SASKATOON — An educational bus is touring Saskatchewan featuring the Holodomor, a famine in which millions of Ukrainians died under Stalin. This summer, a new curriculum was developed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Saskatchewan (UCCS) to explore the Holodomor, with partnership from FAST (Fighting Anti-Semitism Together) to incorporate into their free curriculum available for teachers. “Voices Into Action” covers high school and adult learning on human rights and social justice, from Islamophobia and anti-Semitism to genocides.
“The Holocaust is foundational to this program,” noted David Katzman of Congregation Agudas Israel in Saskatoon. He attributes this to the technological efficiency of Hitler’s death machine — something he described as “the industrialization of death” — the UN Declaration of Human Rights being a direct product of the Holocaust. “That started a human rights revolution around the world. Indigenous groups saying, now we have an ally in the United Nations.”
When Katzman did his presentations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba on genocide, people would repeatedly ask where the Holodomor was, because between four and 10 million Ukrainians starved to death. He eventually reached out to the UCCS, who hired educators George Zerebecky and Nadia Prokupchuk to develop the Holodomor curriculum.
“The website is free, because recent history is showing a horrible rise in racism and discrimination and xenophobia,” noted Katzman, before Prokupchuk and Zerebecky went over the curriculum in detail.
“This was a gaping hole in the list of examples of genocide, and George and I were pleased to try our hand at simplifying a very complex time in history and making a very uncomfortable topic something that would somehow grab the interest of our high school students and get them to dig deeper into the context,” explained Prokupchuk, adding they looked at the other chapters first so that they could complement the Armenian and Rwanda genocides, using inquiry-based learning.
“We started with a question to entice students to think about this time in history, and how something as horrific as this genocide could happen without the world knowing. How could it be hidden so well that even to this day we really don’t hear about it?”
The chapter includes eyewitness survivor interviews of the Holodomor; if they are written in Ukrainian there is an English translation.
“It draws up all the human emotion possible, on the Canadian Holodomor website,” noted Prokupchuk.
Zerebecky noted that the nutshell overview in his timeline is augmented by links to further research, so that students and teachers alike can delve further into the topic, because it is also for adult education as well as young adults.
He also added that the work is based on Ukrainian historical work, not Russian historians who might have a different take. They also give the example in their chapter of “Believers and Deniers” — two prominent journalists who witnessed, and came away with, very different views and reports of the Holodomor.
“One of the journalists won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, which was later found to be false,” noted Prokupchuk. “Journalists have a powerful role to play in bringing history to life.”
Evidence-based research makes up the information in the difficult chapter on millions of deaths by starvation. This follows with an action item section that take students into the research and the topics addressed in the chapter.
“If we forget the past we are going to repeat it,” said Katzman. “What scares me the most is when Putin is putting forth Stalin as a hero.”
He noted that Hitler is also being admired as a great general, and Prokupchuk noted that current Russian aggression against Ukraine is imperialism rearing its head again.
“Are we ever going to get the great bear off the back of the Ukraine?” she asked. “There’s an opportunity for students to explore what happened then, and what is happening now, with the annexation of Crimea, and what the relationship is.”
The summer meeting preceded the coming of the Holodomor bus arriving in Saskatchewan in October, and the researchers were hopeful the submission would be available online in time for teachers to incorporate it in conjunction with the bus visits.