‘Gendered Narratives of the Holodomor and their Effects on Cultural Mourning’ was presented at the HREC Conference with the theme “Narrating the Holodomor: The Social and Cultural History of Collectivization and Famine in Soviet Ukraine” in December 2021.
Survivor testimonies have a great deal to offer in constructing cultural memory of atrocities. In the years following the Holodomor, 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Kremlin, a two-volume collection of testimonies published in North America, individual representations of survivors are superseded by symbolic representations that contribute to collective narratives of sacrifice and suffering.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. This study explores the testimonies and imagery in the two volumes of The Black Deeds of the Kremlin (1953, 1955), 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 sites of
memory and mourning that have failed to subvert patriarchally-constructed female social forms despite new discoveries in women’s roles during the Holodomor.