Speech of Bishop Mykola Bychok on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Holodomor

November 28, 2023

“90 years ago, apart from individual journalists, only the Ukrainian Church was not silent. Thanks to the righteous Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytskyi and the bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the world community learned the truth about the famine in Ukraine,” Bishop Mykola on the Memorial Day of the victims of the Holodomor of 1932–33.

Speech of Bishop Mykola Bychok on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Holodomor

Dear brothers and sisters,

Last year, while on my way to the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Rome, I had the opportunity to visit the city of Vienna, Austria. In the centre of the city there is the majestic basilica of St. Stephen, which I have already visited several times. However, this time I had the opportunity to visit the dungeons of the church and the crypt of deceased bishops. Afterwards, there was a short meeting with His Eminence Christoph Schönborn, Cardinal of Vienna in the Bishop’s House. Walking around the Bishop’s House, I noticed one memorial plaque in German, with the words, “when the world was silent about the atrocities caused by the Holodomor in 1932–33 in Soviet Ukraine and other parts of the USSR, on the 16th of October, 1933, Cardinal Theodor Innitzer called the world community to the eternal laws of humanity and mercy and established interfaith and international aid for the millions of innocent people dying of hunger” (from a public address by Cardinal Theodor Innitzer on 20 August, 1933). This memorial plaque was officially installed on the 12th of November 2019 in the Bishop’s House in Vienna with the participation of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav.

This memorial plaque is round in shape with a diameter of 1 m symbolising a millstone for grinding grain. At the bottom, on the right-hand side, there is a piece of the map of Ukraine and the number 163. I had a question, what does this number mean? Later I learned that the number 163 symbolizes 5 ears of wheat. There are approximately 163 grains in 5 ears of wheat. On the 7th of August 1932, during the Holodomor, the USSR established a cruel law on the “five ears of wheat” entitled “on the protection of the property of state enterprises, collective farms and cooperatives and the strengthening of socialist property”, according to which collective farm property was equated with state property and declared inviolable. Hungry peasants, who were collecting ears of wheat left in the field after the harvest, were shot for stealing state property.

90 years ago, apart from individual journalists, only the Ukrainian Church was not silent. Thanks to the righteous Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytskyi and the bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the world community learned the truth about the famine in Ukraine. On the 24th of July 1933, the bishops of our Church wrote a pastoral letter, “Ukraine in the throes of death”, in which they asked, “all Christians of the whole world, all believers in God, and especially all workers and peasants, above all our compatriots, to join this voice of protest and pain and spread it to the farthest countries of the world.” The clergy of the UGCC not only informed the civilized world, but also encouraged the Ukrainian language press in Galicia and the Catholic press in the West to write about the fact that millions of Ukrainians are dying of hunger. Also, as far as possible, the Church around the world collected money and food for those who were starving. However, the Soviet government refused this help, and organised an information campaign organized to downplay the scale of the Holodomor nullifying these efforts. Later, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytskyi negotiated with Hollywood about shooting a film about the Holodomor.

The figure of Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of Vienna, who helped Ukraine in difficult times not only by word but also by deed, is unknown to many Ukrainians. His name should be written in capital letters and honoured by Ukrainians, as the one who did not leave our people during the Holodomor.

In 1933, Cardinal Innitzer together with Ewald Ammende published a brochure about the famine in Ukraine. It began with the cardinal’s address to the world community about the need to provide aid to millions of starving people. He also mentioned Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytskyi’s statements regarding the creation of an international aid committee as well as the British journalist Gareth Jones’ letters regarding a quarter of the starving population, including representatives of national minorities and religious denominations. The brochure also contained further articles and speeches by Ewald Ammende, reports by German diplomat and analyst Schiller, British correspondent Muggeridge and French journalist Berlan.

On the 16th of October 1933, Cardinal Innitzer, as already noted on the memorial plaque, convened a meeting of representatives of various faiths in Vienna with the aim of creating a “committee to help Ukraine”, whose branches operated in European countries and Galicia. On the 16–17 December 1933, an international conference of representatives of all aid committees for the starving in the USSR, denominations, and public organizations was held at the cardinal’s residence. In his welcoming speech, Cardinal Innitzer signalled the main goal of the meeting was: “that helping the hungry is everyone’s sacred duty and a concrete manifestation of love for one’s neighbour”. The conference adopted a corresponding declaration on the creation of a relief committee. In 1934, the cardinal accepted for storage the archive of photographs about the Holodomor, taken by Alexander Wienerberger.

In Ukraine, the Holodomor of 1932–33 was recognized as a genocide of the Ukrainian people, and the fourth Saturday of November was established as a Memorial Day for the victims of the Holodomor. That is why today, the 25th of November, we gather here in the church to pray and honour the memory of all those innocently killed by hunger.

For more than a year and a half, Russia has been committing genocide against the Ukrainian nation, as it did during the Holodomor of 1932–33. With only one difference: the first genocide was due to famine and today it is due to war crimes against humanity, all because unpunished evil is repeated.

This year marks 90 years since the Soviet communist regime of 1932–33 destroyed the Ukrainian nation with hunger, despite Ukraine being known as the “breadbasket of Europe”. Holodomor is not just a painful wound. It is a black hole in our history that could irreversibly swallow not only Ukraine, but also any hope for life. The Ukrainian people experienced the greatest genocide in its history, namely the extermination of a significant number of its population.

Given the scale, cruelty, and cynicism of the Holodomor, not many countries in the world have similar crimes in their history. The Holodomor was caused artificially, without the elements of nature, without drought, without foreign invasion, and as a result, millions of human lives were condemned to torture until death. The Soviet government confiscated and exported large amounts of grain and other agricultural produce. State distilleries were operating at full capacity during this period, processing valuable grain into alcohol bound for export. Fines were imposed on individual farmers and whole villages for not fulfilling inflated grain procurement quotas, enabling Soviet authorities to confiscate in addition to grain, all other foodstuffs in people’s homes. The genocide by starvation was directed primarily against the Ukrainian peasantry as the nucleus of the Ukrainian nation, which had been striving for independence as a state.

Ukrainians still need time to fully understand these tragic events, to investigate them and convey the truth to the whole world. We still do not know the full scale of this tragedy, but we know for sure that the famine was organized by Stalin as a genocide, which was deliberately aimed at exterminating the Ukrainian people. This crime of Stalinism, unprecedented in the scope of execution, caused the heaviest losses to Ukraine and cost the nation millions of human lives. At its height, the Holodomor in Ukraine took the lives of approximately 25,000 to 30,000 people per day.

The historical fact of the Holodomor of 1932–33 in Ukraine was officially recognized by more than 70 countries of the world, and by 32 countries as an act of genocide. It is worth noting that on the 28th of October 2003, Australia was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the Holodomor as a crime. The United Nations recognized the Holodomor as a crime against humanity. The European Parliament recognized the Holodomor as a terrible crime against the people of Ukraine and humanity.

Recognizing the Holodomor as genocide is, first of all, establishing the truth, historical and legal justice, recognizing and condemning at the world level the fact that the Russian Soviet communist totalitarian regime purposefully committed the greatest crime — the genocide of the Ukrainian nation. And the whole world should know and understand the criminal essence of Moscow, which it tries to cover up with falsification of history and various political lies.

The Holodomor of 1932–33 is our common memory and common pain. There is not a single family in Ukraine that was not affected by this tragedy. Millions of our relatives, fellow villagers, countrymen tortured by hunger are not just victims of the injustice of the regime. This is the extermination of the bearers of our Ukrainian tradition, culture, and spiritual values. In 1932–33, Ukraine lost approximately 7–10 million people. A third of them were children.

Today, on the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, I call on our faithful and all people of goodwill to pray for remembrance and solidarity. Let’s spread the truth about the war in Ukraine and around the world, so that the false information of the enemy does not find a place in people’s hearts. We pray for all the victims of the Holodomor, as well as for peace in Ukraine, the Holy Land, and the whole world.

See also