‘Ukrainians as Survivors and Refugees: Attending to Trauma in Lesa Melnyczuk’s Silent Memories, Traumatic Lives and Holodomor: Silenced Voices of the Starved Children‘ will be presented at the Narratives of Forced Migration conference in September in Stirling.
The twenty-first century has seen a remarkable turn towards the study of trauma in migrant literature, especially when this literature recalls experiences of forced migration and genocide. This turn has been attended to by a large number of scholars, some of whom are second generation survivors of genocide. Lesa Melnyczuk, a second generation survivor of the Ukrainian Holodomor, has dedicated her academic career to understanding the experiences of Holodomor victims who were exiled from their homeland, eventually settling in Western Australia. Melnyczuk’s Silent Memories, Traumatic Lives attends to the need for research on the long term effects of the Holodomor on its victims by viewing the Ukrainian experience through two frames: Ukrainians as survivors and Ukrainians as refugees. By framing Ukrainians as survivors, Melnyczuk is able to explore the trauma associated with being a survivor, including feelings of guilt, shame and fear. Many Ukrainians who experienced the Holodomor, for various reasons, have been living under a “code of silence” that has further exacerbated this trauma. On a related note, by framing them as refugees, she ventures into the politics of being a survivor of a contested genocide. Citing the United Nations’ Geneva Convention, Melnyczuk argues that the Holodomor was indeed genocide, and that while those who fled were not widely recognised as refugees, they should be considered as such. Her more recent text, Holodomor: Silent Voices of the Starved Children, takes a step back and allows Melnyczuk’s interviewees to speak for themselves. The text is heavily weighted towards women’s testimonies, addressing a need for greater attention to the voices of women in Holodomor literature. Taken together, the texts demonstrate the extent to which the trauma turn is able to contribute to studies of collective persecution like the Holodomor.