‘All her life, it was with her:’ Prince Albert woman tells great grandmother’s story of surviving Holodomor

Submitted photo. Krystina Tulchynska.

Ukrainian community gathers at provincial legislature to mark Holodomor

Krystina Tulchynska wonders what her family, and her home country of Ukraine, would be like today if it weren’t for Holodomor.

The Prince Albert woman’s great grandmother was the only child out of seven siblings to survive the man-made famine in 1932 and 1933.

“Every time she talked about this, her eyes were full of tears. I can’t even imagine how hard it was and, unfortunately, such events did not pass without leaving a mark on your life,” said Tulchynska.

“All her life, it was with her.”

Holodomor, meaning ‘death by hunger,’ killed millions of Ukrainians under Soviet policies in an effort to prevent Ukrainian autonomy. Saskatchewan is remembering those impacted by the famine throughout the week, with International Holodomor Day taking place on Saturday.

Tulchynska estimated her great grandmother, being the youngest sibling, would have been about five years old during Holodomor – but she remembered the details vividly.

Long after the famine concluded, her great grandmother lived in constant fear of starvation.

“She would always hide a supply of flour, sugar, bread crumbs, as well as candles and matches. She never bought food for one dinner like we are used to now. All food, everything would be used a second time. She never threw the food in the trash,” said Tulchynska.

She recalled her “best and care-free” days as a child being spent in her great grandmother’s garden. However, she didn’t plant and care for it for pleasure, but as a backup source of food.

“That’s what my great grandmother did for all of us to protect and teach us in case this situation would be repeated.”

Tulchynska never thought that it would.

In early 2022, though, Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine while Tulchynska was living and working in Kyiv. For the few days before the situation started to stabilize, she had to remember what her great grandmother taught her.

“In the first days of the war, I saw empty shelves in stores. I was overcome with that fear and I began to remember what I had in my fridge,” she said.

“My mother, according to the words of our great grandmother, still kept candles and matches, which she had long forgotten about, but when the lights were periodically turned off, we used them.”

Saskatchewan’s Ukrainian community gathered at the legislature on Tuesday for a Holodomor memorial service. According to a news release, the service included the lighting of a memorial candle, which will remain lit throughout the week.

“Holodomor, The Great Famine, is still felt by the Ukrainian community 90 years later,” said Terry Dennis, legislative secretary responsible for Saskatchewan-Ukrainian relations.

“We join our Saskatchewan citizens of Ukrainian heritage to remember this dark time and honour those lost.”

The province was the first jurisdiction in North America to pass the The Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial Day Act in 2008.

According to the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium, there is no official death toll because much of the documentation was destroyed by Soviet authorities.

The number of excess deaths – the difference between observed and expected number of deaths – during that time period sits at 4.5 million.

At the height of the famine in mid-1933, at least 28,000 people died per day in Ukraine due to direct starvation. It’s estimated that 30 per cent were children.

“In only my family, six kids died and there were hundreds, thousands of other families, so maybe Ukraine could be different,” said Tulchynska.

“I just believe that if people remember you, you’re still living there in another world. Now my great grandmother will know more people, which is good I think for her, for this family memory. I’m proud to share her history. I think she would be proud as well.”

jayda.taylor@paherald.sk.ca @JournalistJayda