The Students’ Palace at Dnipropetrovsk National University recently hosted the roundtable “The Holodomor of 1932-33 and Dnipropetrovsk Oblast: Viewed through the Decades.” Stanislav Kulchytsky, deputy director of the Institute of Ukrainian History at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NAN), a noted researcher of the Holodomor, took part in the roundtable during which he launched his Russian-language book Pochemu on tak nas unichtozhal? (Why Did He Destroy Us?). This book was published as part of The Day ’s Library Series.
Among those who came to meet the noted scholar and discuss various issues with him were members of the local government, the staff of the oblast archives, museum personnel, the Center for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Values, students and lecturers from local institutions of higher learning, and members of the general public. The deputy rector of Dnipropetrovsk National University, Valentyn IVANENKO, noted in his opening address that “for Ukraine the man-made famine of the early 1930s has become the most painful topic and a national tragedy whose reverberations are still felt today.” As Ukraine’s major grain-growing region (producing 15 percent of the total output of grain), Dnipropetrovsk oblast found itself at the epicenter of this tragedy and suffered heavy losses. Yet even today not all the circumstances behind these events are known, and the historical reconstruction of the events and intensive research of the Holodomor are crucial to restoring the truth, Ivanenko said.
To a large extent this gap is being filled by the scholarly works of Stanislav Kulchytsky, who has dedicated nearly two decades to this subject. “The Holodomor has become paramount in my life as a researcher,” Kulchytsky said, “in that it has changed all my views on the historical process.” A crucial role was played in 1986-89 by the US researcher James E. Mace, who was a member of the Commission on the Ukraine Famine, formed under the aegis of the US Congress on the initiative of the Ukrainian Diaspora. “At first we were ideological opponents studying the same problems, but then the difference between our standpoints lessened,” Kulchytsky said. He and Mace’s widow, Natalia Dziubenko-Mace, are preparing a four-volume collection of data that was compiled by the American commission.
The Ukrainian historian noted the enlightening role that being played by The Day, a newspaper with which he has collaborated for a number of years. He went on to say that the Holodomor issue is being increasingly acknowledged throughout the world thanks to the efforts of scholars both in the West and Ukraine. Although the Holodomor is recognized by researchers in Russia, they refuse to accept the key aspect, namely, that it was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. Instead, they insist that the famine of the early 1930s had an “all-Union” scope. “Therefore, over the past couple of years we have had to pay attention to the legal aspects of this question.” Sufficient evidence will soon be compiled in a separate volume that will be issued by the Institute of Ukrainian History and the Institute of National Memory and submitted to the United Nations this spring, along with a proposal to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide according to the international convention.
Kulchytsky insists that the Holodomor in Ukraine was one of two types of genocides, and may be defined as “terror by famine,” which was aimed at destroying “part of the Ukrainian nation in order to terrify the rest.” He believes that 3.5 million Ukrainians were killed during the man-made famine, in addition to another million in Russia, mostly in the Kuban region, populated mostly by Ukrainians. A million and a half people starved to death in Kazakhstan, but Kulchytsky does not believe there was an act of genocide there.
These estimates sparked a number of questions from the roundtable participants. Its organizer, Viktor PUSHKIN, director of the Institute for Problems in the Humanities at Dnipropetrovsk National Mining University, believes that Ukrainians were not the only victims of the man-made famine, since members of other ethnic groups also died in Ukraine. Dnipropetrovsk-based scholars also questioned how the term “terror by famine” corresponds to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In response, Kulchytsky said that proof of the terrorist nature of Stalin’s regime is the death of millions of peasants and almost one- half of all teachers and communists in Ukraine. During the 70 years of its existence the Soviet regime had significantly evolved, therefore citizens today do not remember it in the horrible form that existed after the October Revolution and the Civil War. All the members of the roundtable agreed that it is necessary to continuing to collect facts for the evidential base of research on the Holodomor.
Serhii SVIETLIENKO, the dean of the Faculty of History at Dnipropetrovsk National University, talked about an ongoing project to collect eyewitness testimony on the artificial famine in certain rural raions of Dnipropetrovsk oblast. The participants of this project are members of the recently established Association of Holodomor Researchers as well as students from the university’s Faculty of History and high school students. Various members of the public are also making a concerted effort to contribute to the efforts to preserve historical memory. Nykopil’s Koshovy Otaman Anatolii Nosenko presented Dr. Kulchytsky with a CD that contains a two-part documentary based on eyewitness accounts on the artificial famine in the southern part of Dnipropetrovsk oblast, where five Zaporozhian Sichs existed during various historical periods.
During the roundtable Mykola CHUBAN, a well-known local history expert and writer from Dnipropetrovsk oblast, spoke about the need to tend the common graves of Holodomor victims. He said that such graves were recently discovered in a suburb of Dniprodzerzhynsk, but with the connivance of the local authorities the site is being used for new burials.
The roundtable presentation by Nina KYSTRUSKA, the director of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Archives, sparked great interest. She noted that despite the fact that the bulk of data relating to the 1920s and 1930s was lost during the Second World War and the evacuations, there is still a great deal of documented evidence on the Holodomor in various archives. Archival workers have discovered documents attesting to acts of cannibalism and confiscations of food and property from villagers, including their homes, if they failed to meet the grain delivery quotas. These archival documents include a list of the names of villages that simply vanished into thin air. The most horrible thing about her work, according to Kystruska, was reading official reports about the numerous corpses of people who had starved to death, which were discovered during the spring thaw in various rural districts.
Kystruska informed her listeners that “right now we are preparing The Holodomor Victims’ Memory Book for publication. We have to send the Institute of National Memory a list of names of the populated areas that suffered during the Holodomor, but bureaucratic hurdles are making it difficult to carry out this task. It turns out that even justice bodies do not have data on the administrative-political divisions of that period, but without this data it is impossible to determine which village affected by the Holodomor belonged to which raion or oblast.”
Some roundtable participants expressed misgivings that all the work being done to eternalize the memory of the Holodomor victims is gradually turning into a series of campaigns. Oleh Boiko, a young professor at Dnipropetrovsk National University said, “I have many friends who are teachers. They say that the campaign to spotlight the Holodomor is becoming increasingly official. Won’t this spark a backlash?” Several students offered the same opinion when they were interviewed by The Day. Yulia SKYBOCHKA, a second-year student, said: “The Holodomor issue is extremely important for our nation. We have to preserve the memory of the innocent victims of the Stalinist regime in order to prevent something like this from happening in the future. However, I agree with Oleh Boiko: the main thing is to know when to stop. Otherwise, if we overdo it, people will simply clam up and not react.”
Third-year student Oleksandr HANOTSKY said: “I don’t doubt for a minute that the Holodomor issue must be raised on the state level. My great-grandmother escaped death during the famine by leaving her village and finding a job at a coal mine. This year, while we were conducting our archival work collecting data for the Holodomor Memory Book, we interviewed relatives and neighbors and recorded their recollections of these events.”
Artem IVANTSIV, a fifth-year student at the Faculty of History, said: “We must restore the whole truth about the Holodomor, no matter what it may be. People must learn about all the horror that was taking place in Ukraine in that period. In addition, we must pay tribute to the victims of that man-made famine because people who do not remember their past have no future.”
Addressing the students, Dr. Kulchytsky said the efforts to turn the Holodomor into a campaign, if one exists, will be short-lived. For the last 10 years the All-Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Research has been operating in Dnipropetrovsk. Research on the Holodomor must also be conducted in a systematic way and on the proper level, and in every region of Ukraine. It is especially important to involve young people in this work, he said.