Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/11/2018 (388 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Survivors of a 20th-century genocide faced a stiff wind on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature, using their bodies to shield candles in memory of a Stalinist-era famine inflicted on Ukraine.
The outdoor commemoration was among three events the Manitoba government hosted on Thursday in Winnipeg to mark the eve of the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor.
About 75 people, including around a dozen MLAs representing three political parties, marked the event in the rotunda. During question period, the legislature observed a moment of silence, as members of the Winnipeg Ukrainian-Canadian community watched from the public gallery.
Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox religious leaders opened the legislature’s commemoration outside, under a skiff of grainy snow. They offered prayers for the souls of the millions who perished in 1932 and 1933, and a Ukrainian-language hymn was picked up in a moving chorus in front of the Bitter Memories of Childhood monument.
The monument depicts a skeletal girl in a long, thin dress and bare feet, holding five stalks of wheat. The wheat symbolizes the Soviet law that imposed death or imprisonment for anyone caught picking grain from collective farms. The result was mass arrests and executions.
As the priests prayed, a gust of wind whipped around the feet of the statue, throwing to the ground a sheaf of wheat laid there as part of the ceremony. Two slender candles stuck into bread buns stayed in place by the little bronze statue, untouched by the wind.
The wheat was quickly put back, and four elderly women approached the statue. With friends and family shielding them, they lit the candles and an eternal flame sheltered by a hurricane lamp.
Eighty-five years ago, the four were small children who starved, but survived that brutal winter.
"My name is Luba Semaniuk. I am a survivor of the Holodomor," one of the women told the group after they reconvened in the legislature’s rotunda for a series of speeches.
"My memories of this time in my childhood were horrible. I will never forget the sights and sounds of people crying because they had nothing to eat... painfully watching family and friends dying of starvation," Semaniuk said.
The observances continued with a series of speeches by Transcona PC MLA Blair Yakimoski and Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox. Four Bernie Wolfe Junior High students sang a cultural anthem of the famine in the Ukrainian language, before offering yellow roses of friendship to the Holodomor survivors.
"We must continue to honour the memories of the lives so senselessly lost and keep shining a light on this very dark chapter in human history," Cox said. "It is only by remembering the past that we can ensure atrocities such as this are never repeated."
Semaniuk was chosen among the four Holodomor survivors to share a first-hand memory from that winter: "I remember my mother grinding up dried corn cobs and husks (for) soup... and even though that was all she had, my mother told me to take some soup over to our neighbours, only to find the mother and her two young sons dead of starvation.
"These are things that should not be seen or experienced by anyone, especially not a six-year-old girl. I will always remember and never forget," Semaniuk said.
The engineered famine was concealed by the Soviet Union for decades.
"After many years of suppression and even denial, the truth surrounding the Holodomor is finally being publicly recognized," Ukrainian Canadian Congress Manitoba council president Joanne Lewandosky said. "Ukraine remembers and the world acknowledges."
Many of the 100,000 Ukrainian Canadians who live in Manitoba are descendants of Holodomor survivors, Lewandosky said.
Updated on Thursday, November 22, 2018 at 8:23 PM CST: Adds photo