Nov 10, 2015
WASHINGTON – Russia’s ongoing military incursion in eastern Ukraine was a recurring theme Saturday at the dedication of a memorial to remember the millions of Ukrainians who died of starvation in 1932-33.
The memorial, located in downtown Washington, is a black bronze wall depicting a field of wheat. It’s intended to serve as a reminder of the Holodomor, which Ukrainians and other countries, along with the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine, say was a man-made famine engineered by the former Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. The memorial also recalls Ukraine’s history as the breadbasket of Europe.
“Again, death is coming from the east,’’ Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, said in a video message to the audience at Saturday’s dedication, referring to the actions taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Several thousand Ukrainian-Americans from ethnic communities in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and elsewhere held banners aloft during the ceremony near Washington’s Union Station, their numbers diminished by morning rains that abated just before the event.
“I am from eastern Ukraine where this happened and I remember my grandmother was telling me about it,’’ said Oleg Lebedko of Greece, who was among a group of about 50 Ukrainian-Americans from Rochester who attended the event. “I didn’t learn about it in school because I went to school in the Soviet Union,’’ where it wasn’t taught.
“All the speeches, especially those of the survivors are actually important because they remember,’’ Lebedko said. “It’s horrendous what happened. The world has to remember about it.’’
Wounded Ukrainian soldiers who are recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center received a standing ovation when they were introduced.
Ukraine’s first lady, Maryna Poroshenko, also attended the two-and-a-half-hour ceremony, along with Democratic Reps. Sander Levin of Michigan and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, co-chairs of the congressional Ukrainian Caucus. Representatives of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush read letters of support for the memorial.
But it was a video message from Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio that got the biggest cheer, when Portman voiced support for military help for Ukraine to counter Russia’s intervention there.
In a statement Saturday, President Obama said, “It was the Soviet regime’s deliberate seizure of Ukrainian crops and refusal to provide food relief that turned Europe’s breadbasket into a land of immeasurable human suffering.’’
Russia has denied that the Holodomor was an act of genocide and says the famine caused widespread suffering in other areas of the former Soviet Union besides Ukraine.
But the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine reported to Congress in 1988 that the famine was caused by the Soviet seizure of the 1932 crop.
Congress authorized construction of the memorial in 2006. It was built with private donations a block from Union Station and several blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
Records of the Holodomor were suppressed when Ukraine was under Soviet control. The precise number of deaths is not known, but estimates range from 2 million to 10 million.
“There’s no way to tell because they are still finding mass graves all over Ukraine,’’ said Nataliya Zakharchyshyn, who is from Penfield and currently works for the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation in Washington. “There’s no way to find all of the mass graves at once. It’s just one of those sad moments in our history and we pray for all the lost souls of the bodies we haven’t recovered yet.’’
Lesia Hrycyna of Webster recently did a 20-minute presentation on the Holodomor famine for a history class at Monroe Community College. “It’s important that we don’t forget what happened and how many died,’’ she said. “It’s such an honor to have this memorial in our capital and to show out support.’’