Telling Children about the Holodomor. Tips for Parents to the International Children’s Day

1 June 2020

To the International Children’s Day, the Holodomor Museum team has prepared a series of tips on how to speak to children about the Holodomor

To tell or not?

Parents often ask themselves this question because the history of the Holodomor is one of the most tragic and difficult to explain pages of Ukrainian history. The main arguments of parents who ignore the Holodomor are “difficult topic”, “trauma for children”, “too early”, “once they will learn”, “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 they will not be able to comprehend by their own? Psychologists argue that traumatic topics  should be discussed with adults children trust. In most cases, of course, it’s the parents. Mom and dad are people who show love and care, next to them the child feels safe. Parents often try to protect their children from negative emotions, and, therefore, ignore topics related to crime, death and grief. Will it be useful for the child? Experts urge adults not to avoid such conversations and not to postpone them, but to prepare, create a calm atmosphere, control emotions and choose simple words for explanations.


So how should one tell children about the Holodomor?

You should first identify certain markers, such as taboos.

We do not recommend:

– show photos of Ukrainians killed by starvation;

– talk about the physical and moral suffering of the starving;

– discuss cannibalism and other similar situations that took place during the Holodomor;

– watch documentaries and feature films about the Holodomor, intended for an adult audience.

Where to start?

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

Tell children about the lives of older family members — your parents. Then move on to the story of great-grandparents. Indicate 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 Holodomor Museum template for family tree by following the link.

It is clear that many Ukrainians have not preserved family memories of the events that 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 Museum of the Holodomor Genocide has created an online resource, where eyewitnesses’ accounts of the Holodomor of 1932–1933 are collected. Here you can find memories of people who lived during the Holodomor in your area. The “Testimonies” page contains video and audio testimonies, photos, and digitized text stories. We recommend you to read these stories, and then invite the child to watch a video or retell the story of an eyewitness to the Holodomor. It is worth noting that children often do not know how Ukrainians lived in the 1930s, so they will ask 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 created it (for example, during Bohdan Khmelnytsky and Ivan Mazepa times). And 100 years ago (1917–1920) Ukraine restored its statehood and proclaimed the Ukrainian National Republic, which was recognized by many European countries. But there was aggression from Russia. Russian military units seized Ukrainian territory (as today they occupied Crimea and part of Donbass). Subsequently, all of Ukrainian territory, 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 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 Ukrainian people rebelled against the power seized by the Communists and the changes they sought to implement.

Third, the cause of the famine was the government’s actions, as grain, potatoes and other products were confiscated from Ukrainians. People did not become hungry because of unfavorable weather conditions or crop failures and not because they were lazy to work (the Ukrainian people are hardworking, people worked on the land every day, engaged in farming).

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 short historical excursion. 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 worth emphasizing the manifestations of humanity and mutual assistance during the famine, as well as the facts of public resistance to the actions of the Communists.

We offer a feature movie about the Holodomor Red Necklace for 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 during the trials, 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 feelings of injustice, empathy for victims also develops. Accordingly, the question arises: what can be done to prevent such crimes from happening again now?

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

Finally, it would be great to do a creative task with the children, such as drawing, applique, poem, and so on. Creativity makes it easier to release the emotions caused by the traumatic topic. During classes at the Museum, we create memory candles and commemorative badges with the children. You can book excursions and educational classes at the link.

Remember: no one knows your children better than you, and our tips are for guidance only. Be honest and open while communicating with children, and you will get a positive result.

Prepared by Olha Vyhodovanets, tour guide and lecturer of the museum