Holodomor Ukrainian Famine at Genocide Education Institute

By Valentina Kuryliw

This summer, from July 23-27, 2007, the Canadian Centre for Genocide & Human Rights Education held its fourth annual session for teachers, at the Armenian Cultural Centre in Toronto. For the first time, the Ukrainian Holodomor was part of this five day agenda. The first day was devoted to general issues on genocide which was followed by a banquet, open to the wider public, well attended by the Ukrainian community. This was followed by full day sessions on the Armenian, Ukrainian Genocides as well as the Holocaust and Rwanda. Each day was divided into two parts: a presentation by a scholar, who provided the background information on the genocide, and an afternoon session with educators, who provided teaching materials and practical lesson plans for teachers.

Forty teachers and instructors from across Canada attended the workshops with the express purpose of learning how to deal with past and current issues in genocide education. They were able to study with each other and with some scholars and educators of genocide. At this year’s opening session, the instructors were Dr. Barbara Colorosa, a renowned educator, author and speaker, who recently published the book, Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide, and Dr. Gerry Caplan, a Canadian authority on genocide and genocide education as well as being an expert on Rwanda.

A number of in-depth lectures on the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide was presented by Professor Emeritus, Roman Serbyn of the University de Montreal, who gave teachers background information on Ukrainian history and the Holodomor. A discussion on some historical issues was followed by a viewing of the documentary film, Harvest of Despair. (1983), produced by the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre.

 The teaching unit was presented by Valentina Kuryliw, Department Head of History and Social Sciences with the Toronto District School Board. Basic teaching materials on Ukraine and the Famine-Genocide were handed out and discussed, and innovative lesson plans, showed how the topic could be taught in a high school setting using critical thinking skills. A session on how to approach the Famine-Genocide for younger grades, using appropriate strategies and handouts, was demonstrated by Halia Sawycky-Dmytryshyn. The lesson plans and teaching materials prepared by Valentina Kuryliw and Halia Sawycky-Dmytryshyn were handed out to the teachers.

 In addition to ready-made lesson plans, teachers were given the DVD, Harvest of Despair and W. Isajiw’s (ed.), Famine-Genocide in Ukraine 1932-1933, a collection of scholarly essays, donated by the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre for the occasion. An extremely valuable resource booklet containing quotations, facts and figures and a bibliography, created and published by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Toronto Branch, was also included along with A Hunger Most Cruel, a collection of short stories on the Famine translated by Roma Franko, an easy read for high school students.

As part of the presentation on the Famine-Genocide, a visual display prepared by Halia Sawycky-Dmytryshyn and Valentina Kuryliw of historical Ukrainian artifacts, information boards with quotations, newspaper clippings and visuals, as well as a collection of books on the topic were present for teachers to view.

Unfortunately, few of the attendees and instructors were acquainted with the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933. No mention of the Holodomor was made by the main instructors in their presentations. Therefore, the idea of taking the Famine-Genocide to the general public was a great idea and hopefully, the association with the Institute and other such institutions will continue in the future. Currently, a new pilot, interdisciplinary course at the grade 11 level is being planned by the Toronto District School Board. The writing team is being selected and the resulting War and Genocide course should include, as part of the curriculum, the Famine-Genocide of Ukraine 1932-1933.

The Canadian Centre for Genocide and Human Rights Education will continue to foster genocide education as a means to sensitizing and educating students throughout the country of the horrors of genocide and the need to eradicate all forms of abuse of human rights and intolerance, past or present. The need for dialogue outside the Ukrainian Canadian community on the topic of the Famine-Genocide is crucial, if it is to be included as a component of any genocide course. What is even more important is the need to produce excellent teaching materials for teachers, which would facilitate their interest in wanting to teach the Famine-Genocide in an innovative and creative way.

The day would not have been made possible without the direct financial and moral support of sponsors in the Ukrainian Canadian community: the League of Ukrainian Canadians, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Toronto Branch, and the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre, who partnered with the Canadian Centre for Genocide and Human Rights Education.