They took ‘food off the stove’

Holodomor commemorated

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Under a cloudy sky, clergy members chanted sombre hymns in memory of the millions of victims of the Ukrainian Holodomor, the Stalinist-era famine that ravaged the Eastern European country.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2014 (2932 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Under a cloudy sky, clergy members chanted sombre hymns in memory of the millions of victims of the Ukrainian Holodomor, the Stalinist-era famine that ravaged the Eastern European country.

In Winnipeg, descendants of Holodomor survivors who immigrated here filed forward with their families for the short service Saturday at city hall.

Many held candles in bread-bun candleholders. They stood silently under the chorus of hymns led by Ukrainian-Catholic and Ukrainian-Orthodox bishops and priests.

Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press Clergy members honour those who died during the Soviet-inflicted Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-33. The ceremony at city hall Saturday drew many descendants of those who survived the famine.

A few in the crowd lowered flags of black muslin cloth half-mast.

That was the image before the city’s monument to a 20th-century genocide that was largely hidden from the rest of the world for the better part of a century.

Similar services played out elsewhere, including in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) observed National Holodomor (Death by Famine) Awareness Week from Nov. 17 to 23 to commemorate the tragedy. The most catastrophic of a series of famines was orchestrated from Moscow and gripped Ukraine from 1932 to 1933.

That was followed by a series of oppressions Ukrainians weathered. Some seven to eight million people lost their lives, experts now believe.

Margaret Friesen, a Ukrainian-Mennonite said her parents survived the Holodomor, coming to Canada after the Second World War.

Friesen said the first Stalinist famine was imposed on the Ukrainian population to cleanse the population.

“These people,” she said, gesturing to the lines of people five or more rows deep at the event, “are mostly from the Ukrainian community, but Stalin targeted more than just Ukrainians. There were other groups, too who were collateral damage.”

“My mom said they (Soviets) would come into the home and take the food off the stove. It wasn’t just the grain. It was everything,” Friesen said.

This year, observances carried added poignancy as the ex-Soviet state wages war against separatists who have power over parts of eastern Ukraine since the overthrow of a Russian-backed president and Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

“Ukraine is undergoing a tremendous transformation,” said Bill Balan, chief administration officer with the University of Winnipeg.

He and his wife, who was on the Winnipeg organizing committee for the Holodomor events, returned weeks ago from Ukraine. A parliamentary election last month, the first since the revolution that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, brought in a broadly pro-western assembly. Petro Poroshenko, also pro-western, won June’s presidential election.

“They are forming a government, with a reform agenda… against a lot of odds. They’re up against a two-year window to bring in substantive change and it doesn’t help that they’re fighting a war,” Balan said.

Balan visited Dnipropetrovsk, a city in eastern Ukraine, which was the epicentre of the first famine. Moscow repopulated the region with Russians, but today many of them are strong Ukrainian patriots, he said.

“There used to be a statue to (Vladimir) Lenin on one of main boulevards, but that’s gone now. They didn’t just take down the statue, they took away the pedestal, too. They reseeded the area with grass,” he said.

The patch of grass sits empty, a visual reminder of how the city’s population is moving past historic injustice, he said.

On Saturday, the day set down to mark the Holodomor in Ukraine and elsewhere, the UCC called upon Canadians to remember the victims with a moment of silence at 7:30 p.m.

That included lighting candles of remembrance in homes and taking part in commemorative events and memorial services.

Canada’s 1.2 million-strong community is one of the largest Ukrainian populations outside Ukraine and Winnipeg has one of the largest populations inside Canada.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Sunday, November 23, 2014 11:14 AM CST: Fixes typo in cutline.

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