We often hear that if we don’t learn from history’s mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them. Yet how are we to gain such insight and understanding, if the facts of some tragic events have been suppressed and hidden from the scrutiny of the world? Such is the case of the Holodomor which occurred in Ukraine from 1932-33.
The Holodomor or Great Famine has only become public knowledge within the past few decades, and even today, many people are surprised and shocked to learn that a genocide as horrific as the Holocaust and Rwanda massacres occurred in Ukraine. It is estimated that between 7-10 million innocent victims succumbed to the ravages of starvation, not because of a natural disaster, but because of a policy implemented by Joseph Stalin, then the leader of Soviet Russia.
Through a concentrated and deliberate effort to break the will and spirit of Ukrainian nationalism, Stalin sought to eliminate any threat that a strong, independent Ukraine might pose to Soviet rule. To do so, he began by suppressing or even eliminating Ukrainian intellectuals, artists and church leaders. Farmland was confiscated from owners and those individuals were then forced to work on collective state farms. Those who resisted were often deported to far-off corners or executed. Escape was not even possible, as desperate people were prevented from fleeing.
In 1932-33, Stalin took extreme measures to break the will of Ukrainian people by demanding impossibly high grain quotas, and then confiscating all the grain (even the seed) to meet those demands. Special teams were dispatched to seize all livestock and food supplies as well, and guards stood watch to ensure that not even a stalk of wheat was taken by desperate villagers.
In one of the richest farming regions of the world (Ukraine was considered The Bread Basket of Europe) and in the midst of one of the best harvests, Ukrainians starved to death by the millions. It is estimated that 28,000 people died each day. The immeasurable suffering that occurred is truly unfathomable!
The knowledge of this atrocity and inhumane policy was hidden from the world and vigorously denied for many years in one of the greatest cover-ups ever orchestrated by a government, but the archives and documents gained after the fall of the Soviet Union tell the truth.
Jonathan R. Miller said, “You are not responsible for the past, but insofar as you do nothing, you are implicit in the present created by it.”
Today, many organizations and groups are working diligently to educate Canadians about this genocide which has relevance for all citizens of Canada, not just those of Ukrainian descent. Part of this campaign is the Holodomor Mobile Classroom (www.holodomortour.ca) which is touring Canada and was just in Saskatchewan this fall, with plans to return in the spring. The videos produced are at once compelling, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching.
At a time when Putin and his actions, once again threaten Ukrainian independence and when many jurisdictions in various parts of the world face similar situations, awareness must be raised.
November 21-27, 2016 has been designated as National Holodomor Awareness Week across Canada and many observances and memorial services will be held to commemorate this tragic event. But we don’t need a special week to educate ourselves about the darker aspects of human history. We must all do our part to ensure the rights and freedoms of all people are protected and to ensure that such atrocities never occur again!