In 1933, Mykola Bokan travelled across the Chernihiv Region of
These were the victims of Holodomor, the "death by starvation" unleashed by Stalin that killed millions across
"Stories like this deepen our knowledge of our own history," says Volodymyr Vyatrovych, director of the archives at the state security service, or SBU, the KGB's successor in
In January, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko ordered state archives to declassify, publish, and study all documents relating to Holodomor, the Ukrainian independence movement, and political repressions during the Soviet period from 1917 to 1991.
There's a lot of work for Mr. Vyatrovych and his colleagues to get through: He estimates there are 800,000 documents from which to remove the "secret" seal.
"As a totalitarian system, the
The aim of the work is to make the documents available at digital reading rooms across the country and the Internet, and to publish collections. Vyatrovych says the publicity drive has already boosted interest, and not just among historians. "More and more people are coming to find out about relatives," he says.
Unlike many ex-Soviet states, such as neighboring
But since Yushchenko's dramatic rise to the presidency in the wake of the Orange Revolution in 2004, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest a rigged vote, he has made a concerted effort to draw attention to Ukraine's history. His main focus has been on promoting recognition of Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people.
Although famine struck a number of areas in the Soviet Union as a result of Stalin's initiative to create collective farms, many historians argue that the famine was exacerbated in
"Promoting a reappraisal of our history is one of Yushchenko's greatest achievements," says Stanislav Kulchytsky, one of
The opening of the archives has not passed without controversy. Olha Ginzburg, a Communist Party member and head of the state archives committee, claims that all necessary files have already been declassified, and has opposed the publication of archival documents.
Vyatrovych counters that this may be true of some archives, but certainly not of his. "Some political forces don't want the documents to see the light of day because it will affect their popularity."
Some pro-Russian opposition politicians have criticized Yushchenko's drive as nationalistic and dangerous. But Vyatrovych says fears of social tensions are exaggerated.
"My colleagues in other ex-Soviet countries said that when they opened their secret service archives, people also told them not to do it as it would cause a civil war," he says. "But it didn't happen, and won't happen here. It's a myth."
History as politics
Yushchenko's portrayal of Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people has also raised hackles at the highest levels in
When Yushchenko organized a 75th-anniversary commemoration last November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev refused to attend, accusing his Ukrainian counterpart in an open letter of "[using] the so-called 'Holodomor' … to achieve short-term political goals." A number of countries, including the
While Yushchenko has pushed a highly critical approach to Soviet history,
Ukrainian historians complain that access to some Russian archives is much more restricted than it was in the '90s, and numerous requests for cooperation have been rejected.
In February, a group of Russian archivists and historians presented a book of historical documents that they said showed that the famine was not directed specifically at Ukrainians. Vyatrovych welcomed the move, saying he is not concerned by the interpretation.
"We are pleased that we have provoked them to take this step," he says. "The most important thing is that the documents are put out there. They speak for themselves, and much louder than any interpretation that is attached to them."
But not everyone is listening. Professor Kulchytsky, the expert on Holodomor, complains that older generations aren't open to revising their Soviet views. "It was easy to end the economic totalitarianism after 1991," he says. "It's much harder to end totalitarianism in people's heads."
Yushchenko's focus on history has also irked many at a time when he is deeply unpopular at home and the economic crisis is hitting harder in
But Vyatrovych is adamant that his work has more than academic significance. "The mobilization of society to solve the many problems we have is only possible if it isn't torn apart," he says. "And we can only achieve that if we come to a better understanding of our past."
By James Marson
The Christian Science Monitor
Спасибо за Вашу активность, Ваш вопрос будет рассмотрен модераторами в ближайшее время