Photos: Henry Jackson Society (c) 2019

‘Ukraine 1932-1933: the Holodomor’ exhibition

01 December 2018

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, opened the exhibition ‘Ukraine 1932-1933: the Holodomor’ on the afternoon of 26 November 2018 in the Upper Waiting Hall in the House of Commons. The exhibition was organised by the British Ukrainian Society and the Embassy of Ukraine to the United Kingdom, with supporting materials provided by the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain. MPs, Peers, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, representatives from the Ukrainian community and the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches attended.

The exhibition is part of the commemorative activities that have been carried out across the UK to mark the 85th anniversary of what has become known as the Holodomor – the systematic starvation of between seven and ten million Ukrainians over a period of 18 months. The exhibition followed worldwide commemorations on Saturday 24th November, with the most prominent event in the UK held at Westminster Abbey.

The exhibition has been staged primarily to inform Members of Parliament about the Holodomor, and displayed between 26-30 November in the Upper Waiting Hall off Committee Corridor, a highly visible area frequently passed through by Members. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, the National Memorial to Victims of the Holodomor and the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance have together compiled the content of the exhibition.

Following is a transcript of the Foreign Minister’s speech:

Before I open the exhibition I’d like to say a few words about the events in the Sea of Azov. The United Kingdom totally condemns Russia’s aggression against the Ukrainian vessels who sought to enter the Sea of Azov yesterday including the forcible seizure of three Ukrainian ships and their crews. The incident sadly provides further evidence of Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty following the illegal annexation of Crimea and the construction of the Kerch Bridge. We also express our concern for the welfare of the Ukrainian sailors, and we call on Russia to ensure freedom of passage through the Kerch Straight and for all parties to exercise restraint. Russia must not be allowed to further erode Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity especially through the use of force.

Ladies and gentlemen, today I am deeply honoured to open this exhibition on one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century within living memory and as a deliberate act of Soviet policy millions of Ukrainians were starved to death in 1932 and 1933. The Holodomor ranks amongst the gravest crimes of modern times, yet it remains relatively unknown in this country so it is particularly important we remember exactly what happened.

Stalin’s liquidation of the Kulaks and the collectivisation of agriculture inflicted famine throughout the Soviet Union bringing calamity to many nationalities. Ukraine, the agricultural heartland, bore the brunt of this crime. The authorities requisitioned food from the starving and closed borders to prevent desperate people from escaping. The first western journalist to report on this catastrophe was a young Welshman from Glamorgan called Gareth Jones who travelled on foot through Ukraine in March 1933. ‘Everywhere I talked to peasants who walked past’, he wrote, ‘they all had the same story: there is no bread. We haven’t had bread for over two months.’ Jones coined the phrase ‘man-made famine’ to describe what he witnessed.

A Polish diplomat who travelled from Kharkiv to Moscow was struck by the difference between Ukrainian and Russian villages. ‘Ukrainian villages are in decay’, he wrote, ‘they are empty, deserted and miserable, cottages half-demolished with roofs blown down, no new houses in site, children and old people more like skeletons.’

One journalist from Pravda accompanied the party of cadres who raided villages and seized the last loaves of bread from despairing Ukrainians. He didn’t report what he saw in his newspaper, of course, but in a private letter he wrote, ‘The searches are usually conducted at night, and they search fiercely, deadly seriously. Usually the searches finished with the confiscation of the very last few pieces of bread in the smallest possible amount.’

The Soviet census of 1937 found that the population of the USSR was 162 million, fully 8 million less than the official estimate of 170 million. George Orwell might have predicted having this reaction: the census was supressed and the author was shot. And so the Kremlin’s denial of the Holodomor began and has never quite gone away.

In August 2015 the Russia-backed separatists who occupy areas of eastern Ukraine destroyed the memorial to the victims of the Holodomor. In the same month the notorious Russia state news agency Sputnik published an article describing the Ukrainian famine as a hoax, an example of anti-Soviet propaganda. This is the same outlet, incidentally, which also claims that Assad’s poison-gas attacks in Syria were hoaxes.

The struggle to preserve truth against the Kremlin’s propaganda and to ensure the victims and survivors of the Holodomor are remembered with dignity continues to be profoundly necessary, making this exhibition still more important. Thankfully there remain brave and principled defenders of human rights in Russia including the remarkable organisation Memorial, who defy threats and harassment to document crimes in the Soviet era which claimed millions of lives of many nationalities.

Today Britain fully supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. When Russia seized Crimea in 2014 it has amounted to the first forcible annexation of the territory of a European country since 1945. By taking Crimea – 10,000 sq miles of Ukraine – the Kremlin broke enough international agreements to fill a small library ranging from the UN Charter to the Helsinki Final Act and the Budapest Memorandum. Soon after the Russian state ignited the flames and conflict in eastern Ukraine, starting a conflagration that has claimed over 10,000 lives and driven 2.3m people from their homes.

Britain will continue to help to strengthen Ukraine’s institutions, promote the rule of law and provide humanitarian aid. Our armed forces are supporting and training their Ukrainian counterparts to defend their country as they have every moral and legal right to do.

So thank you everyone that has made this exhibition possible. It is incredibly important that it is being held as it is a deeply disturbing chapter not just in Ukrainian but in human history and we owe it to the survivors of the Holodomor and to the Ukrainians who struggle today for their nation’s future to ensure that they are not forgotten.

Thank you very much.


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