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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 November, 2003, 14:12 GMT
Ukraine marks great famine anniversary
By Yaroslav Lukov
BBC News Online

Ukrainians around the world are marking the 70th anniversary of the great famine, which they describe as the genocide against the nation.

About 2,000 people gathered at the monument to victims of the famine in Kiev
In Kiev, people gathered at a memorial to the famine victims
Historians estimate that some seven million people died during the 1932-33 famine, which Ukrainians say was deliberately started by the then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

Under his policy of forced collectivisation of agriculture, farmers in Ukraine - known as the "bread basket" of the USSR - were stripped of all their produce, leaving millions of people with virtually no food to survive.

Yet one of the darkest chapter in Ukraine's recent history, remains largely unknown to the world, and the commemorations have already been overshadowed by controversy.

On Friday, the Pulitzer Prize board said it would not revoke its 1932 prize awarded to a New York Times reporter accused of ignoring what Ukrainians call the man-made famine.

And earlier this month, a United Nations' declaration - while recognising the famine as Ukraine's national tragedy - did not include the word "genocide" - to the great dismay of Ukraine which lobbied hard for the inclusion of the term.

Brutal reality

The week-long commemorations of what Ukrainians call Holodomor - meaning murder by hunger - began with a series of sombre exhibitions around the world.

Ukrainian peasants
A quarter of Ukraine's population was wiped out in just two years

In Ukraine's capital, Kiev, some 2,000 people - among them dozens of the famine survivors - gathered in St Michael's Cathedral to light candles at a memorial to the victims.

In London, the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain presented grim exhibits from the 1930s.

The horrors of the two years which wiped out about a quarter of the population of Ukraine and one third of its children are revealed by rare photographs which had been smuggled out of the former Soviet Union.

The pictures of emaciated corpses are reminiscent of scenes from Nazi concentration camps.

On display in London also are newspapers, documents and Soviet posters, portraying a happy - "fatherly" - face of the dictator Stalin.

Earlier this month, another exhibition opened at the UN headquarters in New York, with Ukraine's UN Ambassador Valeriy Kuchinsky urging the international community to "avoid similar catastrophes in the future".

UN Under Secretary General for Communications and Publication Shashi Tharoor said the 1932-33 famine "ranks with the worst atrocities of our time".


The whole extent of horrors during Holodomor was kept under closed lid in the former Soviet Union.

Lorries with wheat
Farmers' produce was forcefully collected by the state

The truth began to emerge slowly only after Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, and it was only earlier this year when more than 1,000 documents relating to the famine were declassified.

According to some figures, about 25,000 people died every day in Ukraine in 1933, and there were widespread cases of cannibalism.

"Our neighbour killed his wife, dismembered her body and was seen to make soup of her," 82-year-old Volodymyr Pianov was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

I myself remember to this day my shock and horror - even total disbelief - when my grandmother told me how children and babies had been eaten alive during the famine when everyone was just desperate to find any food.

Sometimes children would just disappear without any trace, but many villagers knew what really was happening, my late grandmother said.

She only began speaking to me about those terrible times in the late 1980s, telling me that she had been lucky to survive the famine in central Ukraine.

Controversial prize

But even now, little is still known about the famine outside Ukraine, and the commemorations have already been marked by some controversy.

Joseph Stalin
Stalin forced farmers to give up their land and join collective farms

The decision by the Pulitzer committee not to revoke its 1932 Prize to the late Walter Duranty - the New York Times correspondent in Moscow at the time - was met with outrage by Ukrainian groups.

Duranty has been accused of distorting the truth about the USSR and covering up news about the famine in Ukraine in order to preserve his access to Stalin.

"The Pulitzer Prize committee must review their standards of journalistic integrity," President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Michael Sawkiw said.

A number of Ukrainian organisations sent the committee more than 15,000 letters demanding that the prize be revoked and Mr Sawkiw said his group would continue to press for action.

While acknowledging that Duranty's award-winning work in 1931 - before the famine - "falls seriously short" if "measured by today's standards", the Pulitzer committee defended its decision not to revoke the prize.

"The board determined that there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception," the committee said in a statement.

"Revoking a prize 71 years after it was awarded under different circumstances, when all principals are dead and unable to respond, would be a momentous step," the statement added.

Timeline: Ukraine
12 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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