Once a month, hundreds of handmade perogies are expertly stuffed and folded by volunteers in the basement of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church.
In Victoria’s Ukrainian community, it’s not hard to find help when needed, especially when it comes to food.
“Food is part of our culture,” says Laura Walsh before switching to Ukrainian and exchanging pleasantries with older volunteers.
November marks a sombre month for Ukrainians, who for the past 80 years have been commemorating one of the darkest events in their history: Holodomor.
In 1932, Soviet troops swept through much of Central and Eastern Ukraine to seize stockpiles of food and control an independence uprising.
While estimates vary, five million to 10 million people died from starvation and related sicknesses by the following summer.
“I couldn’t speak about it, I wasn’t allowed,” said Nadiya Kravchenko, reflecting on a lifetime in Ukraine. She moved to Victoria six years ago to be closer to her adult son, who like many younger Ukrainians know little about Holodomor (“Death by hunger” in Ukrainian).
Kravchenko still bears the emotional scars from her previous life, where public criticism of the Soviet regime meant certain jail time.
“It was a manmade famine, it wasn’t war,” said Katharina Iwasyk, whose family immigrated to Canada in 1950. Iwasyk, 82, still remembers the taste of spoiled sauerkraut masked with sugar as a two-year-old girl. It was the only food her mother could find in the winter of 1932.
“I try not to think about it,” she said.
The Ukrainian government formally recognized Holodomor as genocide in 2006. And while many of the 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians hold quiet annual ceremonies to commemorate the event, the local community wants to raise its public profile during Holodomor’s 80th anniversary.
The University of Victoria hosts a Holodomor workshop on Nov. 15 at 1:30 in the MacLaurin Building, Room D110.
On Nov. 16, visit the Ukrainian Cultural Centre for a one-man play, Holodomor: Murder by Starvation, by Father Edward Evanko, a former Broadway performer.
A commemorative ceremony also takes place Nov. 23 at Cadboro Bay United Church.
“It’s an event about which so little is known, and people have no appreciation for a major tragedy that is largely forgotten or hidden,” said organizer Robert Herchak, who oversees fundraising and food production at the church.
“We’d like to change that,” Walsh said.
For more information, visit uccvi.com/events.html