On a cold windy overcast day in New York City, the streets around St. Patrick’s Cathedral began to shimmer in blue and gold as thousands of Ukrainians paraded down the street capturing the attention of the tourists and residents of the city that never sleeps. On this chilly Saturday, November 18th, people by the thousands filled the cathedral to commemorate and pray for the over 7 million souls lost to the manmade famine, one of several attempts of genocide against the Ukrainian people by the Russian State. On this 90th anniversary of the genocide, the large and cavernous interior of the church slowly filled with the descendants of those who survived the Holodomor, and with those who not having any direct connection with the horrors nonetheless support Ukraine’s and every nation’s right to live freely.
With standing room only, as the Dumka choir under the directorship of Maestro Vasyl began to sing solemnly, the service began as elderly veterans carrying flags walked down the long center aisle to light candles and lay sheafs of wheat to remember those who starved while Ukrainian soil produced a bumper crop of wheat. As the veterans stepped back, both young and elderly members of various organizations walked down the aisle carrying banners, plaques, candles, and wheat. The final people to place wheat upon the memorial table where the youngest of children, dressed in Ukrainian national costumes, the girls with flowers in their hair, and ribbons flowing gracefully behind placed the final wheat stalk on the table.
Stepping up to the podium to speak first was His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York. He quoted Christ’s words spoken at the Mystical Supper, stating the importance of “remembrance”, “do this in memory of Me.” He continued by stating that is exactly what the brave people of Ukraine are doing, remembering. Ukraine is a nation of people who are experts at suffering and can teach the rest of the world something about perseverance and hope in Christ.
His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora, stepped up to the microphone and slowly gazed around the filled cathedral before delivering his moving sermon. He stated that we are here today to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the worst example of horrific, manmade genocides that the world has ever known. He explained that the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, NJ is the first memorial constructed to the memory of those who lost their lives to the Holodomor. Millions upon millions of innocent people were slaughtered, starved and left to die in the streets of their villages, towns, and cities, while trainloads, and boatloads of grain were shipped out of the country to Moscow, or dumped in the rivers simply so the people would have nothing to eat. National institutions, churches and monasteries were destroyed, or desecrated, used for unholy purposes. Schools were ruined, and our cultural treasures were obliterated. For the past 30 years the Ukrainian community of the United States, has gathered in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to commemorate the millions who suffered long, painful, and torturous death of starvation inflicted upon them by the Russian Federation. But even those millions do not compare to the countless millions of unborn who were lost. The generations of clergy, leaders, artists, teachers, scientists… who never got the chance to flourish and carry the Ukrainian nation forward, because their great grandparents, grandparents and parents were killed, effectively destroying their chances of being born and making a difference in the world.
His Eminence continued by stating that each year we remember this great tragedy and say “never again.” And yet… here we are again. Again, Russia is attempting to perpetrate genocide against the Ukrainian nation. Today. Right now. Once again, the invasion thought of in the warped minds of a few individuals leading Russia, has led to murder in the streets of Ukraine, the unprovoked and unfathomable murders of thousands of men, women and children, murdered in their own homes. Once again, we see the grain grown in Ukrainian’s dark topsoil being stolen, loaded upon barges and shipped to Russia, veritably leaving not only Ukrainians to starve, but, creating food insecurity for vast portions of the world which depends on Ukraine for grain production. 25% of the annual wheat production for the world comes from Ukraine. This means that one quarter of the world is facing starvation due to these current atrocities.
Metropolitan Antony continued by beseeching the Lord to protect the Ukrainian nation and her people, kindle their ingenuity and spirit and propel them to victory. “We continue to live, even though others want us to die.” He asked that we all stay on course before God, righteous and true upon the steadfast path of Faith, which like the burning light dispels the darkness and makes the horizon of hope visible. Our way is with God, and all mankind. He asked that we not think that our prayers over the years have gone unheard and unheeded. Our prayers and efforts have not been in vain. 90 years ago, when Ukraine was in agony, nobody cared. Even though we said, “never again”, it is happening again, however, this time the world cares. Keep the faith and let us pray for our brothers and sisters.
Standing in the middle of the nave, flanked by His Eminence Archbishop Boris Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the UOC of the USA, Metropolitan Antony began the deeply moving memorial service, praying for the peaceful repose of the millions of souls lost to genocide over the many years of Ukrainian history.
At the conclusion of the service, Andriy Futey, President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America stepped up to the podium. Having greeted all the clergy and dignitaries, he went on to explain the magnitude of the Holodomor tragedy, stating that people were dying at a rate of 25,000/day. Throughout the repeated attacks upon the nation by Russia, Ukrainian men and women have stood on the front lines of democracy, defending all of Europe from the advance of tyranny. He stated that the current war is not a war in Ukraine, nor a war between Ukraine and Russia, but this is a war of genocide. Today, it is our solemn responsibility to remember so that the world never forgets that Holodomor is but one example of Russia’s ongoing campaign to enslave Ukraine, a nation entitled to its independence and freedom.
Her Excellency, Oksana Markarova, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States, spoke next explaining that each year we gather in this great cathedral to condemn the engineers of this horrendous crime against humanity and pray for the souls of the all the victims. She compared the tragedy of the Holodomor to the current genocide taking place in Ukraine, with countless innocent civilians dying at the hands of the Russian terrorists. Once again, we must summon all our moral strength and energy to confront an evil Russian dictator. We must put an end to the cycle of Russian aggression, war, and genocide against Ukraine. It is not enough to simply remember; we must put on the Armor of God and defend ourselves against evil.
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York next came up to share a few words, stating that 90 years after Holodomor we see yet again the Russian brutality against the Ukrainian nation, however, as Stalin failed, so will Putin. America cannot always be the world’s policeman, but we can always and must always use our moral compass to shake the conscience of the world when the lives of million of innocent civilians hang in the balance. He concluded by stating that today we must remember that Ukrainian outlasted authoritarian thugs. Stalin is dead, but, Ukraine lives, and will continue to live and as long as they live, he will stand behind Ukraine and support her in her fight for freedom.
Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations stated that as we mark the 90th anniversary of this horrific death by starvation due to a manmade famine, 45 UN member states have recognized Holodomor as a genocide against the people of Ukraine including: Andora, Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America, Uruguay as well as the EU. The tragedy of the Holodomor should be a reminder for present and future generations to unconditionally respect human rights including the right to life. This is completely necessary if we do not want to see a repeat of such tragedies and if we want to prevent the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, which is the method Russia uses so willingly by blocking Ukrainian food exports, shelling Ukrainian ports, and mining Ukraine’s fertile soil and farmlands.
Ambassador Elizabeth Millard, representing the United States mission to the United Nations, came forward to share a few words. She stated that we gather today to honor the millions who lost their lives to starvation during the brutal years of Stalin’s rule, however we also pay tribute to those who dare to resist an unjust system, who dare to dream about a better way to govern and live. Once again, the Ukrainian people stand strong in the face of adversity and uncertainty as Russia continues its brutal war of aggression. The United States continues its enduring commitment to stand strong with Ukraine in this fight for justice.
Michael Sawkiw, Jr., Chair of the United States Committee for Ukrainian Holodomor Genocide Awareness explained how during the Holodmor Russia had spread fake news, convincing the world that there was no famine or suffering in Ukraine, and the US government decided to establish normal diplomatic relations with the government of the USSR and exchange ambassadors, while people were dying slow and painful deaths. Food was used as a weapon against Ukraine and the world turned a blind eye, and instead of helping they rewarded Stalin and his henchmen with recognition and public diplomacy. The contrast could not be starker. Today, Ukraine needs to support of the world, much as it did 90 years ago. The country is ravaged in a politically calculating destruction of a nation. Let us pledge to one another that we will always remember the victims of the Ukrainian famine, the genocide of Holodomor, as well as thank those who continue to bravely fight against the current Russian aggression.
Before giving the benediction, ask Nadia Severin to stand, along with Fr. Yurij, who are the last survivors of the Holodomor. He stated that the final words of our prayer today are words of hope. These people are still here. They have lived with hope and overcome incredible brutality and bloodshed, to through their presence give us hope. Today we are all together and God is with us, and therefore, we pray with our hearts, with hope, and a trust that this humanity created in the image of God can overcome the hate in Ukraine, among terrorists, the killing in the Holy Land, the death of innocents in China and all over the world. Our love will overcome the hatred of all evil, including Putin.
Everyone rose and joined the choir in singing “Боже Великий/Almighty God”. Concluding the prayer for peace in Ukraine, the choir sang Mozart’s heart rending Lacrimosa in Requiem. As the tragic melody filled the cavernous cathedral, hundreds of hands unfurled a large Ukrainian flag that filled the entirety of the main aisle. People held the flag from the entrance to the church all the way to the steps leading to the altar. Those who were not on the aisle reached and touched the shoulders and the backs of those who were in their attempt to also support and uphold Ukraine in her hour of need. As the final notes died, and tears were wiped from glistening eyes, Metropolitan Antony expressed his gratitude to all those who had gathered on this day to commemorate the millions of Ukrainian souls, and thanked the Dumka choir, under Maestro Vasyl, stating that they attend the service each year, and give glory to God with the greatest instruments in the history of the world – the simple human voice. Bestowing his blessing upon the choir members and all who were gathered in the cathedral, His Eminence stepped down from the podium and the service concluded.
May the Lord remember all the victims of the Holodomor genocide in His Heavenly Kingdom, and grant strength and victory to those fighting for survival today in Ukraine.