This month thousands of people gathered around Union Station to commemorate the victims of Ukraine’s Holodomor as D.C. unveiled its new memorial to the man-made famine. The memorial, a bronze wall of fading wheat, symbolizes how the Soviet Union seized Ukraine’s grains and caused one of the world’s most devastating events.
The unveiling of the memorial was attended by over 5,000 people, including Ukrainians and Americans of Ukrainian descent. Throughout the day, speakers such as Ukraine’s first lady, Maryna Poroshenko, Representatives Sander Levin and Marcy Kaptur gave remarks about the famine. Letters from Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton were read to the audience, along with a video message from Senator Rob Portman and one from Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko himself.
The memorial, built by the U.S. Committee for Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide Awareness, was authorized by an act of Congress in 2006 to commemorate the estimated seven million victims. The Committee’s main mission: “to promote and spread the truth about one of the least-known genocides in the world.”
In an attempt to destroy Ukrainians who sought independence from the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin ordered the collectivization of private property, rationing, and the targeted killing of Ukraine’s farmers from 1932 to 1933.
To regain control over Ukraine, Soviet officials sent millions of Ukrainians to the Siberian gulags and established show trials for those deemed “anti-revolutionary.” To stifle dissent even further—and gain profit at the same time—Stalin established grain quotas for farmers to deliver to the state.
These quotas were unrealistic and impossible to meet. Nevertheless, authorities punished those who did not meet them, either by preventing supplies for the next season or by sending them to the gulags. USSR officials even checked houses to make sure no grain was left behind. The high quotas barely left anything for Ukrainians to eat.
Once the grain was collected, it was either kept under heavy guard or sold abroad—anything to keep it from being distributed. The Soviet Union implemented laws that prohibited Ukrainians from getting food from other countries across the border. Ultimately, Stalin had found a new weapon for control—food supplies.
And his weapon succeeded. Ukrainians were starving and bodies were piling up on the streets. By the winter of 1932, there was an average of 28,000 deaths per day.
Because of the Soviet’s targeted policies and their knowledge of the hunger in Ukraine, the U.S. declared Holodomor a genocide in 2003, and Ukraine’s Parliament decreed the same in 2006. The U.N. condemned it as a crime against humanity. Yet, there are some that go so far as to deny it ever happened.
A couple months ago the Kremlin’s propaganda mouthpiece, Sputnik News, reported that Holodomor was a western myth in two articles entitled Holodomor Hoax: Joseph Stalin’s Crime That Never Took Place, and Holodomor Hoax: The Anatomy of a Lie Invented by West’s Propaganda Machine. One article claims the myth was created by the CIA-hired Nazi Mykola Lebed to re-write history and help disseminate anti-Russian propaganda. The other piece claims that Holodomor was invented by western media to downplay the achievements of the Soviets and was launched by German and Italian fascists. Just this week Sputnik published a third article, Holodomor Hoax: West’s ‘Golden Embargo’ and Soviet Famine of 1932-33, blaming the west’s sanctions against Russia for causing the famine.
A memorial like the one unveiled last week in Washington, counters such blatant propaganda. The Holodomor Memorial reminds all those walking by that the event did happen. Echoing the words of Ukraine’s first lady, “we cannot turn back the hands of time, but we can keep the memories in our hearts.”