Ukraine marks anniversary of great famine
- Ukraine marks anniversary of great famine
The Associated Press
November 22, 2008
KIEV, Ukraine: Church bells tolled, candles flickered under falling
snow and national flags, adorned with black ribbons, flew in the
Ukrainian capital Kiev Saturday as the country marked the anniversary
of the start of a Soviet-era famine that killed millions.
But the solemn events were overshadowed by fierce opposition from
Russia. The Kremlin is resisting Ukraine's campaign to win
international recognition of the 1932-33 tragedy as an act of
genocide against the Ukrainian nation, saying other ethnic groups
The anniversary of Holodomor or Death by Hunger as it is known
here is traditionally marked in late November, when the food
The famine was orchestrated by dictator Josef Stalin to force
peasants to give up their land and join collective farms and Ukraine,
known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, suffered the most.
The death toll is disputed, but there is no question the tragedy was
devastating. Top Ukrainian historian Stanislav Kulchitsky believes
3.5 million perished, while President Viktor Yushchenko says that
Holodomor claimed the lives of up to 10 million.
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Yushchenko insists that the famine was aimed at rooting out Ukrainian
nationalism, targeting the heart of the nation, its peasants, and
thus is an act of genocide.
"This was not death through hunger this was murder of people
through hunger," a black-clad Yushchenko said in a speech. "Hunger
was selected as a tool to subdue the Ukrainian people."
In the fall of 1932 authorities confiscated grain, livestock and
other food in villages across the Soviet Union, after peasants failed
to meet grain quotas that exceeded crop yields. The Soviet Union
exported the grain to build factories and arm its military.
Residents were prohibited to leave their homes effectively
condemning them to starvation and survivors say that people ate dogs,
grass and that cases of cannibalism were widespread. The famine was a
closely guarded secret in the Soviet times.
Several hundred Ukrainians braved snow and cold to light candles
outside the golden-domed St. Michael cathedral in Kiev in memory of
those who perished.
"It is the pain and wound of the Ukrainian people," said a sobbing
Valentyna Mayboroda, a 57-year-old retired government worker whose
uncle Ivan disappeared and was believed to have fallen victim to
Scholars in Ukraine, Russia and the West are still debating the
tragedy. Most Ukrainian scholars, including Kulchitsky, are convinced
Holodomor was an act of genocide, or deliberate and systematic
destruction of a racial or ethnic group, as it is defined in
international law. Others, like Heorhiy Kasyanov, a top historian
with the National Academy of Sciences, say the issue is more
complicated and says there was no clear-cut ethnic component.
But few debate that Russians are unwilling to properly honor the
victims of Soviet-era purges, reconsider the dark pages of the
country's history and acknowledge that the Soviet regime was guilty
of grave crimes. Critics say that reluctance to face Soviet crimes is
rooted in the fact that the Kremlin is increasingly moving away from
democracy and reverting to authoritarian practices.
Ukrainian lawmakers, along with their counterparts including the
United States, already labeled Holodomor an act of genocide and
Yushchenko is pushing for other countries and international bodies to
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