Use of food, artificial famines as a political weapon theme of presentations
UNITED NATIONS – The use of food as a political weapon was the theme of the December 3 event at the United Nations to commemorate the victims of the Holodomor, the 1932-1933 artificial famine in Ukraine that killed millions of people through forced starvation. In keeping with the theme “Food Security for All Generations, Lessons of the Past: Remembering Those Who Perished in The Holodomor in Ukraine, 1932-1933, and Victims of Other Artificial Famines of the 20th and 21st Centuries,” speakers put the Holodomor in context of other current and historical examples of the use of famine for political control.
“On November 22 this year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on ‘The Right to Food’ in which the United Nations admitted that food security was being seriously challenged in many regions of the contemporary world,” noted Amb. Yuriy Sergeyev, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations during his presentation.
“UN statistics are dramatic,” he continued. “Millions of people are dying of starvation. In some places, food is being used as a tool for political purposes. Artificial famine is a major concern of ours. We know how cruel by nature, and tragic by consequences, it is from our own Holodomor. Ukraine lost millions of her compatriots and understands the value of the life of a single human being especially one who is starving. Ukrainian food assistance is now going to Africa, South-Eastern Asia, Latin America, and Caribbean region.”
During her presentation, Mary Szkambara, President of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations stated that in the 20th and 21st centuries, governments discovered a new method of overpowering or defeating their enemy – using food as a weapon. The reasoning is “why waste money on bullets when you can bring a nation to its knees by depriving the people of food?” she said.
Noting the use of food as a weapon in recent artificially provoked famines in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and the Sudan that killed tens of millions of people within short spans of time, Mrs. Szkambara underscored the effective and cruel potency of manipulating food supply and using forced starvation to achieve political goals.
Furthermore, she noted, Stalin used food as a weapon against the people in Ukraine not only in 1932-1933, but in the years 1921-1923 and 1946-1947, as well.
“The famine of 1921-1923, which claimed the lives of nearly three million Ukrainians, was provoked not only by the poor harvest of 1921, but also by the Bolshevik’s destructive policy of food allotment,” she continued, a policy which included denial of humanitarian aid to Ukraine and continuing to export grain from Ukraine as Ukrainians were dying from starvation.
In 1946-1947, said Mrs. Szkambara, the famine began with a drought that devastated the southern oblasts of Ukraine. However, in an attempt to discredit political opponents, Stalin immediately attributed this famine to manifestations of Ukrainian “bourgeois nationalism” and categorically forbade any assistance to Ukraine. At a time when millions in Ukraine were starving, under Stalin’s directive, the USSR exported grain from Ukraine to Czechoslovakia, Poland and France.
However, she said, it is the brutal annihilation of between seven and ten million men, women and children 77 years ago during the Holodomor of 1932-1933 from which the Ukrainian population, even to this day, has not fully recovered both physically and psychologically.
“During 1932-1933, Ukraine was the only country in Europe where the population declined by 15% from 33 million to 28 million. If natural population growth of about 5% per year is included, then one can readily deduce that in the space of a little more than one year Ukraine’s population declined by some 20% or about 8 million souls,” she stated. At the height of the Famine in March 1933, approximately 25,000 people a day were dying.
The ones to suffer the most during the Famine were the innocent children, said Mrs. Szkambara. Children comprised one-third of the Holodomor victims. In 1933, more than 300,000 homeless children were recorded in Kyiv region alone. Since orphanages and children shelters were overcrowded, most of these children lived on the streets and subsequently died of starvation or disease.
“There are many historical interpretations of the events that happened in Ukraine in 1932-1933,” said Mrs. Szkambara, “however, it should be noted that Raphael Lemkin who developed the concept and coined the term “genocide” applies it to the destruction of the Ukrainian nation and not just the destruction of Ukrainian landowners and farmers.”
“Lemkin’s perception of the Ukrainian Famine as a genocide is a solid recommendation to the UN General Assembly and to the government of Ukraine to finally recognize the Ukrainian tragedy for what it was, a case of genocide, the destruction of people, destruction of nation,” concluded Mrs. Szkambara.
In her remarks, Tamara Gallo Olexy, the president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America also underscored the vulnerability of the weakest in a society to the manipulative use of food as a political weapon. “The majority to the innocent victims of the Holodomor were children and women,” she said “and unfortunately today, worldwide, women and children continue to constitute the majority of those who suffer from starvation.”
She also noted the role, historically, of women in identifying injustice. “Women also play an invaluable role in trying to bring attention to the existence of famine in Ukraine,” she noted, “and the first organizations that addressed the Holodomor by speaking the truth about this heinous crime and attempting to send relief were Ukrainian women’s organizations, including the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America. Furthermore, today’s women’s organizations within the United Nations are a strong force that continues to fight for human rights, the right to food, and the right to life.”
The speaker’s presentations alternated with musical presentations by several children’s choirs. “Music has always been a natural expression of feelings and emotions,” noted Mrs. Olexy, who also was the event’s mistress of ceremonies, “and thus, today’s program will include a concert-requiem in memory of the victims.”
The St. George Academy Chorus opened the event with a vocal rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Also performing were students of Hyde Leadership Charter School, from the Bronx, in New York City, as well as the First Ukrainian Baptist Church of Philadelphia Bells Ensemble. Concluding the program with the hymn “Lord Almighty and One” was Philadelphia’s Accolada Chamber Choir.
In her concluding remarks, Mrs. Olexy said, “before we depart, I would like to remind everyone here that it is our sacred duty to preserve the memory of all the innocent victims that were doomed to starvation during the Holodomor and in other artificially induced famines. This genocide against the Ukrainian people ranks among one of the worst cases of man’s inhumanity towards man and is perhaps the most extreme example of the use of food as a weapon. It is our obligation to the victims, the survivors and to future generations to spread the truth so that such heinous crimes like the Holodomor are never repeated.”
After the commemorative event, Nadia Shmigel, WFUWO’s Main Representative at the United Nations noted the importance of highlighting the Holodomor within the UN policy of assuring food security. Ukraine’s Holodomor is one of the most heinous crimes against humanity of the 20th century, said Mrs. Shmigel, who underscored the importance of the Holodomor as a case study not only for policy leaders, but also of human rights organizations of how dictators and brutal regimes use their power to control, terrorize and justify the use of food and threat of hunger as a weapon of political manipulation and national destruction.
Attended by more than 150 guests, including Bishop Paul Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, and William Pope, Senior Advisor to the US Representative to the United Nations, the event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations, the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations (WFUWO), the United Nations Foundation – United States of America Council of Organizations (UNA-USA COW), and World Information Transfer (WIT).