An Unexpected Honor
Her research on the Holodomor, a Stalinist genocide and forced starvation in Ukraine from 1932-33, has taken an emotional toll on Cheryl Madden, who teaches history at the Community College of Rhode Island.
Her work in creating an annotated bibliography of English language sources was not lost on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who named Madden a recipient of the Ukrainian national award The Order of Princess Olha for her research and for raising public awareness of the Holodomor (in Ukrainian the word means literally hunger plague).
Madden received the award in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20. “It was an utterly unexpected honor,” she said. “It really was a stunning surprise.”
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor. “It was very deliberately conducted. Anyone over 12 could be and often was executed for stealing even a few ears of corn.” A worker might receive a three-day supply of food for one person, then divide it among many family members who could not work. Women held up their starving children to passing trains begging for food. Soldiers guarded fields to prevent people from taking the produce left after the harvest; they removed grindstones and marched horses across courtyards to uncover sites where peasants had buried food.
“What I think affected me most as a mother is, how do you tell your child, ‘I don’t have anything to feed you,’” said Madden. “It has an emotional cost to do this work, but I have also made some of the best friends of my life. It’s the kind of subject that the die-hard Stalinists are denouncing, so I guess that means we’ve tipped some stones that they wish had remained covered.
“I tell my students that if people can suffer and die this way, we can respect them enough to study it. If everyone has a gift to give the world, then we’re missing the gifts of 10 million people.”
To see Madden’s bibliography on the Holodomor, go to shevchenko.org/famine.
—Kristen Cyr ’95