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

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The aim of the work is to make the documents available at digital reading rooms across the country and the Internet, and to publish collections. Vyatrovych says the publicity drive has already boosted interest, and not just among historians. "More and more people are coming to find out about relatives," he says.

Unlike many ex-Soviet states, such as neighboring Poland, Ukraine has seen limited attempts at lustration. The country's history, for centuries intertwined with its eastern neighbor Russia, is politically sensitive because of the polar opposite interpretations that people follow. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army, or UPA, for example, which fought in World War II, was portrayed in the Soviet Union as Nazi collaborators. To many in Ukraine, however, they are freedom fighters and symbols of the anti-Soviet independence movement.

But since Yushchenko's dramatic rise to the presidency in the wake of the Orange Revolution in 2004, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest a rigged vote, he has made a concerted effort to draw attention to Ukraine's history. His main focus has been on promoting recognition of Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people.

Although famine struck a number of areas in the Soviet Union as a result of Stalin's initiative to create collective farms, many historians argue that the famine was exacerbated in Ukraine in order to quell separatism and punish Ukrainians.

"Promoting a reappraisal of our history is one of Yushchenko's greatest achievements," says Stanislav Kulchytsky, one of Ukraine's most famous historians, who is best known for his pioneering work on Holodomor. "Sadly, it brings his popularity down, as many people are stuck in the old views they were brought up on."

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