In 1932, the Bolsheviks organized genocide in Ukraine. Now their descendants have returned to repeat it. What are the similarities between the Holodomor and full-scale war, says the director of the National Holodomor Museum

Ghanna Mamonova
Tetyana Lohvynenko
In 1932, the Bolsheviks organized genocide in Ukraine. Now their descendants have returned to repeat it. What are the similarities between the Holodomor and full-scale war, says the director of the National Holodomor Museum

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

The full-scale invasion and actions of the occupiers in Ukraine bear the signs of genocide. International lawyers, judges, the deputy head of the Presidentʼs Office, the ombudsman for childrenʼs rights speak out about this. The National Holodomor Genocide Museum also agrees with them. Its employees collect evidence about the current crimes of the Russians and discover more and more commonalities with the red terror of the Bolshevik government in Ukraine in the 1930s. The process is headed by the director of the museum, Lesia Hasydzhak. In an interview with “Babel”, she talks about the historical parallels between 1932 and 2022 and about the repressive methods of the Russians, which havenʼt changed over the decades.

How does the museum collect evidence of current events?

As of now, this isnʼt happening as systematically as we would like. Some of the employees went abroad due to the war, and those in Ukraine are developing an exposition for the second stage of the museum. Testimonies are collected by only three people — employees of the information and publishing department, in fact, our press service. They record the interview over the phone, via Skype or Zoom. There are also face-to-face interviews. We cooperate with the centers of internally displaced persons, where we are looking for witnesses to the events of the occupation.

Director of the museum Lesia Hasydzhak (left).

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

We publish the recorded testimonies on the museum website and plan to include them in our future exhibition. We wonʼt tell about the full-scale invasion, but will draw parallels between the events of the 1930s and today through the story of genocide.

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

And what are these parallels, what are the similarities?

In the summer of 2022 in the occupied south of Ukraine we saw the confiscation from kurkuls that first took place in the 1930s. The Soviet government seized grain from the peasants during the Holodomor and exported it, receiving foreign currency instead. At that time, millions of Ukrainians were dying of hunger. This year, the Russians took grain and agricultural machinery to Crimea, and what they could not take, they destroyed.

There are many testimonies of people who survived the 1932-1933 events that the activists who raided villages looted houses. They confiscated dishes, food, clothes, and then sold them near the village council, or took them themselves. Or in the evenings, they organized parties in the local council building and ate what they took from people. This is an exact analogy to todayʼs events in the occupied territories of Ukraine, when Russians steal washing machines, appliances, jewelry, and clothes.

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

The Bolshevik occupational authorities and the current occupational administrations, together with the Russian military, are creating unfit conditions for life. In the 30s people were left without food, firewood, water, and the same is happening today. There was no electricity, water, or heating in Kherson. The same situation existed in Izyum and other settlements of the Kharkiv region after their liberation.

Now the Russians are taking children from the occupied territories and creating all the conditions for their assimilation in Russia. Children lose their connection with their homeland, their own identity. Did something similar happen during the Holodomor?

In 1932-1933 there was a huge number of orphans. Adults were the first to die, because they gave food to children. In order to save them, they left children at railway stations, in cities. The orphanages were overcrowded. In the 1930s, there was a childrenʼs home in Kyivʼs Okhmatdyt hospital — there were children under one year old. They all died because they were not cared for, they werenʼt fed, they were ill with typhus. A 90-year-old woman once came to the museum. During the Holodomor, she was found at the train station in Melitopol, and she grew up in a boarding school. All her life she does not even know the name that her parents gave her at birth. This is what we talk about all the time, the loss of roots. After the Holodomor, children didnʼt know their names, parents, or origins. The same thing is happening now. Children are taken to Russia, separated from their parents, their traditions and culture.

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

When the Russian military establishes an occupational administration, the first thing they do is issue instructions to teachers on how to teach children. By September 1, there was an order on how to conduct the first lesson — to tell the children Russian propaganda theses, that Ukraine was created by Vladimir Lenin, that these lands have always been part of Russia. There were orders to switch to the Russian school curriculum and teach in the Russian language. Instructions that the teacher should transfer her or his e-mail account to a Russian domain. The invaders took books in Ukrainian from the libraries, about the Anti-Terrorist Operation in the East, about the history of Ukraine. The Bolsheviks did the same. They rewrote history and removed books from libraries.

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

It pains me that they find time for this and do it as quickly as possible, while we havenʼt been able to clean the library collections of Soviet propaganda literature in thirty years.

Has anything changed in 90 years in matters of torture and physical violence?

During the Holodomor, NKVD torture chambers were in every city and town, and village councils performed this function in villages. People were beaten and abused there. The sentence of execution was pronounced instantly. “Yes, you oppose the Soviet government” — and a person was taken away and killed. How is it different from todayʼs torture camps in the occupied territories?

In the spring, during the occupation, the Russian military prevented people from evacuating, and prevented volunteers or humanitarian missions from bringing food and medicine into the villages. Humanitarian convoys were shot. During the Holodomor, the village was blacklisted, no one was allowed out of it, no food was brought there, and people just didnʼt have their own food because everything was taken away.

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

The mass graves found in the de-occupied regions send us back to the events of the 1930s. March photos from Mariupol, when the dead were dumped in the trench, mass burials in Izyum, Bucha. During the Holodomor, people dug similar trenches and dumped the dead there. In some villages, local people noticed these graves, they were easily found later, but in many places the truth was hidden, the graves were searched for years. Today, we have about a thousand mass burials of those who died during the famine in 1932-1933. How many mass burials there will be with those who died during the Russian-Ukrainian war and how long we will find them is a question.

After deoccupation of the settlement, exhumation is carried out at the place of mass burial. But those who died during the Holodomor were exhumed once or twice during all the years of independence. I know that it was in the village of Myrivka, Kagarlyk district, Kyiv region, where several thousand people died. In Ukraine, people did not attach importance to this, but in the world, where people deal with mass crimes, genocide, war crimes, exhumation is a priority. This was the case in Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Governments and international organizations are funding it to establish the name of each person killed.

Between the events of the 1930s and the present, there is a gap of 90 years, and the Russiansʼ attitude to human life and methods of destruction have not changed. Why, on your opinion?

Because this is the essence of empire. The French and British empires also suffered from it. But Russia is an empire at its worst. The cruelty we see today was the same in the 1930s. People were kidnapped, tortured, killed.

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

During the Holodomor, a group of three or five Communist activists came to the house. Indeed, among them were people who were sent from Russia to carry out genocide — the Chekists. But there were also local ones. Today we call them collaborators, then they were marginal elements — idlers who believed in the idealistic ideas of socialism: that if you take from everyone and divide, then you too will have something. The motivation of the collaborators is to get something from the occupation, to become someone, so they turn people over to the Russian military or the FSB.

We had a witness, Zynoviy Maslo, from the Fastiv district of the Kyiv region, who has already died. He said that when he was a child, his family was evicted from their house. Their neighbors were moved into the house. In summer, they had a patch of strawberries in their garden. Zynoviy came to eat it, but the mother of the family that moved in kicked him out, although he was friends with her children. Then life turned out in such a way that they still communicated and were friends. It seems to me that there will be similar stories in the occupied territories. We learn about them over time.

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

On the last anniversary of the Holodomor, there was a scandal around the museum because of the number of victims. The museum spread information that 10.5 million people died in 1932-1933. The officially accepted figure is 3.9 million dead directly due to hunger and 4.5 million total demographic losses. Because of this, the director of the museum, Olesya Stasiuk, was fired and you were appointed. Did you conduct an official investigation, on what grounds did the museum announce a loss of 10.5 million?

I found the book, around which there was a scandal and which contains pre-trial expert reports of the Security Service of Ukraine, which supposedly prove the loss of 10.5 million people. There is no copy of the book in the museum. I am not a lawyer by education, Iʼm a historian. But here I am unfolding the book, which contains the protocol of the witnessʼs interrogation. The investigator asks: “Are you aware of the fact that special units were involved in committing the crime of genocide?”. The person who answered was born in 1957. How can this person be a witness?

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

Or document review protocol. I was shocked when I read it. The senior investigator of the main investigative department of the SSU sat in the museum for four hours and reviewed the books “Lenin as an ideologue, organizer and inspirer of the Holodomors in Ukraine” and “View through time: a collection of articles and interviews” by Mykola Syadrystyi. These are journalistic publications, not primary sources — not documents, not testimonies. How can journalism be evidence?

The scandal arose due to the fact that no one forbade researching and naming new numbers of losses, but they must be professionally proven. When I was appointed director, I convened a meeting at the Holodomor Research Institute. Everyone looked at me and asked: “What number of losses should we call now?” I was indignant: “Are you asking me? Do you think that the director comes and tells you what number to call? You are researchers, you signed the examinations, then stand up for yourself. If you believe that itʼs 10.5 million, then prove it.”

Діма Вага / «Бабель»

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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