 Soviet census were compiled, Stalin immediately ordered them destroyed and sent all its organizers to the Gulag as saboteurs, because the census showed damningly low population figures. Then, a subsequent census in 1939 was adjusted so that the figures conformed to Stalin’s wishes. So how can any accurate analyses be made?

Nevertheless, whether the actual figure was 4 million or 10 million – and we will never know the truth – the fact remains the Holodomor was a genocide.

The third – and most insidious attack on the historical validity of the Holodomor is that it is a “Nazi lie”. This is fueled by continuous Russian propaganda which labels Ukrainian nationalists as “Nazis” and is picked up in the West by Kremlin apologists and sycophants – including some in Canada itself.

How do you counter all these falsehoods? With the truth! That’s why it’s so important to keep the memory of the Holodomor alive.

We must continue to commemorate the Holodomor. We must continue to commemorate it in order to honour the memory of those who were victimized and pray for their souls. We must continue to commemorate it in order to ensure that such evil incarnate never be repeated again. But we must also continue to commemorate it because the repercussions of the Holodomor, reverberate today.