Candle of Remembrance in Kyiv (Oct 2010)In the lead-up to next Saturday's commemoration of the 1932-33 Holodomor, we are reproducing an article penned by Lubomyr Luciuk, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and co-editor of "Holodomor: Reflections on the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine" (Kashtan Press, 2008).

I witnessed an odd event recently. A statesman stood hallowing a genocide’s victims in the country where it occurred while its president ignored the event, insisting there was no genocide.

It was Canada’s prime minister, the Honourable Stephen Harper, who showed respect for Ukraine’s dead. Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president, did not. Reportedly, he has never entered the Kyiv museum to the Holodomor, the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine.

Yet Mr. Yanukovych’s behaviour was all but ignored as Mr. Harper’s words became the story. When he said “almost” 10 million people starved, roughly Canada’s population in 1933, his critics accused him of poppycock. Scything several million off the death toll they insisted only a few million perished, a lesser booboo.

Scholarly estimates of Holodomor-related deaths do vary. A credible study by Jacques Vallin, one of France’s leading demographers, concluded that 2.6 million died of hunger. To this he added a birth deficit of 1.1 million and about a million more transported to the Gulag - 4.6 million lives lost to Soviet Ukraine over a year. Even this conservative figure places the Holodomor alongside the Shoah as one of the greatest of crimes against humanity. From a Canadian perspective think of everyone in Toronto starving between today and next Thanksgiving. Or use Professor Robert Conquest’s calculation of 17 people dying every minute, 25,000 per day at the famine’s height, reflect on how 17 men, women and children died of hunger between the time you began this article and got to this line. At that rate of mortality my hometown of Kingston would be emptied of souls in a week.

Every serious student of the Soviet Union accepts that a famine occurred in 1932-1933 – a consequence of Communist policies, not a bad harvest - and that many millions could have been saved but were instead left to die. But was it genocide? Given the blockade of Soviet Ukraine’s borders to prevent aid coming in, or anyone leaving, the significant grain exports that continued despite official knowledge of catastrophic famine conditions, the wholesale confiscation of all foodstuffs from Ukrainian lands, and how the Soviets and their shills orchestrated a campaign of Holodomor-denial for decades, the answer is certainly yes. In Stalin’s Genocides Professor Norman Naimark of Stanford University writes:

“The bottom line is that Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich and their ilk were convinced that the Ukrainian peasants as a group were ‘enemies of the people’ who deserved to die. That was enough for the Soviet leadership; that should be enough to conclude that the Ukrainian famine was genocide.” Dr. Raphael Lemkin, the “father of the  [UN] Genocide Convention” thought so too. In 1953 he spoke of this famine as part of a genocidal Soviet campaign targeting the Ukrainian nation.

Given Yanukovych’s slavish catering to the Kremlin’s Holodomor-denying spin I might have quit Ukraine in despair but for a chance encounter at a popular Ukrainian-cuisine restaurant.  A young mother and her daughter, visiting from France, were taking lunch with an 8-year-old lad, their Kyiv cousin. We shared a table. The boy was practicing French but hearing us tried his English. I asked what he wanted to do: “I want to study at Cambridge.” What subjects? “History and Mathematics.” Had he been abroad? “Yes, to Paris.“ Which city did he prefer? “Both are nice but I’ll take Kyiv. I’m a Ukrainian, after all.”

I’d bet that boy gets to Cambridge. That nurtures hope. No matter what Moscow’s men still attempt millions of Ukrainians are living, working and studying abroad. More leave daily. Some will learn Ukraine’s history better in the Diaspora than they can in their own homeland. They will discover why Canada officially acknowledged the Holodomor as genocide. Eventually many will return and they won’t be fooled again. So while Mr. Yanukovych is headed for the dustbin of history the Honourable Mr. Harper can stand proud for having placed Canada in the ranks of the righteous few among nations who recognize the Holodomor as genocide and thus confound those who won’t - the perpetrators.

Lubomyr Luciuk

Ukrayinska Dumka


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