Home > Holodomor | Ukrainophobia | Demjanjuk | d&d (Furman, Odynsky, Katriuk) | Zuzak Letters |

The Economist | 30Nov2012 | A.C., Kyiv

Ukraine remembers the Holodomor

Ukraine's tragic history

AS the electoral turmoil faded into the background, Ukraine marked two important anniversaries last week. The first was eight years since the Orange Revolution of 2004. The second was eight decades since the Holodomor.

Holodomor literally means death by hunger. In 1932 and 1933, a vast famine in Soviet Ukraine killed three to seven million people, according to estimates. While people starved, the grain was shut away in barns for export. Many historians agree that the famine was man-made; some say it was genocide.

Yet the Holodomor is not widely known about outside Ukraine. In the 1930s, it was hushed up by many western correspondents in return for access to the Kremlin. Among them was Walter Duranty of the New York Times, who received the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from the USSR. (There have been calls to revoke his Pulitzer posthumously, so far unsuccessful). One of the exceptions was Welsh journalist Gareth Jones whose reporting of the Ukrainian famine had him banned from the USSR. He was later killed in mysterious circumstances at the age of only 29. Meanwhile, the cover-up has left “profound consequences for Ukraine, which remains poorly understood in the West,” says Rory Finnin, a lecturer in Ukrainian Studies at Cambridge University, where Mr Jones had been a student.

Viktor Yushchenko, the former president of Ukraine, did a lot to raise awareness about the Holodomor. Kyiv now houses a stirring candle-shaped memorial and Holodomor museum. But the leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution has fallen from grace. In the October elections, Mr Yushchenko’s party, Our Ukraine, got just 1% of the vote, losing all its 72 seats in parliament. On the anniversary of the Orange Revolution last week only a small crowd gathered on the legendary Independence Square. Someone had brought along a portrait of Yulia Tymoshenko, the heroine of the Orange Revolution who remains behind bars. Another woman held a single orange.

The tragedy of 1932-1933 has become politicised. In his view of the Holodomor, the current president, Viktor Yanukovych, has differed from his predecessor. For the third year now, the commemorations took place without state support.

Even so, on November 23rd, 2012 events went ahead in cities across Ukraine. People could taste the dishes made out of tree bark that were eaten during the famine. Other symbolic actions evoked the “uncelebrated weddings”, the “unrealised talents” and the “meetings that never took place”. This year, the focus was on those who saved others from starvation. Before dusk 2,000 people gathered under the Holodomor memorial in Kyiv, decorated with loaves of bread, bunches of wheat and a sea of candles. At 4pm, there was a moment of silence and people across Ukraine lit candles in their windows.

Octogenarian Kateryna, who grew up in the countryside before moving to Kyiv in the 1940s, was sitting beside a candle burning in her kitchen. She heaps sugar into her china teacup. “Three spoonfuls!”, she says. “In Ukraine we remember the hunger. Perhaps that is why we are fond of sugar”.