CFU Expand Holodomor-Awareness

By Lisa Shymko

To help raise awareness about the Holodomor Famine Genocide, Canadian Friends of Ukraine (CFU) have partnered with several institutions in Canada and Ukraine to implement a series of public education projects focusing on this 20th Century tragedy. The projects were partially funded by the Patyk Family, Buduchnist Credit Union, the Cosbild charitable association, Michael and Mary Kalimin.

This year, in partnership with the National Parliamentary Library of  Ukraine, CFU opened an International Book Exhibit on the 1932-33 Holodomor Famine Genocide at the Library in Kyiv. The exhibit showcased a collection of books on Stalin’s forced famine and Red Terror published over the last 60 years and printed outside Ukraine. The collection featured unique and never-before-seen books in a wide array of languages from countries like Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia.

The exhibit was opened by Canada’s new Ambassador to Ukraine, His Excellency Daniel Caron. In his remarks, Ambassador Caron praised Canadian Friends of Ukraine for their educational projects and strong commitment to democracy-building and knowledge-exchange activities between Canada and Ukraine. CFU were represented by Margareta Shpir (President), Lisa Shymko (Director, Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Centre), and CFU past President Stefan Horlatsch, a Holodomor survivor.

Other guests in attendance included Olha Bensh (Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Culture), Dmytro Pavlychko (author, Chairman of Ukraine’s World Coordinating Council), Hennadiy Udovenko (Ukraine’s former Ambassador to the UN), Ihor Lisodid (Ukraine’s Union of Military Officers), Mykhailo Skuratovsky (Director General for humanitarian cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and many others. North American guests included the National President of the Ukrainian Canadian Social Services Bozhena Iwanusiw and Oleh Iwanusiw, Irena Washchuk (Presidium Member, World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations), and Mykola Kocherha (Ukrainian Genocide Famine Foundation, Chicago, USA).

In conjunction with the exhibit’s official opening, CFU also sponsored a youth-oriented project entitled “Student Interviews with Holodomor Survivors”. Over four hundred secondary school and university students from seven provinces in Ukraine interviewed family members who witnessed the Famine Terror of 1932-33. The finalists travelled to Kyiv for the official Awards Ceremony in their honour.

The students, many of whom had come from the most russified regions of Ukraine to participate in the ceremony, delivered emotional speeches, recounting the experience of interviewing the now elderly witnesses of the Famine Genocide, most of whom were children when they lived through the horrors of the 1930s.

In a heart-wrenching interview carried out by Vera Litovchenko— a 14 year-old student from Kharkiv oblast— 86 year-old Holodomor survivor Melania Kovalivska, from the village of Yakovenkove, recounted her family’s suffering and despair:

“At the height of the Holodomor, at the age of eleven, I and my four siblings were forced to scavenge for weeds and thistles to survive. Our father was the first to die, followed shortly by my younger siblings. Thinking she could save my younger brother, my mother ordered me to take him to a state-run orphanage, where she hoped he would be fed. Obeying my mother, I took my reluctant brother to the orphanage and left him there. A few days later, having walked several kilometres, tired and dazed, my brother showed up at our doorstep. Mother was hysterical. She scolded him for returning and said he would have to go back the next day. But by morning, he had died. To this day, I am haunted by guilt. All my brother wanted was to die at home with his family, and we turned him away.

Not long afterwards, my mother, now deathly weak, asked me to pull her towards the doorway to get some fresh air. I don’t know how I dragged her out there. Exhausted and starving, we both collapsed and fell asleep in the entrance way. When I awoke, mother was dead. The sight of her cold corpse was so terrifying that I abandoned her body and barricaded myself in the house. I don’t know how many days passed, before an elderly neighbour discovered me. The daily corpse collector stopped at our door and threw mother’s remains on a wagon loaded with bodies. I would have perished like the rest of my family, were it not for my oldest brother Ivan, who laboured as a blacksmith in a state-run factory in the town of Balaklij. On a few occasions, he managed to bring me a slice of bread smuggled from town. Alas, he sacrificed his own health to save me, and eventually he died as well.”

Due to the valuable historic content contained in dozens of these eye-witness testimonies collected from seven oblasts by Ukraine’s students, Canadian Friends of Ukraine hope to publish excerpts of these accounts, so that they will be available to educators, historians, researchers, and political scientists.

Over 20 television, radio, and newspaper journalists were in attendance to cover the CFU’s Holodomor exhibit and student competition in Kyiv, including BBC International, Inter, 1+1, UNIAN and many others.

This past summer, the CFU was also the first non-governmental organization to launch professional development seminars for Ukrainian educators for the provision of lesson plans on the Holodomor. In partnership with the Pedagogical Academy of Ukraine and the World Association of Ukrainian Professional Teachers, Canadian Friends of Ukraine delivered a series of seminars in the Kyiv region to an audience of educators from 8 oblasts and the Crimea region, representing the first teachers in Ukraine to utilize the proposed Holodomor course-work. Plans are underway to adapt the Holodomor lesson plans to the Canadian teaching environment.

Due to Canadian Friends of Ukraine’s record of human rights activism, CFU had the privilege of participating in an historic tribute to Nila Kryukova – one of Ukraine’s most celebrated “Live Word” stage performers and cultural activists, who, in the 1970s, dared to challenge the Brezhnev-era repression of Ukraine’s artistic intelligentsia. In the presence of Ukraine’s First Lady, Katerina Yushchenko, and the leaders of Ukraine’s cultural elite, the title of  “Hero of Ukraine”, Ukraine’s highest state honour, was bestowed upon Nila Kryukova in the concert hall of Ukraine’s National Philharmonic in Kyiv. In greetings delivered on behalf of Canadian Friends of Ukraine, Margareta Shpir praised Nila Kryukova for demonstrating courage throughout her lifetime, emphasizing “her brave recitations of Lina Kostenko’s banned poetry thirty years ago and her stage appearances at public rallies in Eastern Ukraine during the Orange Revolution.” The Canadian guests paying tribute to Nila Kryukova included John Pidkowich (World Congress of Ukrainians – UNF of Canada delegate) and Lisa Shymko

We salute all those brave individuals who dedicated their lives to reveal the truth about the historic injustices that the Ukrainian people have faced, be it during the years of Stalin’s imposed Terror Famine, or the Communist repressions of the 1970s. The best guarantor of truth, democracy, and political stability are educational projects which combat decades of Soviet disinformation and focus on the next generation of youth in Ukraine and North America. Canadian Friends of Ukraine are committed to helping educators, journalists, and political scientists gain accurate, unfiltered, and unbiased information on some of the most tragic and disturbing episodes in modern European history.