Recently, our editorial office received a letter from a Kyiv resident named Oleh Pluhatarenko, inviting The Day , as a publication “trying to restore historical memory to Ukrainians,” to the village of Myrivka (Kyiv oblast), where a ceremony to unveil and bless a cross to the victims of the 1933 Holodomor will take place on April 15.
Pluhatarenko writes: “I initiated the creation of this monument. My maternal grandmother comes from that village, and in 1933 my great-grandfather — my granny’s father — starved to death there. The monument was executed by Mykola Malyshko (the designer of Ivan Honchar and Vasyl Stus’s tombstones). The funds to purchase materials and execute the work were provided by me and my friends — Adam Sauer from Poland, Tim Boese from Germany, and Robert Privitera from Italy. Expenses for transporting and mounting the cross were covered by the Myrivka village council.”
We were deeply moved by Pluhatarenko’s letter as well as his attitude to memory. We wanted to learn more about how the historic tragedy affected his family. Below is a transcript of Nadia Tysiachna’s telephone conversation with Oleh PLUHATARENKO.
Mr. Pluhatarenko, please tell me a few words about yourself.
“I am 32. I was trained to be an economist. I live and work in Kyiv. In my spare time I go on trips around Ukraine’s historic sites. Most of all I like Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Cherkasy oblasts, probably because my family comes from central Ukraine.”
Have you studied your family tree?
“Until 2004, while my granny was still alive, I didn’t. Subconsciously I regarded her as the person from whom our family sprang. I never even thought twice about the possibility that she would die some day. When she died, I realized I had not asked her about a lot of people. Then I decided to do some research in the archives. My minimum task was to establish my great-grandparents’ dates of birth (for starters, I decided to install nameplates on their graves). Every Saturday — which is my only day off when the Central State Historical Archives are open — my wife and I hit the church and confessional books. After a painstaking search we found entries of my great-grandparents’ birth. Interestingly, they turned out to be younger. I assume that during the Revolution and the Civil War my ancestors had to “age” — maybe they were evading the draft and repressions. I also found an entry of my granny’s birth. It is hard to put into words what I felt at that moment. I must have felt that I had discovered extremely important information that strengthened my bonds with her. Incidentally, at her baptism she was named Pelaheia, not Paraskeva. I don’t know why she decided (or had to) to change her name. I only know that in the 1930s, when granny had to move to Kyiv, in the village she was issued a certificate serving as a passport, in which she was named Paraska Omelkivna. I also discovered information about some distant relatives. Fortunately, most of Myrivka’s church books have been preserved, and we were able to trace my mother’s relatives to great-great-great-great-grandfather Hryhorii Hryhorovych Rohoza (1753-1841) in the male line and to great-great-great-great-great-grandfather in the female line.”
When did you find out that your grandfather starved to death in 1933?
“First, I was told that my granddad, Omelian Sydorovych Rohoza (1870- 1933) starved to death because of a bad harvest. Later I learned that he died because of the Holodomor that took place in Ukraine.
“My late grandmother, Paraska Omelianivna Baliasna (1912-2004), recalled how she saved her mother, Odarka Makarivna Rohoza (1870-1933), in 1932. She was 21 at the time. She pulled her mother on a sled from Myrivka to Kyiv, covering a distance of over 70 kilometers. But she became sick and could not go back for her father; she only sent him a parcel of food. He did not receive the parcel (at the time no parcels were reaching the villages). When grandma got well and went back to Myrivka, she found his grave. I was mostly struck by granny’s words: ‘He did not get the parcel and starved to death.’ That is why I wanted to erect a monument to all those who never lived to see a parcel. There are a lot of unknown graves in the village cemetery, which have no crosses. When my friends from abroad learned about my idea to organize and erect a memorial cross, they expressed a fervent desire to contribute to this cause.
“I have invited journalists from The Day and other publications to Myrivka on April 15 with the sole purpose of informing as many people about this event as possible; to show the residents of Myrivka that a local event can be of national importance and that the history of one village can be of interest to people living thousands of miles away.”