July 26, 1998

The Great Famine of 1932-1933


This year marks the 65th anniversary of one of the world’s worst genocides: the Great Famine of 1932-1933 that ravaged Soviet-occupied Ukraine. The famine was not a natural disaster, but a man-made atrocity that killed 7 million men, women and children. It was a heinous use of food as a weapon – in this case used by Stalin and his henchmen to destroy a nation. The regime ordered the expropriation of foodstuffs in the possession of the rural population to destroy the nationally conscious segments of Ukrainian society, secure collectivization and support industrialization. It was, as the dissident samvydav of the 1970s put it, “a political famine,” “planned at the top by the Kremlin.”

Sixty-five years after the Great Famine, there are many who do not know about this tragic episode, which is analogous in Ukrainian history to the Holocaust in Jewish history and was, in fact, a precursor to other modern-day genocides.

Our communities around the globe solemnly marked the 50th anniversary of this national tragedy in 1983 with diverse events and publications. All were attempts not only to remember, but to tell others about this unimaginable horror wrought by Stalin and, indeed, the Soviet system. This year, some of our communities are taking advantage of another anniversary to increase public awareness about the famine and its ramifications.

Montreal led the way with a series of commemorative events in the spring: a memorial march, an exhibit of photographs and books about the famine, a series of lectures and segments about the famine broadcast on the local Ukrainian radio program. In the Canadian capital the Ukrainian community held a memorial manifestation, plus a memorial service. The Ottawa community also took a pragmatic approach to the solemnities. A scholarship fund was launched to support research into the politics of famine and a “soup kitchen” fund was established to feed the hungry in Ukraine today. As well, community members are pushing for a section on the Great Famine in Ukraine to be included in the federal government’s plans for a Holocaust or genocide museum in the National Capital Region.

Their efforts are commendable and should be emulated by others during this 65th anniversary year of the Great Famine. This is yet another opportunity to ensure that this genocide is not forgotten and that its lessons are understood by new generations with the hope that they will never allow such history to be repeated.