The Nation’s Capitol added to its honored and assorted memorials by one on Saturday November 7. The Holodomor Memorial is dedicated to the millions of Ukrainians who perished during the 1932-1933 genocidal famines. In Ukrainian, holodomor means, “murder by starvation.”
U.S. Representative Sander Levin (D-MI) was the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony who introduced the congressional legislation authorizing the Memorial’s construction on federal land in Washington D.C.
After the bill passed the House, Representative Levin said, “The memorial authorized by this legislation will not only honor the memory of the millions that lost their lives, but serve as a tangible reminder to all of us that we must work together to prevent such tragedies in the future.”
The Memorial creates public awareness of this crime against Ukrainians and humanity. Like many perpetrators of such egregious actions, the Soviet Union refused to acknowledge that millions died in the famine, so too the Russian Federation continues to engage in Holodomor denial today.
Washington’s own Larysa Kurylas, a Ukrainian-American architect, designed the Memorial. For nearly three decades, Larysa has been practicing architecture, which has resulted in her own firm, The Kurylas Studio.
The Holodomor—or “murder by starvation”—was the genocidal famine that took the lives of millions of Ukrainians in 1932-1933. The communist regime deliberately used mass starvation to break the resistance of Ukrainian farmers to Soviet authority in general and to the confiscation of their land, grain, and animals in particular. Communist activists went door-to-door searching for grain and other food, leaving people with nothing. At the height of the famine in June 1933, an estimated 28,000 Ukrainians were dying each day. Within 18 months, about one in eight Ukrainians in rural areas had died. In 1988, the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine reported to Congress, “Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against Ukrainians in 1932-1933.”
How many people were deliberately starved during the Holodomor?
While estimates vary depending on sources and methodology, a number of Holodomor scholars currently propose that the number of victims was in the 3-to-5 million range. Higher estimates are found in the reporting of reputable journalists who traveled to Ukraine in the 1930s. The Soviet Union barred access to government records from the era, and many official records were falsified, lost or destroyed. Since the fall of the USSR, demographers and historians continue to study the Holodomor and piece together the full picture.
Why didn’t other countries intervene to stop the Holodomor?
The USSR denied that there was a famine and exported grain and other food to Europe during those years. Foreigners were either forbidden from traveling in the Ukrainian countryside or shown a false image of prosperity. However, some Western journalists, including Malcolm Muggeridge, Arthur Koestler, Whiting Williams, Harry Lang, Adam Tawdul, and William Henry Chamberlin, witnessed the mass starvation and wrote about it. Although most Western governments knew of the famine, their attention was diverted by Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the ongoing Depression.
What is the Holodomor Memorial?
In 2006, the U.S. Congress, working with Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko, approved the building of a monument on U.S. federal land dedicated to the memory of those who died in the Holodomor. The dedication ceremony on November 7, 2015 is expected to draw thousands of people from across the United States. The monument is located in Washington, D.C., on Massachusetts Avenue, near Capitol Hill. The Memorial was designed by Ukrainian American architect Larysa Kurylas.
Why is the Holodomor relevant today?
As a genocide, the Holodomor is critically important for a full understanding of how and why criminal regimes destroy innocent populations. Understanding the Holodomor is thus vital to preventing future genocides and crimes against humanity.
The National Holodomor Memorial is a prodigious bronze bas-relief sculpture aptly named “Field of Wheat”. Spanning thirty feet, the monument contains pronounced wheat fading into obscurity. The eerie blank space of the sculpture, with the eventual appearance of the Ukrainian word holodomor, is designed to represent the systematic procedure of the Soviet government’s use of famine through grain confiscation. The sculpture is intimately placed within arm’s reach to promote touching and burnishing of the bronze surface, much like John Harvard’s left boot, to facilitate a more personal connection.
On the opposite side of the sculpture is a geometric pattern taken from a 1933 textile design by Kyiv architect Vasyl H. Krychevsky. The Soviets used cultural attacks, as this design alludes to, along with food impounding, two goals of the Holodomor. At the height of this tragedy is the barring of the Ukrainian border, which is represented by the barbed characters.
A somber backdrop for “Field of Wheat” is made up of purple-leafed Forest Pansy Redbud trees and Nandina Domestica shrubs that occupy both the tree planter bed and the rain garden, which will capture all storm water runoff at the low end of the site.
The monument presents a triangular disposition, separating a more peaceful gathering place on Massachusetts Avenue, in front of the sculpture, from existing sidewalk cafes on F Street.
The Designer and Studio
Larysa was born in Baltimore, MD where her Ukrainian émigré parents settled after WWII. In her youth, she attended Ukrainian Saturday School and was a member of Plast—a Ukrainian Scouting Organization. Currently, she is a parishioner at the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, D.C. Larysa maintains an interest in Ukraine-related architectural projects worldwide. The Kurylas Studio has been involved in the structural design to establish the Saints Borys & Hlib Ukrainian Catholic Church and Ann Yaroslavna Cultural Center in a 300 year-old church in Senlis, France. Larysa is a member of the board of the Foundation to Preserve Ukraine’s Sacral Arts.
She received her Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1980 from the University of Maryland, where she was also the recipient of the AIA School Medal, the Dean’s Prize, and a Certificate of Merit from the Henry Adams Fund. In 1982, she won the Stewardson Traveling Fellowship. She completed her Master of Architecture program in 1985 at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
The firm is a “general practice” where the same problem-solving skills, design integrity, and standards of excellence are applied to a variety of commercial and residential building types. In 2009, the firm received a Vision Award for the Washington Ethical Society project from The Committee of 100 on the Federal City. In 2014, The Kurylas Studio, in collaboration with AECOM, was selected as a finalist in a design competition for the Victims of Communism Memorial in Ottawa, Canada.
An exhibit on the history of the Holodomor was on display at Union Station during the first two weeks of November.
For more information about the Holodomor refer to its website
And email: Ukrainegenocide@gmail.com
The memorial can be found at the intersection of North Capitol Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
Agency Sponsor: United States National Park Service
Memorial Sponsors: Government of Ukraine
U.S. Committee for Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide
Architect-of-Record: Hartman-Cox Architects
Design Architect: The Kurylas Studio
Sculptors: Larysa Kurylas
Lawrence Welker IV
Foundry: Laran Bronze, Inc.
Mason: Rugo Stone
General Contractor: Forrester Construction Company