How to tell children about the Holodomor?

1 December 2020

Educational team of the Holodomor Museum has prepared a series of tips on how to properly present the topic of the Holodomor to children

To tell or not?

Parents often ask themselves this question, because the history of the Holodomor is one of the most tragic pages of Ukrainian history and difficult for explanation. The main arguments of parents who omit the topic of the Holodomor are “difficult topic”, “trauma for children”, “too early”, “they will learn it once”, “it was a long time ago”.

Children will learn about the Holodomor in any case. This can happen at school, while talking to adults, watching a movie or reading a book. But what will this first acquaintance be like? Will the child come across the material that he or she will not be able to comprehend? Psychologists argue that traumatic topics for children should be discussed with adults they trust. In most cases, of course, they are the parents. Mom and dad are people who show love and care, and the child feels safe next to them. Parents, in turn, often try to protect their children from negative emotions, and therefore omit topics related to crimes, death and grief. Will it be useful for the child? Experts say that such conversations should not be avoided and postponed. It is better to prepare, create a calm atmosphere, control emotions and choose simple words for explanations.

How to tell children about the Holodomor?

First, it is necessary to define some markers and establish taboos.

We do not recommend:

  • to show photos of Ukrainians killed by starvation;
  • to talk about the physical and moral suffering of the starving;
  • to discuss cannibalism and other similar situations that occurred during the Holodomor;
  • watch documentaries and feature films about the Holodomor for adults.

Where to start?

It is best to start the conversation about the Holodomor by creating a family tree..

Tell your children about the lives of older members of your family (your parents). Then move on to the story of great-grandparents. Tell about their place of residence, type of activity, family traditions and interesting facts from their biography. It is good when you can accompany your story with relevant family photos. This is the way to reach the generation that lived during the Holodomor. Personal stories (memories) are easy to perceive, especially if it is a story about your own family.

You can download the family tree template by following the link.

It is clear that many Ukrainians have not preserved family memories of the events which happened almost 90 years ago. Also, 7 modern regions of Ukraine (Zakarpattia, Chernivtsi, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Volyn and Rivne) were not part of the USSR, so there was no Holodomor there.

What to do then?

The Holodomor Museum has created an online resource that collects eyewitnesses’ accounts of the Holodomor of 1932–1933. Here you can find memories of people who lived during the Holodomor in your area. The “Testimonies” page contains video and audio records, photos, and digitized text stories. We advise you to read these stories, and then invite the child to watch a video or retell the story of the Holodomor eyewitness. It is not a problem that children often do not know how Ukrainians lived in the 1930s, so they will have many questions. Don’t be shy if you don’t know the answers. Say you will learn them together.

What points should be explained?

First, it must be said that in 1932–1933 the Ukrainian people did not have their own state, despite the fact that there were many attempts to restore it under both Bohdan Khmelnytsky and Ivan Mazepa. And 100 years ago (1917–1920) Ukraine became a state—it proclaimed the Ukrainian National Republic, which was recognized by many European countries. However, Russian aggression began—Russian soldiers seized Ukrainian territory (as today—Crimea and part of Donbass). Subsequently, a whole territory of Ukraine, except for seven modern western regions, was occupied and became part of the newly created Soviet Union with its capital in Moscow. The country was ruled by communists and headed by Joseph Stalin. They organized the crime of the Holodomor.

Second, it should be clarified that Ukrainians still aspired to be masters of their land, to have an independent state. The Ukrainians rebelled against the communist regime and the changes it wanted to implement.

Third, the cause of the Holodomor were the actions of the communist regime, because the grain, potatoes, and other products Ukrainians collected were confiscated. People did not go hungry because of poor weather conditions or crop failure and not because they were lazy to work (the Ukrainian people are hardworking, they worked on the land every day, were good farmers).

Fourth, Stalin and other communists committed the Holodomor to break the resistance of Ukrainians and to discourage them from creating their own state. He wanted to be feared and obeyed immediately.

Such moments are worth mentioning in a brief historical comment. By following the link, you can get acquainted with the topic in more detail and form the basis of the conversation. When talking about the Holodomor, it is necessary to emphasize the manifestations of humanity and mutual assistance, as well as the facts of public resistance to the regime.

We offer a short featurefilm about the Holodomor “Red Necklace” for joint viewing. The plot is based on the story of a girl Antonina, who describes the life of her family during the Holodomor of 1932–1933. The film gives the opportunity to empathize with the characters, but has an optimistic finale.

The child has the right to condemn the actions of the organizers and perpetrators of the Holodomor. A negative attitude towards the actions of people who have caused the deaths of millions is a perfectly normal reaction. Along with the feeling of injustice, empathy for the victims also develops. Accordingly, the question arises: what to do so that such crimes do not happen again now?

By telling children about genocides and other crimes, we try to avoid their repetition in the future. Explain the children what tolerance, nonviolence, compassion and respect are, because these are traits that a person is not born with. We acquire them in the process of education. Express your opinion about injustice, explain how to act in such situations. It is important that the topics of bullying and inclusion have become acute today. In addition, parents’ own example is the best means of education. Your beliefs, attitudes toward people and good deeds will be the foundation for shaping the worldview and behavior of children.

In the end, it would be great to do a creative task with the childrena drawing, an application, a poem, etc. Creativity makes it easier to release the emotions caused by the theme. During our educational classes at the Museum, we create memory candles and commemorative badges with the children. Book excursions and educational classes at the link. We also offer to visit the museum onlineour video tour is available from home, school or anywhere in the world.

Remember: no one knows your children better than you, and our tips are just tips. Be honest and open in communication with children, and you will always get a positive result.

Prepared by Olha Vyhodovanets, tour guide and lecturer of the Holodomor Museum.