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Monday, 26 February 2018
Page: 1778


Mr CREWTHER (Dunkley) (11:14): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that commemorations are underway for the eighty-fifth anniversary of Holodomor, to mark an enforced famine in Ukraine caused by the deliberate actions of Joseph Stalin's Communist Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics;

(2) recalls that it is estimated that up to seven million Ukrainians starved to death as a result of Stalin's policies in 1932 and 1933 alone;

(3) condemns these acts aimed at destroying the national, cultural, religious and democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people;

(4) condemns all similar acts during the twentieth century as the ultimate manifestations of racial, ethnic or religious hatred and violence;

(5) honours the memory of those who lost their lives during Holodomor;

(6) joins the Australian Ukrainian community and the international community in commemorating this tragic milestone under the motto Ukraine Remembers—The World Acknowledges;

(7) recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated; and

(8) pays its respects to the Australian Ukrainians that lived through this tragedy and have told their horrific stories.

This May will mark 85 years since the pinnacle of a devastating forced famine deliberately engineered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. This famine, known as the Holodomor, claimed an estimated seven million lives in Ukraine. Stalin and the Soviets reduced millions of people to living skeletons in some of the world's most fertile farmland, whilst stocks of grain and other foods rotted by the tonne. The Soviets seized food from families and punished people for keeping food as opposed to surrendering it to the authorities. The Ukrainian people suffered tremendously as a result. The death toll was catastrophic. The latest estimates suggest up to 7.4 million people died as a result of the policies of the Soviet government.

The survivors of this famine tried to tell their stories to the world. Sadly, this atrocity was further compounded by the systematic cover-up of the famine by the Soviet Union. Even mentioning the famine was punishable by hard labour, and blaming the authorities was a death sentence. This even extended to those officials who were simply trying to do their jobs, and many were executed for simply reporting population numbers accurately to the Soviet government.

Nevertheless, survivors managed to tell their story to the world in time. One survivor, Oleksa Sonipul, lived in a village in northern Ukraine in 1933:

She said by the beginning of that year, famine was so widespread people had been reduced to eating grass, tree bark, roots, berries, frogs, birds and even earthworms.

…   …   …

As food ran out in the villages, thousands of desperate people trekked to beg for food in towns and cities. Food was available in cities, although strictly controlled through ration coupons. But residents were forbidden to help the starving peasants and doctors were not allowed to aid the skeletal villagers, who were left to die on the streets.

Ekaterina Marchenko is another survivor of this horrific period. She wrote in her diary at the time of the famine:

Where did all the bread disappear, I do not really know, maybe they have taken it all abroad. The authorities have confiscated it, removed from the villages, loaded grain into the railway coaches and took it away someplace. They have searched the houses, taken away everything to the smallest thing. All the vegetable gardens, all the cellars were raked out and everything was taken away.

As the famine reached its apex, the desperation of people was clearly apparent in memoirs and the testimony of survivors. People pulled vegetables out of the ground before they ripened. Villages were stripped of animals as people ate everything they could. Reports even exist of the victims resorting to cannibalism to survive. Stalin had seized not just food designated to be eaten but also the seeds and plants that would have been used for the harvest. As a result, many of the farmers could not even plant seeds to create the next harvest. This was amplified in the cities, where food was just as scarce. When rationed food was handed out, people would trample each other to try to get it. Those that were forced under the crowds were reported to have been left for dead.

These actions were devastating to the Ukrainian people. It has left such a scar in the psyche of the Ukrainian people that it has since been made a crime in Ukraine to deny the Holodomor, similar to the criminalisation of Holocaust denial in other nations. These cold-blooded acts carried the purpose of destroying the national, cultural, religious and democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.

Those that survived either suffered in silence or left the Soviet Union and tried to tell their story to the world, despite the denials of the USSR. Some of these Ukrainians even came to Australia and shared their stories. Along with Senator Catryna Bilyk, I have had the pleasure of being the co-chair of the Ukraine-Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group and have had the opportunity to meet a number of members of the Ukrainian community from my electorate and other areas of Australia. Ukrainian Australians see this forced famine as a deliberate and cruel attempt at eradicating their nation. Their memory of this tragedy and the impact on their families continues to play an important part in their lives today. As such, I would like to join the Ukrainian-Australian community and the international community in remembering this tragic milestone under the motto: 'Ukraine Remembers—The World Acknowledges'.

In honouring the 85th anniversary of the Ukrainian tragedy, I would also like to acknowledge the memory of millions of people of other nationalities who died of starvation and famine in other parts of the former Soviet Union as a result of civil war and forced collectivisation. These groups bear the scars of the crimes perpetrated by the Soviet Union, and the legacy of these crimes live on through their memory.

There is a great deal of importance in remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes are not allowed to be repeated no matter the circumstances. We must remember those who suffered through this devastating famine as well as those who starved to death and were left in mass graves. We must also remember those who were forced to stay silent in their suffering out of fear of punishment from an authoritarian state. As such, I would like to recognise the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor, an international tragedy which brought a people to their knees at the behest of the authoritarian Soviet government.