“No human power can tear from our hearts our identity as Children of the Father who is in heaven,” said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, presiding over a Divine Liturgy according to the Greek-Catholic rite on November 26, 2022, in the Basilica of Santa Sofia in Rome. The celebration was held to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, a man-made famine organized in Stalin’s Soviet Union between 1932 and 1933, which targeted the populations of eastern Ukraine.
This campaign is estimated to have caused between 4 and 10 million deaths. In the current context of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, this event was remembered with particular gravity.
Cardinal Sandri remembers Ukraine’s difficult past and present
“The skies of Ukraine are furrowed by instruments of destruction, which strike everywhere, even pediatric wards, and in each case if they do not directly sow death they produce the interruption of electricity, water, and whatever can warm homes and families, as the cold grips and winter sweeps in,” lamented Cardinal Sandri, Prefect Emeritus of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, during his homily.
The 79-year-old Argentinian Cardinal is continuing to lead this Vatican body until January 2023, when he will be succeeded by Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, who was nominated on November 21.
Cardinal Sandri fondly recalled his visits to Ukraine, including in 2001 when he was Substitute for the Secretary of State under Pope John Paul II. He also traveled to Ukraine in 2017 to visit the Ukrainian Greek Catholics. During that trip he visited many of the cities that today are particularly affected by the war, such as Kharkiv, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
Cardinal Sandri acknowledged that the Holodomor is a “lesser-known episode in history books in the West ” than other extermination campaigns, such as the Holocaust, carried out by the Nazis during World War II. Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and whose mother was placed in a concentration camp during the Second World War, was also present at the ceremony. Cardinal Czerny is one of the cardinals that Pope Francis has sent to Ukraine for visits to transmit the closeness of the Church.
With the mass deportations and famine campaigns, Cardinal Sandri continued, Soviet totalitarianism contributed to the unleashing of an “abyss of iniquity” in the 20th century, as John Paul II recalled in his book “Memory and Identity,” published a few months before his death.
Today, the Russian offensive in Ukraine reawakens this trauma, and Cardinal Sandri recalled Pope Francis’ closeness by explaining how in the Pontiff’s Letter to the Ukrainian People, published on November 25, he “traced the paths of pain and devastation, the tears and crosses” taken up by the Ukrainians in their past and present.
The quest for international support for a “just peace”
Regarding the Pope’s attitude, which had been criticized by some Ukrainians for seeming too conciliatory towards Russia, “we see a change, little by little, with very clear words. His message for the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor was very comforting,” Natalia Karfut, a young Ukrainian woman who has been living in Italy for 16 years, told I.MEDIA as she left the basilica.
She explained that in the 1930s, “the world did not know what was happening,” and that the silence was maintained for several decades, until the fall of the USSR and Ukrainian independence in 1991.
For a long time, “the people who survived did not want to talk about what had happened, because they had experienced atrocious things that they could not verbalize, really inhuman things,” she said. Only a few photos, projected in the Basilica of Santa Sofia as part of a concert organized after the Divine Liturgy, provided a direct testimony of the atrocities experienced by the Ukrainian population during this period.
Natalia Karfut’s family, who live in western Ukraine, were not directly threatened by this campaign, but her grandmother remembered taking in a child from the eastern part of the country during the 1930s. The child later returned to the eastern side with his mother after two years of safety.
In the context of the current Russian offensive and the bombardments targeting in particular the electrical infrastructure, Natalia Karfut points out that the many Ukrainians who are preparing to spend the winter in the cold “are experiencing another type of Holodomor.”
“They could freeze to death. I hope that solutions can be found to protect Ukrainians from this new genocide that is taking place before everyone’s eyes,” with media coverage that allows the rest of the world to follow the events “live,” Karfut explained.
Beyond immediate aid, she hopes that the international community will be able to mobilize to guarantee a “just peace” and help Ukraine avoid finding itself again being attacked “in 10 or 20 years time.” Thus, with the support of the rest of the world, “our people will know its Resurrection.”