ESSEN, Germany – Rolf Fliss, the mayor of Essen, Germany, hosted an international conference, titled “Genocide of the Ukrainians: From Past to Present,” on June 10.
The international conference was held in a hybrid format to allow scholars to join from Canada, Ukraine and the United States.
Conference presentations focused on the legal aspects and historical antecedents of the ongoing genocide being perpetrated by Russia against Ukraine. Participants also compared the policies of Soviet leader Josef Stalin and Russian President Vladimir Putin toward Ukraine.
The Ukrainian legal scholar Volodymyr Vasylenko, U.S. federal Judge Bohdan Futey, American lawyer Askold Lozynskyj and Canadian historian Roman Serbyn discussed the definition of the Holodomor as genocide in light of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and other court cases.
They focusing on the intent to commit genocide, and they compared Stalin’s Holodomor of 1932-1933 and Putin’s genocidal acts committed in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale war on Febraury 24. Conference participants offered a comprehensive approach to the topic in order to broaden the conceptualization of genocide as defined by Raphael Lemkin.
Historian Vasyl Marochko brought attention to the role of German diplomats as observers of the Holodomor, whereas Dmytro Zlepko focused on journalistic accounts published in German newspapers in the 1930s.
Criminologist Valerii Shepitko stressed the important role criminal investigators play in gathering evidence about genocidal acts committed during Russia’s war of aggression, while historian Volodymyr Serhiichuk presented documents from Ukrainian archives that provide deeper insight into estimates of Holodomor losses.
Historian Petro Cherneha spoke about the system of terror used by the Russian communist regime, which sought to erase Ukrainian national identity in the 1920s and 1930s. Dissident Semen Gluzman described the psychological effects of the Holodomor on victims as well as perpetrators. The German Slavist Gerhard Simon analyzed how the Russian invasion of Ukraine set up conditions for perpetrating genocidal violence.
The director of the Holodomor Research Institute, Svitlana Markova, analyzed the Holodomor as an instrument of the inhumane ideology of the totalitarian Soviet system, as well as current Russian regimes. Historian Anna Kapustian presented the oral history of the Holodomor based on interviews conducted by her university students with Holodomor survivors.
The director of the National Holodomor Genocide Museum, Olesia Stasiuk, emphasized the need to learn the lessons of the past and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Historian Victoria Malko analyzed denial strategies as part of Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine. Those strategies include challenging the legal definition of the Holodomor as genocide, reinterpreting the genocide against the Ukrainian nation as an “all-Union” famine, covering up the extent of demographic losses, criminalizing Holodomor studies and activating pro-Russian forces in Ukraine to subvert the country from within.
Finally, Eugene Czolij, former president of the Ukrainian World Congress, reflected on the role of the international community and prosecution as a means of genocide prevention.
Conference participants came to the conclusion that the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, which created conditions for perpetrating genocidal violence in the country, is a direct consequence of Holodomor denial.
Conference participants adopted a resolution, calling on the German parliament, the Bundestag, to recognize the Holodomor as genocide. The resolution also stressed the importance of learning about the past by having access to German archives that contain documents created in the 1930s and by publishing books and articles in German to allow greater dissemination of knowledge about the Holodomor. The resolution also included a provision to introduce the Holodomor to German school and university curricula.
The highlight of the conference was a film screening of “The Truth of the Holodomor,” directed by Stanislav Lytvynov. The film director could not attend in person. Mr. Fliss addressed the audience and shared news about Essen’s humanitarian assistance and intercity partnerships to help Ukraine resist Russia’s war of aggression.
Essen, Germany, was also razed to the ground by Allied bombing during World War II. Currently, city hospitals provide medical rehabilitation and prosthetics for 20 heavily wounded Ukrainian soldiers. The mayor invited conference participants to join him for an evening concert at the city philharmonia.
The musical program included Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s piano concerto No. 9 with Sophie Pacini, Italian-German soloist, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphony No. 3 “Eroica” with the orchestra led by Johannes Klumpp.
From funerial to vivacious, from pianissimo to fortissimo, emotions touched the hearts of the audience. The clarity of the sound reflected the magic of a concert hall design that is comparable only to the Cologne concert venue, which was designed by the same architect.
The program also included a private fundraiser by a Lviv nonprofit, which sought to raise funds to help deliver 50 tons of humanitarian assistance to schools and hospitals in Ukraine and to bring children and staff from an orphanage in Kharkiv to Essen.
A wine tasting intermission allowed the conference participants to meet the director of the Philharmonie Essen, Babette Nierenz, who learned that the Lviv Opera has been operating at a third of its capacity because of safety concerns related to Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities. When air raids sound in Lviv, audience members are required to temporarily shelter beneath the theater.
The day wrapped up with toasts for German-Ukrainian friendship. Mr. Fliss reflected on how the Russian invasion of Ukraine opened old historical wounds in Germany, such as the division of the country into East and West, and upended Willy Brandt’s apology that promised peace without resorting to brutalities of war.
The mayor recognized that Ukrainians are fighting not only for their own survival and independence but also for European freedom. On behalf of the Ukrainian delegation, Olesia Stasiuk thanked the mayor for his heartfelt support.
While admitting that sometimes it is hard to hold back tears, she expressed hope that the German and Ukrainian people can unite their efforts because they both want to secure a peaceful future for their children.
Among co-organizers and co-sponsors of the event were the municipality of Essen, Germany; the Ukraine House in Dusseldorf, Germany; the Ukrainian Genocide Famine Foundation in Chicago; the International Association of Holodomor Genocide Scholars and the Association of Holodomor Researchers in Ukraine.
Mr. Fliss and Iryna Iastrub, president of Ukraine House in Dusseldorf, have worked to assist Ukrainian refugees who have fled the Russian war of aggression. Essen, Germany, is home to 6,000 Ukrainians, mostly women and children, several of whom are from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which has been devastated by the Russian military since President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale war on Ukraine on February 24.