Research Expedition to Sumy Region
At the end of July 2020, the head of the information and publishing department Yuliia Kotsur and the museum employee Liubov Gotsuliak together with the team of the NGO “Ukrainer” launched a research expedition to the Sumy region. It took place within the framework of the project “Holodomor: Mosaics of History” with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation.
For 6 days, we had been recorded the memoirs of 26 witnesses of the Holodomor genocide and conducted interviews with Liubov Ivanivna Ovsiienko, a local historian and director of the Chernecha Sloboda People’s Museum of History (Buryn district), and Mykola Mykolaiovych Artiushenko, a local historian from Trostianets district.
Such expeditions are a unique opportunity to record the memories about the Holodomor. Eyewitnesses’ accounts prove that the Holodomor was a crime of genocide committed by the Soviet totalitarian regime led by J. Stalin. It is important to do this right now, because every year there is less and less chance to hear the truth first hand.
Respondents have unique stories that strike with pain. Sadness is forever engraved in their eyes, and the destinies of survivors are a lesson that modern generations must learn in order to never repeat the terrible crime against humanity, the Holodomor genocide.
The people who testified are now at least ninety years old, but they remember to the smallest detail the terrible atrocities of the communist government: how activists broke into their homes and confiscated all property and food without any explanation. They saw with their own eyes death, abuse of relatives and friends, felt unspeakable pain, terrible hunger, were in constant fear throughout their lives, and some are still afraid to talk about the Holodomor of 1932–1933. Exhausted and starved, people exchanged precious things, clothes, shoes, and jewelry for food. People were forced to work on the collective farm, not paid for their work, and often not even fed. Then people died every minute, they were taken to a mass grave, and, as they say, they took both the dead and the living. Everyone escaped as best they could, eating everything they could, from tree leaves to animals.
The collection of the Holodomor Museum will soon be replenished with new objects handed over by Holodomor witnesses:
- Anna Omelianenko (born in 1928) gifted us the embroidered blouse of her mother Ahafia Chub. The blouse was created in the 1920s and survived the Holodomor. Anna Omelianenko’s father exchanged all embroidered items — shirts, towels, tablecloths, bedspreads — for food. This shirt remained as the memory of her mother, as she died when her daughter was 2 years old.
- Anna Oleksenko (born in 1919) gifted the shirt and towel she emroidered in the 1930s.
- Zinaiida Novikova (born in 1925) handed over a sugar bowl from the dish set, which was preserved during the Holodomor. Mrs. Zinaida’s family came from a priest’s family (her grandfather was a priest) and had valuables. However, some of them were exchanged for food, but this sugar bowl was not.
- Marfa Kovalenko (born in 1926) donated a silver spoon engraved in 1850, a plate for fish of the same period, a woven blanket and photographs from the 1920s and 1930s from the family archives.
- Paraskoviia Khomenko (born in 1927) handed over a handkerchief, which she managed to protect from activists during searches in 1932–1933.
A survey of Holodomor witnesses helped identify 7 new mass graves for Holodomor victims in 1932–1933. In particular:
- witness of the Holodomor Honcharenko Vasyl Mykolaiovych, born in 1929, told about the mass burial in the cemetery in the village of Andriyivka, Romny district, Sumy region;
- local historian Dibrova Hryhorii Volodymyrovych told about the mass burial in the village of Pustovoitivka, Romny district, Sumy region;
- local historian Ovsiienko Liyubov Ivanivna told about the mass burial in the village of Chernecha Sloboda, Buryn district, Sumy region;
- witness of the Holodomor Bilokon Anna Ivanivna, born in 1928, told about the mass burial in the cemetery in the village of Lytovka, Okhtyrka district, Sumy region;
- witness of the Holodomor Khomenko Paraskoviia Pavlivna, born in 1927, told about the place of mass burial in the cemetery in the village of Bakyrivka, Okhtyrka district, Sumy region;
- witness of the Holodomor Lohosha Ustyniia Antonivna told about the place of mass burial in the cemetery in the village of Zhyhailivka, Trostianets district, Sumy region;
- witness of the Holodomor Natalia Romanivna Soloviova, born in 1927, told about the burial place in the village of Kamianka, Trostianets district, Sumy region. During the Holodomor, the entire family of Oksentii (seven people) died, all of them buried in a garden near their house. We videotaped the story of this family, took phoros of their house where they lived (the building still exists to this day) and the burial in the garden;
- witness of the Holodomor Vovk Mykola Ivanovych, born in 1928, told about the place of mass burial in the cemetery in the village of Boromlia, Trostyanets district, and his testimony was confirmed by local historian Mykola Mykolaiovych Artiushenko.
The participants of the expedition took photos of the mass burials of the Holodomor victims and recorded their geolocation. The collected information will be added to the GIS database “Places of Mass Graves of the Holodomor-Genocide Victims”.