Conference of “Problematic Issues of the Holodomor Study in the 21st Century: Figures, Sources, Conclusions”

18 December 2017

On November 6, 2017, an academic conference was held at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv on the topic of “Problematic Issues of the Holodomor Study in the 21st Century: Figures, Sources, Conclusions”. The Conference was organized by the National Museum “Holodomor Victim’s Memorial” in partnership with the Ukrainian Genocide Famine Foundation of the USA. (Chicago, Illinois).

The co-organizers were: Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, Institute of Ukrainian Archeography and Source Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine named after M. Hrushevskii, The Rylsky Institute of Art Studies, Folklore and Ethnology, the Association of Famines Researchers of Ukraine and the Public Committee for the Commemoration of the Victims of Holodomor-Genocide 1932- 1933 in Ukraine.

One unique feature of this year’s conference was the presence and participation of three Holodomor survivors: Mykola Onyshchenko, Tamara Bedrenko, and Zynovii Maslo. The Holodomor research is impossible to conduct without eyewitness accounts and oral histories: although the famine took place in different regions of the former Ukrainian SSR, their experience of genocide was identical.



Conference participants and guests were greeted by: Director General of the Holodomor Victim’s Memorial Olesia Stasiuk, Minister of Culture Yevhen Nyshchuk, Pro-Rector of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv Volodymyr Buhrov, Dean of the Faculty of History of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv Ivan Patryliak, and Director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance Volodymyr ViatrovychMykola Kocherha, the President of the Ukrainian Genocide Famine Foundation of the USA, unfortunately was not able to attend the conference, but sent his greetings and best wishes. He emphasized that it is extremely important: to know the exact number of the Holodomor victims, so that no one is forgotten and that every innocently killed soul finds rest; to draw attention to the importance of calling the Holodomor a genocide; otherwise, the world is likely to misunderstand and to ignore the Holodomor; carry out excavations of victims mass graves, their exhumation and research. And all this was mentioned by Mykola Kocherha not in order to develop extra polemics, but to find the truth in cooperation.

The first panel of the conference, moderated by Doctor of Law Sciences Myroslava Antonovych(professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla) addressed the topic: “Legal aspects in the recognition of the Holodomor as the genocide of Ukrainians: Current challenges”.

Volodymyr Vasylenko (Doctor of legal sciences, professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy) began his report with a narrative on the experience of the Jewish people in recognizing the Holocaust as a crime of genocide at the international level. It took 60 years of steadfast work by the state of Israel for the United Nations to pass a resolution recognizing the Holocaust as an act of genocide in 2005. For Israel, the priority was to have the worldwide Jewish community unify in recognizing the Holocaust as genocide before having other nations do so. Professor Vasylenko stated, that he doesn’t consider Ukraine’s actions in recognising Holodomor as a genocide to be serious. They are rather sporadic steps without logic and sequence. This singular emphasis on unity is sadly lacking among Ukrainians and is the fundamental reason for the lack of worldwide recognition of the Holodomor as genocide. Dr. Vasylenko also drew attention to the drawbacks of the Law of Ukraine on Genocide from 2006.

Valeriy Udovychenko, Ukraine’s Security Services representative who was in charge of the Investigative Operative Group enquiring Holodomor of 1932-1933, known as criminal case No. 475 shared some information concerning investigation process.  Valerii Udovychenko, Honored lawyer of Ukraine, told about all internal problems of the investigation and obstacles created by the officials and, on the other side, the high organizational level of the investigation team. The speaker stressed that the evidence of eyewitnesses in this case was fully confirmed by the political decisions of the authorities. The investigation interviewed 1860 eyewitnesses and determined 837 sites of mass graves (All sites were visited, but exhumations did not happen because Viktor Yanukovych became Ukraine’s president). According to the Conventions of the United Nations about genocide, the exact number of victims is not key point in the decision, but the investigation required the establishment of the victims’ number to close the case. Unfortunately, the numbers established by the Institute of Demography and Social Research does not reflect the actual number of victims which needs further and more intense research.

“The disrespect of Ukrainians and anti-Ukrainianism in interpretations of the Holodomor”was the topic presented by Doctor of historical sciences, leading researcher at Research Institute of Ukrainian Studies of Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine Arsen ZinchenkoDmytro Kozoriz, an advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, completed the first panel of lectures by informing the participants of the efforts of the Ukrainian diplomatic corps in encouraging other nations in recognizing the Holodomor as genocide.  Myroslava Antonovych summed up the proceedings of the first panel by stating: “The intent to destroy the Ukrainian nation appeared long before 1932, and it exists still today.”


The most emotional was the second panel of the conference “Demographic losses of the Holodomor 1932-1933: current research.” The purpose of this discussion was to create consensus in response to the question of who is to be considered a victim of the Holodomor and how many. Historian, journalist, and analyst Rostyslav Martyniuk moderated this panel.


The speech by Oleksandr Hladun (Doctor of economic sciences, Deputy Director of Scientific Work at the Institute for Demography and Social Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine named after Ptukha) was dedicated to the issues of so-called “manipulations” of the number of losses and the “politicization” of the Holodomor “due to the influence of the diaspora.” He spoke negatively of the well-known Canadian attorney, community and political activist Bohdan Onyschuk who established 7 million as the number of Holodomor victims. “It is essential that the diaspora stop supporting scholars who maintain the number of 7 million victims.” Unfortunately, O. Hladun did not mention the representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora from Canada and USA , who have the opposite view of assessing the losses from the Holodomor and which he, selectively, does not consider to be false. It is important to note that he contends that those who support the 7 million mark are doing this intentionally to compete with the Holocaust numbers, which is absurd. There are numerous testimonies that established the number of 7 million prior to the Holocaust. Germany’s Consul General in Kharkiv, K. Walter, J.V. Sapsai, Officer of the German Embassy’s committee on agricultural affairs Otto Schiller, Dorota Federbush, and many others confirm these findings.

The speaker highly praised the work of the National Museum “Holodomor Victim’s Memorial”, noting that the museum today forms the national memory about the Holodomor throughout the country. But there were parallel allegations of “manipulating data”. In particular, during the exhibition “163″ (Author – Rostyslav Bortnyk) in 2016. In this exhibition the museum used the data of Institute for Demography to demonstrate its official position in the issue concerning mortality in Ukraine in 1932-1933: in accordance with demographers’ position during the years 1932-1934, 5 549 000 people died, of which 1 606 800 people – natural mortality and 3 942 000 people – over mortality that demographers count as direct loss of Ukraine from genocide. The prohibit to the museum to use the official data of the institution that carries out work for taxpayers’ money and for each research receives funds in the framework of state financing of a scientific theme sounded odd.

However, Olexander Hladun did not explain, on the basis of which the Institute of Demography determined that 1,606,800 people died by natural causes in conditions of a total starvation in Ukraine. Therefore, a fair question arises: what are individual employees of the Institute of Demography involved into, science or ideology?


The speech of Natalia Levchuk (Doctor of economic sciences, Chief Scientist of the Institute for Demography and Social Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine named after Ptukha) was more emotional analysis or examining of a scientific article by Professor Volodymyr Serhiychuk, published in the collection of conference materials “Holodomor of 1932-1933: the loss of the Ukrainians” issued by the Holodomor Victim’s Memorial in 2017.


Volodymyr Serhiychuk (Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv), argued that demographics based upon falsified documents does not reflect an accurate account of history. He also invited the demographers to join historians and include archival materials that explain the lacunae and falsifications in the statistics. Prof. Serhiychuk noted that position of demographers, in particular of Hladun and Levchuk, who deliberately do not want to take into account for the basis of calculating the loss of the population of the Ukrainian SSR on January 1, 1932 (confirmed in 1932 by the note demographer Arsen Chomenko), is strange. In addition, he stressed that even the data of the All-Union Census of Population in 1937 published in Moscow did not coincide with the original documents stored in the Ukrainian archives. As for the All-Union Census of 1939, which is referred to by demographers, according to official figures, it is falsified by 1.5 million people, not 800 thousand, as N. Levchuk writes constantly about it, ignoring the document.

In response to the accusation that those who maintain the minimum numbers of Holodomor victims to be 7 million are “influenced by the diaspora,” Dr. Serhiychuk responded that the diaspora supports us in finding out the truth, which the Ukrainian government has not done during 25 years of independence. As a matter of fact, this very Conference was organized with the assistance of the Chicago-based Ukrainian Genocide Famine Foundation of the USA. Why are our demographers silent about their long time contacts with their colleagues in the United States who minimize the number of victims to 3.9 million and did not even look at Ukrainian archives? Doesn’t Prof. Oleh Wolowyna have any influence on his Ukrainian colleagues including recommendations for grants? How else can the co-authoring of articles and exhibits be explained? And finally, why do our demographers who have not studied our archives, or been involved in the exhumation of one mass grave of the unnamed innocent, and have not established the truth about the tragedy of 1932-1933, been involved in researching the situation in Russia, specifically the Volga region, and have come up with results which do not agree with official Russian statistics?”


Of interest was the lecture given by Andriy Kis, Candidate of Medical Sciences, Expert of the higher qualification class, Doctor of the highest category, Deputy Head of the Kharkiv Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination. He was responsible for investigating Criminal Case no. 475 and presented a detailed account of the effects of starvation on immunity of the human organism. He also expressed his skepticism regarding published data stressing that the internal documents were subjected to the slightest falsification. He gave the following example: the internal documents of the Kharkiv region for November and December of 1933 registered the deaths of 200 children, of which the Children’s Hospital “Komunistka” recorded only 2 deaths. On average, one death per month. Mr. Kis presented three internal documents which show that just during two days (December 9, December 23, 1933) there were 87 children who died and not two. There are thousands of such cases that need thorough research. Summing up, Mr. Kis stated that during the forensic examination for the Holodomor investigation, a number of documents falsifications aiming to conceal mortality in Ukraine in 1932-1933 were revealed.


Doctor of Psychological Sciences, Deputy Director for Scientific Work of the Institute of Social and Political Psychology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine Lyubov Naydionovаemphasized the consequences of the Holodomor and the consequences of its long-term concealment for modern Ukraine. She called upon the participants to reconcile differences and to work together. Professor Yaroslav Kalakura (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv) emphasized that the results of the Holodomor irreversible changes have taken place in the moral, psychological, and mental character of the Ukrainian people.


Stepan Khmara, activist, politician and Hero of Ukraine continued this discourse by adding that “We are not able to learn to listen to someone else’s thoughts and ideas. And science will not progress without this. Historians and demographers are first of all academics. We must search for the truth. If we only concentrate on methodology utilized by the demographers, we will never achieve honest results. Why? Because such methods are only concerned with achieving ideal statistics. We don’t have such results, we always need to make assumptions. Such phenomena as corruption and bribery parasitize today on the consequences of the Holodomor. So let us, demographers, historians, sociologists and philosophers unite on the idea to serve Ukrainian science and truth”.


The third panel presentation was devoted to looking at sources which establish the genocidal character of the Holodomor. Stanislav Kulchytskii (Doctor of Historical Sciences, Institute of History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine) focused on the testimonies of Holodomor survivors which give greater clarity than archival documents. Survivor’s accounts confirm that all foodstuffs were confiscated in the villages and not just bread. Russians continue to adhere to documents of the Central Committee which state that only bread was confiscated. He also presented a detailed issue of the state loan to Ukraine in 1933 that was intended to support a new sowing campaign: only government workers and those who were strong enough to work had access to it and it was used only for sowing. Actually, these actions of Stalin emphasize the artificial nature of the organization of hunger. He supervised the process. This needs to be explained to non-Ukrainians who have difficulties in understanding the criminal aspects, and other nuances of the Holodomor. Professor Kulchytskii stated as an example of such a lack of understanding Anne Applebaum’s book Red Famine: Stalin’s War Against Ukraine.


Professor, ethnologist Valentyna Borysenko continued this discourse around the question: “Can oral histories be a resource in studying the Holodomor?” Vasyl Marochko (Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Institute of History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Head of the Association of Famine Researchers of Ukraine) and Nina Lapchynska(Senior Collection Specialist of the National Museum “Holodomor Victims Memorial”) gave a detailed summary of archival sources.


The character of this conference was inter-disciplinary gathering historians, demographers, psychologists, sociologists, specialists in forensic medicine, and others who study the Holodomor through the prism of their profession. It is obvious that the idea of creating a working group, consisting of representatives of various scientific circles, is inevitable in order to find consensus on the principles of historicism and scientific objectivity. This is needed by researchers, Ukrainian public, and science in order to honour memory of the people.


Photo by Sophie Yanicka