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. “We always heard about the genocide; now we understand that with the genocide we had an additional component called ‘ethnic cleansing,’” Zaryckyj told me in reference to the Soviet efforts to Russify Ukraine through reeducation, deportation, and immigration. “The long-term cultural and political consequences are to break the back of the Ukrainian nation in eastern Ukraine.”
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.”
The event ended with a reception remembering those who died in the Holodomor and honoring those who survived. Students from the Ukrainian Student Association of America read the testimonies of several survivors, five of whom were in attendance and were publicly recognized, as well as the names of all those who perished in a very small, unnamed village. As the room sat in silence, the reading continued for over ten minutes.
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. She is a public speaker on the Holodomor, has written an autobiography titled One Woman, Five Lives, Five Countries with a complementary documentary, and hopes to produce a film soon.
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.”
As other guests shuffled around us, anxious to speak with Eugenia themselves and hear her story in person, she pulled out a copy of her book and read to me one of her poems, called “My Childhood.”
Why was my life spared? . . .
Ukraine by evil force was occupied.
Million souls were crucified,
The rest conveniently Russified.
My parents were arrested,
Their identity stripped.
Why was their destiny so cruel?
Today I ask for what reason were they punished?
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.