May 8, 1983

Media reports on famine. I


CBC-TV news probe

MONTREAL – CBC-TV’s Academy Award-winning series “The Fifth Estate” presented a probe into the events surrounding the so-called “secret Ukrainian holocaust” on Wednesday night, April 27, at 8 p.m.

In 1933, an estimated 7 to 10 million Ukrainians starved to death in an artificially created famine secretly executed by the Stalin regime.

Now, 50 years later, evidence of this unprecedented holocaust and its cover-up is gaining public attention. What precipitated this deliberate mass genocide? Why does Moscow persist in denying that such a famine ever existed? And why were reports of the mass starvation ignored by the Western world? These are just some of the questions that were explored by “The Fifth Estate” reporter Bob McKeown.

To eliminate Ukrainian nationalist resurgence and resistance to forced collectivization, Stalin confiscated grain harvests and closed off the border to outside food sources. What resulted was the brutal starvation of roughly one-quarter of the entire population.

Even though Western governments were fully aware of the systematic starvation, they remained silent for fear of compromising their diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union.

“The Ukrainian Famine” was produced by Oleh Rumak. The senior producer of “The Fifth Estate” is Ron Haggart. Executive producer is Robin Taylor.

Radio Quebec report

MONTREAL – A TV documentary on the Great Famine in Ukraine (1932-33) was aired here on Channel 17 of Radio Quebec, a French-language network, on April 16 at 7 p.m.

The documentary, with French voice-over, was shown on the network’s “Planete” series. A Ukrainian and English version are also planned.

Participating in the 30-minute program were three eyewitnesses, as well as Dr. James Mace of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, Malcolm Muggeridge, a British writer who was one of the first Western journalists to report on the extent of the famine, Lev Kopelev, a Soviet dissident writer now living in the West who took part in the confiscation of grain and Nina Strokata-Karavansky, a former Ukrainian dissident also living in the West.

Also taking part in the documentary were Soviet dissident Dr. A. Babyonyshev, now with the University of Alberta, Prof. Bohdan Bociurkiw of Carleton University in Ottawa, Dr. Bohdan Krawchenko of the University of Alberta, Prof. Roman Serbyn of the University of Quebec, and Marco Carynnyk, a Toronto writer.

Interviews were done in four languages, Ukrainian, French, English and Russian.

The research, script and interviews for the program were done by Taras Hukalo.

Ottawa Citizen article 

OTTAWA – The April 18 issue of the Ottawa Citizen, this capital city’s only daily newspaper, carried an article on the 50th anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine (1932-33) which focused on the harrowing experiences of a 60-year-old survivor.

The paper identified the woman, who was 8 years old when the famine began, by the pseudonym Olena, noting that she would not give her real name because she feared “for the safety of her friends behind the Iron Curtain.”

Her story is typical of those who managed to live through the famine, which was imposed by the Communist regime to hasten collectivization and destroy the social basis of Ukrainian nationalism – individual peasant agriculture. Experts put the death toll at between 5 and 7 million people, although some say the actual number was much higher.

According to Citizen columnist Louise Crosby, Olena’s father was a kurkul, a prosperous peasant farmer, until he was forced to deliver a huge quota of grain and vegetables to authorities. Olena told the paper that when her father had turned everything over to authorities, their property was searched to make sure the family had not hidden any food supplies.

“My mother had a bag of dried peas hanging in the summer chimney,” Olena told the Citizen. “They broke the chimney and the bag fell down. One man slammed my mother over the back with the butt of his rifle. They took the peas and that was the last we saw of them.”

After the incident, the family fled by hopping a freight train. They spent the winter living in the corner of another family’s house By spring, the lack of food began to take its toll. Olena’s father died of a heart attack, her mother was dead of a stroke and her 12-year-old sister had died of malnutrition.

Orphaned and alone, Olena returned to her village, where she was taken in by a family and managed to survive.

She told the Citizen: “All the houses in my village were boarded up and the people had disappeared. Only one house was lit. In it were five women who could hardly move from starvation. They were eating the leaves of trees, corncobs. Nobody cared what happened to them.”

In addition to Olena’s story, the article also provided descriptions of the famine by Thomas Walker, who chronicled his 1934 journey across the Soviet Union in a series of articles in the now-defunct Chicago American.

The paper quoted from Mr. Walker’s account of a starving village in which people were forced to devour pets to survive.

“In one hut they were cooking a mess that defied analysis,” Mr. Walker wrote. “There were bones, pigweed, skin and what looked like a boot top in this pot. The way the remaining half dozen inhabitants eagerly watched this slimy mess showed the state of their hunger.”

The Citizen also noted that over 100 people attended a special service in memory of the famine victims at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in the city. In addition, it said that the annual ecumenical service at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church will focus on the famine, as will a panel discussion sponsored by the local branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee in early fall.

Cable-TV program

OTTAWA – The Great Famine in Ukraine (1932-33) was remembered here in Canada’s capital last month with a special cable-TV program and a commemorative service by the Ukrainian Orthodox community.

On April 4, the monthly Ukrainian television show broadcast on cable Channel 12 was devoted to the famine. Hosted by Lesia Hirniak, the show opened with an appearance by two young members of the local choir, Dnipro, with background music provided by the local Orthodox choir.

Also featured on the show was Ivan Jaworsky, a graduate of Carleton University, who commented on the historical circumstances of the famine and the methods used by the Soviet regime to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry through collectivization.

Prof. Walter Tarnopolsky spoke of Moscow’s policies in Ukraine in the context of international law, as well as on the evolution of the principle of international responsibility for genocide. Prof. Tarnopolsky, an expert in international law at the University of Ottawa, also noted that despite evidence that the famine was created for political purposes, the international community largely ignored the tragedy.

The program, which was re-broadcast on April 9, also featured still photographs of the famine which appeared in several newspapers in the 1930s.

On April 17, the Orthodox community held a panakhyda (memorial service) led by the Rev. R. Bozhyk in memory of the famine’s victims.

In addition, the Canadian Council of European Captive Nations in Ottawa sent copies of materials relevant to the famine to over 60 embassies, as well as to members of Parliament, the Senate and other institutions. The materials included copies of articles by William Henry Chamberlin, a journalist who reported on the famine, and Dr. James Mace of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, who is currently doing research for Dr. Robert Conquest’s upcoming book on the famine.

Winnipeg Free Press

WINNIPEG – The April 9 issue of the Winnipeg Free Press featured three articles on the Great Famine in Ukraine, including a interview with British author Malcolm Muggeridge, one of the first Western journalists to report extensively on the tragedy.

In addition to the interview, conducted in 1982 by Toronto writer Marco Carynnyk, the paper published an eyewitness account by 72-year-old Winnipeger Oleksa Hay-Holowka, and a story on the reluctance of some survivors to talk about the man-made catastrophe, which killed between 5 and 7 million Ukrainians.

Along with the three articles, the Free Press printed the following note:

“Few events of such enormity have attracted so little public clamor or more press apathy than the government-programmed famine which led to the extermination in 1932-33 of 8 million people in Ukraine. The Free Press was a party to that apathy – in the years immediately after the famine and in efforts this year to publicize its 50 anniversary. Editors took it for granted it was a matter best left to history books and academics, ignoring much significant new research on the subject. Readers have noted the shortcoming. These pages acknowledge it.”

Interviewed at his home in Sussex, England, the 80-year Mr. Muggeridge, who was the Soviet correspondent for the Manchester Guardian in the early 1930s, called the famine “the most terrible thing I have ever seen.”

He said that although he had witnessed mass starvation and disease while in India, the sight of people dying of hunger as the result of a deliberate government policy was something he had never experienced.

“The novelty of this particular famine, what made it so diabolical, is that it was not the result of some catastrophe like drought or an epidemic,” he said. “It was the deliberate creation of a bureaucratic mind which demanded the collectivization of agriculture, immediately, as a purely theoretical proposition, without any consideration whatever of the consequences in human suffering.”

As to why so many Western intellectuals sympathized with the Soviets and refused to acknowledge his reports of mass starvation, Mr. Muggeridge said he suspected that “the liberal mind is attracted by this sort of regime.”

“They wouldn’t have admitted they liked it,” he said. “I think that those people believe in power.”

In his recollections, Mr. Holowka, a plant disease expert who came to Canada in 1949 and is writing a book, his 13th, on the Great Famine, told of being pressed into service to help remove the bodies of famine victims.

“The first house we went to, we found two dead children lying on the bed,” said Mr. Holowka, who returned to Ukraine from Leningrad in 1932, the start of the famine. “The mother was leaning on the bed. She was dead, too. The father was lying on his back on the floor.”

He said his own parents, three sisters and a brother managed to survive by hiding some grain, pumpkins, sugar beets and sunflower pulp in straw bins.

“People ate dogs, cats and rats. When pets and rats were gone, there was a lot of cannibalism,” he recalled.

Though he had rations himself, Mr. Holowka remembered 1933 as a year of constant hunger.

In the article on survivors, columnist Manfred Jager quoted Dr. Jaroslav Rozumnyj, head of the Slavic studies department at the University of Manitoba, as saying that it is difficult to get many survivors to talk about their experiences.

“For one thing, many of these people still have family members living in the Soviet Union and are afraid of what might happen to them if people here speak out and get their names in the paper,” Prof. Rozumnyj told the Free Press.

But people do speak out. Prof. Rozumnyj told of one woman who called him shortly after hearing a lecture in Winnipeg by Dr. James Mace of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, who is doing research for an upcoming book on the famine by Robert Conquest.

“She told me she never believed the story her grandfather had told her, how he actually cut pieces of flesh from his arm and leg to feed his children to keep them alive,” he said. “The details in Dr. Mace’s lecture brought all this alive to her and she almost broke down realizing the horror of it all.”

The survivors “know and don’t forget,” the historian said.

The Ukrainian Weekly, May 8, 1983, No. 19, Vol. LI