Filmmaker shares work on Ukraine's famine of '33

December 01, 1991|By New York Times News Service

KIEV, U.S.S.R. -- "This film is my personal contribution to the Ukrainian independence referendum," said Oles Yanchuk, who worked for two years to produce his first feature film on a subject that was until recently erased from Soviet history.

Called "Famine 33," the film chronicles Josef V. Stalin's forced collectivization of agriculture and the famine it caused in 1933.

More than 7 million people in the central and eastern Ukraine died in the famine.

Shown through the eyes of a young boy, the film made its debut on republic-wide television yesterday on the eve of a referendum in which Ukrainians are expected to vote overwhelmingly for independence from the Soviet Union.

"I wanted people to see what life was like in a colony, the inhabitants of which were mercilessly exploited in the name of a utopian ideology," Mr. Yanchuk said.

The Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party issued a resolution only last year that officially admitted that the famine was caused by the seizure of crops. Previously, all accounts of the famine were either omitted from history books or referred to as a glorious triumph of communism.

Mr. Yanchuk, 35, said that people throughout the Ukraine had donated a little over 400,000 rubles to help finance the film. Accounts of the famine were often enclosed with the contributions.

The idea for the film originated when Mr. Yanchuk read a screenplay on the famine written by the Ukrainian playwright Serhy Diachenko. "As soon as I read the screenplay, I knew this was a film that had to be made," he recalled.

Others who helped in the writing of the film were Vasyl Barka, a Ukrainian emigre writer whose book, "The Yellow Prince," has become the classic novel about the famine, and Les Taniuk, a former director of the Moscow Art Theater.

James Mace, staff director of the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine, was visiting the Ukraine when he heard about Mr. Yanchuk's plans to produce the film. He advised Mr. Yanchuk to go to the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute to find material to which he was denied access in his own country's archives.

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