Vancouver Sun | 21Nov2010 | Marta Gold

Edmontonians commemorate Ukrainian genocide
Holodomor ceremony honours victims of Stalin's holocaust

EDMONTON -- Emotions ran high at city hall Saturday as several hundred Edmontonians gathered to commemorate the Ukrainian genocide of 1932-33 and urge others to keep the memory of the event alive and accurate.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky choked back tears as he read the text of the act he worked so hard to see passed in the Alberta legislature in 2008.

He paused several times to compose himself, saying, “ten years it took me,” referring to the amount of time he spent researching, composing and then advocating to see Bill 37 passed, which proclaims every fourth Saturday in November “Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day.”

The Ukrainian word “Holodomor” means “extermination by means of starvation,” Zwozdesky told the crowd, his voice cracking with emotion. The famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in those years was orchestrated by Soviet leader Josef Stalin as a means to subdue the independence-minded Ukrainian people. But the Soviet regime insisted the deaths were caused by a naturally occurring famine, and for years, survivors and their descendants have fought for recognition of, and education about, the true nature of that genocide.

“Part of our job is to educate and advocate,” Zwozdesky said. “So when these groups come asking you for support … help them to educate others,” he urged the assembled group.

“It’s always frustrating when there is denial of true history,” he said after the ceremony. “The most frustrating thing is that you have even today survivors still with us who vividly remember as young children what they had to go through in order to survive, and what they witnessed.”

Several of them sat in the front row listening to dignitaries speak, including Mayor Stephen Mandel and Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn. During the proceedings, they were handed red carnations by groups of children, which they later placed on the Holodomor memorial outside city hall, along with a wreath.

One of those survivors was Natalia Talanchuk, an 85-year-old Edmonton woman who lived through the famine as a child, along with her mother. Her father, a Ukrainian Orthodox priest, was arrested by the Soviets as an enemy of the state, put in prison and ultimately killed.

She was seven and eight years old during that time, but she remembers it “very vividly,” she said Saturday.

“There was nothing to eat. It was very seldom that you could get a piece of bread,” she recalled. Her mother had a bit of gold jewelry, including her wedding ring. At the Soviet store [Torgsin], gold could be exchanged for food, she added. By trading in the jewelry, she and her mother got enough flour, sugar and buckwheat to survive, but death was all around them.

“People were dying everywhere around me when I was growing up. In the morning, I was not supposed to look out the window because the dead people were sitting under the fence, on the street, and the horse and buggy was driving around and picking them up … My mom said don’t, but I did anyway and I saw them.”

Talanchuk believes it is important to remind young people today about the horrors of those years. “This generation, the young generation, some of them don’t know how good they have it, to have every day something to eat … It can happen and it happened then, for us. I’m lucky, just lucky that I survived.”

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