Ukraine began solemn commemorations Saturday to mark the 73rd anniversary of a man-made Soviet-era famine that killed one-third of the country's population, a tragedy that Ukraine's president wants recognized as an act of genocide.
During the height of the 1932-33 famine, 33,000 people died of hunger every day, devastating entire villages. Cases of cannibalism were widespread as desperation deepened.
Black ribbons were hung Saturday on the blue-and-yellow national flag, and in cities across the country, officials laid flowers at monuments to the estimated 10 million victims.
President Viktor Yushchenko and Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz unveiled the cornerstone of a planned memorial complex in the capital. Later Saturday, officials planned a procession and the lighting of thousands of candles on a centuries-old Kiev square.
"I would like for us never to tolerate the shame of having to hold discussions about what to call this," Yushchenko said at the ceremony. "This is one of the most horrible pages of our history, and for a long time now, it has had only one name."
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin provoked the famine in a campaign to force peasants to give up their private farms and join collectives. Authorities collectivized agriculture throughout the Soviet Union, but farmers in Ukraine - known as the breadbasket of the U.S.S.R. - fiercely resisted and bore the brunt of the man-made disaster.
Yushchenko has asked parliament to recognize the famine, known here as Holodomor, or Death by Hunger, to be recognized as genocide - but some lawmakers have resisted, and Moscow has warned Kiev against using that term.
Russia argues that the orchestrated famine did not specifically target Ukrainians but also other peoples in the Soviet agricultural belt, including Russians and Kazakhs, and this month said the issue should not be "politicized." But historians say that the overwhelming majority of victims were Ukrainians, and the famine coincided with Stalin's effort to quash growing Ukrainian nationalism.
"Practically every family who lived in Ukraine at that time suffered deaths," opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said, calling for it to be recognized as genocide.
During the Soviet era, the mass starvation was a closely guarded state secret, but information trickled out over the years and Ukraine has since declassified thousands of files. Ten nations, including the United States, have recognized the famine as an act of genocide, defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. Genocide is a crime under international law.
Moroz said he supports recognizing the mass starvation as genocide, and predicted that the president's bill, which has run into some trouble among lawmakers loyal to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, would come before parliament next week. Some lawmakers from Yanukovych's Russia-leaning Party of Regions have suggested calling the famine a tragedy instead of genocide, but party member Taras Chornovil predicted the president's version would ultimately pass.
Under Stalin, each village was ordered to provide the state with a quota of grain, but the demands typically exceeded crop yields. As village after village failed to meet the requirements, they were put on a blacklist. The government seized all food and residents were prohibited from leaving - effectively condemning them to starvation.
Those who resisted were shot or sent to Siberia.