Raising awareness of the Holodomor in Canada and around the globe

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In the first week of July, I travelled to Kyiv, Ukraine to take part in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Memorial in Commemoration of Famines’ Victims in Ukraine. “Holodomor” is the English spelling of a Ukrainian word that means “death by starvation.” During the winter of 1932 and 1933, millions of Ukrainians died of hunger. At that time, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union wanted to crush a Ukrainian independence movement by starving the population. Soviet police and collaborators confiscated food supplies in much of Ukraine. They denied starving people access to stored grain and barred them from travelling to find food. Over the next 50 years, the Soviet Union tried to suppress all evidence of this genocide.

The purpose of the MOU was to create a special relationship between the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Holodomor Memorial in Ukraine. We will work together to exchange knowledge and expertise and to share materials and research resources related to the Holodomor and human rights.  

Holodomor Memorial

The Holodomor Memorial

In a complete reversal of the utilitarian soviet architecture that fills much of Kyiv, the Holodomor Memorial was constructed in a highly stylized fashion, full of symbols and metaphors referencing the Holodomor.  From the street, the Memorial appears as a large, stylized candle. In Ukrainian tradition, candles are lit to remember those who died.


A life-size statue of a young girl clutching a handful of wheat stands at the entrance to the Memorial. Her dignity and sadness are a powerful witness to the horrific human loss of the Holodomor. 

Statue of a young girl

Statue of a young girl clutching a handful of wheat

This statue would make the perfect symbol for children’s rights everywhere.


The Memorial contains many interesting artefacts from the Holodomor period. The significance of many of these artefacts, such as this stone for grinding wheat into flour, is that there were NOT used in the winter of 1932-33.

Grinding stone

Artefact from the Holodomor: grinding stone


The staff at the Holodomor Memorial was absolutely amazing. We were impressed not only with their warm hospitality, but also with the depth of their research and their commitment to promoting awareness about the Holodomor and human rights, in the hope that through education we can stop genocides and other gross human rights violations before they happen. The CMHR shares that hope as well and I look forward to collaborating with the Memorial in the future to tell the story of the Holodomor to a Canadian audience.

Holodomor Memorial staff

From left to right:  Victor Didenko (Holodomor Memorial Director), Angela Cassie (CMHR Director of Communications & External Relations), Lesya Onyshko (Holodomor Memorial Associate Director), Stuart Murray (CMHR President and Chief Executive Officer), Clint Curle (CMHR Researcher).