Hamilton Spectator | 25Nov2009 | Danielle Wong

Holodomor survivor: ‘I saw very terrible things’
90-year-old spoke to local students at museum today

Victor Rojenko is 90 years old, but the memories of his childhood in the Ukraine play in his mind as clearly as a movie.

“My obligation was: never, never forget what you see at your young age. And I saw very terrible things,” said Rojenko, sitting in a classroom at the Metropolitan Wasyly Learning Centre in Hamilton today.

Rojenko is a survivor of the Holodomor, a man-made famine and genocide in the Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed as many as 10 million people under Josef Stalin’s regime.

“It’s important to know the past so we can “create (the) situation today to not (let it) happen again,” Rojenko said, speaking about his experience of the tragedy with students from Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic School, who were visiting the recently opened Holodomor museum this afternoon.

He vividly remembers how Stalin’s men came into his village of Antonivka in central Ukraine, taking harvests from their farms and turning their homes inside out for food. Villagers eventually had to eat ducks, cats and even worms to survive.

He was only a young teen then. Even today, the images of mothers eating the limbs of their own children continue to haunt him.

“I go to sleep and I see that,” he said, stopping abruptly as his eyes welled up.

Rojenko left the Ukraine in 1939 and lived in Belgium, Montreal and Sudbury before moving to Hamilton in 1953.

The 90-year-old eventually started his own insurance company and continues to be a spokesperson for Holodomor victims.

The museum, which is a small gallery inside the learning centre on Barton Street East at Gage Avenue North, was open for the public as part of the second National Holodomor Awareness Week.

It officially launched as the country’s first Holodomor museum last year, but has recently been completed with historical literature and photos.

Julia Roglich, a Grade 8 Holy Spirit student, said the excursion made her realize how fortunate she is.

“I’m so lucky ... I can’t go one hour without food or being hungry,” she said.

[email protected]