NORTH PORT, Fla. - Many of us will be fortunate enough to sit down for a feast on Thanksgiving. One local ethnic group is remembering a time when their ancestors were starving to death. A new billboard in North Port is catching people's attention and maybe even educating them.
Driving down U.S. 41 in in the city these days the billboard sticks out: bold letters saying "Holodomor 1932-33."
Most have never even heard the word. "That's why we put up the billboard. We want Holodomor to become part of the English vocabulary," says president of the Ukrainian-American Club of Southwest Florida Daria Tomashosky.
She's on a committee put together by several Ukrainian organizations in our area who put up the billboard. It means "extermination by hunger."
Nellie Lechman was born in Ukraine. These days she visits local schools talking about the event which is believed to be responsible for between seven and ten million deaths. "It is the best kept secret of the 20th century. Very few people knew about it. It was done on purpose."
A genocide Lechman and many others believe was premeditated by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. "He wanted all these people to pay tremendous taxes. When that didn't happen he starved people."
It's believed around 3,500 of our neighbors are apart of the Ukrainian community. You can find churches, businesses, and entire apartment complexes. 80 years later a proud culture still fighting for acknowledgement of what they went though. "We want out children to know. We want our grandchildren to know. We want the world to know."
Bringing a deeper meaning around the table come Thanksgiving. "It is constantly on our minds. I can't say that everybody sitting down to a very generous dinner will spend more then a minute thinking about it but everybody will remember," says Lechman.
Traditions in America not lost. "How many people are going to think about the fact that we are free? This is the best country in the whole world."
Perhaps a sign which could help us all be a little more thankful too. "Maybe 10% will say what is Holodomor but that is 10% more than will know and just might go home and google it," says Tomashosky.
The local Ukrainian community will be hosting a service December 8th to commemorate the 80th anniversary.