Gender and Violence in the Oral Testimonies of Holodomor, the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Karolina KOZIURA, The New School University, USA
Until the late 1980s, Holodomor, a massive artificial famine which occurred in 1932-33 in Soviet Ukraine was an unknown and forbidden, topic for generations of Ukrainians as well as academics in former socialist bloc and beyond. Since late 1980s the process of the opening of the Soviet archives together with attempts to collect the testimonies of the survivals led to the conceptualization of knowledge of this humanitarian crisis, in the consequence of which almost 5 million people died. Still, in the process of the unraveling of the silenced past, the experience of women have often been neglected.

In my presentation, I built on two important oral history projects conducted first in the late 1980s by the Harvard-based team of James Mace and secondly in the beginning of 2000s by the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre in Toronto among members of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Northern America. My research of oral testimonies show that for many witnesses “the embeddedness in the family life” plays an important role in their recollections of the past. For many witnesses, their survival was possible only thanks to various strategies of gathering and preparing food developed by their mothers and grandmothers. In the testimonies then mothers appear as active and creative agents opposing the coercive policies of local communist but also fighting the famine through various techniques of preparing food from scarce resources.

I argue that the oral testimonies of Holodomor centered of the experience of women point to the important role of gender in conceptualizing memory and violence of famine. In a wider context, through the case study of Ukrainian famine I want to reflect on the problem of knowledge production of famines and the very often silenced position of women in ways in which we conceptualize the history of this atrocity.