‘Gendered Narratives of the Ukrainian Holodomor and their Implications for Memory and Trauma’ was presented at the ASEEES Convention with the theme “Diversity, Intersectionality, Interdisciplinarity” in December 2021.
Survivor testimonies have a great deal to offer in constructing public memory after atrocity. In the years following the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33, a small number of testimonies emerged, particularly in the diaspora, where survivors were able to speak more freely of their experiences. However, in texts such as The Black Deeds of the Kremlin, a two-volume collection of testimonies published in North America, individual representations of survivors are superseded by symbolic representations that contribute to collective narratives of sacrifice and suffering. Historically, public discourse surrounding the Holodomor has been entrenched in traditional, gendered narratives. These narratives predominantly depict the Holodomor’s male victims through the trope of martyrdom and its female victims through the trope of motherhood. These tropes have continued into modern commemorative practices and monuments for remembering the Holodomor. Through the lens of Dominick LaCapra’s notion of ‘acting out’ trauma, this study explores the testimonies and imagery in the two volumes of The Black Deeds of the Kremlin, in order to show how such narratives draw on the past in search of representation, yet ultimately prove to be an inadequate form of reflection due to their overtly symbolic nature. The inaccuracies of these narratives led to a disproportionate amount of attention directed towards men’s roles in the Holodomor, while women remained largely absent. The study also investigates how these tropes have persevered into contemporary Holodomor commemorative practices that have failed to subvert patriarchally-constructed female social forms despite new discoveries in women’s roles during the Holodomor.