Toronto Annual Ukrainian Famine Lecture aims to ‘bring survivors back to life’
On Friday, November 9, author and Rutgers University Political Science Professor Alexander Motyl delivered the Toronto Annual Ukrainian Famine Lecture: “The Holodomor and History: Bringing the Ukrainians Back In.” His goal was clear: “to suggest that Ukrainians are human beings.”
Holodomor, means “death by hunger” in Ukrainian. From 1932 to 1933, an estimated 3 to 10 million Ukrainians starved to death in the inflicted famine under Stalin’s regime.
Similar to the Holocaust, there are skeptics that dispute the actuality of the Holodomor. However, Motyl claims the debate “in the West” about whether or not the famine actually happened is over. After years of fighting for official acknowledgment of the Holodomor as genocide, Motyl believes, “the battle has been won, we should recognize that.”
“The empirical evidence […] is overwhelming” said Motyl, and believes that anyone who still has doubt is either “a diehard cynic, lacks the capacity for human empathy, or has a political agenda.”
Motyl encourages Ukrainians and scholars to shift the focus of their efforts. Instead of trying to prove to skeptics that the famine occurred, Ukrainians have a different task at hand. According to Motyl, it is the responsibility of “the descendants of the Holodomor survivors to bring their parents or grandparents or great grandparents back to life.”
Simply by sitting down with a grandparent and recording stories from their past, you are helping to compile an accurate history of Ukraine. Gathering letters, memoirs and journals is also of the utmost importance. Motyl stresses the importance of generating and preserving accounts from survivors, regardless of whether or not their content is what you expect or desire.
Motyl suggested, “[a nation’s] history should be treated as the history of human beings,” not as a history of politics, wars and ruling classes. This is in fact where the lecture garners its name: Bringing the Ukrainians Back In. If a nation is nothing without the people who comprise it, there is no denying that Ukrainian people and their stories need to be heard in order for there to be a comprehensive history of Ukraine.
Firsthand accounts humanize the victims of the tragedy, which helps people connect to the history of Ukrainians more than estimations of the death toll. Motyl explained, “The all important thing is to leave behind written or even oral accounts. There must be a record. There must be Ukrainian voices. If there are not, there can be no Ukrainian history.”