Dasha Pokhilko's grandfather tells her stories of gathering leaves and roots to eat as a young boy. There was nothing else.
"His mom worked the whole day, and they gave her one gallon of flour and water and salt," said Pokhilko, 24, of Orem. "She worked 10 to 12 hours, and that was the only thing they gave her whole family to eat."
That was the reality of Holodomor, a famine and genocide forced on Ukraine by the Stalin regime from 1932 to 1933. It was an effort to stop any movement toward independence from the Soviet Union.
On Thursday, Pokhilko was among a handful of people who gathered in Salt Lake City to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor as part of a symbolic global torch relay.
Consul General Mykola Tochytskyi, of the San Francisco Ukrainian consulate, said 7 million to 10 million people were killed in one year.
In 2003, the United States and Canada were the first two nations to recognize the famine-genocide in the Ukraine, he said. Forty governments now recognize the genocide.
"Here to today we bring the flame of health and truth into the heart of all people from all places," Tochytskyi said. "This tragic piece of history will never be forgotten."
A remembrance torch was lit and passed around a table by those who participated. Tochytskyi joined Palmer DePaulis, executive director of the Utah Department of Community and Culture, in signing a declaration naming May 8, 2008, as "Ukrainian Genocide Remembrance Day."
"Our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine as they remember, and never forget," DePaulis said.
In all, the torch will travel to 25 American cities, as well as 33 countries, before returning to Ukraine for a November remembrance of the beginning of the starvation campaign, said Tochytskyi.
Pokhilko and other Ukrainians at the event said the anniversary is an opportunity for the world to learn about the genocide.
"It touched every single family," said Liliya Velbovets of Provo. "Being here so far from home and being able to touch the torch. ... We belong."
Grain was taken from Ukraine and sold abroad, while people were starving, says Velbovets, whose grandparents survived by making pancakes from grass.
Pokhilko said conditions were so stark that some people resorted to cannibalism to survive. Her grandfather remembers two "cute blonde girls" who disappeared. "The people in the village knew it was their mother and grandmother who ate them."
The famine lasted just one year, but even after it was over, Ukrainians faced decades of repression under Soviet rule, Velbovets said."During the USSR time, it was a prohibited subject," said Velbovets "People were punished if they talked about it. ... The recovery was hard, especially for the older generation. ... They are still hurting from this fear."
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