New Database of Holodomor Voices of Survivors Published in 2023

William Pidzamecky

Testimonies from survivors and victims of the Holodomor are an essential part of preserving this tragic time in Ukrainian history. First-hand accounts from survivors, but also those who died, witnesses, and even the perpetrators, are important for historians given the fact that the genocide was denied by the Soviet Union for more than 50 years. Access to documentary evidence, or ego-documents, that allow us to hear the Holodomor voices of survivors was only made possible in the past few decades.

Though it is exceptional to have access to these materials – materials that should be made available for the world to see – archiving them and making them readily available to the public is a daunting task.

Digital Preservation of Holodomor Voices of Survivors

As part of a preservation effort, at the beginning of 2022, the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) began a joint project with the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre (UCRDC) to create an online repository, UCRDC: Holodomor Survivors’ Oral Histories.

Holodomor Survivor Voices

The effort was designed to house UCRDC’s collection of more than 80 interviews with Holodomor survivors, which were conducted in North America when Ukrainian immigrants felt free to share their stories.

The goal for HREC and UCRDC was to make certain that the voices of these survivors were not only preserved but were also made accessible to scholars and society at large.

To ensure that the broader public can appreciate and make use of these valuable Ukrainian-language testimonies, these materials also needed to be made easily accessible in English.

Anastasiya Nalywajko, [Анастазія Наливайко] born 17 March 1920, Sary Village, Poltava Oblast. Describes the 1932 harvest and how grain was expropriated from her village. 

As project manager of UCRDC: Holodomor Survivors’ Oral Histories, I oversaw the creation of time-stamp descriptions in English that allow users of the database to easily navigate the interviews to find specific information or simply to browse the topics discussed.

The interview descriptions were completed by two graduate student researchers and the 80 interviews are now featured in an online database, Vita, that is run by the not-for-profit OurDigitalWorld, which provides archival solutions for community organizations around the world.

Making the Holodomor Survivor Story Database Accessible

To further improve the ease of use, HREC added extensive metadata to the Vita database, including geographical locations, keywords, and citation information. Importantly, every term, both in the metadata and in the descriptions, is searchable not only within this database but across databases.

This means that a user can search simultaneously both the UCRDC: Holodomor Survivors’ Oral Histories collection as well as letters from Holodomor survivors featured in the Maniak Collection

The database features excerpts from full videos, many of which run for more than an hour. The clips, some of which had already been created by the UCRDC for another project, include subtitles, a translation, and a transcription.  

Our intent was that a user of the database, whether an established scholar or high school student, could identify a subject of interest, such as the role of orphanages during the Holodomor, and call up all the interview descriptions that include the term.

The user can then view the video excerpts of those interviews and can contact UCRDC to be given access to the full video interviews.

Challenges in the Preservation of Holodmor Survivor Stories

One challenging aspect of this project has been tracking down some of the Ukrainian villages mentioned by interviewees, which are then connected to the geographic data section of the Vita platform.

The issue lies in the fact that some villages have disappeared, others, renamed, and others now fall within different administrative boundaries than at the time of the events described.

Transferring large video files also presented an obstacle.

The rest of the tasks were fairly straightforward, if time-consuming.

I was impressed with the level of information that one could attach to each entry in the Vita database and how easy it has been to edit that information. Having the ability to use a template of information sped up the process considerably.

As a member of the Ukrainian-Canadian community, I grew up knowing the basic facts about the Holodomor.  However, watching these interviews has brought home in a powerful way the impact of the Holodomor on each individual, the suffering, and the emotional toll on survivors.

The database went live in early 2023 and is already proving its usefulness. Select interviews will be included in the upcoming Holodomor Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that HREC is developing for public participation.

William Pidzamecky is a Research Associate at the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) and a Project Manager of the Ukrainian Canadian Research Documentation Centre (UCRDC)’s online repository, “Holodomor Survivors’ Oral Histories“.

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