Remembering the Soviet-Inflicted Holodomor Famine in Ukraine

In 2008, the Canadian Parliament passed an act so that throughout Canada, in each and every year, the fourth Saturday in November shall be known as “Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day”.

In commemoration of the Soviet-inflicted Holodomor, I’m sharing part of the introduction that I wrote to Maria: A Chronicle of a LIfe, a novel of those terrible times written by Ulas Samchuk, translated by my aunt Roma Franko, and edited by me, after the passing of my Mom who edited many volumes of Language Lanterns Publications translations of Ukrainian literature into English.

“To see a world in a grain of sand…” These words by English poet William Blake are interpreted to mean that minute, apparently inconsequential events in a life can represent universal truths.

“Oles Samchuk’s character Maria is such a grain of sand––or perhaps in the context of the novel, she is such a kernel of grain.

“The life of this uneducated peasant woman spans great upheavals in Ukrainian history from approximately the 1861 emancipation of serfs in the Russian Empire under the Tsars, to the unimaginable horror of the communist-induced mass starvation in Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s that killed millions, and is now internationally recognized as an act of genocide.

“Samchuk dedicates his novel “to the mothers who were starved to death in Ukraine in 1932-33,” yet the story is much more than that, taking the reader through three sections: A Book about the Birth of Maria, A Book of Maria’s Days, and A Book about Grain. Each is important in its own way, as Maria grows, matures, and reacts to the changes going on around her.

“She may be just a bit of flotsam carried by a tsunami of social and political change, but her loves, her trials and her toil through her three score and ten (the author tells us that she lived for 26,258 days, or nearly 72 years) enable us to picture an often harsh existence that prompted hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian peasants to abandon their beloved villages and emigrate in search of land and freedom. . . “