Holodomor genocide remembrance and the impact of media

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This Tuesday evening, the Ukrainian Student Association virtually hosted a Holodomor Remembrance event. In traditional November observance of the estimated 7 to 10 million Ukrainians that perished in the Holodomor, the group presented an interactive slideshow in remembrance of the event. Harrowing images of the suffering caused by the famine were shared after being preceded by content warnings.  

The Ukrainian Student Association emphasized that nothing in the media seemed to purport that anything was amiss. Contemporaries looking in from the outside of 1930s Soviet Union-era Ukraine would have said the state was running smoothly and efficiently. Western journalists, such as Walter Duranty and Louis Fischer from the New York Times, reported as much — even in the federation that triggered the first Red Scare. Historian Stanislav Kulchytsky published that any supposed food shortages in Ukraine were caused by natural disaster. He would later reveal that Soviets ordered him to falsify what he had witnessed.  

In reality, the agricultural yield of peasants was forcibly collectivized under the orders of then-ruler Joseph Stalin. The presenters explained that, as a result of the collectivization, production dramatically decreased to the point of there being an absence of agronomical cultivation entirely. Soon, death gripped the nation. People were faced with two choices: designate oneself as an enemy of the state by resisting, or starve from famine. It was not uncommon for insects, household pets and even other people to be eaten by Ukrainians in desperate fits for survival. Signs had to be installed saying, “The burying of people is strictly prohibited here.” This crisis would come to be called the Holodomor: in the Ukrainian tongue, “Holod” (Голод) meaning “hunger”, and “mor” (мор) meaning “death” or “plague.” 

“This is such a prominent event for Ukrainians, and it really was a push for the identity of the Ukrainians as well,” Presenter Victoria Kostour said. “We are quite proud people and quite proud of our independence movement, and I think that [the Holodomor] reflects the resilience of the Ukrainian people.” 

“We are quite proud people and quite proud of our independence movement, and I think that [the holodomer] reflects the resilience of the ukranian people”

Upon being asked on how learning about Holodomor and its representation in the media (or its lack thereof) can affect how we perceive current events, students chimed in to share their insights: 

“It definitely shows us that we have to be careful what we are being shown and what is actually happening,” one student said. 

“People in power are able to influence how we perceive certain events, making them seem less terrible than they actually are,” another said. 

As discussed in the event, denial of the Holodomor and the intention of it by Stalinists persists. Only 18 countries recognize the genocide today, and the first recognition of Holodomor happened 50 years after the famine. This makes Holodomor’s remembrance all the more pertinent. Citing the ongoing Uyghur genocide in the China for comparison, the presenters explained that knowing history is an important step in preventing it from repeating. 

“By recognizing past genocides, hopefully we can get into a process of sharing information, sharing truthful information, and knowing what’s happening around the world to prevent these things from happening,” Speaker Christine Sharabun said. 

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