Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Cardinal O'Brien on the Holodomor



I appreciate being asked by the Ukrainian Community here in Edinburgh and gathered from different parts of Scotland to commemorate with you the Holodomor – the Ukrainian Genocide which took place in the early 1930s.

Initially I know that you fully understand what happened at that time some 70 years ago now. In the early 1930s, in the very heart of Europe, in a region considered to be the Soviet Unions bread basket, Stalin’s Communist Regime committed a horrendous act of genocide against millions of Ukrainians. An ancient nation of agriculturists was subjected to starvation, one of the most ruthless forms of torture and death. This is the tragedy which has been called by the Ukrainian peoples ‘Holodomor’ – a name based on two Ukrainian words meaning killing by starvation.


Your peoples over the past decades have understood more and more about what exactly happened.

The Soviet Government of the time imposed exorbitant grain quotas, in some cases confiscating supplies down to the last seed. The territory of Soviet Ukraine and the predominantly Ukrainian populated Kuban Region of the Soviet Russia were isolated by armed units so that people could not go in search of food to the neighbouring Soviet Regions where it was more readily available. The result in the Ukraine was quite simply extermination by famine.

Looking back on history the purpose of the Holodomor seems very clear. In 1932 Stalin decided to vanquish the Ukrainian farmers by means of starvation and thus break the Ukrainian national revival that had begun in the 1920s and was rekindling Ukrainian aspirations for an independent State.

Enforced starvation reached its peak in the winter and spring of 1933 when 25,000 people died every day. As a result of the Holodomor from 20 to 25% of the population of Soviet Ukraine were exterminated. Children were especially badly hit. Many children were sneaked through the closed borders guarded by the Soviet Secret Police and abandoned by their parents in areas where they thought there was less starvation. However since orphanages and children’s centres were already overcrowded most of these children died in the streets of starvation and disease.

The genocide that killed millions of people crippled Ukraine’s development as a Nation for many generations.


It is clear that the Holodomor was genocide. It conforms to the definition of the crime according to the United Nations Convention on Genocide. The Communist Regime targeted the Ukrainians, in a sense of a civic nation, in Soviet Ukraine, and as an ethnic group in Soviet Russia, especially in the predominantly Ukrainian Kuban Region of the Northern Caucasus.

In a joint statement by 65 United Nations Member States, adopted by the 58th United Nations General Assembly on 7th November 2003 we read:

“The great famine of 1932 – 1933 in the Ukraine (Holodomor), which took from seven million to ten million innocent lives, became a national tragedy for the Ukrainian people”.

In our own country we have a letter from Gareth Jones the former secretary of David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1916 to 1922 who wrote in March 1933 informing the British Politician about the devastating starvation witnessed by Jones during his trek through Ukrainian villages. He lists those whom he met and states: “the situation is so grave, so much worse than in 1921, that I am amazed at your admiration for Stalin”.

And up to the present time the legislative bodies of Australia, Canada, Estonia, Georgia, Hungry, Lithuania, Poland and the United States of America refer to the 1932 – 1933 Holodomor as Ukrainian Genocide.

The Late Pope John Paul II in an address to the Ukrainian peoples on 23rd November 2003 on the 70th Commemoration of the Holodomor wrote:

“I speak of a horrendous crime that was committed in cold blood by the rulers of that period. The memories of this tragedy must guide the feelings and actions of Ukrainians”.


One might ask why should we continue to think about the past, the past of some 70 years ago in the Ukraine.

I suggest that we recognise the Holodomor as genocide for two reasons:

1. The bringing of the Holodomor as genocide to international attention is to pay tribute to the millions of innocent victims of that time and to condemn the crimes of the Soviet Communist Regime thus restoring historical justice and obtaining international recognition of the Ukrainian Genocide;

2. In this way by acknowledging the Holodomor as genocide the Ukrainian peoples seek to increase the international communities awareness of the fact that engineered famines are still being used as a weapon and through this awareness help prevent such deplorable acts elsewhere in the world;

It is Viktor Yushchenko the President of the Ukraine who himself stated; “We insist that the world learn the truth about all crimes against humanity. This is the only way we can ensure that criminals will no longer be emboldened by indifference”.

Consequently, I am happy to join you at this Commemoration – not only to grieve over the past but to ensure that nothing similar will ever happen again. Tragedies have indeed taken place with very much suffering and loss of life. In our world at this present time we must indeed be aware of those horrors of the past while living in the present and doing our best to ensure a world that is free from such evils ever in the future again.

May God indeed grant eternal rest to all those who have suffered so grievously in the past and strengthen us at this present time to work for a better world in the years which lie ahead.



berenike said...

I used to go there for the Sunday Liturgy sometimes - "hospodi pomeeliuueejj" (attempt to represent the Scottish accent! like my actual parish at the time - "Tanteum Errgeo Sacramenteum ...") All Ukrainian GCs are lunatic nationalists, in the nice way. Recommended alternative to old rite at St Andrew's if one gets fed up of the ghetto atmosphere :-)

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

The US is following a similar pattern, though not quite as dramatic as it was in Ukraine.