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Holodomor survivors tell the sad truth

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/6/2010 (2570 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE Ukraine famine of 1932-33 claimed as many as four million lives and is widely considered a deliberate genocide by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Almost 80 years later, Stalin's active role in creating the famine is still debatable, even among Ukraine presidents. (According to recent story in the Times of London, former president Viktor Yushchenko termed the event Ukrainians call the Holodomor as a genocide perpetrated by Stalin's regime while Ukraine's new President Viktor Yanukovych is more inclined to describe the famine as a tragedy suffered by people across the Soviet Union.)

To get the viewpoint that matters most, Ukrainian documentary filmmaker Anna Gin went right to the source in her documentary Stone Mill, which screens in the Muriel Richardson Auditorium of the Winnipeg Art Gallery Sunday afternoon.

Gin, 36, interviewed many now-elderly survivors of the famine from every corner of Ukraine's Kharkiv region, which experienced the highest death toll and is where she is from.

On the ground level of the actual events, there can be no doubt that farmers in the Ukraine produced crops in 1932, only to watch helplessly as apparatchiks and party goons raided every granary, barn, cupboard and attic in the region. The searchers sometimes employed long steel rods to dig through the hiding places, looking for hidden caches of grain or produce. In most cases, they left no food whatsoever to the families whose toil produced it.

The sad testimonies of the survivors are punctuated with records of official meetings and correspondence that suggest that whatever Stalin's intentions towards the people of Ukraine, the result was a virtual genocide.

"I'm a journalist and I consider it my task to work with the facts," says Gin, speaking through a translator. "I didn't consciously make any attempt to reach conclusions that summarize this (event). That was not my purpose. A thinking person should be able to reach their own conclusion.

"(The Holodomor) is often spoken about by politicians, but the old people who lived through it never speak about it. They're not looking for a guilty party.

"I deliberately wanted to show this tragedy from the point of view of the children who lived through it, and to avoid any kind of superimposed overview either by politicians, historians or theologists."

Gin says that many of her interview subjects have died since the film was made "and in three or four years, probably none of them will be alive."

The documentary screened in Winnipeg last year. This time, the film comes with English subtitles produced here in Winnipeg, says one of the organizers, Myroslav Shkandrij, professor of Slavic Studies in the department of German and Slavic studies at the University of Manitoba.

"The reaction to the screening last year was very powerful, and that was one reason I decided to do the subtitles," Shkandrij says. "We thought this film should be made available to a wider audience."

Shkandrij will moderate a discussion following the documentary. Proceeds from the screening will be used to support Gin's visit to Winnipeg.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Movie Preview

Stone Mill

Directed by Anna Gin

Winnipeg Art Gallery

Sunday, June 6, 2 p.m.

Tickets: $10

Read more by Randall King.

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