Volodymyr Maniak was a central figure in bringing the existence of the Holodomor to the attention of the Ukrainian public in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Born on 6 November 1934 in Kryshtopivka, present-day Volochynsk raion, Khmelnytskyi oblast, Ukraine, he graduated from the Faculty of Journalism at Lviv University in 1956. Eventually he went on to a career as a writer and member of the Writers’ Union of Ukraine.
Over time Maniak developed serious misgivings about the version of history offered by the Soviet regime. In the late 1980s he became one of the leaders of Memorial society in Ukraine. At the same time he assumed a key role in the campaign to bring the facts about the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–33 to light. He was instrumental in initiating a project in the latter part of 1988 calling for the gathering of written testimonials about the Famine.
He and his wife, Lidiia Kovalenko (born 5 May 1936 in Bochechky, present-day Konotop raion, Sumy oblast), fashioned the thousands of responses they received by mail into a ground-breaking work on the Holodomor, Holod 33-y: Narodna knyha-memorial (The Famine of 33: A People’s Memorial Book). The publication of the manuscript, however, was stalled by Soviet Ukrainian officials. In the interim, they prepared an account of the Famine more amenable to Ukrainian Party concerns, Holod 1932–1933 rokiv: Ochyma istorykiv, movoiu dokumentiv (The Famine of 1932–1933: In the Eyes of Historians and the Language of Documents), which was published in 1990. The Maniak–Kovalenko work appeared only in the latter part of 1991.
Together with Kovalenko, Maniak was a leading force in the committee to establish the Association of Holodomor Researchers of Ukraine. However, he died on 15 June 1992 in a vehicle accident near Hlekhava, Vasylkiv raion, Kyiv oblast. Some two weeks later, Lidiia Kovalenko became the first head of the Holodomor Researchers’ association at its founding meeting. However, she died not long afterwards on 25 January 1993. Both Maniak and Kovalenko are buried in Kyiv’s Baikove Cemetery. Later in 1993 the two became joint recipients (posthumously) of the prestigious Shevchenko Award for their work on Holod 33-y.
Maniak and Kovalenko received thousands of accounts regarding the Holodomor by mail to their residence in Kyiv. The fate of the full collection is yet to be determined. However, they passed on approximately 700 of the original letters to a colleague from France, Wladimir Bojczuk (Volodymyr Boichuk), whom they met and befriended in Kyiv at the first public conference dealing with the Holodomor. HREC is presently working with Mr. Bojczuk to ensure the preservation and accessibility of this unique and significant collection. Due to space considerations, only a portion of the documents gathered by Maniak and Kovalenko were included in Holod 33-y. Moreover, the accounts that appeared did so in an abridged form.
The letters represent a rich source of information about the Holodomor, as they were some of the first open responses to the Famine issue in Ukraine from the general public. Their significance is amplified by the fact that the Holodomor had always been a taboo topic for discussion in Soviet Ukraine. Tellingly, many of the letters submitted begin with an expression of gratitude for the opportunity to speak to the issue. Some typical specimen letters from the collection are attached.