The early November sunshine shone brightly on the Empire State Plaza. A stage with flowers, wheat sheaf and a steel cross, symbolizing the suffering and strength of Ukrainian people, towered above the gathered community. Ukrainian Americans from the Capital Region and guests came together Saturday to commemorate the millions of victims who died during the Ukrainian Famine Genocide or Holodomor, in Ukrainian, in 1932-33. Attention to this genocide has grown since Ukrainian independence in 1991.
Holodomor survivor Anna Kulbida, now lives in Niskayuna, was only 8 when the famine, allegedly deliberately induced by Stalin, hit the eastern part of Ukraine in 1932.
“I remember myself slowly walking to school. There had been a horse dray with eight corpses riding in front of me, I didn’t want to get any closer to them, not to see them.. so I slowed down,” said Kulbida.
As the famine struck hard, mass graves became increasingly common. People had nothing to eat, all food had been taken away by the armed squads of communist party. Kulbida said that it was very difficult to find any food. Her father was one of the lucky ones, who was able to leave their village before the restriction of freedom of movement came into force in November 1932. It was designed to prevent villages from going into cities to seek food. Kulbida’s father left to the country of Georgia to find a job and support their family. From there he sent hard-earned money to his friend in Vladivostok, a town close to Russia’s border with China, who sent it to Ukraine. Kulbida remembered that they had to go to the neighboring village to pick up the money, to make sure that nobody would steal it.
“By the spring of 1933 I saw neither dogs nor cats in our village, they were all eaten by our people that winter, but not just their pets but their children, even the dead were dug up from the cemeteries and eaten,” said Michel Korhun, a Holodomor survivor.
To commemorate sacrifice of people who died during Holodomor, the organizer, Capital District Holodomor-Ukrainian Genocide Commemoration Committee, distributed black ribbons of sorrow during the event.
“We need people to learn about this untold tragedy,” said Andrij Baran, chairman of the NYC Capital District Holodomor-Ukrainian Genocide Commemoration Committee, opening the commemoration.
Former Head of the global Ukrainian World Congress, Askold Lozynskyj, spoke about the overwhelming evidences, which prove the engineered actions of the Communist Party in Ukraine in 1932-1933 as the genocide. Speeches and proclamations by NYC senators and assembly members followed. The Ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S., Oleksander Motsyk, send greetings to the Capital District from Washington D.C.
Ukrainians usually light a candle in their windows on the fourth Saturday of November as a sign of remembrance. Today Ukrainian Andriy Shevelyov who came to Pine Hills this summer with his family joined Ukrainian Americans community at this heart-wrenching event. Shevelyov’s grandmother Olena survived Holodomor when she was 10- years-old.
“I don’t like to initiate conversation with her about Holodomor. She always cries talking about it. There are things she is much more eager to talk about,” Shevelyov said. “I know that her body was swollen by hunger, but she survived.”
Today Shevelyov-Kulchynka’s family were faced by a challenge how to explain to their 4-years-old daughter Katrusia about Holodomor. After the ceremony Katrusia said that children didn’t eat, “they were hungry,” she pointed at the picture on the leaflet.
“Unfortunately very view people know about this tragedy that happened. Some may know it was a famine, and only view know that it’s real genocide and intentional murdering of the whole class of people,” said Baran. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1949. Growing in Manhattan, Holodomor was a frequent topic of conversation in Baran’s family.
“It was one of the reasons why I am in America and not in Europe,” he added.
The topic of Holodomor is politically charged and surrounded by historical and political debates. But It was not until the 1980s when Glasnost opened up the Soviet Union and the world learned about the forced collectivization and unspeakable atrocities of Stalin’s regime. The number of victims varies from three to 10 millions, depending on the calculation. The Soviet Union always denied the fact of Holodomor. In 2006 Ukrainian Parliament recognized Holodomor as genocide. Since then, the Parliament, supported by many Ukrainians and Ukrainian diaspora has actively sought international recognition of this crime as genocide. In 2003 U.S. Congress House of Representatives adopted a resolution on the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine, which accepted it to be an act of terror and genocide against the Ukrainian people. As of now, 24 countries have officially recognized Holodomor as genocide against Ukrainians.
The commemoration was followed by the requiem service in the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. At the end of the service the day turned dark, cold and grey, which seemed to reflect on the mood of this terrible tragedy.
“We will do our best that education about Holodomor becomes a mandatory part of the New York state education curriculum,” said Baran. “And by that we’ll do our duty to those who have died.”
A moment of silence. Holodomor commemoration in Albany. Credit: Olena Sadovnik