Famine bill's passage would be moral victory

Ihor Olshaniwsky, coordinator, Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine.

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:

I am grateful to Chairman Dan Mica for scheduling these hearings on H.R. 4459, a bill that would establish a Congressionally chaired commission to study and report on the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine. I also thank Congressman James J. Florio, sponsor of H.R. 4459, and the 120 congressmen who joined as co-sponsors of this important legislation. It is a great honor for me to appear before the Subcommittee on International Operations on behalf of Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine (AHRU) and the Committee to Commemorate the 1932-33 Genocide Victims in Ukraine - representing a total of over one-half million Ukrainian Americans.

Almost one year ago Congressman Florio introduced H.R. 4459. A companion bill, S. 2456, was introduced by Sen. Bill Bradley on March 21, 1984. Hearings on S. 2456 were held in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 1, 1984. The testimonies offered were in favor of establishing the famine commission with the exception of the representative from the State Department. His testimony displayed a lack of knowledge of the bill's language, employed conjecture and contained disinformation which was a disservice to our open form of government. His erroneous testimony was quoted widely by the news media and presented a negative picture to the public. I am asking permission to include in my testimony AHRU's rebuttal to the State Department's position and also letters to the editor published in The Star Ledger, Newark, N.J., and the Evening Press, Binghamton, N.Y. S. 2456 was passed by the Senate on September 21 with some modifications that should overcome objections that were voiced by members of Congress.

There are many reasons we think that the creation of a Congressionally chaired commission is important, and I will try to address them here.

Therefore, we urge the members of the Subcommittee on International Operations to act favorably and promptly on H.R. 4459 and to prevail upon the full Foreign Affairs Committee to report this bill out immediately for a floor vote. We ask this subcommittee to accept the revisions provided by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee without further changes.

Why is it so important that this bill be passed immediately? Because there are still some survivors and witnesses left from the genocidal famine of 1932-33. These survivors are old and sick. Next year may be too late for many of them to offer testimony. Much raw data can be obtained from these eyewitness testifiers of the famine. Since many of the survivors are reluctant to speak out and relive the horrors of their famine experiences, a prestigious Congressional commission would help them overcome their reluctance in order to set history in its proper perspective. Therefore, we must act now. There is an urgency to establish the Congressional famine commission in the waning moments of this legislative session.

We see the Congressional famine commission as a joint venture between the community and the U.S. Congress. With our cooperation and assistance the commission can make this a viable project that will draw on the resources of the community. It will be a worthy monument to the innocent victims of this genocidal famine. The witnesses will be reassured that their testimonies will be properly recorded for the benefit and use of the American people. Their testimonies will assist in the formulation of a more introspective foreign policy. Through their testimonies this crime will not be forgotten and a repetition of such horrors might be prevented.

The commission will not be duplicating existing studies but will incorporate them in this endeavor. We will seek volunteers to donate their time and effort for this task. We will solicit funds from private foundations, corporations and individuals. We will search for all available data that could be utilized by this commission. We will actively seek out the surviving witnesses who can tell us the true story of this horror. If unable to travel, we will go to their homes and help to record their testimonies. We are interested in helping the commission to produce a worthwhile study that will not become a cumbersome and expensive bureaucratic project but one that will enlighten present and future generations.

In 1976 in Kiev, Mykola Rudenko, a Ukrainian poet and human-rights activist, founded the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords. Nine courageous men and women joined him in this venture; many more joined later. All of them were subsequently arrested, deported or died in Soviet labor camps. At its inception the group wrote Memorandum No. 1 expressing the feeling of most Ukrainians to the leaders of the Soviet Union and to the free peoples of the world. In this memorandum they wrote about the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine as one of the tools of Soviet oppression. They appealed to the world to react to this genocide. Eight years have passed since that memorandum was issued. After establishing the famine commission we will send a message to Rudenko, to the surviving members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Monitoring Group and to the untold millions of oppressed Ukrainians to reassure them that the tragedy of the Ukrainian nation will be not a mere footnote in the pages of history. We will say that we, the citizens of a free society, heard their plea and are working to investigate and expose one of the greatest crimes against humanity.

To Ukrainians in the Soviet Union, the knowledge that the greatest legislative body in the free world found it appropriate to establish a Congressional commission to study, gather and disseminate all the facts about the famine, will be a moral victory. It will give them the encouragement to keep alive their quest for attaining human and national rights during this dark period of totalitarian rule.

We cannot afford to wait another year while the number of survivors of this tragedy is rapidly decreasing. We appeal to the chairman and members of the subcommittee to act promptly for passage of this bill.

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of H.R. 4459.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, October 14, 1984, No. 42, Vol. LII

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