It’s the last Saturday of November. Today we, Ukrainians, commemorate Holodomor.
They say the death of a person is a tragedy; the death of millions is statistics. Holodomor took, roughly estimated, 4 million lives. As far as I understand, it makes it second only to Holocaust mass murder in European history.
I cannot imagine or comprehend the number. It’s like all the Croatia perished in a year. And it wasn’t even shooting, massacre, or gas chamber: it was a slow, painful, agonizing, and ugly death, often preceded by insanity. People were forced to die in their own homes, but after eating their cats and dogs, then grass, and burying (or, again, eating) their relatives. It’s hard for me to imagine something more terrifying. This slow obliteration was used against my nation indiscriminately.
The paradoxical thing is that Ukraine has one of the most fertile soils in the world. Still, all the food was taken, and movement between villages was prevented by armed outposts, so people died just on that dark, rich soil.
Even more paradoxical is that USSR not only succeeded in hiding the murder of four million people from the world, it almost managed to make us forget. It seems impossible for anyone who didn’t study the phenomenon of learned helplessness. Still, those who managed to survive, as well as many survivors of Stalin’s repressions, were afraid to talk for most of their lives. I suppose that if USSR lasted one generation longer, we could lose this memory and throw it away as some strange story too scary to be true.
But we didn’t.
Maybe the most significant historical achievement of our former president Victor Yushenko was his work to study and spread the story of Holodomor. He didn’t want to spoil Ukrainian relations with Russia, so he always insisted that we don’t blame Russia – we blame only Stalin and communists. Still, it was the time when Russia embraced the concept of “Stalin as effective manager”, so their narrative was “oh come on, leave this theme, it’s just nationalists trying to break up our nations”.
Of course, these talks ended when our nations were broke up with their annexation of Crimea and war on Donbas. The sad irony is that the current demographics of Ukrainian east regions with a significant percent of the Russian population result from Holodomor: the depopulated villages were resettled by migrants from Central Russia.
We understand that, as well as with Holocaust, the people that deny Holodomor could be ready to repeat it. This understanding is strengthening our resilience in this conflict.
We still blame Kremlin, for sure. It just became a bit harder to differentiate between Stalin’s Kremlin and Putin’s one.
I know that sometimes we, Ukrainian, could seem a bit irrational with our hatred of communists and, let’s say, scepsis about the Russian future as a civilized and credible European state.
But that’s because we’re survivors.
All the Europeans are survivors of two world wars. But we’re also survivors of Holodomor, of Chornobyl, of deportation of Crimean peoples, forced land collectivization, repressions, and assimilation. Millions died for us to learn some lessons. Some of us did.
Today the 100.000 Russian troops are situated near our borders and inside occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas. I’m not sure they will attack – some aspects shows that, at least for now, it’s bluff. But the point of this bluff is to keep Ukraine away from Europe, close to Kremlin. And that’s precisely the thing we’re fighting against.
Today the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians leave the candle on their windowsill – to show that we remember. Some of us also add our rifles to show that we didn’t let to repeat it easily this time.