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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

Kyiv schoolchildren to produce drawings of the Holodomor

Is this going too far?
28 October, 2008 - 00:00

In November, a Holodomor drawing contest for children in grades 6 through 11 gets underway. The initiator of the contest is the Main Administration for Education and Science at the Kyiv City State Administration (KMDA). The competition will consist of several stages and will be held in all schools of the Ukrainian capital. The best works will be selected for an exhibition scheduled for Nov. 18 at the Children and Youth Palace in Kyiv.

Kyiv’s Deputy Mayor Serhii Rudyk said during a session of the organizing committee tasked with preparing public events in conjunction with the anniversary of the Holodomor that the drawings will be used in public advertising. The KMDA’s Chief Advertising Directorate will add more touches to the artworks, which will then be displayed on municipal billboards and light boxes.

Another competition on the same subject will be held almost simultaneously, this one organized on the initiative of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, entitled The People’s Memory. It is aimed at encouraging children to take an interest in history by tracking down Holodomor eyewitnesses.

With all due respect to the memory of those who perished during the famine, including my own relatives, aren’t we placing too heavy a burden on our children’s shoulders? How can they be expected to make drawings about this horrific tragedy? How will they illustrate children their own age who are swollen from starvation? How will they illustrate the heaps of dead bodies that were dumped in common graves, the corpses that were scattered on the roads, and the Soviet activists confiscating the peasants’ last scraps of food and ransacking their houses?

With this project we are providing grist to the mill of all those who refuse to acknowledge the Holodomor in Ukraine. They will claim that we are using our children, and traumatizing them in the process.

Olena LISHCHYNSKA, psychologist and senior research associate at the Institute of Social and Political Psychology, Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukraine:

The Holodomor is a distressing experience. Pupils in grades 6 to 11 are adolescents. They are very sensitive, and they haven’t had time to shape their world views. So, for them sketching or painting scenes of the Holodomor is an extreme educational exercise. Of course, the point is to instill certain qualities in our children, like patriotism and empathy, and an awareness of what people had to pay so that they can have an easier life today. This is a positive objective, but I think that this burden is too heavy to be borne by our children, and therefore not all children will be able to experience it in an adequate fashion.

Certain psychological defense mechanisms will be activated: some children may deny it; others will switch off, in other words that which leads to emotional dullness and withdrawal. Let’s ask ourselves: Do we have to make our children live through such horrible experiences? Do they have to relive the pain? Do we have the right to make them feel this pain?

Consider our current situation: the world is gripped by a financial crisis. Not everyone knows what this means, but we all understand the word “crisis.” In Ukraine we have an ambiguous political situation. Things are happening, but we aren’t sure exactly what they mean. There are depressed moods and expectations. All this has an effect on children and adults. In addition, The Days are getting shorter, we’re switching the clocks. It’s cold outside, but all of us — especially our children — have to remember such horrible things.

Isn’t this going too far? As for pupils in the upper grades collecting Holodomor eyewitness accounts, I see this in an altogether different light. First, these are older pupils; they’re studying history and communicating with the older generation. What happened more than 20 years ago is viewed by children as something from the incredibly distant past, simply because all this happened before they were born. Therefore, communicating with these eyewitnesses, establishing an emotional link with them, helps these young people build their world views. They can see a more vivid connection between their lives and those of their grandparents. Speaking to these witnesses will give them an opportunity to personally assess what these people have to say, compared to what is generally being said about the Holodomor. Interviewing eyewitnesses is a good method for generating data. So I think this project is more useful. It is not as symbolized as drawing.

Halyna TODOSOVA, Main Administration for Education and Science, KMDA:

Our children in grades 6 to 11 already know about the Holodomor. The subject is extensively discussed these days. Even first-graders discuss it with their teachers, who are familiarizing them with this tragic period of our history. I believe that our children are coping effectively with this task. A creative competition dedicated to the Holodomor is underway in Kyiv, organized by the Hrinchenko Pedagogical Institute. This contest has four categories: Literary Works, Journalistic Works, Photo Reports, and School Newspaper. We are planning to publish a selection of these works, which will be entitled Ukraine: through the Holodomor to the Summits of World Civilization.

We’re also taking part in a national educational and patriotic competition dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holodomor victims. It is called “The People’s Memory,” and its goal is to collect children’s compositions as well as essays by teachers. The purpose is to collect eyewitness accounts. These can be research papers or audio and video tapes of such accounts. The main requirement is to preserve the eyewitness’ voices. Even if a work is short, it will still be topical because it will be a genuine testimony. Only pupils in the upper grades will take part in the latter two competitions. We want our children not only to know what happened in the past, but also to view their future with optimism. We want them to believe that having survived so many ordeals, Ukraine is moving toward the summits of world civilization.

By Oksana MYKOLIUK, The Day