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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

In the light of historical truth

Expanded board members’ meeting held at Ukraine’s State Committee on Archives. Dedicated to publicizing secret documents on the Holodomor
22 July, 2008 - 00:00

The Holodomor in Ukraine of 1932-33 is still an open wound in our national consciousness. Those years, which were the most terrible in all of Ukraine’s history, demand from each one of us not only liberation from the stereoptypes of the past but also the truth that comes from scholarly knowledge.

Of course, documented facts that expose a terrible tragedy like the Holodomor do not ease the pangs of conscience that are experienced by normal individuals once they become aware of what Stalin’s band of murderers did to Ukraine. However, it is the sacred duty of each one of us to feel (at least partially) the pain of that time.

The State Committee on Archives of Ukraine is participating actively in the colossal work of strengthening the national memory of Ukrainians. On June 15 the participants of an expanded board members’ session discussed the question of how they are implementing the measures to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor. The session was attended by leading archival experts, historians, and members of the public.

The head of the State Committee on Archives, Oleksandr Udod, admitted that a critical and objective analysis of what has already been done in this area indicates that little has been accomplished, no slight intended to the dedicated work of Ukrainian archival experts. “We are doing even less of a job informing the public about the results of our work through the mass media. This has to be improved,” said Ukraine’s chief archivist.

Udod noted that research must be done on how Ukrainians now understand the Holodomor. In Soviet times, the state’s policy of “forcible amnesia” was in effect until the mid-1950s, and even Khrushchev did not dare lift aside this terrible veil because the Holodomor was a dangerous subject even for the communist regime itself. After the temporary “thaw” period Brezhnev’s ideological reaction set in, and it seemed that the historical truth would remain a taboo for ever.

It was only on Dec. 27, 1987, that the head of the Central Committee of the CP(B)U Volodymyr Shcherbytsky for the first time publicly acknowledged the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine. Three years later, on Jan. 26, 1990, the Central Committee passed a well-known resolution on this question.

Udod characterized the period between 1991 and 2004 as a time when this terrible topic was “ignored apathetically,” when “the idea of reconciliation with the communist past was under consideration.” (This applies to the governments of those years, but in no way to such scholars as the unforgettable James Mace, Yuri Shapoval, Stanislav Kulchytsky, and Vasyl Marochko.)

“After the Verkhovna Rada adopted the law ‘On the Holodomor in Ukraine of 1932-1933’ on Nov. 28, 2006, we can finally say that a state policy on this immense tragedy was finally formulated. And since the archival system is a state system, Ukraine’s archival service faces exceptionally important tasks,” said Udod.

The Holodomor topic should not be limited to 2008: there is enough work for many more decades. What should be done to implement the theses contained in the Ukrainian president’s edict? Both Udod and Yulia Prylepisheva, the head of the department for information and international cooperation at the State Committee on Archives of Ukraine, who presented a report during the session, defined the following urgent tasks: to register archival materials that illustrate the causes, character, and consequences of the Holodomor; conduct research on the demographic consequences of the Holodomor; gather oral evidence of the tragedy; study the Ukrainians’ resistance to Stalin’s totalitarian power; and disseminate information on the Holodomor in Europe and the international community.

Prylepisheva said that death records and registration books on children residing in orphanages deserve special attention because the deaths of children, as confirmed by documents, are an indisputable attribute of genocide, according to international conventions.

During her report the Ukrainian archivist highlighted some fascinating statistics. On the basis of death registries, the number of victims of the Holodomor in various Ukrainian oblasts is as follows (of course, these records give a limited picture of the scope of the tragedy): 105,404 people in Donetsk oblast, 88,742 in Luhansk oblast, 65,101 in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, 55,793 in Sumy oblast, 40,140 in Kyiv oblast, and 40,132 in Kirovohrad oblast.

The work of uncovering victims has just begun. It is extremely significant that a considerable part of the above-mentioned regions is the electoral base of the Party of Regions headed by Viktor Yanukovych. Only two MPs from this party (out of 186) voted for the Law “On the Holodomor of 1932-1933” on Nov. 28, 2006.

Today archival experts have the most powerful of weapons at their disposal: documents and facts. These weapons can help, probably to a decisive degree, to strengthen the historical memory of the Ukrainian nation.