How to honor victims of Holodomor

23.11.2010, 15:21
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 ceremony, insisting there was no genocide.

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 ceremony, insisting there was no genocide.

Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, showed respect for Ukraine’s dead. Victor 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 Yanukovych’s behavior was all but ignored while 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 crisis 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 history’s greatest crimes against humanity.

From a Canadian perspective think of everyone in Toronto starving between today and next Thanksgiving. Or, using 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 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, Stanford professor Norman Naimark writes: “The bottom line is that Stalin, [Vyacheslav] Molotov, [Lazar] 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 [United Nations] 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 servile catering to the Kremlin’s Holodomor-denying yarn, I might have quit Ukraine in despair but for an encounter at a popular Ukrainian-cuisine restaurant. A young mother and 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, overhearing us, tried his English. I asked what he wanted to do: “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 Ukrainian, after all.”

I’d bet he gets to Cambridge. There’s hope. No matter what Moscow’s men still attempt, millions of Ukrainians are now living, working and studying abroad. More leave daily. Some will learn Ukraine’s history better in the diaspora than they are today permitted to in their own homeland. Many will return and won’t be fooled again. So Yanukovych is slated for the dustbin of history while Harper can stand proud. He 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 and their issue, who remain unclean, perhaps forevermore.

Lubomyr LUCIUK

21 November 2010, KyivPost