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Pope Francis

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The Vatican and the Holodomor, the Ukrainian genocide, eighty years later


In his book with his rabbi friend from Buenos Aires, Pope Francis acknowledged the three major genocides of the 20th Century: the Armenians, Ukrainians and Jews. 

And though countries and individuals continue to dispute their existence, 2013 marked 80 years of the lesser known of three, known as the Holodomor.

President, Christian Association of Ukrainians in Italy 
"I first heard about the Holodomor from my grandmother. She told me when she was 12, she would see these very thin people with sunburned faces, that would be out in the fields, picking up whatever was left, inedible, thrown away.”

Former director, Security Service of Ukraine Archives
"Documents found in the archives, analyzed by historians, confirm, without a doubt, that the Holodomor was created by the Soviet regime to repress the will of the Ukrainian people and theirfight for independence.”

In its early years, the Soviet Union faced nationalist uprisings across the union, including in Ukraine. After Joseph Stalin came to power, his socialist policies led to the collectivization of farms

In the fertile farmlands of Ukraine the policy was disastrous, and productivity fell. To make matters worse, Soviet troops seized all crops to sell abroad. What followed was the starvation of an entire country. In fact, the very world Holodomor, means death by hunger.

Former director, Security Service of Ukraine Archives
"Soviet authorities knew people were dying of hunger. But they did everything to kill even more. They not only seized crops, but they took any food, leaving people with nothing.”

An estimated 5 to 7 million people died between 1932 and 1933. As news of the deaths reached world governments, even the newly sovereign Vatican mobilized.

Historian, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church
"The Pope immediately said, these matters must be published so that the world knows. The Osservatore Romano published several articles about this.”

In addition to publicity, Pope Pius XI took more direct action as well. Despite the global economic depression, he allocated funds to send to Ukraine, using his envoy for Soviet relations Msgr. Michel d'Herbigny.

Historian, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church
"We aren't sure if these funds ever reached their destination. But d'Herbigny also wanted to organize an aid mission as the Vatican had done in the 1920's for Russia. Unfortunately the Soviet government was officially denying the famine.”

Former director, Security Service of Ukraine Archives
"This very behavior from authorities confirms once again, the artificial nature of this famine. Because if they hadn't denied the existence of the famine, they could have asked for help from international and humanitarian groups.”

Today, the Vatican is only one of 24 countries that officially recognizes the Holodomor as genocide. The memory of the millions of people killed in Ukraine is commemorated every fourth Saturday of November. As education on the Holodomor continues, the hope is to avoid it happening again.