H-Ukraine: What is your current position/affiliation?
MB: I’m Executive Director of the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC), which is a project of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) of the University of Alberta, with offices in Toronto and Edmonton and representation in Ukraine.
H-Ukraine: Can you tell us what it is that the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium does?
MB: HREC promotes research, study, and awareness of the Famine in Ukraine of 1932–33 known as the Holodomor. HREC engages academics, students, and institutions across disciplines through initiatives that include publication and translation programs, conferences, research grants, fellowships, the Conquest Prize that recognizes contributions to Holodomor Studies, and the Toronto Annual Ukrainian Famine Lecture (past lecturers include Anne Applebaum, Timothy Snyder, Norman Naimark, and Serhii Plokhii). HREC organizes workshops and conferences aimed at bringing research on the Holodomor to new audiences. These have included Archival Collections on the Holodomor outside the former Soviet Union; Genocide in Twentieth-Century History; Empire, Colonialism, and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective; Starvation As a Political Tool (the Irish Famine, the Armenian Genocide, the Holodomor and genocide by attrition in Sudan); Communism and Hunger (Chinese, Kazakh, Ukrainian and Soviet famines); and Contextualizing the Holodomor: A Conference on the 80th Anniversary of the 1932-1933 Famine in Ukraine. HREC’s Education division supports the teaching of the Holodomor and its inclusion in curricula through training programs in best practices of teaching the Holodomor as well as the development of teaching resources. HREC was established with the generous support of the Temerty Foundation in 2013.
H-Ukraine: What current projects is HREC working on?
MB: A priority for HREC is making information and materials related to the Holodomor maximally usable and accessible. We recently redesigned our website with the aim of establishing a “go to” resource for scholars, students, and members of the public seeking authoritative information related to the Holodomor. We are launching an online directory of photos taken by foreign visitors to the Soviet Union featuring five collections of photos that evaded Soviet censorship and were published in Europe and North America from 1932-39, as well as photos taken by local photographers. And we are currently digitizing letters written by Holodomor survivors and witnesses. These invaluable letters, from what is known as the Volodymyr Maniak collection, were written in response to an appeal that ran in Ukrainian newspapers
A number of our publishing projects are coming to fruition. We will soon be publishing The Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine through the Eyes of Ukraine's Historians: Articles by Ukrainian Scholars in English, a collection of twelve articles translated from Ukrainian into English, with the goal of bringing the work of Ukrainian researchers to the attention of non-Ukrainian-speakers. (These essays are already available on the HREC website.) We’re also in various stages of preparing for publication articles based on the proceedings of our conferences Genocide in Twentieth Century History; Empire, Colonialism, and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective; and Archival Collections on the Holodomor outside the Soviet Union.
We’re now accepting submissions for the second Conquest Prize for Contribution to Holodomor Studies. It’s a $2,500 CAD prize awarded on a biennial basis to the author of an outstanding article that contributes to a fuller understanding of the Famine in Ukraine of 1932-33. For consideration, an article must have been published in English, in print or in an online publication, between June 30, 2018, and September 1, 2020.
HREC has been invited to partner on the Heritages of Hunger project, a five-year, 1.8 million Euro project examining how European famines are taught and commemorated at heritage sites, schools, and museums. The project is funded by the Dutch Research Council.
We are compiling a database of research HREC has supported through its annual research grants competition for the past eight years. Research topics have ranged widely and include, for example, demographic studies, orphanages during the Holodomor, the Torgsin system of hard currency stores, the fate of minorities, epidemiological studies looking at the increased incidence of diabetes in children and grandchildren of Holodomor survivors, and films related to the Holodomor.
We're also grappling with how to proceed in the current COVID situation and are looking at creating online content that instructors could incorporate into their online courses.
H-Ukraine: Why do you think it is important that we study Ukraine and the Holodomor in the 21st century?
MB: To understand dynamics in the international situation today, we need to have a grasp of twentieth-century history, which is incomplete without inclusion of the Holodomor and the measures the Soviet authorities took to crush resistance to its policies in Ukraine. For me, the study of the Holodomor is also a matter of justice—by researching the Famine, we bring to light horrific crimes that the perpetrators not only committed but denied and did their utmost to hide, and we ensure that the victims are remembered.
H-Ukraine: What Ukraine-related book/article would you recommend to those wishing to learn more about Ukraine’s history or culture?
MB: I would recommend Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine. Anne Applebaum has said that she began her research thinking that a book about an event that happened in 1932-34 would take less time to write than her previous books, but she found that in order for the reader to have the context necessary for understanding how the Holodomor took place, she needed to provide a much broader sense of the history of Ukraine.
H-Ukraine: This is an H-Ukraine special: where is your favorite place in Ukraine to visit and why?
MB: I love Lviv for the beauty of its streets—a walk at dusk in the city center can be magical. And Kyiv is fascinating for how it has changed over the centuries and continues to change with the times, including the site of the Maidan and events of the Revolution of Dignity. The people in both cities inspire me with their talent, ingenuity, and perseverance.