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Amsterdam resident Myron Swidersky welcomes visitors to the Amsterdam Free Library Saturday for the local Ukrainian-American community's presentation on the Holodomor.

Amsterdam city historian Robert von Hasseln introduces the culture and history of Ukraine to those in attendance Saturday.


Residents learn about Ukraine's Holodomor

Sunday, January 13, 2013 - Updated: 9:37 AM


Recorder News Staff

Nearly 40 community members gathered in the Amsterdam Free Library Saturday morning to learn about the Holodomor.

The Holodomor refers to, what members of the local Ukrainian-American community describe as, the genocide of millions of Ukrainians during the 1930s due to famine.

Some residents in Amsterdam have family connections to the horrific period in Ukraine’s history.

And on Saturday, folks in the community were given the chance to learn about Holodomor through a free educational presentation.

The morning began with an introduction from Amsterdam resident Myron Swidersky, president of the Amsterdam branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.

Swidersky, one of the organizers of the event, has worked since coming back to Amsterdam on bringing the culture of the Ukraine alive in Amsterdam along with providing learning opportunities for the public.

Swidersky brought up city historian Robert von Hasseln to introduce Ukraine to those at the presentation and speak briefly about the Holodomor.

Von Hasseln told the crowd that because of Ukraine being a crossroads for agriculture, the country was often subjected to a series of “power grabs” from outside countries.

It had been under the control of the Polish, Lithuanians, Russians, and Germans in its history, he told them.

“We don’t ever want to forget events like this,” von Hasseln said, referring to the Holodomor. “If people don’t remember them and learn from them, they are more likely to happen again in the future.”

One of the things that von Hasseln wanted to answer for the crowd was why Americans hadn’t heard of the Holodomor as it happened.

“While Holodomor was occurring, the United States was trying to normalize its relations with the Soviet Union,” the historian explained, adding that the attitude in the United States at the time too was that nothing interesting happened in Europe.

Following von Hasseln’s talk, the attendees were shown a video about the Holodomor, one that show testimonials from residents of Ukraine who were children or survived the time.

It was followed by a discussion to give residents an opportunity to learn more.

There at the event eager to know more about the Holodomor were siblings Bonnie Couture, Melanie Gessinger, and Randy Yurkewetz from the Fultonville area.

Couture said that their grandparents were from the Ukraine.

“My grandmother’s family, they were all killed in the genocide,” Couture said. 

“Our grandmother’s mother and father and her sisters were killed during this genocide in the Ukraine,” Gessinger said. “She was the only survivor.”

The family didn’t talk much about what had happened, Couture said, and whenever they would ask questions when they were young it was not something that they wanted to discuss.

“They wanted to forget. So we don’t really know that much about it,” she said. 

Gessinger said it’s important, for not only themselves, but for the community, to know about what happened.

“Learning about history especially nonfiction is always something we should all be responsible for,” she said. “And with the Ukrainian community in Amsterdam such a big part,” Couture said, “I think it’s something children should learn.”

Swidersky said later that they were not expecting so many people to attend the event, but he was incredibly pleased with the turnout, and even more so with the enthusiasm of the crowd.

“People were very much interested,” he said, adding that many requested that further follow-up presentations be given to dive deeper into the complex history of Eastern Europe.

Looking out at such a large crowd while the film was playing, Amsterdam Free Library director Nicole Hemsley said that it was such a positive sight to see.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I knew we would have people but I didn’t expect a turnout like this.”

Residents were helping others grab more chairs and add rows to the audience section as von Hasseln had started his talk.

Hemsley said they had been getting many calls at the library over the past week asking about the presentation.

“This actually proves to me that we do need to focus more on the cultural aspects of our city,” she said, adding that at some point she would like to reach out to the other cultures in the city to have even more programming.

“(I want to be) having more focus on history and genealogy and researching history,” she said. “I figure if this is a history year — it’s our 110th year — we can focus on history and then narrow it down to history within the cultural circles of our society, our community.”


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