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The Anniversary of Ukrainian Famine Shows the Past isn't Past

KYIV, Ukraine — As bells rang out at a centuries-old monastery, Ukrainians stepped out into a cold, misty night to light candles in memory of the devastating famine of 1932-33.

This annual commemoration was especially poignant this year, marking 90 years since the famine gripped Ukraine. Many here say Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was trying to destroy Ukraine then, and the current Kremlin leader, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is trying to do the same thing now.

They call it the Holodomor, which means "death by hunger."

At the National Museum of the Holodomor Genocide, one visitor, Roman Vashchenko, 44, spoke in somber tones of suffering old and new. First, he recalled stories his grandmother told him.

"She was one of 10 children. They were not allowed to leave their village. So they didn't know what was happening elsewhere," he said. "But they had a cow, and that's why they survived, because they had milk."

Then he spoke of pain that's much more recent.

"In March, the Russians shot and killed my sister and her husband," he said softly. Their sons, ages 12 and 6, survived.

Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union when Stalin seized private farms and turned them into state-run operations. It was an absolute disaster in this fertile farming region known as the "breadbasket of the Soviet Union."

Other farming regions also suffered famine, including Kazakhstan. But no place was hit as hard as Ukraine.

An estimated 4 million Ukrainians died within two years, though there's no precise figure and some historians say the toll may have been significantly higher.

Ukraine calls it a genocide, and nearly 20 other countries now agree — though not Russia.

Read entire article at NPR