As they commemorate the 80th anniversary of mass starvation that killed many of their ancestors, Amsterdam’s Ukrainian-Americans are asking local residents to reflect on a frightening scenario: government workers going door-to-door confiscating all the food.
Those in the eastern portion of Ukraine who hid food were shot by the Soviets during the Holodomor, a genocide that claimed as many as 10 million people in 1932 and 1933.
Members of Amsterdam’s Ukrainian-American Club are planning a presentation Saturday at the Amsterdam Free Library, where two new books focusing on the forced famine will join the list of the library’s holdings. And the sale of extra copies of these books as well as commemorative bracelets will help fund maintenance for a new memorial to be built this year in Washington, D.C.
Ukrainian-American Club President Ihor Rymaruk said the Ukrainian-American population has dispersed throughout the country after a couple waves of immigration. He fears that dispersal will lead to the painful history of his ancestors being lost unless memories of the disaster that followed socialist plans to redistribute wealth are kept alive.
“We’re not learning from history, and this is what the free world needs to do. Today, it’s critically important that we take a lesson from even 70 or 80 years ago,” Rymaruk said.
Ukrainians weren’t armed and they had no means to resist the Soviet leadership’s goal of taking what people produced for the good of the state, Rymaruk said.
“They were agrarian people. They didn’t have guns, they were peace-loving people, they were hard-working.”
Amsterdam Free Library Director Nicole Hemsley said the library is pleased to serve as a forum where residents can learn about the history of their neighbors. She said local schools may have more than enough history to impart to students, and the library can serve as support for more-detailed exploration of local immigrants’ histories.
Years ago, there were individual sections in the library that focused on histories of the countries from which Amsterdam’s immigrants hailed.
They aren’t there any more and it’s unclear what happened to them, Hemsley said.
It’s possible these books dropped out of circulation for lack of use, but that won’t happen with the two new books on Ukrainian history. Hemsley said these books will be housed in the local history section of the library, a section that doesn’t dwindle if the books aren’t borrowed.
Ukrainian-American Club member Myron Swidersky said the group is working toward developing a website that could be launched next year on the topic — another avenue he said that might help keep the Ukrainians’ history alive.
Two books will be on sale Saturday. A soft cover titled “Stones Under the Scythe,” written by Olha Mak, who witnessed atrocities while a student in the Ukraine, will be on sale for $15.
The other book, a hardcover titled “Genocide in Ukraine” by Peter Kardash, covers the history of Ukraine leading up to the Soviet takeover and Holodomor genocide.
Saturday’s program will begin at 10:30 a.m. with the airing of a documentary on the Holodomor, remarks from Ukrainian-Americans and the city historian and refreshments.
The Amsterdam Free Library is located at 28 Church St.