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Keynote speaker focuses on the human stories of the Holodomor

Dec 14, 2023 | Community, Featured

Dr. Natalia Khanenko-Friesen speaks at the Holodomor commemoration at Edmonton City Hall

Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.

The keynote speaker at Edmonton’s Holodomor commemoration, organized by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Edmonton Branch, November 25, focussed on the human stories of the genocide.

“The experience of documenting testimonies of the Holodomor via the means of oral history can be transformative for all parties involved. And in my trade of an oral historian, I know it too well that when storytelling event takes place, it carries within itself formidable power of identity building, allowing individuals, their families, communities and entire societies to remember and restore their sense of themselves. If stories are not told, how do we know who we are? If memory is not upheld, what will become of us?,” said Dr. Natalia Khanenko-Friesen, Director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, at the event which was held at City Hall.

“Memory and memories are powerful. Remembering what had happened to so many Ukrainians in the famine connects us to our history. Remembering the Holodomor brings Ukrainians together, whether we live in Ukraine or elsewhere. Remembering makes us a force. In times when the Russian Federation is on a mission to destroy Ukrainian people, culture, language and history in what is now seen as a genocidal war — Remembering Holodomor — is your contribution to truth, justice and this very fight for the survival of Ukraine as a nation.

Carrying this memory is especially important these days as Russian Federation is waging a full-scale war on Ukraine.

“What in fact the occupiers are doing is fighting Memory from the capital letter, because they know too well how powerful memory and remembering can be, how both sustain people’s sense of who they are, their source of resilience and their determination to govern their own affairs. The Russian media promises further Holodomor memory purges in the Ukrainian lands, unabashedly engaging in the ongoing genocidal war against the Ukrainian people.

“The memories of famine are forcefully purged from the communities by the state, the successor of the Soviet Union. Russian Federation returned to the old Soviet tactics of denying Ukrainians their history and distinct identity,” she noted.

“For the memories of Holodomor to persevere I encourage you to reconnect with stories and memories of it in whatever ways that are available to you. Remembering the Holodomor is a way to be who you are. Remembering Holodomor is a way to help Ukraine win the war, Dr. Friesen added.

Speaking on behalf of the Government of Ukraine Consul-General to Edmonton, Oleksandr Danyleiko said “Ukrainians always wanted to peacefully live upon their lands, to peacefully raise their children, grow their bread. And they took away that bread from them condemning millions, millions of Ukrainians to a horrible death from starvation.

“We will remember. We will do everything so that our children our grandchildren future generations know what happened, know who and how was destroying our nation. And know that we should never forget this so that it can never be repeated,” he said.
Danyleiko noted that the Russians are once again trying eliminate Ukrainians. “They are killing our people… they are killing our women they are killing our children. They are killing our future by forcefully deporting our children to Russia. They are then trying to erase their identity… That’s why what is going on today is genocide – again!”

Representing the Government of Canada, Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Official Languages, said the commemoration is not just about acknowledging the past, but also a call to action for the present and the future.
“Despite the brutality of the Holodomor, Ukrainians persevered. The resilience of the Ukrainian people and the survival of their culture, language, and identity is a testament to their courage and strength.”

He outlined how Canada is standing by Ukraine, and will “continue to stand with the people of Ukraine in the face of the Putin regime’s illegal war and military aggression until all regions of Ukraine have been returned to its people.”

Turning to the youth gathered at the ceremony Boissonnault asked them to “look at how your cousins and friends are fighting for their democracy and for ours.”

“It is your duty. My duty. Our duty to remember the Holodomor today and forever. As it is our country’s duty to remember Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, to bring this war to an end and to rebuild a strong Ukraine,” he added.

Opposition spokesman Garnett Genuis, MP for Sherwood Park – North Saskatchewan also addressed the youth raising the issue of the war crimes Russia is perpetrating in abducting children.

He referred to the hearings held by the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

“We actually heard from children that were rescued, sharing their stories. Young teenagers who were abducted or tricked. Taken from their families. They were forced to go through indoctrination and other forms of pressure. In some cases forcibly adopted into Russian families. Their parents have gone through horrific ordeals. So much trauma, so much pain. Tens of thousands of children affected by this resent violence aimed at destroying Ukrainian people.”

However, Ukrainian people are resilient “buoyed on by their deep faith in God and their commitment to their families and their community.”

Representing the Government of Alberta, Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, Parliamentary Secretary for Settlement Services and Ukrainian Evacuees, and MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville commended each branch of the UCC for “spreading awareness not only of Holodomor, but of Ukrainian history and culture as a whole.”

“They have been an indispensable ally in recent years particularly, as we work together to support Ukrainian evacuees in Alberta, and the Ukrainian Albertan community as a whole, in this difficult time,” she noted.

“In 2023, so many years after the Holodomor, the Ukrainian people are once again facing a genocidal threat from Russia. And so, while my heart is with those millions of Ukrainians who died at the hands of Joseph Stalin, my thoughts today are also with the Ukrainian people, who are staving off a brutal invasion by Stalin’s spiritual successor, Vladimir Putin,” added Armstrong-Homeniuk.

Speaking for the Alberta Opposition, NDP Deputy Leader and MLA for Edmonton Glenora Sarah Hoffman said the Holodomor “was intended to kill Ukrainian culture, nationalism, and identity.”

“Today Russia continues its effort to wipe out Ukrainian identity and Ukrainians. Bishop Motiuk reminded me earlier this week, every seven minutes somebody in Ukraine is being killed right now fighting back against the invasion by Vladimir Putin.
“Just as the intentional death by starvation inflicted on a generation of folks did not succeed, neither will the war on Ukraine. We are strong, we are resilient, we are here, and we must always remember,” she added.

Bringing greetings from the City of Edmonton, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said that “while we recognize the events of the past and vow to never let them happen again it is disheartening that we continue to see similar tragedies unfold before our eyes… but I’m proud to see how Edmontonians have stepped up to support those… who have been displaced.”

“May Ukrainian pride unity and strength continue to give us hope.”

The ceremony opened with a Prayer Service conducted by Bishop David Motiuk, Ukrainian Catholic Eparch of Edmonton, assisted by clergy from both the Catholic and Orthodox Eparchies.

In her opening remarks, Orysia Boychuk, President of UCC Alberta said that the Edmonton Ukrainian Community played a significant and leading role in uncovering the truth and recognizing Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.

As examples she cited the work of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, the 1983 opening of the first Holodomor monument in the world, the passage of the 2008 Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day Act, and the declaration by the Edmonton Catholic School District of the last Friday in November as Holodomor Memorial Day within the school system.

“Today, new resources on the Holodomor geared to the Alberta curriculum in Social Studies have been completed for the Edmonton Catholic School Board. Currently, the Holodomor is included in the Alberta curriculum in Social Studies 20 and 30 at the grade 11 and 12 levels. Lesson plans for teachers on the Holodomor have been developed by Edmonton Catholic Schools and are available on their website for Kindergarten to Grade 12,” she said.

“Once again Russia is using food as a weapon. Russia attacks Ukrainian grain depots and food storage facilities in an attempt to create famine. Russia targets Ukraine and all the people of the world who rely on Ukrainian grain,” added Boychuk.
She was followed by Holodomor survivor Leonid Korownyk who read one of his many poems commemorating the genocide.

Lidia Wasylyn, Essay Contest coordinator for the Edmonton Branch of the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women presented the winners of the Holodomor Essay Contest.

This was followed by a performance of the Children’s Choir of Ridna Shkola and the Ivan Franko School of Ukrainian Studies.

Mykhaylo Kozlovsky served as MC for the event and brought up Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces have stood up to the aggressor showing the world what bravery looks like. To paraphrase president Zelensky, strength is not determined by military prowess alone, true strength is in the spirit of those who defend their home, their people, and their freedom… However, we all know what the price of this war has been. Not the billions it will take to rebuild Ukraine, but rather the lives lost and futures stolen due to the enemy’s senseless attacks across our Motherland.”

In his closing remarks, Yarko Broda, President of UCC Edmonton stressed the importance of supporting Ukraine noting that “anything less than a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s 1991 borders will only ensure that this genocide simmers until the next time Russia turns up the heat.”

“Every person in this room has a responsibility to keep the war in Ukraine in the public consciousness and to fight the onslaught of Russian disinformation war so that Ukraine can continue fighting the war in the trenches. I call on you to pick up the phone, call your elected representative, tell them what you think, remind them why Ukraine’s victory is not only a moral imperative but a fundamental strategic necessity for the west. Whether its limp-wristed enforcement of sanctions or voting against key Legislation that supports Ukraine’s recovery, we the 1.3 million Ukrainian Canadians must remind our elected officials that we are 1.3 million voters in every riding from Vancouver Island to Carleton, from Brooks to Iqaluit, Edmonton to St. John’s. We must continue to hold our elected officials to account and to advocate for our interests and values,” he said.

The ceremony was followed by a wreath laying at the Holodomor Monument.

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