On November 25, several dozen villagers walked in sorrowful procession from Merefa’s street to a memorial place in Sukhoyarsky Lis (Sukhoyar Forest) where thousands of innocent victims of forced famine – Holodomor – were secretly buried in 1932-1933.
The memorial of a stone and a cross was paid for and installed in the middle of the forest by the activists in 2006, and the marches to commemorate the victims have been held annually after that. This year the procession was arranged for the eleventh time.
The people lit the candles near the memorial during funeral service for the dead. They told about their grandfathers and grandmothers, and their neighbors who were starved to death together with their children, people spoke about the obscured horror of Holodomor purposed to keep Ukrainians submissive to Russia. The participants were also eating rye bread as a Holodomor memory rite.
“As children we walked in this forest, gathered mushrooms and strawberries here, we did not know about the tragedy of thousands of starved people buried all over the forest. The scale of the tragedy was concealed, the number of killed people was hidden and the documents classified, and the people were too scared to tell about the crimes of Stalin for many years. Only some very old locals, who witnessed and remembered those horsed carts carrying dead bodies, have started to retell the facts recently,” says Olha Doroshenko, a local activist and the procession member.
Olha says that her grandmother survived the famine and was a living witness of those terrible events. However her great-grandmother died “swollen from starvation,” Olha recalls.
According to Olha Doroshenko, the dead bodies were brought to Merefa’s railway station from the entire Kharkiv district in 1932 and 1933 and then they were carried to the forest on the horsed carts and buried in different places. This path of funeral carts became the rout for the actual memorial processions in Merefa.
Till now there is no accurate data on the number of the victims. However, some local historians say that the largest secret burial place has about 2,300 dead people, and it is here that the memorial stone and the cross were erected.
The activists from Merefa insist that today, when Ukraine has a chance to restore the historical truth, the thorough research about the Holodomor victims is required; the archeologists and historians need the support of the authorities in this work.
Text: Olena Sokolynska
Photo: Valeriy Soldatenko