A black ribbon dangled from a Ukrainian flag outside Amsterdam City Hall on Tuesday as a small group of Ukrainian-Americans reflected on the mass starvation forced on millions of their ancestors 80 years ago.
Ukrainians around the world are commemorating the Holodomor, a genocide that claimed as many as 10 million people in 1932 and 1933 that was little-noticed and not officially recognized for years.
Ukrainian-Americans nationwide are raising money to help pay for maintenance of a new monument to be built in Washington next year, and Amsterdam’s contingent is working to ensure nobody forgets what happened to their people.
Later labeled by Ukraine as a “deliberate terrorist act,” the Joseph Stalin-led effort to quickly industrialize the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics led to the Communists confiscating grain and foodstuffs and ousting Ukrainian landowners from their farms, according to the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.
Amsterdam resident Iwan “John” Semczuk never met his aunt. She starved to death, he said.
Semczuk was 4 years old when his parents moved to Amsterdam, arriving in 1950 from one of the “displaced persons” camps established in Austria and Germany after World War II.
Semczuk recalls his elders talking about the Holodomor at the dinner table, mostly during the holidays.
It was an especially sore topic for his father, Semczuk said, who remembered his father’s hemp farm being confiscated. “He never spoke too much about it,” said Semczuk, who never met his grandparents — they were lost to the genocide, too.
“How my mother survived, I don’t know,” he said.
The painful history makes it easy to appreciate life in the United States,
said Nataliya Romanishin, who moved to Amsterdam from Ukraine eight years ago.
“This is a blessed country. People just live happy here,” she said.
Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane declared this week “Ukrainian Holodomor Remembrance Week” and read a proclamation recognizing that the city “has always drawn strength from the diverse origins of its citizenry.”
“It is necessary for all the peoples of the world to recognize this genocide against the Ukrainian people to prevent similar heinous crimes in the future against any people,” the proclamation reads.
Thane said the city is working to make City Hall a place where the community’s diverse backgrounds can be shared and embraced and, in cases such as the Holodomor, never forgotten.
“It’s so important that we remember,” she said.
As the Ukraine flag reached the top of the flagpole, Father Marian Kostyk, pastor of the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Amsterdam, led the group in singing a prayer, “Eternal Memory,” in honor of the dead.
An informational display about the Holodomor is situated at the Amsterdam Free Library, and the Amsterdam branch of the Ukrainian-American Citizens Club is working to bring displays to the local schools as well, club president Myron Swidersky said.
The group is selling black wristbands for $2 each in an effort to raise money to help maintain the memorial once it’s built in Washington.