A not so ordinary 40-foot bus was parked outside the student’s entrance of St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) this week. It’s big, bold, multi-coloured, and emblazoned with the words HOLODOMOR — THE UKRAINIAN GENOCIDE. It arrived Monday, March 2, and will be available again on Wednesday, March 4, as part of a national awareness tour our students are participating in.
Bringing the Holodomor Mobile Classroom to campus is a group initiative of the school administration and the school’s history department.
The term Holodomor, Ukrainian for ‘inflicted death by starvation,’ refers to the genocidal starvation of untold millions of Ukrainians in 1932-33. The period of starvation resulted from the brutal imposition of Soviet Communist policy in order to break the backbone of a young democratic movement in Ukraine.
"As a Canadian of Ukrainian descent, I am very grateful to the St. Michael's history department and the National Holodomor Awareness Tour for this wonderful initiative,” says Irene Dankowycz, a math teacher at SMCS. “It not only educates young people about the Holodomor Genocide in Ukraine, but it helps them to understand its relevance today.”
For decades, the Holodomor was masked by the Soviet Union, and tragic details only emerged at the end of the Cold War.
“We need students to know that genocide has happened all over the world, in different time periods, and has been perpetuated by various political ideologies on the right and the left,” says SMCS history teacher, Pat Mancuso ’90.
A policy of compulsory grain procurements and a campaign against wealthier farmers was initiated. Land and property were confiscated and Ukrainians were forcibly deported to Siberia. Although millions attempted to protest the drive toward collectivization, resistance was brutally suppressed. Millions of innocent men, women and children perished.
“We live in challenging times and I hope that through the lessons of the Holodomor our students will walk away with a better understanding of its messages of tolerance, respect and truth, and the need for constant vigilance for the threats to our principles and values," says Dankowycz.
The mobile classroom intends to both broaden and deepen student understanding of genocide and complement their study of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Students have an opportunity to see videos and interactively do group work through the use of iPad technology and engage in discussions about genocide and its consequences.
“It was an interesting and enlightening experience that really brought to life the horrors of the Holodomor and a topic so rarely brought up or even known of in today's society,” says Christopher Notarandrea, Grade 10 SMCS student. “The workshop was very well designed and planned. We were broken into groups analyzing everything from documents to pictures and testimonies related to the Holodomor.”
“The Holodomor bus enlightened me on the very important topic of the Ukrainian genocide,” says John Kondakakos, Grade 10 SMCS student. “I had never heard of the topic until this year, which I find impossible to believe considering the severity. The Holodomor bus did an excellent job of teaching us through traditional and modern technological methods.”
To round out the study of genocide in the Grade 10 history curriculum, students will be assigned to read the novella Night by Elie Wiesel, an account of the author’s experiences at Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps in 1944-45.