Mr. Speaker, we have just emerged from a century which was the most tragic in the history of humanity. The 20th century will be remembered as a century characterized by multiple descents into hatreds, xenophobias and totalitarianisms which led humanity into the abyss of wars, famines and genocides.
November 2007 through to November 2008 is the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, the famine genocide of Ukraine's rural population in 1932-33. During this Holodomor, millions, perhaps as many as seven to ten million, were starved to death in the bread basket of Europe.
As a Canadian of Ukrainian descent, I am humbled to speak to Bill C-459, An Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as an act of genocide. I am humbled, for I do not believe that I, or any of our hon. members, have the capacity to adequately describe the horrors of this genocide. Perhaps eye witness accounts best recollect this descent into hell.
Victor Kravchenko, a Soviet official who later escaped from the Soviet Embassy in the United States in 1944, wrote in his book, I Chose Freedom:
What I saw that morning...was inexpressibly horrible. On a battlefield men die quickly, they fight back.... Here I saw people dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his own home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables.
Another eyewitness documented that:
To safeguard the 1932 crop against the starving farmers...watchtowers were erected in and around the wheat, potato and vegetable fields...the same kind of towers that can be seen in prisons. They were manned by guards armed with shotguns. Many a starving farmer who was seen foraging for food near or inside the fields, fell victim to trigger-happy youthful vigilantes and guards.
The American traveller, Carveth Wells, who was in Ukraine in July 1932, described the early stages of the Holodomor and the “sight of small children with stomachs enormously distended” in his book, Kapoot:
We ourselves happened to be passing through the Ukraine and the Caucasus in the very midst of the famine in July, 1932. From the train windows children could be seen eating grass.
Another witness wrote:
The most terrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon-like abdomens. Starvation had wiped every trace of youth from their faces, turning them into tortured gargoyles; only in their eyes still lingered the reminder of childhood. Everywhere we found men and women lying prone (weak from hunger), their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless.
Zina, a small village girl, in a letter to her city-dwelling uncle, pleadingly wrote:
We have neither bread nor anything else to eat. Dad is completely exhausted from hunger and is lying on the bench, unable to get on this feet. Mother is blind from the hunger and cannot see in the least. So I have to guide her when she has to go outside. Please Uncle, do take me to Kharkiv, because I, too, will die from hunger. Please do take me, please. I'm still young and I want so much to live a while. Here I will surely die, for everyone else is dying....
The uncle received the letter at the same time that he was told of her death. He said:
I did not know what to say or what to do. My head just pounded with my niece's pathetic plea: “I'm still young and want so much to live....Please do take me, please....”
As the famine raged, Ukraine's lush countryside was denuded of its leaves and grasses as people ate anything that grew. In this denuded grey landscape, one by one, hundred after hundred, thousand after thousand, million after million lay down their skin and bones onto Ukraine's fertile black soils, life extinguished.
Stalin's march towards his communist, imperialist vision was fed by the corpses of millions, and the appeasement of world leaders unwilling to face down evil.
As millions starved, the Soviet Union exported grains from these fertile lands to the west; a west which, apart from a handful of brave politicians and journalists, turned its gaze away while eating the bounty, the bread of these starving lands.
As former Soviet official Kravchenko wrote:
Anger lashed my mind as I drove back to the village. Butter being sent abroad in the midst of the famine! In London, Berlin, Paris I could see ... people eating butter stamped with a Soviet trade mark. Driving through the fields, I did not hear the lovely Ukrainian songs so dear to my heart.... I could only hear the groans of the dying, and the lip-smacking of fat foreigners enjoying our butter....
A half century has passed since Stalin's death and his evil empire has been consigned to the history books of humanity's tragic 20th century.
As far back as UN General Assembly Resolution 96(1) of December 11, 1946, we can list international resolutions, decade after decade, condemning crimes against humanity and genocides.
Yet the Rwandan genocide took place before our eyes. All of our resolutions are nothing more than fine sounding rhetoric unless each and every one of us makes a pledge to act when hatred, conflict or crimes against our fellow human beings occur.
Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, is a saying we often mention. Nonetheless, today we are witnessing attempts at a genocide by attrition, a famine genocide in Darfur.
As elected representatives in a country with over 1.2 million citizens of Ukrainian ancestry, a common ancestry with those millions starved to death through a genocide by attrition, we cannot allow ourselves to forget humanity's common tragedies, and we must acknowledge our culpability when we do not act when facing evil; all the more so, as Canada is the country which, at the dawn of the 21st century, gave birth to the concept of the responsibility to protect at the United Nations World Summit in 2005.
Canada and Canadians have the ability to shine a light into the dark corners of the globe into countries such as Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe, where tribal and blood hatreds lead to ethnic cleansings.
We have the capacity to be a shield for the defenceless and the innocent who today echo little Zina's plea, “Please, I'm still young and I want so much to live a while”.
Here in Canada's House of Commons, on the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, the famine genocide of Ukrainians, let us pledge to ourselves and to those Canadians who have placed their trust in our leadership two simple words, never again.
[Member spoke in Ukrainian]
Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place this afternoon among all parties and in the spirit of those two words, never again--
[Member spoke in Ukrainian]
--at the end of today's debate, there will be an unusual display of goodwill among all parties and respect for the millions who perished. There will be agreement on amendments to the Holodomor famine genocide bill which will allow its passage at all stages so it can be sent to the Senate.
[Member spoke in Ukrainian]