Levin Remembers Holodomor at Special Plenary Session of Ukrainian Parliament

Nov 23, 2018 Issues: Foreign Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Representative Sandy Levin (D-MI) delivered remarks during a special plenary session of the Ukrainian Parliament commemorating the 85th Anniversary of the Ukraine Famine-Genocide, known as the Holodomor.

Rep. Levin is a co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus. He authored legislation that facilitated the creation of the Holodomor Memorial in Washington, D.C. near the U.S. Capitol. He is the lead sponsor of H.Res.931, which raises awareness of the Holodomor.

The following are his remarks before the Ukrainian Parliament, as prepared:

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(Remarks As Prepared)

Many decades ago, when I was at college, I read a book about the Soviet Union. I found the book an overall exoneration of the Soviet Union’s lack of democracy and its embrace of authoritarianism.

What literally jumped off the page for me was treatment of a subject that was new to me—the famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine. The author claimed that the stories of the famine were exaggerated – suggesting that there were “many fewer millions” of lives lost than had been said by others. This dangerously dismissive and insensitive language stayed etched in my memory throughout the years.

It stayed with me as part of a Congressional delegation visiting Sarajevo, Serbia and Croatia and meeting with President Slobodan Milosevic.

It stayed with me when Elie Wiesel urged President Clinton not to forget Bosnia.

In 1992, my Congressional district included an area with a large Ukrainian American community. The relationships that I developed and the conversations that we engaged in on a wide range of issues over two decades were vital to my work in Congress.

What ensued was the formation of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus in 1997. It allowed Members of Congress from around the country with a special interest in Ukraine to join together and work together on issues important to Ukraine and the Ukrainian-American relationship.

I remember vividly joining the protest at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington during the Orange Revolution, when the government then in power overturned the democratic vote in Ukraine. It also was a remarkable experience to join the protest rally outside the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren, MI during the Revolution of Dignity, the fifth anniversary of which also is being acknowledged these days.

Those experiences and many others that I shared with the Ukrainian American community over these past four decades  inspired me to introduce the resolution in Congress—a long effort—that led to the building of the magnificent monument to Holodomor in Washington. This touching monument located so prominently near the United States Capitol is an important acknowledgement of this terrible stain in global history and a vital learning experience for generations to come.

Holodomor is a reminder of the value of democracy. The truth about the famine was suppressed by the totalitarian Soviet regime. One of the advantages of democracy is that there are more ways for the truth to be brought out, and fewer barriers to overcome. Holodomor is both a cry for freedom and a cry against authoritarianism.

As Winston Churchill said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.” He went on to say that “Democracy is the worst form of government but it’s better than all other forms.” Democracy can sure be very messy, but its goal can be far better than a worst form of government.

Today, there is a dangerous tilt to authoritarianism in many places around the world. This makes Ukraine’s struggle to resist aggression, safeguard its independence, and develop democracy all the more important. Holodomor was a weapon of a dictator against the Ukrainian people; such a tragedy should deepen our determination to fight for freedom and democracy, rather than make heroes out of dictators. Ukraine has witnessed firsthand that the challenges of democracy are not easily overcome. That makes it all the more important to overcome the threats to democracy, such as injustice and corruption. The United States must support Ukraine in its efforts.

It was deeply painful but essential to read the stories in Anne Applebaum’s new book Red Famine—Stalin’s War on Ukraine. She told how Ukrainian peasants were forced “to make a fatal choice. They could give up their grain reserves and die of starvation or they could keep some grain reserves hidden and risk arrest, execution, or the confiscation of their food—after which they would also die of starvation.”

She described this poignant memory of one person: “The mothers with babies in their arms made the strongest impression... I remember seeing one such mother who looked more like a shadow than a human being. She was standing by the side of the road, and her little skeleton of a child, instead of suckling her mother’s empty breast, sucked its own small knuckles thinly covered with translucent skin. I have no idea how many of the unfortunates I saw managed to survive. Every morning on my way to work I saw bodies on the pavements, in ditches, under a bush or a tree, which were later carried away.”

Personal stories must be recounted and remembered. A genocide, if not clearly told, can facilitate another.

I would like to acknowledge Borys Potapenko, a Ukrainian American community leader with whom I have worked for nearly 40 years and who did so much to make this visit possible.

I am very grateful to all of you for inviting me to share this commemoration of Holodomor with the hope that it can and will lead to a more humane and just society and world.

My budama pamya tatay

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