Lidia M. Wasylyn, Special for NP-UN.
“The world cannot allow history to be repeated,” said the keynote speaker at Edmonton’s Holodomor commemoration, November 26, 2022. “Just as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin used food as a weapon to commit genocide against Ukrainians 90 years ago, so Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is conducting a genocidal war and also using food as a weapon,” CNN correspondent Michael Bociurkiw said at City Hall.
But unlike the Holodomor, when “Stalin and his murderous bandits were largely able to conceal the atrocities they committed in Ukraine… today Russia is unable to conceal its mass murder, rapes, plundering of Ukrainian museums and looting of grain.”
“Modern technology – ranging from satellite imagery, cell phone video, geo-location, thermal imaging and social media posts – makes it much easier to detect and record acts of genocide and war crimes,” he continued “That is why the outside world is better able to enforce its pledge of never again when it comes to the mass murder of civilians.
“As my friend, Vasyl Myroshnychenko – the current Ukrainian ambassador to Australia – said today: ‘The international community should not repeat the mistakes of the past. The world did not stop Holodomor 90 years ago, but it can prevent Russia from starving people in the most vulnerable regions. We must restore historical justice and recognise the Holodomor of 1932-1933 as a genocide of the Ukrainian people.”
“On the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, as we honour the memory of the millions who died at the hands of Stalin in 1932 and 1933, the West needs to rededicate itself to the “never again” policy: Russia’s genocidal assault on Ukraine – as well as attacks on other countries – must be stopped,” Bociurkiw said.
The Russian playbook harkens back to previous generations and is very clear, noted Bociurkiw. Their tactics “include restrictions on the Ukrainian language or access to Ukrainian media and online sites — through such tactics as changing school curriculums to align with pro-Russian narratives, switching street signs to Russian, blocking sites like Google, substituting Ukrainian media with their own state-controlled channels, replacing Ukrainian mobile operators with Russian ones and moving residents who have become trapped in occupied areas onto Russian internet services where all western platforms are blocked.”
Bociurkiw also stated “The Kremlin has also forcibly deported at least 1 million Ukrainians into Russia — many through so-called filtration centers –triggering memories from Soviet times of Ukrainian dissidents sent to labor camps in the Gulag. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have been forcibly deported to Russia and given up for adoption by Russian families.”
The similarities to tactics used by the Kremlin nine decades ago are staggering. “Even Putin's efforts to weaponize food — stealing Ukrainian grain, deliberately shelling farmland and blockading agricultural products from leaving Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea — is reminiscent of what Stalin did in 1932-33” stated Bociurkiw.
“Of course, that's when he tried to break the will of the Ukrainian people by triggering a great famine, known as the Holodomor, during which millions of Ukrainians died of starvation in the very land that was so fertile that it was called the “breadbasket of Europe.” Bociurkiw referenced Yale University’s Timothy Snyder who stated the Holodomor was the “largest policy of mass killing in Europe in the 20th century” until the Holocaust.”
History continues to repeat itself. Everything Russia is doing in its unprovoked war against Ukraine is a repeat of Stalinist times. Bociurkiw stated “Similarly, as it did 90 years ago during the Holodomor, Russia is again stealing grain and other products from the territories it occupies in Ukraine. Russia sells this grain on the world market, earning money to finance its war of aggression against Ukraine further.”
Bociurkiw highlighted that history is repeating itself when “Worryingly, in the past few weeks, we have seen a Kremlin become even more tolerant of outspoken calls for “Stalinist” measures.”
A more contemporary aspect to current Russian aggression is the impact it is having on peoples and lands continents away. Bociurkiw said “As a result of the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine, the population of other parts of the world is experiencing severe food shortages. Hundreds of millions of people in Africa and Asia may suffer from the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and the blockade of Ukrainian grain exports by Russia. Before the 2022 invasion, Ukraine held 47% of sunflower, 17% of barley, 14% of corn, and 10% of wheat world market shares. In countries like Lebanon, India, Iraq, and China, specific agricultural goods from Ukraine accounted for over 50% of their imports.” Bociurkiw aptly quoted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who stated: “Why is it that some handful of individuals somewhere in the Kremlin can decide whether there will be food on the tables of people in Egypt or in Bangladesh?”
Bociurkiw posed the difficult question, “The world cannot sit idly by as Russia continues to brazenly weaponize food, potentially threatening the lives of millions of people. What kind of rules-based international order have we created where an autocratic state — Russia — is allowed to bomb the capital of a thriving democracy — Ukraine — repeatedly? Do we want another Aleppo on European soil to stand as a monument to our inability to act?
Bociurkiw acknowledged the great assistance given by Canada and thanked the Government for its strong support but noted Ukraine needs more assistance to be able to defend itself. Interestingly, he noted that countries like China, India and Israel each have the power to end this senseless war by exerting their significant political influence.
This annual event organized by the Edmonton Branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress brings together the young and old, school aged children and the elderly, and in the past all the Holodomor survivors who were able to attend. With the passing years, the number of survivors has greatly diminished and in Edmonton, there may be only one more Holodomor survivor amongst us.
A large group of Ukrainian clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church along with His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion, Archbishop of Winnipeg, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada and the Ukrainian Catholic Church along with and His Excellency Bishop David Motiuk, Eparch of Edmonton and Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy of New Westminster conducted a Panakhyda service for the millions of unnamed victims of the Holodomor. Singing the Panakhyda was a combined choir of the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton and the Axios Men’s Ensemble, conducted by Roman Soltykevych
Master of Ceremonies for the event was Marichka Ovcharenko who ably lead the varied program. The first speaker, representing the Government of Ukraine, was Consul General Aleksandr Danyleiko. He spoke of the deliberateness of the Holodomor created by the soviet regime. Stalin wanted Ukrainians to be part of a “soviet people,” just a silent part without our dignity, without our history, without our pride, without our heroes and that’s why they did it. Ninety years passed and for some countries and for some peoples nothing changed in this world. Today Russia is doing practically the same that was done ninety years ago. They are killing Ukrainians, and especially now, civilian Ukrainians. They openly proclaim their goal to destroy Ukraine as a country and to destroy Ukrainians as a Nation.” He noted that Ukraine’s enemies are not succeeding on the battlefields. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are liberating occupied territory and “so they decided to fight our civilians, fight our infrastructure, fight our schools, hospitals and others to just put millions again, millions of Ukrainians in the threat of their lives, to force us to surrender, to force us to agree to their conditions that we have to surrender, and we have to give up. But we will never do it.” Mr. Danyleiko outlined the extremely challenging situation the civilian population of Ukraine is facing but he reiterated the strong will of the Ukrainian Nation to succeed and protect their nationhood.
Other speakers at the commemoration represented all three levels of government. Speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister and Government of Canada was The Honourable Randy Boissonnault, MP for Edmonton Centre and the Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance. He reiterated Canada’s unwavering support for Ukraine and acknowledged the Holodomor was a horrible genocide, man made famine that took place at the hands of an evil regime. He stated the Holodomor “was intentional, this was man made, it was evil on earth, perpetrated against a people that Stalin thought were inferior. And look at Ukraine today, standing up in the face of russian aggression. Who is showing courage on the world stage today? Slava Ukraini!” Boissonnault spoke passionately about how “Canada is with Ukraine in this dire time of need. An attack on Ukraine is an attack on Canada. An attack on Ukraine is an attack on the international rules-based order that we will not stop defending.” He went on to enumerate the type and quantity of assistance Canada has provided to Ukraine since the russian invasion began.
A large number of children and youth were present. Students of Ridna Shkola, of the Ivan Franko School of Ukrainian Studies-Kursy, members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Youth, the Ukrainian Youth Association-CYM and the Ukrainian Youth Association Plast. Boissonnault made a point of directly addressing the youth, who sat in a large group on the stairs behind the speaker overlooking the commemoration. He explained to them “It is your job to keep the Ukrainian language strong, to keep the history alive and the make sure that you keep telling the story of the Holodomor.”
Also present at the commemoration were Tim Uppal, MP Edmonton Mill Woods, Ziad Abuoltaif MP Edmonton Manning, Heather McPherson, MP Edmonton Strathcona. A message on behalf of the Provincial government was delivered by Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, MLA Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville and Parliamentary Secretary for Ukrainian Refugee Settlement. Also present were Minister Nate Glubish, MLA Strathcona-Sherwood Park and Minister for Technology and Innovation and Sarah Hoffman, MLA Edmonton Glenora. Representing the City of Edmonton was Mayor Amarjeet Sohi who thanked the Edmonton Ukrainian Canadian Congress for raising awareness through events like this and promoting Ukrainian educational, cultural, business and social interests. He also expressed pride in the City for helping transition thousands of Ukrainian immigrants. He wants the City of Edmonton to be a beacon of hope and strength for those who are being displaced.
As has become an annual tradition at Edmonton’s Holodomor commemorations, poet, pastor and Holodomor survivor, Leonid Korownyk read one his poems written in memory of the Holodomor victims.
This year, the poem titled “Remember the Holodomor” is a powerful and poignant description of how picturesque Ukraine was coveted by its neighbour and the monstrous effects the Holodomor had on innocent children and victims. The lengthy poem concludes:
Record these events for all generations,
They must be remembered forever.
They must be seen, as clear as day,
Till God Himself call us home.
This beautifully written poem was composed in 2014 and translated into English by Ksenia Maryniak in 2021.
Yaroslav Broda, president of the Edmonton branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, concluded the commemoration. He stated “the best way we can honour all the victims of the Holodomor is to stop Russia’s current genocide. The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine grows worse every day. The only way to put an end to the suffering is an outright military victory for Ukraine. I would like to address our elected officials; Canada has always been a steadfast ally of Ukraine and for that we are all grateful. But you must continue to support Ukraine. Resist the ever louder calls for an unjust peace. Continue to give Ukraine the tools her people need to fight off the Russian invasion. There can be no diplomacy or compromise with a country whose overt, unambiguous and explicitly stated position is genocide and the nonexistence of Ukraine. I cannot overstate this. Every day, new TV segments, new op-eds in russian state media outright call for ethnic cleaning. They justify the rape of women and children to quote “to prevent them from having any more Ukrainian babies, they rationalize freezing and starving millions, defending indiscriminate artillery attacks. It cannot be clearer. At the Paris peace conference after World War 1, an independent Ukraine was compromised away. In 1944 at Yalta, Roosevelt and Churchill ceded all of Eastern Europe to Stalin. In 2008 Angela Merkel crushed Ukraine’s NATO ambition in Budapest. We will not allow Ukraine to be compromised away again. Germany is digging in their heels on military support, France is looking for a face-saving off ramps, Hungary is hamstringing the EU and NATO. Canada must be relentless in holding our allies accountable and calling out this shameless hypocrisy. We need to continue pushing our allies.” He quoted the immortal words of Ivan Franko in his poem “The Stone Masons (Каменярі), where Franko writes:
Strike this cliff, let not heat nor cold deter you.
Endure the labour, thirst and hunger for you are destined to shatter this cliff.
We are not slaves, we have willingly taken these chains,
We are servants of freedom.
So, I ask our elected officials and all of you, to wield your mallets, take out your mallets and strike this cliff. Today is the 275-th day of an 8-year war that Ukrainians have been fighting for centuries. Ukraine has shown it will not give up. Do not give up on Ukraine. Slava Ukrayini!”
All present joined the clergy and choir in a procession to outside in front of Edmonton City Hall for additional prayers at the Holodomor Monument, where the children and youth placed red carnations in remembrance of the victims of the Holodomor.