Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Lest we extinguish the “torch of memory”

On the educational and political activities of the Ukrainian diaspora aimed at recognition and commemoration of the Holodomor victims
25 April, 2018 - 16:41
Photo by Yosyp MARUKHNIAK
Stefan Romaniw

The 85th anniversary of the Holodomor in Ukraine is marked not only in this country, but also far beyond its borders. Commemorative events have been taking place throughout the year in dozens of countries which host Ukrainian communities. The diaspora continues to play an important role as it is revealing to the world the real scale of the 1932-33 tragedy.

Chairman of the International Holodomor Coordinating Committee, general secretary of the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC), and chairman of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations Stefan Romaniw offers a notable example of an individual who has devoted his entire life to the popularization of the Ukrainian idea in the world. He talked to Leopolitans at the Lviv Polytechnic on April 17, having been invited there by that school’s International Institute for Education, Culture, and Relations with the Diaspora (IIECRD).


Romaniw was born in the Australian city of Melbourne. His father, a native of Ternopil, emigrated there in 1949. When asked “Why did you decide to concentrate all your efforts on the Holodomor?” the activist responded by recalling his youth. He said that this topic had been repeatedly discussed among his people, including in Saturday school classes and at home... However, it was the book The Harvest of Sorrow, written by British historian Robert Conquest, that made the greatest impression. “I read it when I was 15. And from that time on, I have constantly thought about what I can do for this cause, so that the whole world learns about the Holodomor in Ukraine,” Romaniw admitted.

The contribution of the diaspora to uncovering the issue of the 1932-33 Holodomor is usually dealt with in general terms only. Meanwhile, Romaniw covered it in detail in his presentation, arranged in chronological order and featuring examples. Among other matters, it praised the achievements of the US Commission on the Ukraine Famine, which was led by American historian James Mace who was in fact a great Ukrainian. He was called “a man of truth” by employees of Den/The Day, for which he worked for the final seven years of his life. Romaniw, too, repeatedly noted in his speech the colossal significance of Mace’s work.

In Ukraine and abroad, victims of the Soviet regime-organized genocide are honored on the last Saturday of November. It falls on November 24 this year. Many Ukrainian homes will definitely lit a traditional candle of memory on that day. Romaniw noted he and his associates had implemented this idea for the first time in Australia back in 2008.

“We then found a common ground with Ukrainian officials, recognizing that we could do a lot together,” Romaniw recalled. “And if we would work together, we would be able to convey to the world information about the Holodomor faster. Thus, the campaign ‘Ukraine Remembers, The World Acknowledges’ started, which was essentially about working in two directions at once. On the one hand, it was necessary to speak more about the Holodomor in Ukraine itself, because people knew little about it there, and even if they knew, it was only in the version promoted by the Soviet regime. At the same time, to achieve ‘The World Acknowledges’ objective, we began working with the international community, parliaments of different countries, and the UN, to achieve recognition of the Holodomor as genocide.”


At present, only 17 nations have recognized the Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people. Additionally, a number of countries have condemned the Holodomor at an official level as an act of human extermination. So, Ukraine still has a lot of work to do. Romaniw remarked that representatives of the UWC were working together with Ukraine’s permanent representative to the UN Volodymyr Yelchenko to make the Holodomor recognized as genocide of the Ukrainian people by more nations. He also added: “Together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, we are creating a database, and we will coordinate work in each country in order to raise this issue again and again in parliaments across the world.”

With the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor approaching, a series of events are being prepared at the UWC. “We are planning to compile a list of the descendants of witnesses to this tragedy who live around the world. We need to keep up this work so that the memory of the Holodomor does not fade. This is an important effort that will help us with disseminating information about the Holodomor and assuring the continuity in educational activities. We will need to find a person in each country who will be able to work exclusively on compiling such a list in their country. Also, we should prevent young people from forgetting about the tragedy of their people. What we need today is precisely for our descendants to take over this torch and continue our work,” Romaniw stressed.

In addition, a number of public events have been planned, including forums and scholarly conferences. A united international campaign will be held as well. “Starting on September 1 this year, and lasting for 85 days before the International Holodomor Commemoration Day, a ceremony will be held involving the Candle of Memory being lit in another country every day. The campaign will end in Kyiv with the Candle being lit near the memorial in the presence of representatives from all over the world,” Romaniw shared his plans with us.


To mark the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor, the UWC also plans to initiate a continuation of the campaign to restore historical truth in the case of Walter Duranty, a former Moscow correspondent for The New York Times, who helped to conceal Joseph Stalin’s terror in Ukraine with his reports and won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize for it. Let us recall that Den/The Day was among the first to raise the issue of revoking Duranty’s prize. In parallel, Professor Lubomyr Luciuk from Canada spoke in favor of this idea in 2003. “The UWC plans to initiate a new wave of letters to the Pulitzer Committee and The New York Times,” Romaniw promised, calling for all concerned citizens to join this effort.


An exhibition called “The UWC: The Truth about the Holodomor” was also launched within the framework of the meeting, and it is now available at the Lviv Polytechnic. The exposition consists of a series of posters which quote famous Ukrainians speaking on the Holodomor, including those living abroad. For example, they feature the words of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada Chrystia Freeland, president of the UWC Eugene Czolij and others.

The IIECRD joined the good work too, by preparing, together with students of the Lviv Polytechnic, Ukrainian translations of testimonies by witnesses of the 1932-33 Holodomor for the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Center.

“This idea was born when we were in Toronto for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UWC, and we got invited to the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Center, which deals with various aspects of the study of our history,” we heard from Iryna Kliuchkovska, the IIECRD’s director. “We attempt to involve students in our work in every possible way time and again. Students of the Department of Applied Linguistics were interning at our institute at the time. We invited them to join our project by providing them with texts in English. They translated them into Ukrainian, and we edited them. We will send them to the Center to Canada. In the future, these materials will be published on its website. This will be useful for those who cannot read them in English.

“There are a lot of things there that are not to be found in history textbooks. These are witnesses who emigrated from Ukraine. Interestingly, they kept silent for a long time and did not want to talk. Just like in Ukraine, they preferred to forget about it. They still experienced that fear at the genetic level, which Mace spoke about, even there, in the free world where, apparently, there were no restrictions on them. Features of a post-genocidal society emigrated with people themselves. However, the time has gone by. Both in Ukraine and abroad, people have started talking about the Holodomor. Therefore, it occurred to Iroida Wynnyckyj, an employee of the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Center, to record testimonies of those eyewitnesses who had left for Canada. People have been working on the project ever since.”

By Dmytro PLAKHTA, The Day, Lviv