Ukraine famine-themed credit card hits US market

One of the most painful episodes in the history of Ukraine is being used by a bank in the US for commercial gain.

It is offering customers the chance to go shopping with a famine-themed credit card – a move being seen in Ukraine as a moral outrage.

The catastrophic 1932-1933 famine – known as the Holodomor – claimed at least 3 million lives in Ukraine alone, with several more million perishing across what is now central Russia and Kazakhstan.

Some in Kiev insist it was an act of genocide directed against Ukrainians. Moscow says it was caused by the criminal agricultural policies of Stalin's government. But those behind the credit card project claim they are driven by remembrance motives only, putting all historic debates aside.

“It’s another good mechanism to have the Holodomor remembered. Thanks to the political elite and civil organizations, it is known about in Ukraine, but not in the wider world,” says Bogdan Korolenko from the Institute of National Remembrance in Kiev. “Besides, there are only a few living witnesses left, and they are over 80 years old,” he says.

However, it is not only about the intangible. One percent of each purchase made with the Holodomor card will be allocated to a special charity fund.

For instance, Ukraine's main monument commemorating the 1930s famine was built during the 2008 recession. Millions of dollars were used from the state budget.And now people behind the Holodomor credit card project say the money they raise may be used to build more monuments and memorials.

However, this apparently benign initiative has been met with an avalanche of criticism. And that is only partly because there are practically no survivors left who could be helped with the money raised. Political analyst Viktor Pirozhenko says buying groceries with a famine-inspired card is a blasphemy.

“The idea is completely immoral. It’s an attempt to popularize a great tragedy and use it for commercial needs. I can only think of one other such proven tragedy – the Holocaust – but the Jews are not putting that on a credit card,” he said.

Whether the Holodomor card will be successful will only be known once it hits the market in late December – just in time for Christmas shopping.