Upon first glance she appears to be an ordinary little girl, maybe a bit too thin, but just a regular child standing there pensively. But upon closer inspection the truth becomes apparent. It’s the eyes – those haunting, vacant eyes bereft of any joy or hope that tell the real story. It’s then that one also realizes that the frail body is not merely thin but emaciated. And the defeated posture as she clutches five stalks of grain tells of a childhood not filled with fun and games, but one clouded by bitter memories of profound suffering.
On a lovely spring day, a statue commemorating the Holodomor was unveiled and blessed in Regina’s Wascana Park just east of the Legislative Building. Located in a serene, beautiful spot near the lake, it invites retrospection and remembrance.
The Holodomor, one of the greatest atrocities against an ethnic group, was the genocide of the people of Ukraine. It is estimated that anywhere from 7-10 million people died in 1932-33 because of starvation. One third of this staggering number were children which explains why a child was used as the symbolic reminder of a sad and tragic time for Ukrainians.
This starvation or Holodomor (from the Ukrainian words holod meaning hunger or starvation and moryty meaning to induce suffering or to kill) occurred under orders from Stalin. Because of its rich, fertile soil Ukraine was known as the bread basket of Europe. The farming peasantry were the nucleus of the Ukrainian nation and their nationalistic spirit was a perceived threat to the Soviet Empire. Therefore, Stalin ordered the confiscation of grain, livestock, food, equipment and tools in the hopes of breaking their national spirit and forcing them to become collective farm workers.
In a time of plenty with no natural disasters such as drought Ukrainians would face death by starvation. Any attempt of resistance by the Ukrainian people meant severe repercussions such as village isolation, deportation to Siberia or even execution.
Today many wonder why we have just recently become aware of this terrible genocide and the staggering number of victims. The reason possibly lies in the fact that the Soviet government refused to acknowledge what was occurring and even sold the confiscated grain to the international community while millions needlessly starved.
Another reason might be that after the census, conducted in 1937, revealed a startling decrease in the population of Ukraine, Stalin ordered the execution of those taking the census so that the results would be suppressed and the rest of the world would remain unaware of the tragedy which had just occurred in Ukraine.
The statue in Wascana Park is an exact replica of the one that stands in Kyiv, Ukraine, in front of the museum which documents this horrific event. It is a sombre place that bears witness to this unimaginable occurrence through stark photos and book after book containing the names of those who died.
For Ukrainians in Saskatchewan and Canada this statue is a testament to the pledge that we shall never forget those innocent victims who suffered under a cruel tyrant. May it also serve to remind all of us, as citizens of a democratic nation, that we must be ever-vigilant and never allow such an atrocity to occur again, in Ukraine, or anywhere else in the world.