WASHINGTON – Thousands of Ukrainians from across the United States traveled to Washington for the dedication and blessing of the long-awaited Holodomor Memorial on Saturday, November 7.
They came on charter buses, in private cars and via all modes of public transportation from Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and beyond, including Canada, to bear witness to a genocide long concealed from the world: the Holodomor that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932-1933 on the orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
“Famine-Genocide in Ukraine. In memory of the millions of innocent victims of a man-made famine in Ukraine engineered and implemented by Stalin’s totalitarian regime.” That is the simple inscription on Washington’s newest memorial, a stunning work of art by architect/designer Larysa Kurylas called “Field of Wheat.”
The memorial was blessed by Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate, Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and Metropolitan Antony of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. The blessing was viewed by the masses gathered at Columbus Circle near the capital’s historic Union Station, where a huge screen transmitted images of the religious rite.
Before and after the memorial’s blessing, there were speeches at Columbus Circle, where dignitaries were seated on a raised platform and a jumbotron was erected to allow all to see the proceedings at the podium, as well as at the site of the Holodomor Memorial, which could not accommodate the huge number of attendees. The huge screen also allowed organizers to air video messages from a number of prominent individuals who could not attend, among them President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, and Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The ceremonies were opened by Michael Sawkiw Jr., chairman of the U.S. Committee for Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide Awareness 1932-1933 (Holodomor Committee), who also served as MC for that afternoon’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour program.
“In a city of monuments, a city of hope where dreams motivate a nation, a city the captive world reveres as an inspiration for democracy, this city – the capital of the free world, now bears a new memorial… in memory of the millions of innocent victims of a man-man famine in Ukraine engineered and implemented by Stalin’s totalitarian regime,” Mr. Sawkiw began.
He underscored that “the importance of this memorial is not only to remember and commemorate, but to understand,” as “the lessons of the Holodomor are relevant today” and this “act of genocide 82 years ago must be recognized, and recognized now, so that history never repeats itself again.” (Mr. Sawkiw’s speech appears on page 6 of this issue as a guest editorial.)
His opening remarks were followed by the presentation of colors by the Ukrainian American Veterans, and the singing of the American and Ukrainian national anthems by Yuliya Stupen.
The first featured speaker on the program was Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who championed the Holodomor Memorial cause for nearly 15 years and shepherded legislation on its establishment through the U.S. Congress. Rep. Levin, who is a co-chair of the House Ukraine Caucus, articulated the significance of the day’s events: “Today is a memorable day for keeping memory alive. Today we are lighting the way for those still uninformed about the truth. Today we express our faith that speaking the truth will prevail over the power of those who deny it.”
“A genocide if not clearly told can spawn another,” Rep. Levin commented, adding that advocates of the Holodomor Memorial felt the monument to Holodomor “must tell its own tragic story.” He continued: “This monument we unveil today does just that. It is so located that thousands in the capital of our nation will pass it every day. Hopefully, many will pause to reflect and to vow to remember. This Holodomor monument is so evocatively and creatively rendered that it will perpetually keep alive and honor the memory of the millions lost.”
Indeed, the Holodomor Memorial is located in downtown Washington, just a few blocks from Union Station and the U.S. Capitol, at the intersection of heavily traveled streets. The interest of passers-by in the new monument was evident as people stopped to take a look and sought information from the Ukrainians attending the ceremonies.
To the great applause of the crowd, Mr. Sawkiw thanked Rep. Levin for his remarks and said he “will forever be our Ukrainian congressman.”
Ukraine’s first lady, Maryna Poroshenko, was the keynote speaker for the dedication. She commented: “Not only are we opening the memorial to victims of Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-1933, but we are also commemorating every martyr, every victim, every soul. This monument is a resurrection of our national memory.”
Referring to the millions of innocent people murdered in the course of the Famine-Genocide, she said, “We cannot change the past, but we can keep their memory alive.” Dr. Poroshenko expressed gratitude to the Ukrainian community members for their efforts to seek recognition of Ukraine’s genocide and to the American people for their support and “condemnation of those who committed a crime against the Ukrainian nation.” She thanked Ms. Kurylas for her “creative embodiment of historical truth.”
Dr. Poroshenko then introduced a videotaped message from President Petro Poroshenko, speaking against the backdrop of the evocative Holodomor monument in Kyiv’s St. Michael’s Square.
“Right here and now, due to the joint efforts of the Ukrainian community in America and the Ukrainian state, this memorial is being unveiled in Washington as yet another attestation of the fact that our nation cannot be overcome by any troubles, any malicious intentions of foes, for Ukrainians strive for truth, freedom, democracy and peace on their land and in their country,” the president stated.
“The memorial in Washington is being opened when Ukraine is defending its independence, overcoming obstacles and rebuffing the aggression of Russia. Again, as in the times of the Holodomor, the Kremlin is trying to wipe Ukraine off the map. Death is coming from the east once again,” Mr. Poroshenko said.
The president cited the work of Dr. James Mace, describing him as “a great American and a great Ukrainian, one of the most prominent researchers of the Holodomor, one of those called ‘men of truth,’ a tireless knight of truth who told the bitter truth about the events of the 1930s in Ukraine to the entire world, as well as to Ukraine itself.”
As well he recalled the work of Dr. Robert Conquest, whose book “The Harvest of Sorrow” countered “the falsifications of the Soviet Russian regime about Holodomor.”
President Poroshenko concluded his address by calling on all to “pray for the innocent souls of our ancestors” and to “pledge to never forget or betray them.”
A message from the White House, Office of the Press Secretary, was read to the gathering by Dr. Charles Kupchan, special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council, who noted that his grandparents had left Uman, in central Ukraine, in 1922, and that is why his participation in the day’s events hold special significance for him.
“The Holodomor has been etched into our collective consciousness, and it is now imprinted in bronze here in Washington, just down the street behind the podium,” Dr. Kupchan noted. “This day of remembrance and solidarity with all Ukrainians is particularly meaningful, as we witness the destructive actions being taken against the Ukrainian nation today.”
The official statement from the White House noted, in part: “Today we join Ukrainians here in America and around the world to remember the catastrophe of the Holodomor, and the millions of innocent Ukrainians who starved to death more than eight decades ago as a result of the brutal policies of Joseph Stalin’s regime. …It is incumbent upon us to remember the horrors of the past as we renew our commitment to the prevention of future atrocities. Through the tireless efforts of the Ukrainian American community and friends of the Ukrainian people, a memorial now stands in the heart of our nation’s capital, allowing Americans to share in the somber memory of the Holodomor and reflect upon our shared determination to build a better world.”
Mr. Sawkiw then noted that it was President George W. Bush, who signed House Resolution 562 – which authorized the establishment on federal land of a memorial to the Holodomor – into law on October 13, 2006, calling the president’s move “an act of courage.” The resolution was introduced on February 2, 2005, by Rep. Levin and passed by the House of Representatives on November 15 of that year; it was passed by the Senate on September 29, 2006.
Dr. Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs in the Bush administration, read a message from the former president in which he said of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide that “Such a scale of human suffering is hard to comprehend” and noted, “The memorial that you dedicate today provides further assurance that generations to come will remember those who were starved at the hands of Josef Stalin’s tyranny.”
Speaking in Ukrainian and addressing the audience in a strong voice, a survivor of the Holodomor, Alexander Severyn, said poignantly: “Please believe me when I say sincerely how unspeakably difficult it is for me, a member of a different generation of Ukrainians – a generation almost gone from the scene – to address you here today. At the same time, I am filled with joy, because a memorial to the victims of the Holodomor has been consecrated and unveiled in the capital of a mighty nation, the United States of America.”
Mr. Severyn said the memorial “will stand tall for centuries as a warning for the future, so that never again shall the world allow a Holodomor of any kind” and stated of the Holodomor’s victims: “May they forever live in our memory.”
Sen. Schumer of New York, well-known to the Ukrainian American community for his annual participation in Holodomor memorial services at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York was next to speak via video. “It’s our sacred duty to honor those whose memory calls down to us through decades for justice – the innocent victims of the Ukrainian genocide.” Stalin “tried to annihilate the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian sprit, but, praise God, he failed both,” the senator said. “Stalin is gone, Soviet Russia is gone, but the Ukrainian people live on. Long may they live.”
Speaking in person was Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a co-chair of the House Ukraine Caucus, who, according to Mr. Sawkiw, “has traveled to Ukraine more frequently than any other member of Congress that I know of.”
Rep. Kaptur began her essential and eloquent address by observing: “It is appropriate today that we gather in our nation’s capital, a city marked by symbols of liberty and our most sacred monuments. To freedom-lovers everywhere, these enduring sites make permanent what is most precious to us. We do this to encourage the people of our nation and all nations to honor history. Monuments are lights illuminating humanity’s path forward. More rare are the monuments to events so tragic and singular that we know in our hearts that we must never ever forget them. They help us turn grief into conviction so that we never forget the hard lessons learned. Today we mark the anniversary of the birth of such a monument, an indelible marker that will outlive us. Generations to come must not forget the murderous and inhuman violence of Ukraine’s Holodomor genocide during the Soviet regime.”
“For decades,” she continued, “this profound massacre was denied its rightful place in history. Our nation, too, failed to recognize and respond to that brutality, a wrong that by our presence here today we continue to right.”
Noting that her family’s maternal grandparents had emigrated in the early 20th century from what today is Ukraine, the Ohio congresswoman revealed that she discovered “our great uncle… was forced to spend 20 years in the Soviet gulag, where his brother died. The village of their childhood was transformed forever by the Holodomor. As one cousin related to me, her horrible memories of crawling on the ground in the winter of 1932-1933 scratching the frozen soil with her fingernails trying to find a single onion to make soup for her family.”
“This historical event is deeply personal for me as well. But it is one of which the American people have little knowledge since so many who could have lived to tell the story perished. So today we honor those who perished, and we remember those who fought and died – and fight today – for liberty,” she said.
Rep. Kaptur emphasized: “This monument ensures that the memory of the Holodomor genocide, lives on. This monument alerts future generations about the cost of liberty and the fight for it, and against allowing oppressive regimes to rule over any people. The value of such a memorial should not be underestimated. It reminds us of our own history. It helps us educate and inform generations to come.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Sen. Portman, co-chairman of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, who spoke to those gathered at Columbus Circle via video. “This memorial will now stand as an eternal tribute to the men, women and children who were killed through starvation as part of then the Soviet Union’s ruthless campaign to stamp out any trace of Ukrainian national identity and political and cultural independence. It will also help educate people who may not know about one of the most horrifying tragedies of the last century and the 20th century, and encourage them to learn more. Finally, it reminds us that evil is real, and it will only be defeated if we stand up and fight it together to ensure that these horrors of the past remain in the history books,” he said.
Turning to current events. Sen. Portman stated: “Today, the people of Ukraine face a different, but a familiar foe. An aggressive Russia has violated sovereign territory and ignited a conflict that has now left thousands dead and ceasefires broken. However, after visiting Ukraine twice in the past year and a half, I have seen that the spirit of the Maidan is alive and well. … I saw the true spirit of the Ukrainian people, and just as the brutal repression failed to break the Ukrainians’ spirit in the last century, so too will this latest effort to determine Ukraine’s destiny fail.”
“History is testing us once more and it is clear that we must stand together. We must stand with Ukraine against continued aggression. Russian forces make a mockery of the so-called ceasefire, and they continue their occupation of sovereign Ukrainian territory in Crimea and in Donbas,” the senator continued. “The United States, in my view, should provide direct, lethal military assistance to Ukraine to give Ukrainians the tools they need to defend themselves. We must tighten sanctions until Russia understands its actions are unacceptable and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty. We must help win the information war and help fight back against the propaganda machine which seeks to convince the world that somehow Russians are the victims of this and not the aggressors.”
(Editor’s note: The texts of remarks by Reps. Levin, Kaptur and Portman, as well as the statement released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary appear on page 9 of this issue. Next week’s issue will carry the texts of other speeches as they become available. The Ukrainian Weekly is publishing these texts for the historical record.)
Another Holodomor survivor’s perspective was offered by Olha Matula, who was 5 in 1933, and shared some of her mother’s testimony before the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine. Mrs. Matula also told the audience that she herself had volunteered to work with the commission, “transcribing more than a hundred of the interviews of witnesses from the tapes.” She explained, “They were survivors who came to America after World War II as refugees. Some of them – your parents or grandparents. The horrors of the stories of those who survived the Famine, are forever in my memory.”
She concluded her remarks with these words: “Let this Memorial serve as a reminder to all people that Russian aggression towards other nations should be stopped. God Bless America and save Ukraine.”
Among the final speakers of the afternoon was the design architect/sculptor of the Holodomor Memorial, Ms. Kurylas, who offered personal reflections on her decision to tell the story of the Famine-Genocide through this monument in Washington.
“All of us, each in our own way, have contributed to honoring the memory of the victims, whether through spoken testimony, the written word, political action, scholarly research, requiem services, or with the simple act of being present here today. My contribution has been visual – in rendering a simple field of wheat as it transforms from beautiful bounty to haunting nothingness,” she said. “My hope is that when standing before this memorial, people will pause to reflect on the Holodomor, a famine of massive proportions, a famine deliberately executed and cynically denied, a famine in which millions of innocent victims perished in what once was the breadbasket of Europe.”
Robert A. Vogel, regional director of the National Park Service, explaining that the service cares for such sites as the Taras Shevchenko monument and the Victims of Communism memorial in Washington, promised his agency’s stewardship of the Holodomor Memorial and expressed his hope that it will “inspire future generations to create a more tolerant, unified world.”
Also addressing the gathering were the presidents of the Ukrainian World Congress and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, respectively, Eugene Czolij and Tamara Olexy. (The full texts of their remarks will appear in next week’s issue of The Weekly.)
Representatives of two presidential hopefuls, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush, delivered their messages to the memorial gathering.
Speaking on behalf of the former secretary of state was Ukrainian American Melanne Verveer, who served as ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues in the administration of President Barack Obama under Secretary Clinton. She read Ms. Clinton’s message, in which she noted that the word “Holodomor” is “a hauntingly simple name to describe such a barbaric act of hate and oppression.”
Ms. Clinton went on to say: “Many in Ukraine and here in the United States have long waited for today, and I am so heartened to know that for years to come, visitors to our nation’s capital will stop here, stare into the disappearing wheat, and learn about the lives that were lost in the Holodomor. This monument …is also a tribute to the strength and resilience of Ukrainians who are today once again fighting for their nation’s future, and who believe so strongly in the promise of peace. The United States has a duty to stand with them, to help the Ukrainian government defend its sovereignty and maintain their democratic institutions, and to ensure that all Ukrainians face a brighter and more promising future with limitless opportunities.”
Robert Karem, a foreign policy advisor to Gov. Bush, read a letter from the candidate in which he spoke of the “tremendous suffering endured by Ukraine, but also of the moral depravity and unconstrained brutality of the evil empire of the Soviet Union, and the lengths to which Soviet rulers would go to subjugate its Captive Nations.”
Gov. Bush stated: “This reminder of Soviet aggression is an especially poignant counterpoint to the revisionist propaganda of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who unabashedly proclaims his nostalgia for a whitewashed version of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, it is not only history that Putin seeks to revise, but the very borders of Ukraine and Europe. It is past time for the free nations of the world to resist Putin’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea, his continued aggression in eastern Ukraine and his efforts to expand Russia’s hegemonic influence elsewhere. Today, Moscow’s aggression threatens not only Ukraine, but Europe, the United States and the very international order and peace our parents and grandparents gave so much to build. Allowing Putin to act with impunity will only embolden him and other despots who seek to subjugate their citizens and neighbors.”
It was noted during the program that messages were received also from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida (a candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for president) and Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.).
The ceremonies concluded with the singers of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus performing the “Prayer for Ukraine” (Bozhe Velykyi, Yedynyi).