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Ukraine Remembers Victims of Famine 75 Years Later

Leaders from around the world Saturday marked the 75th anniversary of the famine that the ripped through the Ukraine in the early 1930s, as Ukrainian leaders seek to bring more attention to the plight of the millions who died from hunger. But conspicuously missing from the honoring of Holodomor , or "death by hunger," were leaders from Moscow, who have objected to recent calls for the deaths to be labeled as genocide. Emma Stickgold has this report for VOA in Moscow.

The anniversary of Holodomor is traditionally marked in late November, when the food shortages began resulting in the death of millions. It was orchestrated by dictator Josef Stalin to force peasants to give up their land and join collective farms. Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, suffered the most.

Only recently, at the encouragement of the Western-leaning Ukrainian politicians, have survivors' harrowing tales of cannibalism and other desperate attempts to stay alive come to light.

Ukrainians say collectivization carried out in their country was an attempt to break the back of Ukrainian nationhood, and stamp out opposition to Soviet rule.

At the opening of an 80-foot tall monument to mark the 75th anniversary, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko paid tribute to those who fell victim to the 1932 famine, which lasted until 1933.

"We bow our head in fraternal respect before all who suffered as we did from Stalin's regime - Russians, Belorusyns, Kazakhs, Crimean Tatars, Moldovans, Jews, and dozens and dozens of other nationalities," he said.

Moscow considers the intensified spotlight on the famine part of Ukraine's continued efforts to stick a wedge between Kyiv and Moscow. But Ukrainian officials say that Moscow is not being accused of engineering the famine.

Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, Ukrainian Ambassador to Russia, speaking Saturday evening at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Moscow, said that Ukrainians want to reflect on the past together to building a more just and more modern world together.

"We do not consider that Russia and the Russian people - who themselves suffered huge losses; were also victims of Stalinist terror; and lost millions of individuals then - are in anyway to blame for this tragedy," he said.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev turned down an invitation to attend the Kyiv ceremonies, instead sending a letter that was posted on the Kremlin's Web site. He said that the events of the early 1930s, "are being used to achieve immediate short-term political goals," adding that, "In this regard, the thesis on the centrally planned genocidal famine of Ukrainians,' is being gravely manipulated." Still, he said, "The most difficult pages of our common history undoubtedly need to be fully explained."