Every so often, one of my friends or followers asks me: “Where do you get inspiration for your blog posts?” The answer is simple: “From different places on different days.” Sometimes it’s from recent travels or scrolling through my photo archives, sometimes it’s on an anniversary or a date of significance such as my recent Fifth Anniversary blog, An Anniversary Like No Other. Sometimes ideas come after watching a travel program during this time of the virus. Much like last week’s blog on the Highlands of Scotland, The Highlands of Scotland.
The revelation for this week’s post came from out of the blue. It was from an email forwarded to me by The Eldest that originated from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress of Alberta. This group looks after the needs of the many Ukrainians that settled in Alberta (and other provinces) after the Ukraine diaspora that occurred beginning in the late 1800’s until after World War II. The email noted that November 28 (the fourth Saturday of November) is Holodomor Remembrance Day. When I read that statement, my mind immediately went to our May 2019 visit to the National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide in Kyiv, Ukraine. Soon I was digging through my archives and found photos taken during our all too brief visit to the Memorial on the banks of the Dnieper River. So this week that is where I’m taking you. As a side note, I can’t help but think of the irony that the Day of Remembrance is a couple of days after our Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A day typically given over to gluttony!
The word Holodomor [pronounced ‘ho lo do mor’, (the o’s are long) click here for the pronunciation] means to “to kill by starvation.” It’s also known as the Terror-Famine or the Great Famine. This genocide on the Ukrainian people was carried out by Joseph Stalin, the Communist dictator of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe and is considered the “breadbasket” of Europe. It’s fertile land is conductive to raising wheat, corn, barley, oilseeds, and all forms of animal agriculture. In addition, the country is rich in natural resources such as iron ore, coal, timber and many other valuable minerals. As a member State of the USSR, it provided an abundant supply of agricultural products to help feed other less resource rich States.
In the late 1920’s, Stalin and the Communist Party began to implement collective farming in Ukraine. They forced peasants to give up their land, most of their personal belongings, and their homes to work on these large collective farms. Those who resisted were moved to urban areas or deported to gulags or shot on the spot. In the early 1930’s, about 80% of the population of Ukraine lived in rural areas. There was a lot of turmoil so Stalin sent in the Red Army to quell the unrest. By 1932, all these actions led to a drop in agricultural production by about one half.
Then the situation got worse. The Communist Party supported by the Soviet Army confiscated nearly all food products; wheat, corn, garden produce, pigs, cows, horses, anything edible. This was rationed out to people living in the cities who worked in factories and other parts of the Soviet Union that were also in a famine. The peasants were left with very little if anything to eat. If they were caught with a loaf of bread or a few beetroots for soup, they were punished or killed. Winter was coming, a few lucky one’s escaped through the tight borders to Poland or Romania. Some children were sent to live with relatives in Russia or other parts of the Soviet Union. There was little to eat except grass, dirt, tree bark, roots of weeds, berries, rodents, birds, even earthworms. There are even reports of cannibalism. Peasants flocked to the cities where there was some food but was tightly controlled by ration coupons. People were begging in the streets but it was forbidden to help the starving. The irony is that while the Soviets had confiscated all the grain and produce, they were so inefficient in distributing it to the people, that a good portion rotted in granaries. There are stories that peasants could smell the molding grain and would have eaten it except the granary was surrounded by armed soldiers. Some granaries burst because the grain got wet, expanded, and forced the walls to collapse.
It’s estimated that about one sixth of the population of Ukraine perished in this famine. With a population of about 32 million that means about six million died of starvation. Small children that survived often grew up with life-long physical deformities. You might be saying to yourself, “Why didn’t someone do something about this horrible tragedy?” The borders were sealed, no humanitarian aid could be brought in to provide food or medical assistance. Western newspaper reporters from the United Kingdom and Canada did their best to let the world know what was going on in Ukraine. Some influential reporters including one from the New York Times, white-washed the story to stay in the good graces of the Communist Party in Moscow. A great example of the effectiveness of the Soviet propaganda and disinformation campaign. The other mitigating factor is that the Great Depression was gripping the world, countries like the United States were dealing with their own internal issues. The Holodomor ended in 1933 when collectivization was completed and all farmers worked for the state. Stalin had broken the will of the people and kept the truth from the rest of the world.
It wasn’t until the 1980’s, fifty years after this genocide, that it began to come to light. There were whispers among the Ukrainian peoples but not wide spread awareness. The Ukrainian diaspora mostly in Canada some in the United States and other countries began to speak out about this atrocity. The Soviets did acknowledge there was a drought but very few people died as a result. They destroyed and covered up evidence. Finally, the story broke when the International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932-1933 Famine in Ukraine was set up by the World Congress of Free Ukrainians to study and investigate the Holodomor. Their detailed report was issued in 1990. The main conclusion was that Moscow knew people were starving to death in Ukraine and turned a blind eye. Ukraine became an independent country in 1991 after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. This unsealed many of the records that were kept by the ruling government.
All this background brings me to the National Museum of the Holodomor. We got there late in the day so the museum itself was closed. The first thing that visitors see is haunting statute of an emaciated little girl grasping a few heads of wheat. Picking up any grain left after the harvest was considered a serious crime resulting in prison or death.
Two angels of sorrow, one on each side of the path, act as the guardians of the souls of those that starved.
The one hundred foot tall structure in the photos below is known as the Candle of Memory. It has become a tradition for Ukrainians in all parts of the world to light a candle on Remembrance Day.
At the base of the Candle of Memory is this block of stone etched with the dates of Holodomor. Below ground is the museum itself that features an educational film about the famine and a collection of artifacts from the period. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to tour the museum but plan to visit the next time we are in Kyiv.
There you have it folks, a little history and a few photos from a little known significant world event. Next Remembrance Day, join us by lighting a candle to honor those lost in the Holodomor.
Until next week, happy virtual travels!