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Holodomor Film Good for Schools

Dec 1, 2014 | Newpathway, Community, Featured, Arts & Culture

Oksana Zakydalska, Toronto

“If we want schools to teach about the Holodomor, we need to provide teachers with appropriate materials”, says Valentyna Kuryliw, Chair of the National Holodomor Education Committee of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC). With the cooperation of the UCC, the Ukrainian Canadian Research & Documentation Centre and the Holodomor Research & Education Consortium, an educational film “Holodomor: Voices of Survivors” was premiered in Toronto on November 16, 2014. The organizer of the premiere was Lydia Falconer, the MC – Tamara Mischena.

Film maker and educator Ariadna Ochrymovych was the producer/director of the film. In the past 30 years, she has worked as a production manager and assistant director; taught screenwriting at Humber College and has been an instructor in Film studies at York University. Her two children's films – “The Juggler “and “Billy Goat's Bluff” (Koza Dereza) – in English and French – sold to BBC, HBO, CBC, CBS and internationally in Europe and Asia.

The project began in 2008 when Ms. Ochrymovych obtained a grant from Canadian Cultural Heritage-Department of Multiculturalism, and produced the interactive website “Share the Story” ( From 2008 to 2010, she interviewed over 100 Canadian survivors of the Holodomor and these interviews became the core of the website.

“Holodomor: Voices of Survivors” is 26 minutes long, a film geared to grades 7 to 12 (also to grades 5-6 with the help of a capable teacher). Ms Kuryliw (with over 40 years of teaching experience in schools in the province of Ontario) said the film was suitable for courses in politics, history and law as well as genocide studies or in religious studies that examine human rights abuses and social injustice. She also remarked on the suitability of the film for students.

Why is it a good film for students? “While we learn history by looking at the big picture, it is important for students to be able to relate to the event by examining its effect on specific individuals and how things happened through their eyes.

Students need to relate to events by placing themselves in the shoes of the survivors, evoking an emotional response. They need to empathize with the victims. This was done well in the film through the interviews”, Ms Kuryliw pointed out.

She made some specific points about why the film is good for classroom use. It has a dramatic beginning and the survivors featured were children during the Holodomor. They are remembering an event from their childhood. How reliable are the memories which were filmed decades after the stories they describe? The use of multiple accounts of the survivors (a total of 30) and the variety of the stories gives the students the opportunity to create a fuller picture of the event. In addition, three grandchildren of survivors are filmed and they relate what they heard from their grandparents about their daily life during the famine.

The backstory is told in a chronological manner; it outlines in clear and simple fashion the steps by which the Holodomor was brought about, gives an overview and describes the attempts at denial and cover-up. The survivors are Canadians and in describing the current recognition of the Holodomor as genocide, it includes not only the Verkhovna Rada in Ukraine but its reception by the Canadian parliament.

Sensitive or unpleasant topics are not ignored but dealt with in a sensitive manner. For example, instead of the film's delving into the horror of cannibalism, two of the children relate how their grandfathers told them that they ate their pets. (In contrast, the former Minister of Education in Ukraine Dmytro Tabachnick said that the Ministry had taken study of the Holodomor off the school curriculum because it was too traumatic for the students to listen about cannibalism).

The survivor testimonies are given in Ukrainian, but an English voiceover is provided (the men's voices by Franko Diakowsky and the female by Luba Goy). The film will soon be available on DVD. The full survivor interviews can be accessed by contacting the UCRDC ([email protected]).

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