Led by prayers, church choirs and candle lighting, Saskatchewan’s Ukrainian community gathered to commemorate the Ukrainian famine genocide known as Holodomor.
On Tuesday, a memorial candle was lit at the Saskatchewan legislature and will remain lit throughout the week to show unity with others taking part in Holodomor Memorial Week.
“The horrendous acts that took place cannot go unrecognized,” said Greg Ottenbreit, the minister responsible for Saskatchewan-Ukrainian relations.
“For years, their stories were denied and their stories were lost. Through this service, we honour and remember the ones who suffered and the ones who perished. It is through their remembrance we learn from the past and their memories live on.”
In 1932-33, the Soviet Union imposed a man-made famine, killing up to 10 million people.
“Many who survived could not bring themselves to tell their story even to their own families,” Ottenbreit said.
Despite the record grain harvest, crops were confiscated and regulations were imposed preventing people from leaving their communities in search of food.
Holodomor means “extermination by hunger” in Ukrainian.
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The legislative assembly of Saskatchewan was the first jurisdiction in North America to recognize the genocide with the passing of the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day Act in 2008.
In 2015, a statue titled “Bitter Memories of Childhood” was erected on the park grounds of Wascana Centre to serve as a permanent reminder of the event.
Following Tuesday’s service, Ottenbreit placed a wreath on the Holodomor statue.
“It was a tragedy that was hidden for so many decades and finally it came to be realized we need to continue the awareness of just what mankind can do to themselves,” said Gerald Luciuk, chair of the Saskatchewan-Ukraine Relations Advisory Committee.
“It’s a time for reflection. A time for remembrance for those the victims of the tragedy and to personally ensure we keep alive this event in our memories so hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself.”
International Holodomor Memorial Day is recognized on the fourth Saturday of November, with it falling on Nov. 23 of this year.