As chair of the Canada-Ukraine parliamentary friendship group and a member of Parliament from a riding where Ukrainian heritage runs deep, I want to take a moment to remember the victims of the Holodomor Genocide.
As we approach the anniversary of what Prime Minister Stephen Harper called “one of the great crimes of history,” we are committed to raising international awareness of what actually happened during this dark period in time.
The Holodomor was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. Stalin’s Soviet Union ruthlessly imposed exorbitant grain quotas — in some cases confiscating supplies down to the last seed — causing food shortages across the land. Soviet armed units even went as far as surrounding the Ukrainian population in the Kuban region and Ukraine, preventing the people from obtaining food in neighbouring Soviet regions. The result was death in the millions in what can only be described as one of the most horrific genocides in history.
Events like this remind us of the worst that humanity can do, and of the importance of remembrance and vigilance so that they are never permitted to happen again. We must, in Canada and around the world, protect the inalienable human rights of each person, by addressing the problem from its roots.
That’s why Parliament unanimously recognized the 1932-33 famine as an act of genocide, and established Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day on the fourth Saturday in November of each year. Following Nov. 11, when we remember the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers and our allies in defending our rights and freedoms, the Holodomor reminds us of the tragedies that can occur without these rights and freedoms.
And, to honour those memories and increase international recognition, Canada was proud to co-sponsor a UNESCO motion by Ukraine in 2007 to honour the millions who were slain by a cruel and totalitarian regime. The actions of Canada, under our Conservative government, are a natural outgrowth of the long friendship between the Canadian and Ukrainian peoples. Canada has been greatly strengthened by welcoming so many Ukrainians.
And we are also proud that Canada was the first western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991, when Ukraine ended a long period of totalitarian oppression. Indeed, following a dramatic late night trip by three Canadians — our consul general in Kiev, a special envoy from External Affairs and MP Patrick Boyer — Canada informed the president of Ukraine of our recognition on the first day of Ukraine’s independence. Then-prime minister Brian Mulroney kept his word.
Today, Canada remains committed to the success of Ukraine in nurturing a stable and prosperous democracy, building on the work the Canadian International Development Agency has done to strengthen Ukraine’s electoral system. During Prime Minister Harper’s last visit, he spoke strongly in defence of human rights.
He laid a symbolic pot of grain at the foot of the commemorative statue “Sad Memory of Childhood,” depicting a young girl, at the National Holodomor Memorial Museum and Monument. During his visit to Ukraine, the prime minister also worked to promote connections between the two countries. Harper signed an agreement on youth mobility, to help young people travel and work between the two countries. In addition, he announced that we are working toward a free trade agreement with Ukraine.
Our Conservative government will continue to work to strengthen ties between Canada and Ukraine, and remains dedicated to promoting human rights and democracy in Ukraine and around the world.
Let us all commemorate this very solemn anniversary and rededicate ourselves to the protection of universal human rights. Only in that way can we ensure that Ukraine, Canada and the world learn from the tragedies of the past. Only in that way can we ensure “never again.”
ROBERT SOPUCK, MP
Chair of the Canada-Ukraine
Parliamentary Friendship Group