Holomodor National Awareness Tour: An inside look at ‘Breaking the Sound Barrier’

Tasmia Jamil •

Monday, September 30, was Orange Shirt Day at MD, a day signifying the unethical treatment and assimilation of Indigenous peoples in residential schools. However, in addition to this the Grade 12 period 1 and 2 Living Cultures classes had the chance to do their own reflection of the past and bridging gaps in education they didn’t realize they had.

On Monday, September 30, there was a special visit from the Holodomor National Tour Bus which travels across the country educating the public about the Ukrainian famine-genocide that occurred from 1932-1933.

The word Holodomor is split between holod, which means “hunger”, and mor, which means “plague”, together they form the Holodomor or “Death inflicted by starvation”.

In 1918, Ukraine was overrun by the Soviet Red Army and incorporated into the Soviet Union. By the end of the 1920’s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ended Ukraine’s independence by arresting and executing prominent Ukrainian individuals including the Ukrainian Communist Party functionaries. Stalin also forced citizens in agriculture to work on government collective farms where they could be supervised and controlled. This was unjust as the majority of Ukrainians were small farmers and were not willing to have their properties seized, which caused a riot. As a result, those who resisted were declared enemies of the state and considered kulaks (successful farmers who exploited others). During that time, almost 1 to 2 million kulaks were deported or executed.

During 1932, the Communist Party set impossibly high quotas for how much grain the Ukrainian villages were supposed to give to the Soviet state. When the quota was not met, the authorities reacted by confiscating even the seeds set aside for planting and demanded that the villagers pay with meat and potatoes for their failure. Stalin’s Soviet Agency searched homes to seize any hidden food from the villages. Starving farmers attempted to leave the farms, however Soviet authorities issued a law forbidding Ukrainian peasants from leaving the country.

The issue began to grow and grow, yet the Soviet Union began to censor it with their own propaganda. Censorship secured Stalin’s control over the Ukrainians as many people did not know that the citizens were being starved. When a 1927 census came out with 8 million people ‘missing’, Stalin blamed his enemies for distorting the statistics and the census head and his colleagues were executed. Any time an individual tried to bring attention to the crisis, Stalin executed them or arrested them. In the end, with a new 1939 census he successfully erased the famine from history. Allowing millions of Ukrainians to die from starvation while the USSR sold their crops abroad.

In addition to this history, the tour taught about how there were a group of individuals who used their words and tried their best to stand up for the issue at hand. These people include Malcolm Muggeridge, Eugene Lyons, Milena Rudnytska, Gareth Jones, Rhea Clyman, and last but not least, George Orwell.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Malcolm Muggeridge was an English journalist who travelled to the USSR. He worked for the Manchester Guardian and went to investigate the famine in Ukraine during 1932. From there he sent reports back through the British embassy’s diplomatic pouch about the harsh conditions citizens in Ukraine were living through. Muggeridge was able to evade censorship of his reports, however they weren’t fully printed or in Muggeridge’s name. Furthermore, the Soviet Union went great lengths to preserve their reputation, this is where the power of words and journalists came into play.


Walter Duranty worked for The New York Times and was granted an exclusive interview with Joseph Stalin, which enhanced his reputation. In one article Duranty denounced the famine in Ukraine under the title “Russians Hungry, But Not Starving”. His claims were another way to censor the internal conflict happening between Stalin and the Ukrainians. He was misinforming the rest of the world by opposing the articles written by Muggeridge and other journalists who wanted to help Ukraine.

Eugene Lyons

Eugene Lyons was an American journalist who worked for the United Press as a correspondent in Moscow, where he wrote about Soviet events to an American audience. Lyons was initially supportive of the Soviet regime and on November 22, 1930, he became the first Western journalist to interview Stalin. His interview was widely publicized, yet Lyons began to harbour doubts about the Soviet regime and their violence. Years later, Lyons became one of the first journalists to criticize Walter Duranty for journalistic dishonesty. Yet to protect himself from Stalin, Lyons criticized Gareth Jones, another journalist who worked with Muggeridge, to conceal the truth about the famine.

Milena Rudnytska

Milena Rudnytska was a political figure elected in the Polish Parliament. She served as the president of the Union of Ukrainian Women and advocated for the promotion of Ukrainian culture. Rudnytska worked to provide relief during the famine and was selected to seek international support and address the situation to the League of Nations. During 1933, she met with the president of the League of Nations, along with only 14 other countries, who tried to provide relief through the International Red Cross. However, the Soviet Union denied the food aid from the IRC and Rudnytska continued to find other means of support. She was a great supporter of the Ukrainian citizens and fought for them until the end.

Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones was a Welsh journalist who was hired as a Foreign Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Lloyd George. During the famine, Jones made trips to rural villages in Ukraine that were struck by the famine and held a press conference in Britain to describe what he witnessed. The conditions he witnessed were brutal and he wrote his famous article “There Is No Bread!”, which garnered the attention of Stalin’s right hand. William Duranty attempted to discredit Jones by stating that there was no famine, only “ a serious food shortage throughout the country”. Jones wrote strongly in his articles about the USSR censorship and in the end he was banned from visiting the Soviet Union ever again.

Rhea Clyman

Rhea Clyman was a Canadian journalist who grew up in Toronto and travelled abroad to New York, Paris, London, and Berlin looking for an opening in journalism. At 24 years of age, she arrived in Moscow where she was hired by New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty as his assistant and secretary.

During 1932, Clyman embarks on a road-trip through Ukraine and witnessed how the famine spread and affected everyone from children to the elderly. Later she was expelled from the Soviet Union for “writing false news” and is labelled a “Bourgeois Troublemaker”.


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George Orwell

George Orwell was born in India under the British rule, as Eric Arthur Blair. In the beginning he worked as a police until he decided to become a writer. He spent years working odd jobs in London and Paris, then he adopted his pen name of George Orwell. Orwell published his first book, a narrative on his time living a tramp-like existence in Europe. Furthermore, he spent 6 months fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the left-wing side of the government and left the war with a deep hatred of totalitarianism, seen in his work later 1984. During 1945, near the end of the Second World War, Orwell published Animal Farm, which exposed the truth about life under the Soviet regime.

The idea for Animal Farm came to him when “…[he] saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck [him] that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”

Thus, the informative part of the Holodomor National Tour came to an end and the students then answered a survey as to how they felt the lesson impacted them. In addition to the survey, they made their own wall of truth with statements on what you can do to promote the truth and avoid misinformation.

Period 1 Living Cultures – Ms. Compton-Morgan