“We went to a field. We had nothing to eat. Everything was taken from us. So my mother decided we would go to the field, find some half-frozen potatoes, some kind of vegetables, to make a soup. At that time the Soviet Union was teaching people to report on each other, to spy on each other. Somebody saw that we came with some vegetables, half-frozen, and they arrested my mother. That was the last time I saw her.”

National Review on November 9, 2013, published an article by Alec Torres on Stalin’s genocide in Ukraine. It started with an eyewitness account above. It was part of the story of Eugenia Dallas, originally Eugenia Sakevych…Born in Ukraine around 1925 (she does not know her exact age), Eugenia lived through the Holodomor — genocide by famine — as a young girl. Shortly before her mother was taken, her father was sent to Siberia, deemed a criminal because he owned a few acres of land. Excerpts below:

In 1932–33, Ukraine was brought to its knees. After years of mass arrests and deportations had failed to bring the Ukrainians into line, Stalin decided to crush this proud nation with a new weapon: food. Ukraine, once the breadbasket of Europe, was stripped of its grain. With its borders sealed and its citizens imprisoned, an estimated 4 to 14 million people starved to death as food rotted in silos or was sold abroad. Stalin wanted purity, and Ukraine’s nationalism threatened his perverse utopia.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor. In remembrance of this crime, the Center for U.S.-Ukrainian Relations (CUSUR) hosted an academic conference, “Taking Measure of the Holodomor,” to try to answer the most basic questions about the genocide. Why? Where? How? Who carried it out? Who suffered? How many suffered?

A surprisingly small amount is known for certain about an event with a death toll that rivals that of the Holocaust. I spoke with Walter Zaryckyj, the coordinator of the conference and executive director of CUSUR, and asked him why answers to such basic questions remain indefinite. In short, he said, the records are spotty and, for a long time, the world press was not interested in bringing the truth to light.

“The Bolsheviks were never as efficient as the Nazis, and therefore evidence of the scope and ultimate meaning of the atrocity committed upon the Ukrainian nation, in contrast to the terror unleashed upon the Jews in Europe, has been harder to cull and identify,” Professor Zaryckyj told me.

However, the historiography of the Holodomor must overcome not only the relative deficiency of records but also a past of denial and deception. The USSR began its propaganda campaign to convince the world there was no famine before the genocide even ended. As the Ukrainian people starved, the country’s grain was gathered and sold to the West, fueling the Soviet industrial machine. The word “famine” itself was banned from use in Ukraine Though reports of mass starvation leaked out, the West could not believe a food shortage would exist amidst such abundance.

Later attempts to bring the Holodomor to public attention were denounced by the Soviets as lies and, at times, even denied coverage by Western media outlets. As Peter Paluch reported in NATIONAL REVIEW (“Spiking the Ukrainian Famine, Again,” April 11, 1986), Time and PBS, among others, refused to cover a critically acclaimed documentary on the genocide, Harvest of Despair. Though some European papers reported on the Holodomor, “the American media were damningly silent,” Paluch wrote, “both about the genocide and about Soviet manipulation of the foreign press.” (Because of the lack of coverage, William F. Buckley Jr. hosted a special session of Firing Line on which he showed the documentary in full.)

Though the most basic questions haven’t been definitively answered, the legacy of the Holodomor lives on.

Caught between East and West, Ukraine today is faced with the same choice as the other nations that were in the Soviet bloc. Will it be pulled back into Russia’s orbit or join the world of the democratic West? “Right after the famine, we discovered that the population of non-Ukrainians in Ukraine went from 7 or 9 percent to 21 or 22 percent,” Zaryckyj said. These non-Ukrainians, along with the Russified Ukrainians, “continue to vote, or did until recently, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Putin’s Russia has made little effort to hide its imperialistic ambitions, expanding its influence in Georgia, Syria, and beyond. Ukraine’s choice — whether to turn back to Russia or integrate into the West — will undoubtedly influence power dynamics throughout Eastern Europe and potentially greater Eurasia.

“We’re running against a time limit,” Zaryckyj told me. “This is the 80th anniversary, so even the youngest — the eight-year-olds and seven-year-olds who saw it and lived — are now 87 or 88. So there is a definite urgency to get the story out as quickly as possible.”

Speaking with Eugenia, I asked her what it’s like to look back on the Holodomor as one of the last survivors and whether she can ever forgive the Russians for their crimes. At the mention of the Russians, Eugenia spoke more quickly, her brow suddenly furrowed. “They destroyed my life, they destroyed my family, they destroyed my country. My family was a good example of what they did with Ukraine. They’re bandits, I call them. And not one brought to justice. Look at the Germans; all were brought to justice. But for Ukraine, nobody.”

Outside of this brief moment, Eugenia was nonetheless upbeat.

She expressed great pride in Ukraine and told me that she thinks she lived in order to bring its message to the world.

After her mother’s arrest, Eugenia was initially sent from Ukraine to a Nazi work camp and eventually fled to Italy; she has now settled in Los Angeles. “I am very happy that I came to the United States,” she told me. “Freedom for me is a joy. It’s a blessing. We have problems here, but they’re minor. People still live well. They’re free mentally. In Ukraine, they lived in open prisons under the Soviets.”

Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.


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