Rewriting Ukrainian history: truth or falsification?

The 1930s Holodomor famine claimed millions of lives across the Soviet Union. Ukraine has continuously stressed that it was a genocide inflicted by the Communist government in Moscow to wipe out its people.

Now, attempts are being made to rewrite history to back up its claims.

Andrey Merkulov is a deputy at Sevastopol’s city council. He describes how he found evidence that special services in his town were falsifying historical facts.

“Here’s a photo by Dorothy Lang, shot in 1936 in Oklahoma. And here’s a photo by Fritof Nansen made in Russia’s Povolzhe region in 1921. But both of those pictures and other falsified photos were displayed at Sevastopol’s exhibition on the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933,” Merkulov says, demonstrating aged photographs.

Kiev claims that Holodomor was artificially directed against Ukrainians – something denied by Moscow. Russia and Ukraine are also at odds over the famine's official death toll.

Andrey says that such contradictions are not limited to Sevastopol. What he and some media describe as a campaign to rewrite history has been present in Ukraine for several years now.

Its goal, Merkulov says, is to accuse the Kremlin of wrongdoing backed by the highest echelons of power.

“We go to the Ukrainian president’s official website. Click on the photo gallery. Click on public events. And we see this picture – Yushchenko looking at pictures of the Ukrainian famine of the 1930’s. But the picture he’s looking at is this one, also shot by Nansen in Russia’s Povolzhie region. It is written here: Famine in Russia.”

Merkulov’s claims were backed by Ukraine’s national archive.

“We have declassified all documents on the famine in Ukraine and there are only two genuine pictures from that time. The rest are very much distantly related and are not necessarily shot in Ukraine,” Olga Ginzburg the head of Ukraine’s State Archive told RT.

This confession led to a formal apology by the SBU, Ukraine’s security service.

“These pictures are not a part of our archive and were used by accident. There were four pictures which got there by accident,” Vladimir Vyatrovich from SBU archive explained.

In January 2009, the SBU, following Yushchenko’s decree, urged the national archives to declassify all documents related to repressions in Soviet times, but its head said that there was nothing to make public.

Olga Ginzburg points out that the gesture was rather superfluous to begin with:

“We have already declassified all documents long time ago. They have been studied for years.”

The SBU lashed out at the archives for not doing their job, but some politicians see it as anger for failing to find evidence for an attack against Moscow.

“There are no documents, proving that there was something like Kremlin’s genocide against Ukrainians. Simply because there was no genocide. And because there is a wish to portray Russia as Ukraine’s enemy. History is for scientists, but when special services try to deal with it, it leads to bad results,” says Vadim Kolesnichenko from the Party of Regions.

Pressing issues

The disastrous famine of the 1930s is only one of several historic issues sending shockwaves across Ukraine. The historic role of the insurgent army, the UPA, is another.

It is believed that during the Nazi invasion these nationalist troops fought the Germans, but later they allied with their enemy and turned arms against the Soviet forces.

Many in Ukraine and Russia believe the troops aided the Nazis and literally shot their own people.

Not long ago, some of its members were made heroes of Ukraine by Yushchenko, sparking even more confusion among members of the public, who now do not know what to believe.

Revealing the truth or falsifying historical facts – both historians and society have yet to understand what this governmental campaign is all about. Regardless, the events of the past will be making headlines in Ukraine for years to come.

Denying claims

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has publicly cleared Russia from all responsibility for the Holodomor.

In a live interview for Russian radio station ‘Echo Moskvy’ on Wednesday, Yushchenko noted that the Holodomor famine “is not the responsibility of Russia or the Russian people.”

He noted that the government, as well as the ideology and the composition of the state responsible for what he still refers to as a crime directed against the Ukrainian people, was different from that of modern Russia.

However, the Ukrainian president reaffirmed that he is saddened by the fact that the modern Russian society as well as its government refuses to give what he calls an adequate evaluation of the USSR’s actions during the Holodomor.

This is not the first time that Viktor Yushchenko has clarified his stance on the issue, depicting a line which separates modern Russia from its Soviet past.