‘Narratives of Victimhood in the Ukrainian Diaspora: Invoking Affect in Miron Dolot’s
Execution by Hunger’ was presented at the Emotional Bodies in Context Symposium on 12th April 2019 at the University of Adelaide.
The Holodomor was a man-made famine in early 1930s Ukraine that wiped out a quarter of the nation’s rural population. Ukrainians affected by the famine suffered a number of traumatic experiences, perhaps the most unspeakable of which was cannibalism. Many of the survivors left their homeland to form communities in parts of the West, including North America, where their identities have been shaped by their memories of the past. This research explores the re-creation of Miron Dolot’s encounter with cannibalism during the Holodomor through personal narrative in Execution by Hunger (1985), and the ways in which ideas of embodied affect (Ahmed 2013) are used to express a narrative of victimhood. Affect provides a means of sharing experiences with others and revealing what Felman and Laub (1992) call ‘higher truths’. For the Holodomor, this means delineating the collective ‘self’ as victim from the ‘other’ as perpetrator. This dichotomy becomes problematic with the introduction of cannibals as both victims of the famine and perpetrators of violence. This research explores how Dolot navigates this issue, using affect to maintain the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dichotomy in his narrative of victimhood; a narrative that forms a key part of collective identities in the Ukrainian diaspora and has contributed to the ways in which these experiences are remembered not only by survivors, but by future generations.