Light a Candle in Honor of the Holodomor Victims

Today, November the 24th, a candle will be lit and placed in he window of our households in memory of those who died from Stalin’s politically orchestrated starvation of Ukrainian farmers in 1932 and 1933. This terror famine, a death by starvation, was an undeniable act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The high end estimate of the number of people who died is 10 million.  This number has taken on symbolic value in the collective consciousness of a people which has only begun to see this genocide come to light.

Yesterday evening I attended a memorial service, Parastas, at the church of St. Joseph the Betrothed on Chicago’s Northwest Side.  A cross of the crucified Christ was placed in the center of the Church, and a memorial bread baked for this service was placed upon a table covered in black cloth. The mood was somber and the church lights dimmed creating a liminal space which connected two worlds together—the present and the past, the living and the dead. Images hovered in this space; images of starving children, images of grain and cattle being confiscated, images of brutality, and images of those few who could leave the countryside but were killed enroute to cities hoping to find some crumbs to eat.

In his sermon, Father Yaroslav Mendyuk spoke about the metaphor of fire and light. The lit candles which we held, and which we will take home in memory of those who starved to death, are symbolic of our need to bring the horror of this act of genocide to consciousness. To forget is to fall into the void of indifference and denial. What kind of political regime starves its citizens and its children? What monstrous ideology sacrifices its people for the sake of dogmatic adherence?  We are called upon to chase away this darkness, if even with the light of one candle held individually in honor of those who were sacrificed upon the altar of politics.

This act of genocide is denied in the mainstream narrative.  Although growing archival evidence indicates that the Holodomor was an act of genocide, there are circles of political influence which deliberately deny that the famine was a political act and claim that it was the result of drought and poor harvest. In a recent conversation, a Holodomor survivor told me that in 1932 and 1933 she remembers the grain harvest being a bumper crop which was confiscated by the Soviet authorities.

This begs the question: “who writes the history—who owns the narrative?” Michel Foucault in “Power/Knowledge” (1980) stated the following: “Truth is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements. ‘Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustains it, and to effects of power which induces and which extend it” (p. 133).  The denial of the Holodomor is the result of a dominant political narrative which needs to suppress the truth. The heroic Soviet narrative built solely upon the defeat of Nazi Germany masks a greater historical truth, i.e. the deaths of millions upon millions of Ukrainians, Poles, Baltic peoples, and numerous other national groups.

When you light a candle today and place it in your window, be mindful of Norman Naimark’s words in Stalin’s Genocides (2012): “The bottom line is that Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich and their ilk were convinced that the Ukrainian peasants as a group were ‘enemies of the people’ who deserved to die. That was enough for the Soviet leadership; that should be enough to conclude that the Ukrainian famine was genocide” (pp. 78-79).

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