KIEV, Ukraine -- Increased international recognition of a forced famine that killed up to 10 million Ukrainians brought bittersweet relief Saturday to elderly survivors marking the 70th anniversary of a dark chapter in the history of Soviet communism.
Gathering at a cathedral in the now independent Ukraine, survivors recalled their desperation during a famine historians say was provoked by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as part of his campaign to force peasants to give up their land and join collective farms.
"This year is of particular significance for Ukraine, because the world has recognized the crime against the Ukrainian people," said E. Morgan Williams, senior adviser of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation.
Two weeks ago, some 30 countries signed a joint statement to commemorate the memory of the millions of men, women and children who suffered because of the "cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian regime in the former Soviet Union." The U.N. statement became the first, significant international recognition of the famine, which was denied by the Soviets for decades.
Marking the day set by the government as an annual memorial for the famine, some 2,000 people gathered at the golden-domed St. Michael Cathedral in the capital Kiev to light candles at a memorial dedicated to the victims, estimated at between 7 and 10 million.
Dozens of elderly survivors, many leaning on crutches, were helped by younger relatives as they shuffled under flags with black ribbons and the cathedral's bells chimed in mourning.
"My grandfather cut and dried loafs of bread and hid them in sacks to his dying day many years after the famine," said Lidia Kolysnichenko, 67, from the village of Irpin near Kiev.
Historians say that Stalin deliberately provoked the famine by having harvests taken out of Ukraine and having secret police confiscate whatever scarce grain reserves farmers tried to hide.
Even according to the most conservative figures, some 25,000 people died every day in Ukraine, or 17 people every minute, in 1933. Cases of cannibalism were widespread.
"Our neighbor killed his wife, dismembered her body and was seen to make soup of her," said 82-year old Volodymyr Pianov, his hand trembling. "It was not the only case when people ate each other in our village."
His village of Kriuchki in the eastern Kharkiv region, one of area's most devastated by the famine, died out almost entirely.
Earlier this year, Ukraine declassified more than 1,000 files documenting the famine, and Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma signed a law establishing a day of remembrance for famine victims.
In a related development, the Pulitzer Prize Board said Friday it would not revoke a prize awarded in 1932 to a reporter for The New York Times who was accused of deliberately ignoring the famine in Ukraine to preserve his access to Stalin.
The Pulitzer board said there was not clear evidence of deliberate deception.
Walter Duranty covered the Soviet Union for the Times from 1922 to 1941, earning acclaim for an exclusive 1929 interview with Stalin. Duranty was later criticized for reporting the Communist line rather than the facts.
The board's decision was immediately criticized by Ukrainian groups, who sent more than 15,000 letters and postcards to the Pulitzer committee demanding the prize be withdrawn.
"We certainly will continue to press for revocation," said Victoria Hubska of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America." "Duranty misled international community. The lie should be punished."