Famine Banner

 by Professor Taras Hunczak
 Translated by Iryna Kurowyckyj

The archives of the Ukrainian National Women's League of America's about the tragedy in Ukraine in 1932-1933 read like minutes of a meeting. In the documents, we find information about the work that was done by UNWLA members to help the victims and to share information about the famine with others.

On November 13, 1933, the National Board of the UNWLA called a meeting of its Branches in New York and the surrounding areas to form "The Emergency. Relief Committee for Starving Ukrainians." Dr. Neonilia Pelecovich was elected chair and other UNWLA members were elected to serve on the committee. Among them were Pavlyna Avramenko, Petrunela Kostecky and Julia Jarema, just to list a few.

At the meeting it was further decided that a Committee of Honor should be formed to assist the Emergency Relief Committee's work. Distinguished individuals within the Ukrainian and American communities were invited to participate.

The list of representatives from the Ukrainian community to the Committee of Honor creates a clear vision of how enthusiastically the UNWLA's appeal was answered. There is also evidence that other individuals invited to become members of the honorary committee were not as forthcoming. One of the invitees was Alexander Archipenko; he declined the invitation, but donated a sculpture of a woman's face to be raffled off to help starving Ukrainians. Most of the invitees from the American Community declined. Some did not even respond. Only Florence G. Caccisit, correspondent for the YMCA, and writer Carvet Wells accepted the invitation to be on the committee.

News about Famine

In spite of the lukewarm response from the American community, under the direction of Dr. Pelecovich, the Committee showed great enthusiasm. In a very short time they prepared a memorandum on the famine and letters that were to be sent out by the 21st of November 1933.

Among the recipients of the letters were President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, senators, congressmen and members of the press. One can only admire how quickly these letters were prepared and disseminated.

In the Memorandum to Humanitarian agencies such as American Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, was a short version of the history of the tragedy of Ukrainian people ending with an appeal for help. The Memorandum stated "We beseech your good organization, built upon the humane foundation of relieving human suffering and misery to give full consideration to our plea by sending a committee to investigate the magnitude of these horrible conditions... In the name of womanhood we are asking you to help the nation that is dying of starvation, mothers and children, their only wish is to live."

The first reply came on the November 29, 1933. It was a letter from the American Red Cross, stating that the USSR had forbidden any assistance to be brought through its borders from any international organization or agency. Other replies were soon received. In December of 1933 a letter arrived from Congressman John Delany. The congressman, as well as others, promised to look into the situation. These were not idle words. At the second session of the 73rd Congress, held in May 1934, Resolution 399, dealing entirely with the question of the famine in Ukraine, was passed. It is quite possible that this was the first resolution in which Moscow's politics were addressed in U.S. Congress. It clearly defined the situation as "Famine as means of decreasing the population of Ukraine, to destroy Ukrainians politically, culturally and to destroy their national rights."

The answer from the White House, on behalf of President Roosevelt's administration, came from the U.S. Department of State, Eastern European Division, Robert F Kelly, Chief. The letter, dated December 15, 1933, stated that at this time the Administration could not do anything in regards to the Famine.

The letters from the American press were interesting; the editor of the New York Herald Tribune, for example, wrote that the paper had a corespondent in Moscow and was being independently informed about the situation in Ukraine.

One finds in the UNWLA archives about the Great Famine correspondence to and from a "European Ukrainian Organization Committee," from Soyuz Ukrainok in Lviv, from the Ukrainian Women's Union of Czechoslovakia, and from a wide range of Ukrainian women's organizations writing in defense of the Ukrainian people.

The work of the "Emergency Relief Committee for Starving Ukrainians" under the leadership of Dr. Pelecovich was acknowledged by the United Ukrainian Organizations of America. A mandate was given to the UNWLA to organize a nationwide gathering in New York for the purpose of demonstrating their support for and defense of starving Ukrainians.

The UNWLA implemented its obligation with honor and dignity, and the documents in the archives prove this.

Publication of this commemorative issue marking the 70th anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine was made possible by a generous contribution from Self Reliance Federal Credit Union of New York. The Ukrainian National Women's League of America is deeply grateful