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Ukraine: opening of secret archives shines light on famine, repression

President Yushchenko says his country must confront its past. But critics say deeper examination of authoritarianism and the starvation that killed millions could be dangerous.

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In 1933, Mykola Bokan travelled across the Chernihiv Region of Ukraine taking photographs of his starving compatriots.

These were the victims of Holodomor, the "death by starvation" unleashed by Stalin that killed millions across Ukraine. The same year, Mr. Bokan was arrested and sent to a prison camp for 10 years. He didn't survive his sentence.

"Stories like this deepen our knowledge of our own history," says Volodymyr Vyatrovych, director of the archives at the state security service, or SBU, the KGB's successor in Ukraine. "That's why we want the maximum number of people possible to get to know these documents."

In January, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko ordered state archives to declassify, publish, and study all documents relating to Holodomor, the Ukrainian independence movement, and political repressions during the Soviet period from 1917 to 1991.

There's a lot of work for Mr. Vyatrovych and his colleagues to get through: He estimates there are 800,000 documents from which to remove the "secret" seal.

"As a totalitarian system, the Soviet Union relied on the KGB. That means that these documents shed light on all aspects of Soviet life," he says.


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