Holodomor Panel at the Canadian Association of Slavists Conference

21 June 2016

(13 June 2016-CIUS, Edmonton) "Refugees and the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine: Accounts of Flight, Early Testimonies, Memoirs and Other Writings (1930s-1950s)" was the title of the panel organized by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies's Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) at this year's conference of the Canadian Association of Slavists. Held on 31 May 2016 at the University of Calgary, the panel participants included Olga Andriewsky, Department of History, Trent University, and Bohdan Klid and Serge Cipko of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS), University of Alberta. The session was chaired by Zenon Kohut (CIUS), and Andrij Makuch, Associate Director, Research and Publications, HREC, served as the discussant.

The subject of Serge Cipko's paper was the attempted crossings of the Dnister River that separated the Soviet Union from Romania. He focused on Western press reports that particularly covered tragic events on the river in February and March 1932, as refugees who were unsuccessful in the attempts to cross were felled by the bullets of sentries on the Soviet side. Thus, on 24 February 1932, the Toronto Star reported that forty Ukrainian peasants were shot by Soviet frontier guardsmen in their attempts to swim across the river into Romania. They were fleeing, the newspaper said, "an impending famine." Many of the refugees during 1932-34 were from the Moldavian ASSR, then part of Soviet Ukraine. Cipko covered in his paper how the Dnister affair was discussed in Bucharest, the appeals made to the League of Nations, the Soviet response, and examples of the reaction of the Ukrainian community in Romania and elsewhere abroad. He also touched on information given by refugees, Soviet-Romanian relations at the time, and the varying estimates of the number of refugees and fatalities during a particular period.

Olga Andriewsky spoke on "The Meaning of the Past: The Holodomor and the Foundation of Soviet Studies in the West." Her paper examined the Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System, the founding project in Soviet Studies in the West during the early days of the Cold War. She addressed the issue of why the Holodomor went missing in the academic discourse in the West for so many decades. Despite the considerable evidence provided by the refugees interviewed by the Project, the Holodomor did not register in the Project findings. The Project developers, including some of the leading behavioral scientists of the day, were intent on building a working model of the Soviet system. They assigned no value to "the past". Indeed, she concluded, the American intellectual, political, and military elite showed no interest in the Holodomor at the height of the anti-Communist campaign in the United States in the 1950s.

Bohdan Klid, Director, Research and Publications, HREC, spoke on "Early Assessments of Collectivization and the Holodomor in Memoirs and Other Writings of Ukrainian Refugees in the Late 1940s and Early 1950s." His paper analyzed early writings (from the late 1940s and early 1950s, some still unpublished) on collectivization and the Famine in Ukraine of 1932-1933. These include memoirs where the memoirists (all post-World-War-Two Ukrainian refugees) attempted to explain or analyze the traumatic events of collectivization and especially the Holodomor, which they witnessed. His paper also examined some of the first scholarly and quasi-scholarly studies on collectivization and the Holodomor, also written by post-World-War-Two Ukrainian refugees, most in Ukrainian. These writings had been largely overlooked by the mainstream academic community in the West. In assessing this literature, Dr. Klid stressed that their value was not only in the facts witnessed by the authors, which were conveyed in their writings, but that the refugees in some cases addressed important and fundamental questions, such as how many people died during the Famine of 1932-1933. He showed how they arrived at their conclusions, and whether their conclusions seemed reasonable-based on sources available at that time.

In his comments, Andrij Makuch asked whether the lack of impact of the Holodomor issue on the Harvard Project and the subsequent development of early Sovietology in North America might be related to an undervaluation of the nationality issue's significance within the USSR. He also noted the phenomenal drive of people first to escape starvation conditions in Ukraine, even in the face of bullets at the border, and later to have their stories heard by Harvard researchers who were more interested in current topics than historical ones.