Community News

Friday, November 21, 2008

City commemorates the 'Holodomor' Events to mark 75th anniversary

Ukrainian genocide a taboo topic until recently

By: Carol Sanders, Winnipeg Free Press

Updated: November 14 at 02:50 AM CST

It was 75 years ago and thousands of miles away but the genocide that wiped out millions in Ukraine is being remembered at events in Winnipeg all this week.

Young people are trying to get a feel for it with an 18-hour fast Friday at the University of Winnipeg. Yet a generation ago, little was known about the "Holodomor" that killed as many as 10 million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933.

"You didn't hear a word about it," said Oksana Bondarchuk, who is helping to organize Friday's fast at the U of W. The Holodomor -- "holod" means hunger, starvation, famine, and "moryty" means to induce suffering, to kill -- was an act of genocide orchestrated by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Privately-owned farms were taken over and the state set up collectives. Those who rebelled were labelled enemies of the state and executed or sent to Siberian forced-labour camps, called gulags. Farmers lost their land and were starved, while the grain produced on the collectives was exported to finance the regime.

Until recently, many Ukrainians who survived the genocide didn't speak of that time, said Bondarchuk.

"A good friend of mine's mother who lived through it wouldn't talk about it."

Then there were those who denied the genocide ever happened, and those who argued that seven million, not 10 million, perished, she said.

"The point is, people starved. And with the reign of terror with Stalin, people feared talking -- they didn't want any repercussions," including those who immigrated to Canada.

"Even though we had freedom here, they had family there," she said.

Not until Ukraine achieved its independence in 1991 did many of the survivors speak out, she said.

"A lot of them, if they were born in 1928-29, are now 80 years old," she said. "Now it's coming out more and more."

A professor at the University of Manitoba has dug up some disturbing background music to the genocide.

"We focus on the horrors (of the Holodomor) but we don't quite see the horrors of the propaganda and the spin and what the official government line was," said Prof. Denis Hlynka.

Soviet propaganda seeped into the music of two famous Russian composers of the day -- Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, he said.

"Shostakovich was commissioned to compose a ballet that was called The Bright Stream about life on the collective farm," said Hlynka, who has Ukrainian roots.

"In the ballet, there was no famine. There was a celebration of life on the farm in 1934 -- in the shadow of the Holodomor," Hlynka said.

"The ballet was light and cheerful with waltzes, polkas and gallops and fun and entertaining -- just the opposite of what was going on," he said.

"In the finale of the ballet, giant vegetables appeared on stage... Juxtapose that with the horrors of famine."

In 1937, Prokofiev composed songs such as Golden Ukraine and October Flame with lyrics glorifying abundant harvests and the greatness of the Stalin years -- "all this in sharp contrast to the famine," said the professor.

"These days, we don't know what composers really thought. They did what they were asked to do."

Modern Earth Web Design, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada