Ukraine must pursue perpetrators of Holodomor

Lubomyr Luciuk

Wednesday, June 04, 2008,
The Edmonton Journal

They lied to live.

They had to, just to survive.

Most were peasants. From antiquity, they husbanded Ukraine's rich black earth. Their land was known as "the breadbasket of Europe," coveted by more powerful neighbours. Ukrainians often found themselves in bondage, against which they rebelled. War ravaged their country, invaders coming to enslave or exterminate them, some denying the very existence of their nation. Yet they endured. Their national anthem heralds a deeply entrenched cussedness -- Ukraine Hasn't Perished.

In 1917, in the midst of the Great War, they tried to re-assert independence, and failed. Most of Ukraine came under Soviet rule. Soon their very earth was taken away as they were forced onto collective farms. Those resisting were branded "kulaks" and liquidated as a class.

Moscow imposed ever-increasing grain quotas in 1932-33, as roving gangs of Communist militants pillaged the countryside, searching for hidden stores of food, and Soviet Ukraine's borders were sealed. No one could escape or relieve the resulting man-made hunger.

Aid from abroad was rejected, as the Kremlin denied what was happening, well-served by fellow travellers, the most notorious of whom was Walter Duranty of The New York Times, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his supposedly objective reporting on Soviet affairs. Publicly, Duranty ridiculed famine reports. Privately, on Sept. 26, 1933, he informed British embassy officials that "as many as 10 million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food in the Soviet Union during the past year." That vital intelligence was suppressed. Molly-coddling Moscow was more important. For some it still is.

How many perished during the Great Famine, which Ukrainians call the Holodomor? No one knows, but, certainly, many millions. Not all were Ukrainians, just as Jews were not the only victims of the Holocaust. And those who survived still had to live through the Second World War, during which Ukraine lost more people than any other nation in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the 20th century Ukraine was truly made into a Golgotha, a "place of skulls."

Yet, even after the war, these witnesses to a Soviet crime against humanity -- arguably the greatest act of genocide to befoul modern European history -- did not speak out. Several million Ukrainians were in western European refugee camps in 1945. Many had been herded into the Third Reich as slave labourers or POWs. Lucky to be alive and far from the Soviets, they may have thought they were finally free. They would be disillusioned.


According to the Yalta agreement, everyone who had been within the borders of the USSR on Sept. 1, 1939, was a "Soviet citizen" and must be repatriated. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were forced to return whence they came, often at bayonet point.

Prof. Watson Kirkconnell, president of the Baptist Federation of Canada, protested to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King that "to hand them over to the Red Army and NKVD is to murder them," pleading that we should play no role in this crime against humanity. Canadian troops did.

To avoid being sent "home" tens of thousands of these displaced persons pretended to be what they never were -- citizens of prewar Poland or Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Romania. Schooled in how to pull off this deceit by their countrymen, who coached "Eastern Ukrainians" about the day-to-day minutiae of life in western Ukraine, they sometimes fooled Allied and Soviet repatriation and immigration screening commissions. Again, the victims lied to live.

Even after being resettled few spoke out. To admit that you survived the Great Famine meant acknowledging you were once a "Soviet citizen." Obviously, you had not gone "home," as required, which meant you misrepresented who you were and secured your new citizenship falsely. The legal remedy for that crime is denaturalization and deportation. So if you denounced the Soviets for what they had done, you could end up being returned to them. Understandably, few were brave enough to risk that.

Only as the Soviet Empire exfoliated could the truth about the Holodomor be addressed openly. By 1991, however, many survivors had died. And, to this very day, some in post-Soviet Ukraine defend the Soviet past, so obfuscating their own complicity in the many crimes of Communism.

Nevertheless, efforts have been made to recover Ukraine's true historical memory. The fourth Saturday of every November is now a national day of mourning in Ukraine. And President Viktor Yushchenko's government has sought international support for the recognition of the Holodomor as genocide, a campaign furthered during his recent Canadian visit when our Parliament passed a bill doing just that.

This is all good but also off-point. For Kyiv is ignoring a far more pressing duty. Just as Holodomor victims remain alive, so do some of the perpetrators. If Ukraine allows those real liars to pass away unpunished, then all of the above is nothing but an unforgivable hoax, a falsehood that could never be forgiven.