Today sees the release of "Bitter Harvest" in cinemas around the UK focusing on love and rebellion in the face of the horrific Holodomor of 1932-33. Lubomyr Luciuk, professor of political geography at The Royal Military College of Canada gives his assessment of the film:

My Godmother, Nina, told me the truth. When I shared it with my history teacher he said she was mistaken, or lied.

I was upset. I asked my parents who was right.

They gave me a book, Russian Oppression in Ukraine. I still have it. My first encounter with this volume was brief. I slammed it shut, shuddering at the photographs inside – the remains of famine victims being heaved into a cart, the bodies of raped-then-murdered women jumbled together on a bed, a massacred community’s corpses exhumed to identify their killers. Even though I quickly looked away it was too late – a Pandora’s Box of nightmares was freed. Those images, glimpsed decades past, burdened me. Only a few minutes ago I dared look again. They remain harrowing.

After my high-school essay scored a poor grade I defiantly presented the book to my teacher. Disdainfully, he gave it back, dismissing it as “anti-Soviet propaganda.”

He was right. It was. It was also true. It just took a half-century to confirm.

What brought this reversal to mind was the film, Bitter Harvest. As it ended I glanced around the screening room. Some wept quietly. Others seemed uncertain about how to react. I know why. It’s beautifully filmed, a love story about Natalka (Samantha Banks) and Yuri (Max Irons), set in an almost Edenic landscape, saturated in colours evoking a verdant and fruitful life. Very soon however, almost imperceptibly, it begins to soil, inexorably, as the brutality of the Bolshevik occupation of Ukraine metastasizes Europe’s breadbasket into a modern-day Golgotha, a place of skulls. Can love survive in such corrupting foulness? I don’t know.

Over 4 million people were murdered during the Holodomor, the Great Famine of 1932-1933 – after Moscow’s minions stripped Soviet Ukraine of food, exporting grain even as widespread hunger took hold, sealing the borders to prevent anyone leaving or aid from getting in, all the while insisting there was no famine. Then Stalin’s shills buried the truth about one of the greatest genocides to befoul modern history, their mendaciousness buttressed by dissemblers like Walter Duranty of The New York Times, who scribbled: “there is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.” Duranty got help from unexpected quarters. Even though he privately informed British diplomats “as many as 10 million people” had died, London never exposed this great Soviet lie. Why? In June 1934 the Foreign Office’s Laurence Collier bequeathed a humbug of a confession to posterity: “The truth of the matter is, of course, that we have a certain amount of information about famine conditions...We do not want to make it public, however, because the Soviet government would resent it and our relations with them would be prejudiced.”

No wonder my teacher knew nothing about this man-made famine. Many still don’t. Stalin’s successors in the Kremlin are Holodomor-deniers and more than a few fellow travellers in the West insist the world should turn a blind eye to continuing Russian imperialism against Ukraine, lest we offend the “Great Russians.” Director George Mendeluk’s film challenges those fake news peddlers. So I’d wager Mr Putin won’t want you to see Bitter Harvest. I hope President Trump does.

It’s certainly a haunting movie, portraying doomed Ukrainian insurgents charging their oppressors, a boy pawing desperately at dirt barely covering his mother’s just-buried remains, a fleeting shadow of self-doubt on a Red Army man’s face in a firing squad, desperate people doing whatever they must to live, even collaborating with the very Communists who would be their killers. Millions of Ukraine’s best sons and daughters were disposed of unceremoniously, dumped into collective boneyards. The survivors were the leavings, entombed in a post-genocidal society, victims of a crippling legacy still unexorcised.

After Nina died I helped clean her house. Every kitchen shelf was over-stocked with non-perishable goods – bags of flour, sugar and canned preserves – supplies sufficient to sustain anyone for months. Dusk fell as we harvested. Her home slowly hushed. I was strangely disquieted by this silence, calling to mind her whispering about seeing jellied human flesh eaten in her village during the famine. Faced with that abomination she scavenged for worms and weeds rather than sup on what others devoured. Never again, she swore, would she be without food. She managed to save her soul, living to speak the truth about Ukraine’s bitter harvest. As for the food we took from her home that autumn day it went to feed the hungry. She would have liked that.




See also: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-39065014


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