Ukrainian Famine Memorial Raises Questions Over Payment And Content

WASHINGTON, DC -- It’s hard to decide which part of Public Law 109-340 is most troubling.


A Massachusetts Avenue rendering perspective of the Memorial to the Victims of the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-1933.

The lack of honest political commitment and cheapness in the promise that “the United States government shall not pay any expense” for the memorial, or the decision to outsource it to a foreign government.

But it turns out that the 2006 law, which authorizes the Ukrainian government to build a memorial to Stalin’s man-made 1932-33 famine in Ukraine, isn’t exceptional.

If the late 19th and early 20th century made Washington famous for its statues of Civil War generals on horses, the early 21st century will likely make us famous for our hodgepodge of small memorials to anything and everything, paid for by outside groups and foreign governments, with little public conversation or agreement about their purpose and meaning.

The Ukrainian Famine Memorial, which received final approval from the National Capital Planning Commission earlier this month, is a fascinating case in point.

It is meant to honor the victims of one of the most horrific evils of the 20th century — Stalin’s political use of hunger and starvation to punish or annihilate Ukrainian peasants in the early 1930s.

When finished, the monument will sit on a small but prominent triangle of land just off Massachusetts Avenue, northwest of Union Station.

Designed by Larysa Kurylas, a Washington-based architect of Ukrainian descent, it will include a sculpture of grain set into a stone marker with an inscription that reads:

“Famine-Genocide in Ukraine: In memory of millions of innocent victims of a man-made famine in Ukraine engineered and implemented by Stalin’s totalitarian regime.”

The memorial was strongly supported by Ukrainian American groups, which include survivors of what is now called the “Holodomor.”

Their memories of the suffering are horrific: relentless and punitive requisitions of grain and livestock; gangs of government thugs wandering the countryside, stealing or destroying food and other vitals of life; babies dying in their mother’s arms; bodies littering streets and fields; borders sealed to flight; and whole villages reduced to eating bark, roots and worms, before even that proved insufficient for survival.

Scholarly estimates put the death toll at around 3.5 million to 4 million people, though more politically contentious figures have claimed as many as 7 million to 10 million victims.

But set aside the question of whether the memorial recalls a powerful and painful event, and consider the problems created by allowing the Ukrainian government to create it — with substantial control over the text and design competition.

Perhaps when the memorial was authorized in 2006 — after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine brought what seemed to be more reform-minded, Western-leaning leadership for the former Soviet state — this seemed like a good idea.

But times change, and even as the memorial was clearing the last approvals in Washington, it was still a matter for debate in Ukraine, where there is little agreement about whether the Holodomor was a genocide, and whether the blame should be laid at the feet of Stalin in particular, and Russia by extension.

Source: The Washington Post

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