Olgerd Bochkovsky, Édouard Herriot, and the Holodomor

Olgerd Bochkovsky (1885–1939) was a Ukrainian sociologist and leader in the Ukrainian community in Czechoslovakia who headed a committee formed by émigrés to secure aid for the starving during the Famine in Ukraine of 1932-33.

Born in south-central Ukraine to a family with Polish and Lithuanian roots, Bochkovsky was a good student and became proficient in many languages. He began his postsecondary studies in St. Petersburg, Russia, and after the Revolution of 1905, completed a degree in philosophy at Charles University in 1909. A frequent contributor to the Ukrainian and Czech press on nationalities issues, Bochkovsky became a member of the diplomatic mission of the Ukrainian People’s Republic to Czechoslovakia in 1918. From 1922 to 1935 he taught at the Ukrainian Husbandry Academy in Poděbrady and later worked at the Ukrainian Technical and Husbandry Institute in Prague.

In mid-1933, Bochkovsky became the head of a famine committee in Czechoslovakia dedicated to helping the starving in Ukraine.  Not long after, Édouard Herriot, the three-time French prime minister and long-time mayor of Lyon, went on a high-profile tour of the USSR at the invitation of Soviet authorities. The French politician’s first stop was in Ukraine, where he attended official, stage-managed meetings and was taken to view Potemkin-style villages. While in Kyiv and in Kharkiv, Herriot praised conditions in the Soviet Union, making no reference to famine. 

In response, Bochkovsky sent an open letter to Herriot’s mailing address in Lyon that respectfully suggested that Herriot had “fatally erred” in his assessment of Soviet social development and had failed to see “the horror of the current state of Ukraine.” Herriot continued to lavish praise on the Soviet Union upon his return to France, going so far as to claim that the campaign around “la pretendue famine de la Ukraine” had been orchestrated by Berlin and calling those raising the alarm bells nothing more than agents of or sell-outs to Hitler. Bochkovsky, a dedicated social democrat, believed that people concerned about the assault on European values represented by Nazi Germany should also be critical of the USSR. He penned a response stating he had misjudged Herriot’s earlier comments about the Soviet Union as the polite and politic reaction of a visitor and suggested that the former prime minister had moved from being a Sovietophile to maniacal in his support of the USSR. Bochkovsky wrote in conclusion that he found it pointless to engage in polemics with people who resort to shameful insinuation and suggested that their words should be noted down for eternal public disgrace.