Scholars from U.S., Canada and Ukraine examine Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933

by Dr. Orest Popovych

NEW YORK - Scholars from the U.S., Canada and Ukraine convened at the Shevchenko Scientific Society (NTSh) building on April 6 in order to mark the 70th anniversary of the "Holodomor" - the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide - with two roundtable discussions, offering analysis of this Ukrainian tragedy from several perspectives. The first roundtable dealt with archival materials pertaining to the Famine of 1932-1933 while the second examined the treatment of this subject in art and literature.

The program was opened by NTSh President Dr. Larissa Onyshkevych, who transferred the proceedings to Dr. Yaroslav Pelensky, director of the Institute of European Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and president of the Lypynsky Institute of Eastern European Research, who chaired the roundtables, introducing the speakers and their topics.

The first to speak was Dr. Taras Hunczak, professor of history at Rutgers University, whose topic was "Materials on the 'Holodomor' in the Archives of Ukraine." Dr. Hunczak focused on the manner in which the Famine in Soviet Ukraine had galvanized and united those Ukrainians who lived in western Ukraine, beyond the reach of Soviet rulers, and thus were able to act on behalf of their starving brethren. The initiative came from the Ukrainian parliamentary representation to the Polish Sejm, which on July 25, 1933, created the Central Committee for the Salvation of Ukraine, whose objective was both to collect food for the starving people of Soviet Ukraine and to inform the Western world about Ukraine's plight, urging intervention in defense of the Ukrainian people through the League of Nations, the International Red Cross and other channels.

In Halychyna, civic committees of this type were also activated at the level of regions, towns and even villages, Dr. Hunczak continued. October 29, 1933 was designated as a day of mourning and protest, with solemn gatherings, religious services and bells tolling throughout Western Ukraine. A number of eloquent protest resolutions have documented these events. The Central Committee for the Salvation of Ukraine was one of the organizers of an international conference "to aid the starving in the Soviet Union," which was held in Vienna in December of 1933. There were other instances where Ukraine's tragedy was publicized in Western Europe.

Unfortunately, all of these efforts were to no avail, as Soviet authorities steadfastly denied the existence of any famine on their territory, forbid the importation of food for the starving and denied entry to the International Red Cross.

In desperation, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists decided to avenge the Famine-Genocide by assassinating the Soviet consul in Lviv. Mykola Lemyk, a young student, volunteered for the task, and he shot and killed one of the consular officials, but not the consul himself. Mr. Lemyk's act was later described as "a shot in defense of millions," attesting to the unity of the Ukrainian nation, Dr. Hunczak related.

Next was the lecture by Dr. Stanislav Kulchytsky of the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine titled "Materials on the 'Holodomor' in the Archives of Ukraine and the USSR." Under the Soviet regime, said Dr. Kulchytsky, documents pertaining to the Famine-Genocide were marked "top secret" and the very use of the word "famine" was strictly forbidden. With most of the archives accessible today, one can learn much from the hundreds of local newspapers available from that time period, as well as from documents of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Dr. Kulchytsky stressed the fact that simultaneously with starving to death Ukrainian farmers, Soviet authorities perpetrated the liquidation of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, thus investing these crimes with all the earmarks of a genocide against the Ukrainian people.

Since November 2002 there have been many efforts in Ukraine to mark the Famine-Genocide, with much of the inspiration coming from the activities of the diaspora, said Dr. Kulchytsky. For the first time ever, the Verkhovna Rada held hearings on the Famine. He offered his opinion that the Ukrainian Parliament should petition the United Nations and other international organizations to designate the 1932-1933 Famine in Ukraine as a genocide - a designation that to this day is rejected by many scholars in the West.

The Institute of History in Kyiv is a major scholarly institution, employing 34 doctors of science and 80 candidates of science. It is also publisher of books on Ukrainian history, and Dr. Kulchytsky presented several of them to the NTSh library, significantly, a bibliography on the subject of the Famine comprising more than 6,000 titles.

The last to speak in the first roundtable was Dr. Roman Serbyn, professor emeritus of history at the University of Quebec. Dr. Serbyn researched documents on the Famine at the International Red Cross in Geneva. Unfortunately, he said, most of them pertained to the 1921-1923 Famine in Ukraine, with only a few dealing with the Famine of 1932-1933. Dr. Serbyn found a record of appeals to Moscow from the Red Cross and the Catholic Church, as well as a number of Russian and Kozak émigré organizations. As was mentioned before, the Soviet regime simply denied the existence of the 1932-1933 famine. The speaker presented two of his latest books to the NTSh library.

The second roundtable began with a lecture by Dr. Daria Darevych, a professor at York University, and the president of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in Canada, titled "The Theme of 'Holodomor' in Art." While there are examples of art referring to the Ukrainian Famine of 1921-1923, the Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933 is virtually unrepresented in the fine arts. Dr. Darevych surmised that art reflecting the Great Famine was either not created to begin with, or was created, but subsequently destroyed out of fear, under conditions of Stalinist terror.

In Ukraine, interest in this theme was awakened only in 1993, in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Famine, to which a number of artists dedicated their works, the most memorable being those of the Lviv painter Roman Romanyshyn.

Lida Bodnar-Balahutrak, an American-born artist, applied the technique of collage of Christian iconography with images of the Great Famine. In her works, the sacred images are replaced by photographs of the Famine victims.

The last speaker was Dr. Onyshkevych, who discussed "The 'Holodomor' as Presented in Drama." According to Dr. Onyshkevych, drama is usually the last genre, after poetry and prose, to which writers turn on any subject, and in the case of the Famine-Genocide there was also the strict prohibition against this subject under the Soviet rule in the period of 1932-1991. Nevertheless, a direct reference to the Famine did manage to sneak into one play by Yuriy Yanovsky, "Potomky" (Descendants), published in 1939, although in order to conform to the party line, the author had to restrict the Famine and the blame for it to the class of "kurkuls" (kulaks), the well-to-do farmers who were the first to be liquidated by the Soviets.

A couple of plays on the Great Famine were published in the United States. The first, named "Velykyi Zlam" (The Great Break), was written in 1943 and published in 1950 by Serhiy Kokot-Ledianskyi, an eyewitness to the famine, who saw half the people of his village near Kyiv starve to death. His play has some graphic depictions of the horrors of the "Holodomor," ending with an accusation directed at his fellow Ukrainians: "We die in captivity, because at the critical moment we don't act, only keep silent and hesitate, or just simply submit to the enemy, because he is strong."

The second play published in the United States was "Hunger 1933" by Bohdan Boychuk, written in 1961-1962. Mr. Boychuk was not an eyewitness to the Famine, but he gives an intensely emotional account of the subject, extending its significance to the general issue of man's inhumanity to man.

What Dr. Onyshkevych found striking about the last two plays was the lack of any blame, accusations or any call for revenge against the perpetrators of the crimes of the Famine. She wondered if this attitude was typical only of the two playwrights, or generally characteristic of Ukrainian culture.

In his summary of the program, Dr. Pelensky opined that studies of Ukraine's Famine-Genocide have only now begun in earnest, and that they are facing three formidable problems: 1) The existence of a literature of denial of the "Holodomor," reflecting an attitude that is prevalent in Russia and also among some scholars in the West. 2) The lack of assignment of responsibility for these crimes, beyond the present generalities of blaming Stalin or Stalinism. 3) The fear of eyewitness survivors of the Famine, many of whom have been reluctant to tell their stories, even in the diaspora.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, May 4, 2003, No. 18, Vol. LXXI

| Home Page |