The Ukraine is one of those countries where unimaginable tragedies seem to wash over it on a regular basis. One of those tragedies occurred in 1932-33 when millions perished in a famine induced by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union against the people of Ukraine. Holodomor is a Ukrainian word that literally means “extermination by hunger.”
The Famine Memorial in Kiev remembers victims of the man-made famine set loose to quell a growing Ukrainian nationalist movement in the early 1930s. In 1932 a law was put in place that made all food state property and unauthorized possession of food was a capital crime. Gangs of young students trained under the Soviet system were sent into the countryside to enforce the law and ended up contributing to the abuse and torment of the peasants. A rationing system was put in place that deprived families in the country the minimum calories necessary to sustain life. The food problems were complicated by implementation of the Soviet collectivization system which introduced new agriculture requirements and crops the Ukrainians were unfamiliar with.
The famine stopped at the border between Ukraine and Russia. Thousands of Ukrainians also died trying to escape to Romania where they were killed by border guards.
While precise numbers of of victims will never be known, estimates run between 3.5 and 7 million deaths by starvation. Some think the numbers could be twice these estimates.
The bronze statue of the starving girl at the memorial remembers all the children who perished during this time. In her hand she grasps five stalks of wheat. The Soviet law prohibited gathering leftovers from the harvest. If you collected more than 5 stalks you were sent to camps.
The main part of the memorial is the 32-meter high Candle of Memory. Large crosses represent the souls of adults. Small crosses represent the souls of children. There are golden cranes in cages on the memorial. The caged birds represent the travails of Ukraine. One bird escapes the cages and rises to freedom. This free crane represents Ukraine today.
Kongo’s guide in Kiev told him a story about her grandmother who was a child during this period of terror. Her family found a cow loose in the forest near their farm. If they cow was discovered by the authorities the entire family would be killed. Without the cow the family would die of starvation. This was a real Hobson’s choice. Luckily, the cow remained undiscovered and the family survived. It is stories like these that make memorials real. Behind the symbolism and architectural design are always real people and real events.
The picture below is a view of the Dnieper River from the Famine Memorial.