On November 26, 1998 the president of Ukraine issued a decree that designated a National Day in Memory of the Victims of the Famine of 1932-33, that is to be marked annually on the fourth Saturday of November. On October 31, 2000 this Presidential decree was amended to a National Day of Memory of the Victims of the Famine of 1932-33 and Political Repressions, to be marked annually on the fourth Saturday of November.
In Ukraine was the year when famine reigned in village after village throughout the countryside of the then soviet Ukraine and into the neighboring regions of the Kuban and the Don that were populated mostly by Ukrainians. The famine was imposed upon the population in the eastern, central and southern areas of Ukraine. The harvested fields had yielded abundant crops, however, the government in Moscow had it confiscated, stored under guard and even exported it internationally while millions upon millions of people, women children and men slowly starved to death – this was mass murder by famine enforced by Moscow that took the lives, by some estimates, of more than 7 million Ukrainians (about 20% of the population).
The manner was brutal as it was effective. The Moscow Communist leadership imposed grain delivery targets on Ukrainian rural areas that were impossible to meet, and then systematically expropriated every handful of food, grain, the livestock as well as home and land.
By a series of key commands the campaign and process of expropriation was put into action: in August of 1932 the death penalty was announced ‘for violating the sanctity of socialist property’; more than a 110,000 zealous, politically reliable cadres were sent from Russia into the Ukrainian countryside to extract and expropriate, targeted rural areas were blockaded to prevent food from neighboring areas and across borders from reaching the population. As the results were still insufficient then beginning in November 1932 these actions were intensified. By 24 January 1933 Stalin took direct control of Ukraine by appointing his personal commissar Pavel Postyshev to control Ukraine and enforce his dictates. Additionally, L. Kaganovich was put in charge of the agricultural sector and worked closely with V. Molotov in organising the forced collectivisation of Ukraine. Immediately all measures and actions were reinforced and intensified to the extreme – by famine and terror. In the following months before the next harvest the Ukrainian countryside was stripped bare, the social structure devastated, the population decimated.
In the face of stark reality the communist leadership in Moscow resolutely claimed that there was no famine. Offers and efforts of aid from neighboring western Ukraine and some European countries were rejected. However, the privileged communist officials and their supporters in the towns did not suffer from hunger or famine, for they were served by a special distribution system. At the same time the Russian communist government was exporting the expropriated grain to the west.
These actions were reinforced by a wide-ranging purge by execution and exile into gulags of the leading Ukrainian intelligentsia, and the destruction of Ukrainian churches and their organisational structure.
This was an unprecedented policy of genocide conceived at the very top, the scale and inhumanity of which had not been seen before – and it was mercilessly imposed on the Ukrainian population – a population of ordinary mostly farming people. They were all subjects of the one State – there was no war with other countries, no armed uprising, no natural calamity, no drought, no flood, no pestilence – there was only an indescribable imposed evil stalking defenseless people – whole families – in their very homes on their native land.
The communist secret security forces (the political police) continued with their activities of persecution and terror, increasing scope and vigour through the 1930’s by arresting, exiling to gulags and eliminating anyone they chose to be an ’enemy of the people’. Any survivors and eyewitnesses were silenced by terror – torture, exile and death.
The start of WWII by Hitler in partnership with Stalin in Sept 1939 unleashed even more carnage and chaos across Europe and the territory of Ukraine in particular. The constantly shifting fortunes of war, subjected entire regions to repeatedly changing armed regimes, each bringing upon the local population their own measure of arrests, deportations and violence as the battle line(s) on the eastern front moved back and forth. It is estimated that by the end of the war in 1945 Ukraine lost approx. 33% of its population (14% all military losses; 19% civilian losses).
The genocidal Famine in Ukraine (1932- 33) became the hidden abomination of the XXth century. Stalin’s communist totalitarian regime, centered in Moscow, believed that it would be able to deny and conceal its crimes against humanity from the world by silencing people within the USSR. from the judgment of history.
However, some courageous western journalists like Malcolm Muggeridge , Gareth Jones in Britain, and William H. Chamberlin and Eugene Lyons in the USA reported the magnitude and horror of the devastation. Ukrainians in western countries on learning of the atrocities from eye-witness sources immediately spoke out and appealed for aid – to be told that there was no famine.
Influential others like Walter Duranty, knowing the truth, sided with Moscow’s cover-up with fake news generated and promoted by the communist leadership. Moscow’s orders of silence applied to all, even to the party – the Holodomor was officially denied, not discussed nor mentioned publicly.
In the aftermath of the carnage and chaos of war some Ukrainians found themselves in refugee camps of western Europe unable and unwilling to return to their homeland which was under Stalin’s tyrannical rule. Through the organisational structures of the United Nations they were able to migrate to various western countries, including Australia. As the Ukrainian diaspora that was completely cut-off from their families and people, they were committed to revealing their experiences and the plight of their countrymen under communist rule. Knowing that their families and fellow countrymen were terrorised into silence every opportunity was taken to speak out about the Holodomor (genocidal famine) and the past and ongoing persecutions.
Those that came to Australia were relatively young, being mostly below 35 in age. They were brought as displaced persons (Stateless) from the refugee camps of post-war Europe from approx. 1948 to 1954. They were the first Ukrainian diaspora. Even though they faced the challenges of working and trying to settle in a strange land, with a very different language and way of life they did not forget [did not forget] … their identity, nor the plight of their families.
In 1953, only some 20 years since the genocidal famine of 1932-33, Ukrainians in the main cities of Australia (Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney) organised activities to commemorate and bring attention of the wider public to the Holodomor. In Australia and elsewhere, Ukrainian refugees wrote and published articles in English in the Ukrainian press, printed and widely distributed information leaflets, and organised public demonstrations and commemorative religious Services.
In Sydney they gathered in the centre and attended a Memorial Service at the St Andrews Cathedral (Anglican) to pray for the souls of the more than 6 million victims of the HOLODOMOR. After the Service, the more than 3,500 attendees proceeded as a large demonstration marching through the streets of city streets from the Cathedral to the Domain holding placards that drew attention to the genocidal famine and Moscow’s responsibility for it.