The recently published book, “The Holy See and the Holodomor”, received its launch AUGB’s Central Office in London.  

Researched and co-edited by Rev. Dr. Athanasius McVay and Prof. Lubomyr Luciuk, the work was due to be presented by them both until, unfortunately, Dr Luciuk had to cancel at the last minute for personal reasons.

Guests had an opportunity to hear Rev McVay provide an extensive insight into the book’s content and to ask further questions.

Later we caught up with him for a quick interview.

Fr Athanasius, could you tell us a little about the publication?

The book contains English translations of fifty-six documents found found the Vatican Archives that touch on the Holodomor and the Holy See’s efforts to organize and aid mission and to publicize the facts.  It also contains a preface and afterword which presents these documents in their historical context.

What inspired you to write it?

I’ve been aware of the Holodomor since the early 1980’s when Canadian Ukrainians organized conferences and demonstrations to have this humanitarian tragedy officially recognized by the government. In 1984 my hometown of Winnipeg erected a monument to the Holodomor, directly in front of our City Hall. Providentially, Professor Luciuk and I met in the Vatican Archives in October 2010. While searching for information on Blessed Nykyta Budka (1877-1949), I had accidentally discovered documents concerning the Holodomor.  Luciuk proposed that we collaborate and publish the documents.

Were you surprised by your findings

The basic details about the Holodomor were known to me; but many of the details of the famine were surprising, especially how the Apostolic See sought to intervene to make the tragedy known to the world and to alleviate the people’s suffering. 

Did you come across any letters/photographs from victims of the Holodomor writing from Ukraine asking for assistance? 

Very few original letters are contained in the Vatican Archives Pro Russia Commission files. References to numerous letters in the remaining correspondence led Professor Luciuk and I to hope that letters from Ukraine and Russia might still be found in Bishop D’Herbigny’s private archives in Paris.  Other scholars have suggested that the letters might have been destroyed or filed elsewhere.

Do you think that there may be other documents on the Holodomor in the Vatican’s archive which might still be classified? 

I doubt it.  There might be documents filed in another collection or in the Archives of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.  

Many people might ask - if the Vatican knew about the Holodomor, why didn’t it help Ukraine?

The Pope learned about the Holodomor from the French Jesuit, Bishop Michel d’Herbigny, who was the president of the Pro Russia Commission which was in charge of church affairs in the Soviet Union. D’Herbigny was receiving letters from the Soviet Union as well as reports from French and Italian diplomats who had witnessed the situation first hand. Whereas the British and American Governments knew and ordered that the matter remain secret, the Pope ordered that all details be published in the Vatican newspaper.  D’Herbigny further proposed an aid-mission, similar to the one that the pope had launched ten years previously. The emotional Pius XI wept when he received one report and insisted that something must be done. Unfortunately churchmen and diplomats advised that no aid would ever reach the people because Soviet authorities were officially denying the existence of a famine deliberately orchestrated by Stalin. In addition, the Holy See did not possess diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and coukld not approach Soviet representatives directly. Instead it chastized European governments to which it had accredited ambassadors for buying grain from the Soviets in such a situation. In the end, the most that the Pope was able to do was to authorize a substantial monatery to be forwarded to starving Catholics via German charitable organizations that had contacts in Ukraine.

Finally, what  does the publication add to the facts already known about the Holodomor?

The publication represents yet more testimony of the Holodomor from primary and international diplomatic sources.  It also reveals the Apostolic See’s desire to intervene and to make the tragedy known worldwide. This helps dispel the notion that the papacy was ‘silent’ in the face of one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of the twentieth century.


Rev. Dr. Athanasius McVay is a priest, archival researcher and full-time professional Church historian specializing in the history of the Holy See’s diplomacy and the history of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the XIX and XX centuries.  He is currently the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto, has lectured, written articles and published papers on a variety of subjects.  He is author of two other books and is also currently working on the publication of a fourth book – a historical biography to coincide with the centenary this year of the installation of the first Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop in Canada, the Blessed Nykyta Budko.

For details on how to obtain a copy of the book, contact AUGB's Central Office on 020 72298392. 

Ukrayinska Dumka


Great Britain The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain has many branches throughout the country. Select a branch below to find out more information.