Winnipeggers and Ukrainian newcomers gather to remember victims of the Holodomor, amid ongoing war in Ukraine

Around 150 people, including Ukrainian newcomers, gathered at Winnipeg's city hall on Saturday afternoon to mark the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day, in remembrance of the millions of lives lost during the Holodomor.

Millions of Ukrainians died by starvation in 1930s in what Canada recognizes as genocide

Orysya Petryshyn, right, and her student Mykhhilo Balenko, who recently fled Ukraine, attend the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day ceremony at Winnipeg's city hall. (Travis Golby/CBC)

About 150 Winnipegers gathered Saturday afternoon at city hall to remember those who died in Ukraine in 1932-33 in what is known as the Holodomor, which is recognized by Canada as a genocide.

During that time, the Soviet Union under Stalin cut off food supplies to Ukraine.     

In November 1932, Soviet leader Stalin dispatched police to seize all grain and livestock from newly collectivized Ukrainian farms, including the seed needed to plant the next crop.

Orysya Petryshyn — a Ukrainian and one of the Winnipeggers who recognized the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day — says many people are still struggling back in her home country, because of the ongoing war with Russia.

"We are here together to remember them … and right now we are praying for our country because the war in our country, Ukraine, is miserable and our people are struggling," Petryshyn said.

In 2009, Canada adopted the Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day Act, which recognizes the Holodomor as an act of genocide. The day is marked every year on the fourth Saturday in November. 

Petryshyn is a high school teacher and attended the memorial event in downtown Winnipeg with a student who recently fled Ukraine.

The student, Mykhhilo Balenko, and his family arrived in Winnipeg about two months ago. He's been busy enrolling in school, and connecting with the city's Ukrainian diaspora.

"I really respect that you [recognize] it here to remind of the tragedy," Balenko said.

Joanne Lewandosky, president of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress Manitoba council, says during the Holodomor, the Stalinist regime was trying to destroy the Ukrainian nation by turning food into a weapon. 

She says there are parallels to be drawn to the current war in Ukraine. 

In a statement on Saturday, Ukraine's foreign ministry accused Moscow of reviving the tactics of the 1930s.

Lewandosky is hopeful by how much Canadians are helping Ukraine during this time. 

"We are just delighted to be able to welcome these people, let them find a new home [in] a place where there's democracy, there's peace and there's caring," she said.

Ukrainians typically mark the memorial day, which was established after the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, by placing candles in their windows.

With files from Reuters