HOLODOMOR FLAME JOURNIES THROUGH
SOUTH BOUND BROOK, NJ: The International Holodomor Remembrance Flame first lit by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in Kyiv, is currently on a journey through 33 countries around the world, including 23 cities in the United States. The purpose of the journey is to increase world awareness of probably the worst case of genocide ever committed in the history of the world – the man-made famine created by Josef Stalin and his Soviet regime to force Ukrainian farmers into a collective farming program. In the fall of 1932 and the spring of 1933, ten million Ukrainian men, women and children were deliberately starved to death by the removal of every scrap of wheat and other foods that existed in their possession. The desired result of this increased awareness is that the entire world will finally declare the Holodomor – Death by Starvation – as an act of genocide, thus finally condemning those responsible. At the conclusion of its journey, the Flame will return to Kyiv in November of this year to be part of the official Ukrainian State Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor.
On Memorial Day, 26 May 2008, Ukrainian Orthodox faithful, Ukrainian Diplomats, local officials and other guests gathered on the grounds of St. Andrew Memorial Church before the monument to Princess Ol’ha, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Baptizer of Ukraine, to begin a program commemorating those ten million lost ones in this 75th anniversary year. Bishop Daniel opened the program with a presentation of a literary statement and poem about the Holodomor by Svitlana Kuzmenko entitled “LET US REMEMBER” (Pamyatajmo!). This is a powerful work, which describes the conditions in Ukraine under which the Holodomor took place. Those conditions could never in a natural way have created a famine such as the Holodomor and its horrific consequences. Svitlana Kuzmenko comments that those survivors of the famine and their immediate descendents are rapidly decreasing in number through death and we cannot forget them and those they lost. They were three generations of our people and their loss, along with the loss of those who would have descended from them, still affects Ukraine in many ways today. Bishop Daniel’s presentation of this beautifully written piece brought tears to the many people present.
Archbishop Antony spoke next about an elderly woman named Tatiana, who agonized to him on the eve of her heart surgery, that she had not done enough to educate her children and grandchildren about the famine and what she witnessed and lived through as a child aged 12 those 75 years ago. Her grandchildren had gone to see the most popular movie of the time, “Silence of the Lambs”, which had a “cannibalism” theme. When they returned from the movie and discussed it in Tatiana’s presence they spoke of the horrors they witnessed and laughed uncontrollably and this profoundly affected Tatiana because it seemed to indicate to her that they just did not get the seriousness of the Holodomor. She had spared them the most horrible details because she did not want to frighten them or make them think she was exaggerating. But at the time she spoke to her priest, she was overcome with an enormous sense of guilt that she had failed her parents, grandparents and all her siblings who perished in the Holodomor. Following her surgery she spent several years correcting what she perceived as her failure and was certain that she accomplished her goal.
The Archbishop declared, as so many have throughout the decades, that we cannot forget, because if we do, we almost guarantee that something just as horrible will happen in the world again – and we have witness of it happening in several nations around the world at this very time – especially in regions of Africa. The Archbishop reminded all present that the Memorial Church before which they stood was the first monument built in the entire world to the victims of the Holodomor and other acts of Soviet repression and aggression. Under the guidance of then Archbishop Mstyslav, the construction of this monument began in 1955 and it was consecrated in 1965. During that construction and throughout all the years since, the victims of the Holodomor have continuously been commemorated without lapse – for 53 years.
The entire gathering next moved to the circular portion of “Patriarch Mstyslav Way” the driveway that leads to the Memorial Church. As they stood facing the Church four seminarians of St. Sophia Seminary – Vasyl Pasakas, Mychaylo Hravetsky, Andrij Matlak and Vasyl Dovhan – approached the Ambassador of Ukraine to the USA, Dr. Oleh Shamshur and Consul General of Ukraine in New York City, Mr. Mykola Kyrychenko – running with the Flame of Remembrance through St. Andrew Cemetery and around the Memorial Church. The Ambassador and the Consol General received the Flame and turned to the survivors asking: “Will you remember?” The survivors in receiving the Flame responded: “We have remembered and we will never forget!”
The survivors then proceeded forward on the path to the Church where their children awaited them. The survivors asked their descendents: “Will you remember?” Their children, receiving the Flame responded:
“We the children and descendents of survivors from the “Holodomor” – the man-made famine of 1932 through 1933 – have not and will never forget those of our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who perished in this famine –the most horrific example of genocide known in the history of the world. Our countrymen did not perish in vain. Their sacrifice was burned into the hearts and souls of our nation’s people and served as the foundation for the freedom Ukraine knows today. We will remember our lost ones from generation to generation.”
The children of the survivors then moved to the steps of the Memorial Church where their descendents – the grandchildren of the survivors – awaited them. They asked their children: “Will you remember?” Their children, receiving the flame responded:
“We have heard from our grandparents and our parents the story of our ancestors, who were killed in 1932 and 1933 during the man-made famine in Ukraine. We promise that we will keep their memory alive by sharing their story with our children and grandchildren – so that the world will never again have to see such a horrible act of man’s cruelty against fellow man!”
The grandchildren of the survivors then ran with the Remembrance Flame around the Memorial Church and up the steps to the Church entrance where Archbishop Antony and Bishop Daniel awaited them. In receiving the Flame from the children, the bishops prayed that God will always guide them and enable them to keep the promise to their parents and grandparents that they will never forget those who perished under a godless regime through Starvation by Death.
The bishops carried the Flame into the Memorial Church and from the flame lit two large candles and in turn, lit candles held by all the people present. At this point a Memorial Service (Panakhida) was served by the hierarchs and fourteen of the clergy present, with the Ukrainian diplomats standing at their side. Responses were led by Michael Andrec and Natalia Honcharenko-Andrec and other members of the Memorial Church choir who were present. It was a particularly moving memorial service considering the participation of three generations of one of the survivor families sharing in the day’s program - the family of Mykola and Nadia Mirchuk, from Holy Trinity Parish, Irvington, NJ.
Following the service, Ukrainian Ambassador, Dr. Shamshur, spoke eloquently in memory of the victims of the famine and denouncing the actions of the regime that created it. His Excellency has been a long-time supporter of the effort of the Ukrainian community here in the USA to obtain a proper location for and to construct a permanent and prominent monument to the victims of the Holodomor in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. He has also been a leading proponent in Ukraine for the establishment of a national monument and museum, which will properly commemorate the victims and educate all future generations of Ukrainian students and citizens about the consequences of silence – and failing to remember.
At the conclusion of the ceremonies, the seminarians of St. Sophia Seminary hosted a reception at the Seminary for all present to have the opportunity to share and discuss their memories of living through the famine itself or the stories their parents and grandparents told them about their experiences during the famine.