Breaking the Silence about the Holodomor: A Conversation with Dr. Stanislav Kulchytskyi

Thursday, December 20, 2012

During the winter of 1932 and 1933, Soviet Ukraine was the victim of genocide. The Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union forcibly removed all food from thousands of farming villages in Ukraine.  Millions of men, women and children starved to death.  At the same time, the regime targeted Ukrainian intelligentsia and church leaders, and moved massive numbers of Ukrainians out of Ukraine and non-Ukrainian peoples into Ukraine.  Each of these tactics was a method of genocide - a deliberate attempt to destroy the Ukrainian nation.  Over the next 55 years, the government of the USSR suppressed evidence of this genocide, which is now called the Holodomor (Ukrainian for “death by hunger”).

This November the CMHR worked with the Ukrainian National Holodomor Memorial Museum, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (Manitoba Provincial Council) and other organizations to host a series of Holodomor lectures and public events during Holodomor Awareness Week in Canada. One of our guest speakers was Dr. Stanislav Kulchytskyi, a pioneer of Holodomor research.

The following is based on a conversation with Dr. Kulchytskyi on November 27, 2012 in Winnipeg.


Dr. Kulchytskyi

Dr. Kulchytskyi discussing the Holodomor during a CBC interview at the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre (Oseredok) on 19 November 2012 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.


Q:  When did you first begin to study the 1932-33 famine?

A:  For many years I studied the history of the Soviet Union, focusing on the 1920s and 1930s.  At that time, we historians working in the USSR were compelled to do history from the point of view of the centre – the Kremlin.  What happened outside the centre, in countries like Ukraine, was generally disregarded.  The Ukrainian famine was officially an off-limits topic.  But then, in the late 1980s, the Ukrainian diaspora convinced the American government to launch a Congressional Committee to study the famine.  This Committee was led by Dr. James Mace.  So the Communist Party of Ukraine created a parallel commission in Kyiv to counter the American Committee.  I was made a member of this Ukrainian commission.

Q: What evidence did you discover?

A: We were allowed access to some of the secret files of the Communist Party of Ukraine’s archives.  The American Committee did not have access to these archives, but it had access to survivors who remembered the famine.  Despite the official position of denial, it then became clear to me from the evidence that a man-made famine had occurred in 1932-33.

Q: What did you do when you came to the realization that the famine had occurred?

A: I circulated a memo recommending that the Communist Party admit that a famine had occurred in 1932-33.  The First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine then made a public statement about the famine, but said it was brought on by drought.  This explanation was inaccurate.  So I revised my memo into an article and published it in March 1988.  This was the first scholarly article devoted to the subject of the famine in the Soviet Union.  It was a signal to everyone that the Holodomor could now be discussed openly.

Q: Much of your research focuses on understanding precisely how the famine-genocide was perpetrated, its effects on the people, and the motivations behind it. Why?

A: To judge something fairly, you need to first understand it.  Why did Stalin’s regime manufacture this famine?  Stalin did not fully explain his motives.  But one thing stood out to me from my research.  Once the villagers had nothing to eat, they became passive – they lost all their energy and sat in their homes to wait for the end.  They ceased to be dangerous to the State.  My conclusion is that the removal of food in Ukraine was aimed at destroying the independence of the Ukrainian people.  The method of destruction and its effects help us understand why Stalin made this famine. 

Q: What else can we learn from the Holodomor today? 

A: The Holodomor was an instrument by which Soviet leaders exerted control over Ukraine and tried to crush their spirit of independence.  But in 1991, Ukraine became independent!  There were people who struggled to achieve independence all along, including the millions targeted during the Holodomor. This can be an inspiration for all those who struggle for justice today.

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