It was not an accident or poor harvest. It was a genocide organized by the Soviet Union to eradicate the free-thinking of landowners who did not want to be collectivized on their farms and led to the death of millions.
That was the message at a memorial service held Wednesday night in the Battlefords to commemorate and remember the millions of Ukrainians killed in Holodomor in the winter of 1932-33. Despite a record grain harvest, crops were confiscated and regulations were imposed to prevent people from leaving their communities to find food. The famine was part of a wider Soviet famine which affected major grain-producing areas of the country.
For decades, the Soviet Union kept the incident a secret. But when Ukraine gained independence in 1991, the national archives were opened and historians were finally able to gain access to artifacts and confirm the famine.
“There is now a large contingent worldwide network to bring awareness of this genocide to the common people,” Rhea Good said, a long time educator and member with the Saskatchewan provincial committee for Holodomor education awareness.
Part of this involves activities in schools across the country during Holodomor Memorial Week that runs from Nov. 19 to 25. Locally, students at Holy Family School made bottles with grain inside to commemorate one survivor's story; in Dec. 2012, large bottle full of grain was accidentally found under a tree in the village of Velyki in Ukraine. The bottle was hidden in 1932 by Maria Soroka’s grandfather in an attempt to save his family from starvation.
The night was organized in conjunction with the Battlefords Ukrainian Canadian Cultural Council and involved speakers, musical pieces and a dramatic retelling of survivors stories. Good hoped the remembrance events will broaden the awareness of Holodomor and move it into the same category as Remembrance Day.
“It is not a story people want to revisit and it is not fun or enjoyable, but it is something in history we need to commemorate on an annual basis,” she said. “I hope [attendees] walk away with a commitment to tell two friends about Holodomor and to come again next year.”
Saskatchewan was the first jurisdiction in North America to recognize Holodomor as a genocide in 2008. An international memorial day is recognized on the fourth Saturday of November.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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