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HREC and 90th anniversary Holodomor commemoration

Nov 23, 2023 | Featured, Politics

With the permission of the Soviet authorities, photographers were allowed to document the famine for a period of time to provide material to fabricate and conceal the reality of the famine. HREC Holodomor Photo Directory

Rachel Caklos for NP-UN.

The Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) is a research institute located in downtown Toronto that focuses its efforts on the exploration, study and understanding of the Holodomor. The Holodomor was a man-made famine in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933 that led to the death of over 4 million people. Since HREC’s establishment in 2013, the organisation has been a vital driver for the education of the Holodomor in the community with numerous projects and annual events, such as its Toronto Annual Famine lecture. HREC’s two primary focuses are on research and education, providing a space where scholars across all disciplines and diverse backgrounds come together to discuss and further understand topics related to the Holodomor and how they are intertwined. As a small but influential organisation, each member plays a crucial role in its continued success in the field, inspiring future generations to take an interest in the subject area and recognise and reflect upon the Kremlin’s crimes against Ukraine and its people.

Known very well by the Ukrainian community, the Holodomor was a genocide directed by the orders of Joseph Stalin, which led to the mass killing of millions of innocent Ukrainians through starvation within a time frame of less than a year. As the world becomes more aware of the Holodomor, organisations and governments are beginning to recognise the catastrophe caused to the Ukrainian people. At the end of 2022, the European Parliament engaged in a motion for a resolution acknowledging these actions against the Ukrainian population and declaring them a genocide. This also encouraged other countries to keep an open archive search for potential Holodomor archival material and urged all parties, especially the Russian Federation, to stop denying the famine’s existence.

Since its inception, HREC has compiled extensive resources and evidence from the Holodomor, making it accessible to all via its website. Within their numerous collections, one that stands out is their Online Holodomor Photo Directory. This portal is home to copies of images that were taken by individuals who were witnesses to the horrors of the genocide. HREC tells the story of Nikola Bokan, a man from Baturyn, Chernihiv oblast, in Soviet Ukraine, who captured the impacts of the famine faced by himself, his family and the surrounding community. These images truly shine a light on the Holodomor as they confirm the sheer tragedy of that time and the Kremlin’s actions.

Image of Bokan family after three hundred days without bread. HREC Holodomor Photo Directory

Another powerful collection shared by HREC is their Maniak Collection, which holds letters written by individuals who were witnesses of the Holodomor collected by journalist Volodymyr Maniak. He received thousands of responses after publishing his interest in numerous Ukrainian newspapers. Volodymyr played a vital role in understanding and bringing the Holodomor forward to the Ukrainian public and the world. His journey with the subject of the Holodomor was fuelled by his desire to tell the true story of the genocide rather than the fabricated, inaccurate account circulated by the Soviet regime.

Letter sent from Kyiv. Davyd Shaprio spoke to a man telling him that up until the end of 1932, trucks were picking up the dead and the starving and taking them to death camps. They buried the dead and left the alive in barracks with no medical attention. Holodomor Photo Directory

Another initiative organised by HREC is their Toronto Annual Famine Lecture, which began in 1998. Many organisations and academics from a broad range of backgrounds are invited to share and learn at the event, disseminating knowledge of the Holodomor while presenting its connections to other subject areas, such as colonialism. At the end of each event, a report is curated, which is then added to HREC’s increasing library of resources.

This year marks HREC’s 10th anniversary, a major milestone for the organisation and its partners, and also celebrates the solidification of Holodomor studies. Throughout its time, HREC has become a significant resource with a wealth of knowledge, supporting young academics in the pursuit of learning more and continuing to spread awareness of the genocide within the academic and public spheres. Alongside their numerous events, they engage in various conferences, lectures and sponsored events, such as discussions around multiple media works, including the film Bitter Harvest, directed by Peter Graham Scott, and the book Winterkill, written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.

With 90 years having passed since the end of the Holodomor, HREC has engaged in Holodomor90, a campaign created for the remembrance and recognition of the genocide. Upon opening the website, the user is greeted with a pop-up to a petition urging President Biden to acknowledge and declare the Holodomor a genocide as well. This is a fantastic initiative of HREC, which continues to spread awareness and knowledge around the Holodomor, not only for the Ukrainian communities but for people from all corners of the world. This website is a great way to get involved, and visitors to it can find local events in Canada and the United States which offer educational materials to learn more about the genocide and suggest ways people can contribute.

As the Holodomor is recognised on the last Saturday of each November, the day of acknowledgement, remembrance and reflection is fast approaching. With such an important milestone on the horizon and the tragic war currently raging in Ukraine, the situation poses the difficult question of how the war has changed the way we think about the Holodomor and how to commemorate it. It is a challenging matter to think about. We utter the words ‘never again’, yet we see the Ukrainian people still fighting for their independence and facing the aggression of the Kremlin’s genocidal force once again. However, as a community, Ukrainians worldwide stand firm with their friends, family and community in Ukraine. As the tragedy of the Holodomor is commemorated, it simultaneously brings the community closer together while igniting the resilience, courage and strength of the Ukrainian people to keep pushing on and standing tall for their country and their culture.

HREC has done commendable work over the past ten years. With their continued dedication to the subject, the Holodomor genocide will only become more widely acknowledged and understood, erasing the falsified agendas of the Kremlin and unveiling the truth endured by the Ukrainian people. A thank you is to HREC and all of its esteemed members. Without them, the resources and knowledge would not be available, and the topic of the Holodomor would still be hidden under a history of denial. Marta Baziuk, HREC’s executive director, has gone above and beyond to inspire and support individuals who want to get involved and is prepared for a fantastic year ahead with new sponsors and ways to educate the public through popular online platforms. The Holodomor is a powerful historical event that will never be removed from history. On the 25th of November, candles will be lit to remember the ones who were lost but never forgotten. It is a day of reflection and reminding the world that the Ukrainian people are resilient, brave and will continue to educate and share their history globally.

Rachel Caklos is the winner of Ukrainian Credit Union’s New Pathway Scholarship for aspiring young journalists

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