Bitter Harvest begins with showing the famous Ukrainian landscape: an endless wheat field under blue sky. It somehow reminds me of a scene in Gone with the Wind. Mr. Gerald O'Hara, the proud owner of plantation Tara, teaches his daughter Scarlett about the people's love for the land.
Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O'Hara, that Tara, that land doesn't mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because it's the only thing that lasts...It will come to you, this love of land...
Mr. O'Hara is a first-generation immigrant, born and raised in the Old World. But after spending many years in the New World, he has become inseparable to the red soil of Georgia.
Now imagine just how strong attachment that Ukrainians had, for the land they lived on for over a millennia.
Bitter Harvest depicts one of the greatest tragedy ever occurred in Ukraine. The Holodomor (meaning "Death by hunger" in Ukrainian) was a famine in 1932-1933 created by one of the most brutal political decision by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
He anticipated that the Communist Party must have a monopoly over grain production in an effort to dramatically improve Soviet Union's economic performance. The grandeur Five-Year Plan initiated in 1928. Industrialization required buying machinery from other countries and feeding workers.
All this required the Party to find ways to acquire grains at extremely low cost. Stalin saw that collectivization- transferring all ownership of farmlands to the Party-and turning into government- operated collectives would allow achieving such daunting task.
Ukrainians resisted fiercely. For them, "collectivization" meant the Party destroying their livelihood. But Stalin was determined to break their will. Countless number of people were arrested and shot. During the famine, roadblocks were set up to prevent people from escaping countryside. Those who joined the collective against their will were left to die in agony.
Scholars have argued whether the Holomodor should be treated as genocide. Some argue the Holodomor is not genocide because Ukrainians were not targeted as an ethnic group. However, historian Norman M. Naimark has argued that there's more than enough evidence to rule the Holodomor as genocide. It was not just a deliberate attempt to starve off the rebellious rural population, but to destroy rural Ukrainians by labeling them as "the enemy nation." Today, more than 25 countries consider the Holodomor as genocide.
Fast forward to 2017; it is most unfortunate that tragedy continues in the same land where people have suffered the worst. Like Stalin, a political leader's misguided policy brought great suffering upon both Ukrainians and his people. The war and occupation, driven by nostalgia and ideology that should have left inside the dustbin of history, is brought back to our time.
It is difficult to imagine that some of the worst tragedies in history have erupted in the beautiful landscape illustrated in the film. After all, this is the land where Nikolai Gogol beautifully describes in Taras Bulba as a place with "the best that nature has to offer." In Gogol's words, it is the land where it once was "an ocean of million flowers" and home of the free people.
Countless lives have perished in this part of the world. Some may continue denying the truth and responsibility for the crimes committed here.
But the black soil of Ukraine knows. All of it.
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