Impacts of Ukrainian famine Holodomor still resonate after generations

23 November 2017, 15:05 | Society-digest | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Ashley Martin

22 November 2017 Regina Leader-Post

There’s a photo of Victor Akulov from 1955, black and white, the paper curling at the edges. In calligraphic pen on its backside, he wrote, “To my dear sister Anastasia Vasilivna.”

“Dear” is an understatement. Without his sister, he surely would have died 23 years earlier, along with millions of others.

Victor was 14 years old when the Ukrainian Holodomor began, an “extermination by hunger” purposefully implemented by the Soviet Union’s communist regime.

By 1932, the year the famine began, Victor’s father Vasil was dead or missing in Siberia. He had been deemed a “Kulak,” an enemy of the Soviet state, for having owned a 40-acre farm and two horses near Bobrovytsya, a town 100 kilometres northeast of Kyiv.

Before she starved to death in 1933, Victor’s mother Evdokiya fed her family an Easter supper of three potatoes. It was a meagre meal for six people and the very last of their food.

Four of their five children survived Holodomor — Victor, thanks to his sister.

 

Victor Akulov wrote “To my dear sister Anastasia Vasilivna” on the back of this photo in 1955. Michael Bell / Leader-Post

Anastasia worked as a maid for a teacher. Teachers, as government employees, were privileged: They had food.

Anastasia hid leftovers in the garden every night or two, where Victor would find them.

“Whatever (her employers) shared with her, she shared with my father and this is because of her, he survived,” said Iryna Deck, Victor’s first child.

“It was just such a strong courage and strong love for each other.”

There’s another photo of Victor, also black and white, this time with Olga (Gatsenko) Akulova beside him. In their 1956 wedding portrait, she’s wearing a floral bonnet-style veil; he’s in a dark suit. They both look serious, which is out of character, according to their children.

“Our dad especially was very optimistic,” said Gregory Akulov, the second of Victor and Olga’s four children.

“Always smiling, laughing, making jokes,” Iryna agreed. “It wasn’t like they were sitting in the past and feeling sorry for themselves. Not at all. They were full of life.”

Like her husband, Olga survived the state-imposed famine. Her mother, Iryna, managed to keep the children alive.

Unlike Victor, they lived in Kyiv.

In the city, there was food, but it wasn’t widely available. Olga remembered long waits in long lines, holding onto her older brother’s belt so they wouldn’t be separated.

“People were dying right in the lines,” said Gregory. “They were dying in hundreds … maybe in thousands per day. It’s hard to say. Dead bodies were laying on the street.”

Olga, who was five and six years old during the two-year famine, remembered children with bellies distended from starvation.

“‘I wanted to play with them and they couldn’t even move,’” Iryna recounted her mother saying. “This was her memory as a child, seeing another child dying. But my grandmother … somehow she just saved them all.

“We don’t even know how did it happen, because … you just were forbidden to even talk about it.”

Victor and Olga’s children — Iryna, Gregory, Alexandre and Oleksii, all of whom now live in Saskatchewan — learned bits and pieces about Holodomor over time.

But, said Gregory, “It was not safe for kids to know, because they can discuss it with classmates and friends and it was enough to get a criminal prosecution just for talking about it. Because it was denied that that happened.”

An estimated seven million to 10 million people died in the Ukrainian famine that was orchestrated by Joseph Stalin’s government.

That’s one-quarter or more of the population: About 29 million people lived in Soviet Ukraine in 1926.

“It was a planned persecution for the whole nation,” said Iryna.

The military blocked food from entering villages. Grain was confiscated from homes. People were arrested or executed for taking food from fields, and they were prohibited to leave the region in search of food.

Relief was only possible through the Torgsin network, through which people could buy grain and bread, but they had to have money or valuables.

News of Holodomor did leave the country’s borders at the time, which Serge Cipko explores in his new book, Starving Ukraine, released for the 85th anniversary of Holodomor’s start.

Between 1932 and ’34, news of the famine was “covered extensively in newspapers from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” wrote Cipko, who researched archives in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary and Edmonton.

Saskatchewan was different from most other places in its response, said Cipko — primarily because of its large Ukrainian and Mennonite populations: People were receiving news in letters from family members in the old country. Those communities held protest meetings and sent aid when they could.

On March 15, 1933, the Saskatchewan legislature addressed the subject, which wasn’t even broached by the House of Commons.

“There was a call for action for proposals of how to help the people who were starving in Soviet Ukraine,” said Cipko, who works at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

But the talk didn’t result in much action.

Canada imposed a partial embargo on trade with the Soviet Union, but it was lifted as the Soviets retaliated.

The Soviet Red Cross rejected Saskatchewan’s offer of relief “in the absence of real need.”

Another hurdle was that newspapers, including the Lethbridge Herald and Ottawa Citizen, began reporting that the Soviets denied there was a famine.

A Citizen editorial in November 1933 stated that a visiting Soviet official had “no sign of wearing a lean and hungry look,” which caused people to believe “that most of the yarns about famine and disaster in Russia are exaggerated.”

Prior to this, there had been stories calling for help.

In the Leader-Post in August 1933, the Archbishop of Vienna appealed to the world.

In October, letters “stated that in a village of 700 only five were living; in another town of 3,500, 2,000 have died; and in still another, out of 120, only 20 survived.”

Also in October, parents “insane with hunger” were eating their own children, according to Marie Zuk, a recent Ukrainian arrival to Consort, Alta.

“She said all dogs and cats had been killed and eaten by hungry farmers or had perished. Horses too had been eaten …

“She maintained that although crops were good both this year and last, armed guards prevented the peasants from getting any benefit from them. After threshing, the grain was immediately removed to the government storehouses or the nearest port.”

Cipko’s father, Serhii (Serge), was a 15-year-old from Mariupol when the famine began, but he never talked much about it.

“There’d be the occasional reference if he was annoyed with either myself or my sisters,” said Cipko, “if they were quibbling about the food that we had on the table …”

The Akulov household was the same way: There was a great respect of food and nothing was ever wasted.

In early May 2008, former MLA Ken Krawetz introduced the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Bill in the Saskatchewan legislature. Later that month, the federal government introduced legislation that the fourth Saturday in November would be known as Holodomor Memorial Day.

“The significance of the Act ties to two things: The world doesn’t know about this — that’s No. 1,” Krawetz said in August 2009.

In May 2015, a statue was installed in Wascana Centre, of an emaciated girl holding a few sheaves of wheat.

Olga Akulova died mere weeks before.

She immigrated to Regina in 1998, following her children Alexandre, who lives in Saskatoon, and Iryna, who lives in Regina. In 2004, Gregory immigrated to Regina, as did Oleksii a few years later.

This was Olga’s first time living outside of Kyiv, aside from her three years as a forced labourer in Germany during the Second World War.

Gregory said the family is blessed to live in a peaceful country and have the opportunity for “joy, success, love and happiness.” Saskatchewan is home now.

Iryna agrees, but issues a word of caution.

“You have to appreciate your democracy and you have to exercise your right as a human being to live in the best country in the world,” she said. “You have to first of all think about who are you voting for, you have to think about the person that will come to power. … You never know what can happen to you tomorrow.”

Victor Akulov was 66 when he died of a heart attack in 1984.

He often said he would write a memoir about Holodomor, but it never happened.

He was an avid reader. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables was among his favourite books, Gregory believes because he identified with Jean Valjean’s situation.

Victor was creative. Working as a medical assistant in the 1950s, he invented an instrument for eye surgery. His children still have the details of the scissor-like tool, mapped out on a sheer-paper blueprint.

Olga loved playing Beethoven, Chopin and Schubert on her piano at home in Kyiv, 29 Rybalskaya St. 

Her dream was to give her children a good education. She enrolled them in music and sports and the best schools.

She scrimped and borrowed, keeping a note of her debts in her purse at all times.

They all graduated from university.

Though their parents’ lives were largely happy, their hardships stay with the Akulov children today.

“Because (of what) our family experienced,” said Iryna, “for us it’s not actually past, it’s like (the) present.

“It stays with us and we know it, we feel it … It lives with us right now.”

Saturday at 5 p.m., the Ukrainian National Federation – Regina Branch is commemorating Holodomor with a screening of Bitter Harvest, George Mendeluk’s 2017 film. On Sunday in Saskatoon, St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral will host a memorial service at 10 a.m.

 

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      This development just proves that the ROC wants to dominate churches in Ukraine. It once again proves that the ROC is under the control of The Russian government which is waging war in eastern

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    • bopa | 13 December 2017, 19:37

      Формується думка http://ruskline.ru/news_rl/2017/12/08/stoletie_vosstanovleniya_russkogo_patriarshestva_stalo_torzhestvom_vselenskogo_pravoslaviya/ відомою ФСБ-ешною структурою "Института стран

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      Как видим, ув. Михаил, судя по всему, имеет (или когда-то имел) свободный доступ к этому - сверхсекретному реестру (списку) "лучших и ценнейших агентов" КГБ! Видать, сам состоял на службе

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