2,500 rally in Toronto to commemorate Great Famine of 1932-1933
by Nestor Gula
TORONTO - More than 2,500 people gathered on October 4 in downtown Toronto to commemorate the tragedy of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933, a Famine deliberately orchestrated by the Soviet leadership headed by Joseph Stalin, as part of the policy of collectivization.
Intent on breaking the resistance of the Ukrainian peasantry, after having effectively wiped out or intimidated Ukraine's intelligentsia in previous years, Soviet authorities confiscated all foodstuffs in the central, eastern and southern Ukrainian countryside (as well as in the Ukrainian ethnographic territory in Kuban) and forcibly created an artificial famine.
Sixty-five years later, members of the Ukrainian community from Toronto and surrounding areas gathered at the Ontario Provincial Parliament buildings at Queen's Park, then marched to Nathan Philips Square at Toronto's City Hall.
The keynote speaker at the event was Dr. James Mace, an adjunct professor of history at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, former director of the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine and former research associate of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard.
Dr. Mace told the assembly that the purpose of the Famine was "to end the Ukrainian movement ... which first formed during the revolution of 1917 and which had built the Ukrainian [National] Republic."
As if to add insult to the Famine's genocidal intent, the collectivization drive ultimately was futile. Dr. Mace said the process led to a disaster in agriculture in one of the most fertile and productive regions in the world. "Collectivization does not raise agricultural productivity," the academic said, "It just makes it easier for someone to come in and take [the produce] away. The system breaks down very quickly."
Dr. Mace stated that while Ukrainians around the world have been certain that Stalin and his henchmen directly engineered the massive atrocity, the "smoking gun" of Moscow's direct involvement in precipitating the Famine was found only recently. "It was only in [the two years following independence] that Ukrainian scholars were able to get access [to formerly secret sections of Soviet archives] and see just how implicated Moscow was in bringing about the Famine of 1932-1933," he said.
"What we did not know when we were writing our report [of the U.S. commission issued in 1988]," the Kyiv-based scholar averred, "was that there was an unpublished [Communist] Party decree, dated November 18, 1932, which stated if there was no grain to meet the quotas - take the potatoes, take the beans, take literally everything. And that is precisely what [local authorities] did under Moscow's direct orders."
Dr. Mace recalled speaking to a survivor of the Famine: "He wondered whether the world would know of the Famine and would there be anybody to pray for us."
The keynote speaker concluded by affirming: "The world did know, knows and will know, and there will always be someone to pray for [the Famine's victims]."
Dr. Mace also delivered a lecture on the Famine at the University of Toronto Center for Russian and East European Studies on October 5.
The commemorations had been unofficially launched by an educational program hosted by the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Center (UCRDC), at its headquarters in the St. Vladimir Institute near the university, which presented materials to elementary school children from various local schools on the afternoon of September 26.
An exhibit at City Hall
On September 30, an exhibit about the Famine, "The Famine-Genocide, Ukraine, 1933," prepared by the UCRDC and sponsored by Media Watch Ukraine and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress's Toronto branch, was officially opened in the Rotunda of City Hall and remained on view to the general public until October 9.
The exhibit featured documents implicating senior Soviet officials in issuing lethal procurement orders, coverage of the Famine that appeared in the Ukrainian and international press at the time, statements read out earlier this year in Canada's House of Commons in commemoration of the Famine by members of Parliament, and a continuous screening of the video "Harvest of Despair."
At the opening, City Counsellor Chris Korwyn-Kuczynski hailed the exhibit's organizers for their effort and their choice of venue. "This is a tragic period most Canadians are not aware of, and they need to be aware of. [Thanks to the exhibit's location] thousands will be educated," he said.
"This kind of atrocity should never happen again," added the counsellor. "The world should share in your community's sense of loss."
City Counsellor David Miller also addressed the gathering of about 75 people, saying: "On November 11, [Canadian] Remembrance Day, we say 'Lest we Forget.' Each year we express the hope that there be no more war. In this case, this year, it applies to Famine."
"We also know of the attitude of governments of the time, who were free, open and democratic, who denied it was occurring and later that it happened," Mr. Miller continued. "We need to know that our freedoms are being protected, we need to dig up information about such tragedies, so that we never forget," the counsellor said.
Derwyn Shea, member of Provincial Parliament for High Park-Swansea, expressed solidarity with those commemorating the 1932-1933 Famine in Ukraine, saying that his Irish ancestry and knowledge of history made him "aware of famine, and aware of how they occur by causes that are not natural."
"Thank you for raising our sensibilities, for keeping us informed of this terrible holocaust," Mr. Shea said.
The UCRDC's director, Andrew Gregorovich, cautioned that the work of educating the public is never done. "Famine denial, like Holocaust denial, still exist. They can be found on the Internet, they need to be confronted," the researcher said.
Maria Szkambara, president of the UCC Toronto branch and a school teacher, recounted how she drove home the magnitude of the Famine's horrific impact by having her pupils each bring 20 toothpicks to school a day. "There were 30 children in the class, and at the end of the month, we had nowhere near a million," Ms. Szkambara recalled.
"It took us an entire year, and every day the pile grew larger and larger, and I told them: 'Think of these toothpicks, not as toothpicks, but as your brother, your sister, father and mother - even you," the activist said.
"One man wanted to kill the will of the people and say that there was no Ukrainian nation," the UCC president intoned, "but we are here to testify that there is, and that we cannot ever forget the Famine's victims."
Famine survivor Maria Bozhyk offered her thanks to the organizers of the exhibit. "The souls of those who died as innocent victims of the Red regime speak through you, and I am very grateful to you for giving them a voice," Ms. Bozhyk said.
"I buried my mother and my brother," Ms. Bozhyk continued, "I still see scenes of people, children, dying in their houses, clinging with a dying breath to their fences, people not yet dead carried away on carts piled high with other emaciated bodies to mass graves. There were villages that died out completely."
In conclusion, the survivor said, "I would like to say only this: let no other people suffer such a tragedy."
The exhibit's opening was attended also by Famine survivors Pavlo Makohon, Valentyna Podasz and Benjamin Chmilenko.
Sections of the exhibit can be accessed via the Internet, on the website of InfoUkes at http://www.infoukes.com/
On October 2, the day of the commemorative procession and rally, a press conference was hosted by Media Watch Ukraine and "Kontakt" TV.
Ms. Podasz, who was 4 years old at the height of the Famine, denounced "Moscow, the Communist Party and government, and Stalin himself," for having caused the Famine and the loss of 7 million lives.
The second speaker, Mr. Makohon, was 14 during the Soviet regime's assault on the Ukrainian countryside. Mr. Makohon gave a moving account of his life in the village of Troitska, in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, with his parents, younger brothers and sisters.
The survivor recalled that after his father refused to register at the local collective farm, their house was stripped of food. "We ate everything that could be eaten," said Mr. Makohon. "We ate dogs, cats, whatever birds could be caught, whatever. After all that was gone, the Famine really started."
In the spring of 1933, when all foodstuffs ran out, Mr. Makohon said his maternal grandmother died. Over the following two weeks all his younger siblings - Ivan, 8 years old, Vasyl, 4, Anatolii, 3, and Anna, 18 months - perished.
Mr. Makohon recalled that his father was seized by the police and forced to work on the collective farm. Mr. Makohon said that he traveled, at the urging of his mother, to a village in the neighboring Donbas region, in search of food. Upon his return to his village, Mr. Makohon said he found his mother dying. He nourished her with the food he brought and she survived the famine and lived to be 92 years old.
Andrij Kudla Wynnyckyj contributed to this report.
The Ukrainian Weekly, November 1, 1998
Reprinted with permission.