Between the spring of 1932 and July 1933, as many as 10 million Ukrainian men, women and children were starved to death by a man-made famine.
The Holodomor, or hunger plague, was a famine engineered by the Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin — a communist dictator — as part of a series of actions, including mass executions, designed to destroy the Ukrainian nation, according to holodomor.org.uk. The government confiscated all agricultural food sources, including grains and livestock. Massive amounts of grain were sold to foreign markets to build factories and provide weapons for the military, leaving the Ukrainian villages barren and hungry. The Ukrainians were also kept from leaving their homes.
For years, the Holodomor went unrecognized as an act of genocide, and the mere existence of the famine was repeatedly denied by the Soviet governments.
Orest Staneckyj, a member of the league of Ukrainian-Canadians in Sudbury, described the Holodomor as a "brutal, artificial famine," and "one of the greatest human tragedies and crimes in all recorded history.
"More than three million children born between 1932 and 1933 died of hunger," he said, his words breaking through the emotion that shook his voice.
"This act of genocide — a shameful crime against humanity — was neither acknowledged internationally at the time, nor were the perpetrators punished," Staneckyj continued. "It was ignored by the community of nations and covered up by the media."
In fact, it wasn't until decades later that the genocide was recognized for what it was. In 2008, Canada was one of the first countries to recognize the Ukrainian Famine as an act of genocide. The government passed a motion to establish a Holodomor Memorial Day, to be held on the fourth Saturday of every November. It wasn't until November 2007 that the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill branding the Holodomor an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people as well. Now, more than 40 countries have recognized the Holodomor as a genocide.
Staneckyj said it is important Ukrainians continue to recognize the Holodomor as a way of preventing history from repeating itself.
"We have to be aware of the mistakes we made so they don't happen again," he said.
While there were Ukrainians in attendance at the ceremony who had been alive at the time of the Holodomor, it wasn't a time of their lives upon which they wanted to reflect.
"They don't want to talk about it. They don't want to remember it," said Marika Babiak, the cultural and leisure organizer for the Ukrainian Seniors' Centre who planned the event.
As part of the ceremony, a candle — placed on a table beside a bundle of wheat — was lit in memory of those who lost their lives in the Holodomor. A small lunch was served and a film on the genocide was played. Money was also collected to be put toward a Holodomor fund to help have the historical event added into the school curriculum.
"We want to educate the young people about it, to let them know it happened, like the Holocaust," Babiak said. "Lots of people don't even know about it."
For more information about the Holodomor, visit www.holodomoreducation.org.