Recognizing Ukraine’s genocide on its 85th anniversary

Statue known as “Bitter Memory of Childhood” outside of the National Museum commemorates the victims of Holodomor in Kiev. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Statue known as “Bitter Memory of Childhood” outside of the National Museum commemorates the victims of Holodomor in Kiev. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When we think of the early 1930’s, we traditionally think of the rise of Nazi Germany and the atrocities that came with it. What many people don’t know about is the deaths of an estimated three to seven million ethnic Ukrainians due to a man-made famine lasting from 1932 to 1933.

Known as Holodomor, the genocide by famine was carried out by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union in an attempt to diminish the rise of Ukrainian independence.

Accounts from survivors of Holodomor say that Soviet authorities demanded more grain than Ukrainian farmers were able to provide and cleared homes of all things edible when they didn’t produce. They even went to the extent of closing the Ukrainian borders in order to prevent them from getting food elsewhere. If they tried to flee, they were captured or killed. Many Ukrainians turned to cannibalism in order to survive.

Unfortunately, most of the world doesn’t recognize this tragedy as a genocide. Only 17 countries have declared to recognize Holodomor as a an act of terror against Ukrainian people. Russian government vehemently denies such accusations.

This denial is not surprising though, Ukraine has always been of incredible importance to the Soviet Union and now Russia. Ukraine is a buffer state between Russia and the countries of the West. The desperation to hold onto influence over Ukraine was shown in 2014 when Russia intervened in the countries attempt to join the European Union.

This intervention sparked a revolution that overthrew Ukraine’s corrupt leaders and exposed Russia’s intentions to keep the country within political reach. The revolution also resulted in the deaths of 100 protesters by the hands of corrupt military forces and ignited an ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine, killing over 10,000 so far and there is no sign of stopping.

The recognition of Holodomor is a great deal not only to myself, but to everyone in the Ukrainian community. The recognition that Ukrainians have been and still are being oppressed by Russian government without any accountability is crucial for the nation’s sovereignty.

Being a child of Ukrainian immigrants and growing up in a Ukrainian neighborhood, this is an issue that impacts me personally. It is a given that anytime I tell someone my ethnicity they will immediately ask if that is the same as being Russian. Some aspects might be similar, but the major difference is that one nation has historically tried to keep the other in a subordinate position through the use of violent force and political control.

I try not to get upset with people when they make these kinds of misjudgements. Some people genuinely just don’t know.

That is why I believe the recognition of Holodomor as a genocide is important. I believe the recognition would be a big step forward for Ukrainians trying to establish an identity separate from Russia.

That is not to say that I want this to create any greater rift between Ukrainians and Russians, rather I just want people to be educated. It is easy to turn a blind eye to a conflicts being fought overseas when it is not impacting you directly, and I don’t blame anyone for doing so. It is difficult to watch, learn, and understand the horrors going on in places like Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq— just to name a few.  

I believe the knowledge of these horrors helps us become more empathetic.When we are more empathetic, it is harder to hate our neighbors and therefore harder to hurt them. Evil exists, and it always will, but increasing the empathy within ourselves will help keep that evil to a minimum.

VoicesHrystyna Bobel