Toronto Holds Week-long Famine Commemoration 

Over 1,000 attend memorial service


(UCC Toronto/UkrNews)-Toronto's Ukrainian community held a week-long commemoration of the 1933 Famine Genocide in Soviet Ukraine, Nov. 19-27. From Nov. 19-21, a conference on establishing Food Banks in Ukraine was held at the Ukrainian Canadian Social Services Centre. 

Nov. 20 - 25 a 1933 Famine-Genocide Exhibit was on display at the Toronto City Hall Rotunda. 

The official opening, Nov. 22, was attended by Bishop Yuri of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Bishop Cornelius of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Gerard Kennedy MPP for Parkdale-High Park, City Councillor Chris Korwin Kuczynski as well as other members of Council, Consul General of Ukraine Mykola Kyrychenko and members of the Ukrainian community. 

Michael Luczka, from Kontakt opened the commemorative service and called upon both bishops to say a prayer for all those who were starved to death. Yvan Oleksiuk Baker and his sister Meelena Oleksiuk Baker read exerts from passages of survivor's accounts of the famine. Words of sympathy were expressed by MPP's City Councillors and Consul Kyrychenko. A proclamation by Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman proclaiming the Week of Nov. 21-27 as Ukrainian Famine-Genocide 1933, was read by Kuczynski. 

Dr. Frank Sysyn, Director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta spoke on the work of the diaspora in making the world aware of the Famine. 

Dr. Sysyn noted that if the world had paid attention to the Famine in 1933, then "the horrific mistakes would not have occurred", referring to such events as the Stalinist show trails, the repatriation of displaced persons to the USSR after World War II and the pro-Maoist attitudes of the sixties. The exhibit was opened by Valentyna Podasz and Pavlo Makohon two survivors of the famine. It was open until Nov. 25. 

Earlier that day Kennedy read a proclamation in the Provincial Parliament. In his proclamation he emphasized that this was a Genocide created by Moscow to break the backbone of the Ukrainian people and to centralize his power over Ukraine. 

Nov. 24 a lecture was given by Prof. Sysyn at the University of Toronto. The lecture was extremely well attended by students and faculty members. Prof. Sysyn outlined the strong role played by the diaspora in bringing the Famine in 1933 to the forefront. He mentioned the strong influence of Robert Conquest's book, Harvest of Sorrows and the film Harvest of Despair on the academic world. 

Another aspect of the commemoration was an educational series of workshops were held for students in both elementary and high school classes at the Ukrainian Canadian Research & Documentation Centre. Nov. 25, students from St. Josaphat's Ukrainian. Catholic School attended a seminar conducted by UCC Toronto President Maria Szkambara, Eugene Yakovitch and Lesia Korobaylo. 

The lessons were divided into three parts: 

An historical perspective of the famine using a slide presentation

Survivors' life stories. (This was extremely moving. Most of the survivors were the same age as the students to whom they were speaking. Makohon and Nicholas Latyshko were the two survivors speaking to the student.

A research period -- students were given research questions -answers were found on the famine display. 


Szkambara told Ukrainian News the educational sessions were very well received. Some students were not even aware that the Famine had occurred. One of the purposes of these sessions was to provide the students with information they can use in their schools. Szkambara said that in some cases, when students were asked to write essays about genocides for their schools, proposals for the Famine topic were rejected by teachers who claimed it was not man-made, but the result of a bad harvest. 

On Nov. 27 about 150 students from Ukrainian Saturday Schools attended another educational workshop. They were greeted by Lesya Jones who gave them a brief historic overview of the famine -- she explained why the famine should be considered a Genocide, 

Students were divided into four groups. Marsha Skrypuch did a reading from her new book on the Famine called "Enough". This session was especially interesting to the students. A discussion ensured as to Skrypuch's reason in choosing "Enough" as a title. 

Students were also fortunate to listen to the survivor's accounts of the famine from Podasz, Makohon, George Bulat and Benjamin Chmilenko 

As well, they were given research questions which had to be found on the Famine Exhibit. 

Nov. 27 an ecumenical commemorative service was held at St. Nicholas Catholic Church. The service began with a procession of flags, survivors carrying candles, youth carrying candles, and the Knights of Columbus. Szkambara opened the service, explaining its purpose and called upon Yvan Oleksiuk Baker and Meelena Oleksiuk Baker to read the historical documentation of the famine. While they read the account two of the survivors walked up to the two centre students and lit their candles in memory of the victims of the famine. 

As Yvan and Meelena read the accounts of the other world genocides, the students walked up to the students representing each of the ethnic groups and lit their candles. There were 18 ethnic nations represented: Armenians, Belarusian, Chinese, Jewish, Biafrans, Rwandans, Roma, Latvians, Lithuanians, Polish, First Nations, Pakistanis, and Palestinians among them. 

Brampton MP Sarkis Assadourian spoke on the need of a Genocide museum in Ottawa and his Bill C224. 

Consul Kyrychenko also delivered a speech on the famine and its historical interpretation over the years. 

Rev. Bohdan Sencio of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church gave a moving eulogy for those who were starved to death. His moving and hem touching words brought tears to the audience. The men's choir Burlaka sang a moving panachyda. Over 1000 members of the community were present.


Ukrainian News, Dec. 15-28, 1999, pg 11
Reprinted with Permission