She lived through the Ukrainian famine, and never forgot what hunger felt like (obituary)

From the Globe and Mail:

Nina Dejneha led an ordinary life in Kingston, quietly cleaning hospitals. But against the great thrust of history, the very fact that she was alive was remarkable: She survived one of the most brutal periods of Stalin’s tyranny, the Great Famine of 1932-1933, as well as labour camps in Nazi Germany.

Before she was 10 years old, Stalin began requisitioning grain and other food from the Ukrainian peasantry.

While the famine was first attributed to failed economic policies, it is now understood that Stalin’s government deliberately caused much of the suffering in part to punish Ukraine for its independent streak.

Government officials emptied peasants’ cupboards and tore up floorboards to check for hidden food.

"This was done to break the back of Ukrainian nationalism, humiliate and disable them, and to generate money, which they traded in the West for agricultural goods," said Aurel Braun, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

At the peak of what is now known as Soviet Ukraine’s Great Famine, or Holodomor (meaning death by starvation), it is estimated that 25,000 died each day. Some estimates place the total death toll as high as 10 million.

But Mrs. Dejneha survived, which Mr. Braun describes as "virtually miraculous."

The author neglects to mention that Canada recognizes this as an act of genocide.

In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and Mrs. Dejneha was one of many Ukrainians sent to slave labour camps in Western Europe.

By the end of the war, she found herself a Soviet citizen in Germany, destined for forcible repatriation to the Soviet Union. To resist this fate, she disguised her identity by pretending to be a Ukrainian who had lived in prewar Poland.

By 1948, Mrs. Dejneha had taken asylum in Canada as a "domestic," working in private homes in Kingston, then as a cleaner at the Hotel Dieu and Kingston General hospitals. She soon married Mike Dejneha, a cobbler who had been a supporter of the resistance against both Nazi and Soviet rule in occupied Ukraine.

The Ukrainian community in Kingston was small and tight-knit. They formed organizations, such as Kingston’s branch of what was known as the Canadian League for Ukraine’s Liberation, and the Ukrainian Canadian Club of Kingston.

While in high school, Mr. Luciuk wrote an essay based on Mrs. Dejneha’s books and tales, and received a poor grade because the famine was not yet recognized as historical truth. She told her godson: "There’s a lot of things that aren’t in the books that haven’t been told yet. And you should always remember that. People will tell you things didn’t happen because they don’t want the world to know."

"She is one of the last one’s in this [Ukrainian] community in Kingston, and she will be remembered by all of us who are still here," Ms. Luciuk said.

Nina Dejneha Nina Dejneha was born on May 31, 1924. She died in her home in Kingston on Sept. 20, 2009. She leaves her sister-in-law, Inna Dejneha, and Inna’s children Nadine, Natalie, Ihor and Oksana, as well as sister-in-law Anna Donowska, and her children, Victor and Rita.

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