If you are not familiar with the word Holodomor, you are not alone. The Holodomor Mobile Classroom that is making its way across Canada educating people about the Ukrainian genocide made stops at two schools in the division the second week of October.
Holodomor, loosely translated as death by starvation, refers to the genocide that Soviet authorities, led by Joseph Stalin, carried out against Ukrainians in the early 1930s. The forcible confiscation of all grain and food stores, including seeds, caused the death of millions of Ukrainians who were subjected to agonizing deaths by starvation.
When the opportunity to host the mobile classroom came up, Shelly Lord, principal at Bishop Filevich Ukrainian Bilingual School, Saskatchewan's only Ukrainian bilingual school, jumped at the opportunity for her middle-years students. "We have staff in the building whose families were affected by the Holodomor. It's an emotional part of their legacy and heritage growing up. And about a third of our students are from Ukraine, so this is something they and their families can relate to."
Lord also commented that recent incidents in Ukraine, with Russia exerting its influence in the region, are very upsetting to many families in the school community, and that educational initiatives like the mobile classroom are important to "keep the Holodomor in the forefront to prevent it from happening again."
Financial support form the school's Catholic School Community Council, the Ukrainian Congress of Canada – Saskatchewan and SaskLotteries made it possible for the school to host the bus.
Inside the bus, a wall of screens taking up one whole side gives a brief lesson on what genocide is, followed by a graphic video on the Holodomor. Images of emaciated people starved to death and buried in mass graves are more horrid than one can imagine. Students are then divided into groups and given tablets. Each group learns about the Holodomor from different historical sources of information: photographs, quotations, news articles, letters, and survivor accounts; records answers to a series of questions; and presents their findings to the rest of the group. Each session takes about an hour.
Franco Soldo, a social studies teacher at E.D. Feehan Catholic High School (which also hosted the mobile classroom for a day) teaches the Holodomor to his Grade 11 students. He stated that many people are not aware of the Holodomor and that much information only came to light after the fall of the Iron Curtain and collapse of the former Soviet Union.
"[The mobile classroom] is so important to educate students," he said. "The inquiry-based learning lets students experience for themselves without me telling them what or how to learn. The video is amazing—very powerful."
Cyrille Pasia, one of Soldo's students, said, "This is all new to me. I have an appreciation for people and what's happening in the world. I have more sympathy and see what things were actually like."
Classmate Laleihn Pascual added, "It's important to understand what happened to prevent it from happening again. We have a voice. We are able to speak up and call people out."
For more information on the Holodomor, visit www.holodomor.ca