On 22 November 2019, Cambridge Ukrainian Studies remembered the victims of the Holodomor, the Soviet man-made famine of 1932-33, with the screening of Agnieszka Holland's historical-thriller 'Mr Jones' (2019). The event was organised in association with Cambridge Polish Studies, the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and the Holodomor Research and Educational Consortium. Over 150 attendees filled to capacity the Main Theatre of the Old Divinity School of St John's College, University of Cambridge.

It was both a very special and very difficult evening. On the one hand, we celebrated the creativity, talent, dedication and determination of individuals who take it upon themselves to explore the joys and tragedies of life, and bring to our attention stories of pleasure and pain that enrich our own existence. We had the privilege of watching ‘Mr Jones’, before it makes its appearance in UK movie theatres and before its screening in Ukraine under the title 'Цiна правди' ('Price of Truth'). Agnieszka Holland, a celebrated director and scriptwriter born in Warsaw, has thrice been nominated for the Oscar, in 1985 for ‘Angry Harvest’, in 1990 for ‘Europa, Europa’, and in 2012 for ‘In Darkness’. Whereas the three mentioned films directed By Holland dealt with the agonising subject of the Holocaust, ‘Mr Jones’ addresses the painful subject of the 1930s famine in the Soviet Union. In Ukraine, this famine assumed the form of a genocide against the Ukrainian people claiming millions of lives and acquiring the infamous name of Holodomor (death by starvation). Since the 2000’s, in Independent Ukraine, Holodomor Memorial Day is celebrated on the fourth Saturday of November by the lighting of candles.

In the film ‘Mr Jones’, an amazing international group of directors, producers, writers, actors, designers and camera men have worked together to bring us the story of another remarkable individual, Gareth Jones (1905-35), a Welsh journalist who lived a total of 29 years. In his short life, Gareth Jones took upon himself the seemingly simple, but actually exceptionally difficult task of recording and reporting what he saw. Gareth Jones dared to speak the truth, and chose not to amend the accuracy of his reports with respect to the pressures of the officially endorsed ‘fake-news’ storylines circulating in mainstream media of the time. In March 1933, he issued a press release, published in many newspapers, including The Manchester Guardian and the New York Evening Post that took on the reports of the Pulitzer Prise winning New York Times journalist Walter Durranty who claimed that the people of the Soviet Union are ‘hungry, but not starving’.

The issue of the Holodomor, just like that of the Holocaust, and the case of Gareth Jones, is not about others. It is about us and about the past, present and future of our global world. Gareth Jones was one of us. He graduated from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1926 with a first class degree in French, and from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1929 with a first class honours degree in French, German, and Russian. In November 2009, the diaries of Gareth Jones recording the man-made genocide of the Great Soviet Famine of 1932–33 went on display for the first time at the University of Cambridge. On Friday, Mel Bach, Head of Collections and Academic Liaison, as well as Slavonic Specialist, organised an exhibition of works on the Holodomor from the Cambridge University Library in the reception hall where the audience gathered following the film. 

The short video Holodomor: Stalin's Secret Genocide / Голодомор: прихований геноцид Сталіна (2016) that features statements on the Holodomor of some of world’s leading scholars of 20th-century Soviet history was shown prior of ‘Mr Jones’ to provide a historical as well as scholarly context. After the video, Hanya Dezyk, a director of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, presented the first prize award for the second Holodomor Essay Prize Competition. The AUGB Essay Prize Competition invites Sixth Form students (Years 12/13) attending any school or college in the UK to submit an essay of between 1500 and 2000 words on the Holodomor. This year’s winner of the Holodomor Essay Prize was Rachael Ward, from the John Henry Newman Catholic School, Stevenage, who was at hand with her family to receive the award.

Profound dismay at the millions of lives lost in the Holodomor, as well as esteem and admiration for the work and conviction of both Gareth Jones and Agnieszka Holland in telling the story of Stalin’s victims filtered through the heavy silence that filled the room after the film and evening.

Cambridge University Ukrainian Studies


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