Thirty-two years ago, on October 2, 1983, an estimated 18,000 people gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument to mourn the victims of the Holodomor – at the time known as the Great Famine of 1932-1933 – which claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians in a policy set forth by the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.
Attendees from Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Toronto and Detroit, as well as other cities and states, carried banners and placards reminding of the ever-present Soviet threat and the Soviet record of its crimes against humanity. At the time, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the international community condemned the level of Soviet aggression in the area.
Pawlo Malar of Syracuse, N.Y., was an eyewitness to the famine in the Poltava region. “As a 22-year-old student in the city, I saw the trucks coming around to pick up the corpses. I saw death all around me. And through the years I have tried to spread the word about the famine.” He came to Washington because the Reagan administration, he said, was not apathetic to the politics of the Soviet Union, as administrations in the past were.
The throng marched approximately a mile from the Washington Monument toward the Soviet Embassy along 16th Street. Even the metropolitan police had underestimated the crowd, expecting some 5,000 people. First on the scene was a group of 1,000 members of the Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization that had marched in uniformed formations behind a large banner. Forty minutes later, the remaining crowd of demonstrators joined them at the Embassy.
The Revs. Peter Galadza and John Shep were arrested shortly after they completed a requiem service in front of the gates of the Soviet Embassy. The Soviet Embassy security service called the metropolitan police, but the clergymen were able to slip a bible under the Embassy’s iron fencing before being charged with disorderly conduct. Many of the police seemed reluctant to arrest the clergymen.
In justifying their actions, the Rev. Shep said, “There has never been a memorial in Ukraine, and we decided this is as close as we can get.”
The commemorative events were capped off with a memorial concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington that was attended by a sell-out audience of 2,800 people, where the program included orchestral, choral and solo works primarily by Ukrainian composers. The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, the Dumka Ukrainian Chorus of New York, the Ukrainian Chorus of Washington, the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus were the headlining performers, who were joined by mezzo-soprano Renata Babak and bass Andrij Dobriansky.
President Ronald Reagan, in a letter read by a staffer, greeted the concert-goers, stating, “…On this occasion, we acknowledge the terrible suffering and death that took place during the farm collectivization and subsequent forced famine and severe repression. That attempt to crush the life, will and spirit of a people by a totalitarian government still holds meaning for people around the world today. In a time when the entire world is outraged by the senseless murder of 269 passengers on Korean Airlines Flight 007, we must not forget that this kind of action is not new to the Soviet Union.”
Rally participants were urged to contact their local media and to submit follow-up reports about the events in Washington.
Source: “18,000 attend famine memorial events in D.C.,” The Ukrainian Weekly, October 9, 1983.