Commemorating the 90th Anniversary of the Holodomor

The Holodomor was a human-induced famine which occurred in Soviet Ukraine in the years 1932-33, between the two World Wars. It resulted from Josef Stalin’s policies of industrialisation and collectivisation of agriculture, and his ‘weaponisation’ of food as he sought to break Ukrainian nationalism. It led to the death by starvation of millions of people.

The 90th anniversary of the tragedy was marked this month at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre with the opening, by the Ukrainian ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, of an exhibition by Yuliya Fedorovych, “Communicating Historical Trauma via Art”.

The names of ninety children who had died of starvation during the Holodomor, with their ages, were read out, each name marking a year of the anniversary. This sounded like the tolling of a bell and was profoundly sad.

The Director of the Centre, Jakub Nowakowski facilitated a discussion between me and Kateryna Aloshyna, a Ukrainian choreographer, director and co-founder of the Contemporary Dance Laboratory.

Kateryna and I shared how, as creative people, we attempt to use our artistic endeavours to confront tyranny, to expose the atrocities which arise through invasion, war and the weaponising of basic human rights such as the right to food.

Considering the current Russia-Ukraine war as well as the one between Israel and Gaza, numerous provocative questions presented themselves: Who takes ultimate responsibility when atrocities are committed? Will there ever be accountability for the Holodomor deaths, and for the invasion of and war against Ukraine? How will we address the grave culpability for the attack and kidnapping of children in Israel, the bombing of Gaza and the deaths of Palestinian children?

These questions are replied to with the unanswerable: And then, who will forgive?

If we consider that forgiveness is probably one of the most difficult actions of the human heart, ranking up there with enlightenment, then it is towards forgiveness that we must direct our creative endeavours.


Prayer for Voices
By Chris Ahrends

This morning we wake up and know where our children are.
This morning our homes are still standing.
Our sisters and brothers are not buried under bombed concrete.
We do not have to search for lost relatives.
We breathe fresh air, drink clean water.
We turn on lights and prepare food.
We wash our faces and see they are not scarred
by vengeance nor disfigured by war
nor twisted in conflict.
This morning we have voices that cry out
for the people for whom this is a day of suffering,
of loss and grief.
Oh God, give us strong voices.


Prayer for Voices published in Africa Ablaze! Poems & Prose Pieces of War & Civil Conflict,
African Sun Press ISBN978-1-874915-19-5


Image: Running Man by Kazimir Malevich

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