My Thoughts on the Movie “Bitter Harvest”



Stalin’s starvation of Ukrainian farmers in 1932-1933 led to the deaths of 7-10 million people. Raphael Lemkin who coined the term “genocide” publicly stated that Stalin’s deliberate starvation of Ukrainians, known as the Holodomor, meets the very definition of this term. There are other instances of Soviet Russia’s genocidal activity. These include forbidding the usage of the Ukrainian language, the liquidation of Ukrainian Churches and seminaries, and the barbaric murders of intellectuals, writers, musicians, playwrights and artists. The criteria for such massive murder was simply “Ukrainian.” This is the truth.

In my 35 years of priestly ministry and my recent academic research, I have listened to the stories of Holodomor survivors. I have also heard the stories of horror from the children and grandchildren of survivors who remembered hearing the accounts of starvation told to them in muffled tones so that no one else could hear. These stories were kept secret until the fall of the Soviet Union.

The first post-Soviet president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, expressed his initial disbelief that millions of Ukrainian peasants were starved by Stalin and his commissars. He reviewed archival material which told the truth. This laid the grounds for bringing Soviet acts of genocide to light. Viktor Yuschenko, the third president of Ukraine, is to be credited with letting his people know the truth by building a Memorial Museum in Kyiv and by establishing an annual day of remembrance

The reviewers of “Bitter Harvest” who deny the Holodomor should be confronted for colluding with the very forces that perpetrated the act. In the movie when Stalin is informed of the reality that Ukrainians will starve to death because of his policies his response is that no one will know anyway.

There are Holocaust deniers. There are Holodomor deniers. There are those who deny the Armenian Genocide, the Cambodian Genocide, the numerous genocides in Africa, and the genocides of indigenous peoples around the globe. We must continually be witness to all genocides and to all those who died because of who they were.

“Bitter Harvest” is worth seeing. It is “riveting” as stated by Newsweek. The story is a familiar one. We know well that bread is sacred; never to be thrown in the garbage. No food should be wasted. Always be grateful to God for the food which we receive.  We Ukrainians feed our families and others. Hospitality is sacred.

We Ukrainians are free men and women. We will always fight for our freedom. The warrior subtext of “Bitter Harvest” resonates with our enculturated need to be honorable and true to our people. We are dragon slayers in a world where evil walks. The protagonist of the movie Yuri (Max Irons) carries the image of his patron saint, St. Yuri (George) in his heart and soul. Take note of the metaphorical beauty of the icon of St. Yuri when you go see the movie.


We slay the dragons, our oppressors, with swords forged in the fires of our history. The famine genocide is just another horrifying attack by Ukraine’s enemies. The significance of “Bitter Harvest” is its power to slay dragons: the dragons of deceit, lies, denial and propaganda. Long overdue this historical drama challenges the dominant Russian narrative of “everyone starved,” “it was due to bad weather,” the “land owners were Ukraine’s wealthy bourgeoisie and needed to be put into their place.”  Richard Bachynsky-Hoover wrote the original screenplay and was joined by George Mendeluk to complete the task of composing the final script. The writing of “Bitter Harvest” is a metaphorical dragon slaying; the invisible pen of the computer the sword that kills untruth with the story which the actors will dramatize.

Yuri’s love for Natalka (Samantha Barks) frames the movie. Critics have expressed their disappointment with the story of the Holodomor famine framed within a love story. Let’s not forget the blockbuster movie “Titanic.” The critics gave it poor reviews and felt that the love story was melodramatic and trite. Moviegoers felt differently. Don’t underestimate the power of going to the movies and taking friends.

There were many love stories during this time of genocide. I have heard a few. Told to me by survivors, love did save lives.  Yes, there were other Yuris who saved other Natalkas. I have met some of them. Only those numbed by their own cynicism will pen negative review of “Bitter Harvest.”

I loved “Bitter Harvest,” and as a member of the board of directors of the Ukrainian Genocide Famine Foundation of the USA, I am deeply grateful to Ian Ihnatowycz for funding and producing this magnificent work of cinema.

Rev. Myron Panchuk