November 25th, 2012

Panikhida (Memorial Service) for the victims of the Holodomor

Holodomor is a Ukrainian word with two parts: holod, which means hunger, and moryty, which means a slow, cruel death. The Holodomor remains the greatest mass murder of civilians undertaken during peace time. Despite this infamy, Holodomor is still a little known and little understood event. 

Today we remembered the millions who died as victims of forced starvation in Ukraine in 1922-1923, that being the most deadly period of the larger and sustained attack on the Christian faith from Soviet atheism that lasted from 1921 through 1980. Eternal memory!

The Holodomor
The plan behind Holodomor was calculated and deliberate: for collectivization to be successful in Ukraine–the breadbasket of Europe–independent farmers had to be eliminated.  Beginning in 1932, all food was removed by Soviet police and soldiers from targeted areas of Ukraine, and Ukraine’s borders were sealed, denying people the opportunity to search for food.  At the height of the genocide, 25,000 people per day were dying from starvation.  Once the campaign of engineered famine was completed, Ukraine’s religious, artistic, intellectual and political leaders were arrested, deported or executed.

The Ukrainian Catholics, religious and lay, suffered intense persecution from the Russian communists, especially under the cruel dictator Joseph Stalin and his savage enforcer, the “Butcher of Ukraine,” Lazar Moses Kaganovich, chairman of the Soviet Presidium. Stalin’s collectivization of the people’s farms and confiscation of their grain from 1932-1933, led to the forced starvation of ten million Ukrainians. This was done as a punishment for the rise in Ukrainian patriotism and the emergence of a powerful nationalist movement that arose about a decade after the Bolsheviks took over. Kaganovich, who had already spearheaded the murderous purges in Russia, posted armed guards at all the grainaries to prevent the Ukrainian people from access to their own harvest and when starving people tried to reach the border in search of food they were gunned down. The West ignored the crisis, preferring to believe the USSR propaganda that there was a famine. Only one pro-Soviet American reporter, Walter Duranty of the New York Times, was allowed into Ukraine at the time. In that paper he denied the genocide calling it “partial crop failures.” Sometime after receiving the Pulitzer Prize for journalism, he later admitted, according to British Diplomatic Reports, that “as many as ten million” may have perished.

Reasonable estimates put the percentage of murdered Ukrainians in that two-year period at a quarter of the population, roughly ten million. Most of the victims were poor children. When the granaries were re-opened in 1934, the people were reeling in shock and despair. Before the genocide, the Catholic Church was flourishing in Ukraine, or at least it appeared to be. There were many vocations to the religious life, especially in Lviv, Ukraine’s cultural center, where seminaries and monasteries thrived. After and during the horrific two-year ordeal many lost faith in God, but others accepted the chastisement as a purification and the seminaries and convents began to rebound. The suffering under the yoke of Communism was not over, it would last for another sixty-four years (except for the Nazi occupation from 1941-1944), until the nation achieved its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Genocide wasn’t enough, Stalin still wanted absolute control over all of Ukraine. In 1939, he sent his Red Army into western Ukraine; prior to this it was the eastern part of the country that took the brunt of his sadistic brutality. There was now only one major force in his way, the Catholic Church. Half of the Catholics in Ukraine had been deported and dozens of priests executed. The Orthodox Church, under the Moscow Patriarchate, cooperated with the Communist Party and kept its worship private. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church continued its mission as mandated by Christ to teach, preach, administer the sacraments wherever needed, and evangelize. In 1939, the order came down from Stalin to intensify the persecution of the Catholic Church in western Ukraine, liquidate it by terror if its leaders could not be bought outright. Everything the Church owned was confiscated — convents, schools, hospitals, the Catholic press, and many Catholic churches were burnt to the ground. It was during the height of the persecution, in 1941, that the Nazis drove the Reds out of Ukraine. With Germany’s defeat in WWII, the communists re-consolidated their hold in Ukraine, half the Catholic clergy were sent to prison and one-fifth were exiled; the Orthodox took over the Catholic churches and all Church properties were seized by the atheistic state. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has not regained the majority of its property to this day.