Ukrainians in Amsterdam to mark famine that decimated millions
AMSTERDAM Myron Swidersky doesn’t expect any homemade cake will be served during a solemn ceremony planned at Amsterdam City Hall on Tuesday.
Unlike last spring’s joyful celebration of Ukraine’s independence, dozens of Amsterdam residents with roots in Ukraine will bear heavy hearts and remember millions who starved to death in their homeland 80 years ago.
Amsterdam, a city that welcomed several waves of Ukrainian immigrants over the past 122 years, will fly a Ukrainian flag at half staff at noon Tuesday to commemorate the Holodomor.
Ukrainians call the death of millions of people in 1932 and 1933 “murder by starvation,” a forced famine engineered by the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin about a decade after Ukraine was forced into the USSR.
According to the U.S. Committee for Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide Awareness, as many as 10 million people died of starvation after the Soviets confiscated all the grain and other food in an effort to crush a “Ukrainian national revival.”
The Ukrainian people sought independence and the Soviets worked to eliminate their identities, according to the committee.
Materials compiled by the committee outline a concerted effort to squeeze the identity out of the Ukrainian people, with writers, scholars, artists, schoolteachers and clergy arrested and killed.
Ukraine in the early 1900s was considered the breadbasket of Europe, and despite the production of roughly 4 million tons of grain at the peak of the famine-genocide, millions of men and women and children starved to death.
A memorial “To Victims of the Ukrainian Manmade Famine of 1932-1933” is planned for construction next year in Washington, D.C.
Amsterdam’s Ukrainian-American community will hold a commemoration at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church on Sunday, and Swidersky said Tuesday’s event is an effort to share this history with the broader Amsterdam community.
The mass starvation is an ugly piece of world history that Swidersky said Ukrainian-Americans are working to keep from being forgotten — many locals who survived the famine have died.
“There’s no live witnesses anymore,” he said. “We like to bring the attention to our neighboring citizens about the plight of the Ukraine people.”
The local Ukrainian community now revels in celebrations, such as earlier this year, of Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the USSR in 1991.
Situated north of the Black Sea, the eastern European country of about 44 million people is bordered to the east by Russia but also borders Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Belarus.
Amsterdam’s Ukrainian-Americans erected a monument earlier this year at the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery to honor their immigrant ancestors who toiled in factories and went to war as Americans.
Amsterdam community and economic development director Robert von Hasseln, also the city historian, said Ukrainians came to America in several waves: from the 1890s to 1910, in the early Stalinist period and in more modern times.
The city is working to make Amsterdam City Hall a place where the community’s ethnic heritage can be embraced and shared, he said.
“City Hall belongs to all the people of the city,” von Hasseln said.
Swidersky said the mass starvation took place over the course of two years, and Ukrainian-Americans are planning educational programs and commemoration to last throughout 2013.
The ceremony will be held at noon Tuesday at City Hall, 61 Church St. in Amsterdam.