In 1988 journalists Volodymyr Maniak and his wife Lidiia Kovalenko launched a campaign to gather accounts of the Famine of 1932–33. They received an outpouring of some six thousand letters by mail. These letters—the result of the first major attempt in Ukraine to collect personal accounts of the Famine—represent an important primary source for Holodomor research. The ground-breaking publication Holod 33-y: Narodna Knyha Memorial (The Famine of ‘33: A People’s Memorial Book) was based on about 450 of these accounts and was a notable achievement of the nascent Ukrainian civil society to raise the Holodomor as a public issue.
The letters were never archived systematically. A portion were passed on in the early 1990s to Wolodymyr Bojczuk, a French-Ukrainian colleague of Maniak and Kovalenko, with the hope that the testimonies would somehow, someday, be published.
HREC is working with Mr. Bojczuk to make these documents available to the general public, posting scans from the collection on its website, along with transcriptions. Approximately one hundred letters with transcripts have been posted, some accompanied by English translations. At least four hundred more letters will eventually be available on the HREC website.
This is the first time that the unedited letters are accessible as Maniak and Kovalenko abridged and edited the texts into literary Ukrainian for the Memorial Book publication. The non-edited letters sometimes prove a challenge to read, and some of the authors apologize for their language skills but nonetheless tell their stories and express gratitude for the opportunity to do so.
Volodymyr Maniak was a seemingly unlikely candidate to challenge the orthodox version of Soviet history, which held that there was no famine during the 1930s. He was born in 1934 in Kryshtopivka, Khmelnytskyi oblast, to a Party functionary father and mother who was a teacher, and his career path into the Writers’ Union of Ukraine was conventional. Still, while researching his books, he came to have misgivings about the Soviet version of history, in particular, while writing a popular history of the Second World War. Part of this discontent stemmed from hearing accounts of the Holodomor while he was doing his field work.
Maniak became involved with the Memorial Association in Ukraine and served as a deputy head, focusing on matters related to the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–33.
Maniak’s campaign to gather testimonies about the Holodomor was taken up by the Writers’ Union of Ukraine (SPU). The call for recollections was first issued in the latter part of 1988 in the newspaper of the Writer’s Union Literaturna Ukraina, and then on December 9, 1988, thanks to the assistance of historian Stanislav Kulchytsky, in Silski visti, the mass-circulation daily newspaper of the Ukrainian SSR Ministry of Agriculture. As the responses poured in, the newspapers began printing some accounts. Most of the letters were sent to Maniak and Kovalenko’s Kyiv address included in the Silski visti notice.
Kovalenko and Maniak worked quickly with the materials, and by the middle of 1989, Maniak announced that he had a manuscript ready for submission. However, the appearance of the Memorial Book was delayed because of political considerations and appeared only after Ukraine’s declaration of independence.
Maniak also headed the organizing committee for the creation of an Association of Holodomor Researchers in Ukraine and was slated to be its first president. The group’s focus was both scholarly and popular. Branch activities included organizing regional conferences, identifying the graves of Famine victims, and building monuments. However, Maniak died in a bus accident on June 15, 1992, while returning to Kyiv from the Cherkasy region after attending the unveiling of one of the first Holodomor monuments in Ukraine. Kovalenko then assumed the leadership of the association but passed away not long after, on January 25, 1993. Both Maniak and Kovalenko were buried in Baikove Cemetery in Kyiv. In 1993 the two were awarded posthumously the State Shevchenko Prize for their work on the Memorial Book. More recently, the Holodomor Research and Education Centre in Ukraine established an essay-writing competition named in their honour.
Bojczuk, a priest who also worked as a teacher/lecturer in France, began to spend more time in his native Ukraine and began arrangements for the transcription and then the digitization of the letters in his possession. HREC established contact with him in the latter part of 2013 and subsequently arranged to assist him in this process.
Please visit holodomor.ca/maniak-collection/ for more information.