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Educator, Department Head of History, Toronto District School Board and Director of Education, Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC)

Date and Place of Birth: 1945 in Mannheim, Germany

Date of Interview: July 28, 2017

Place of Interview: Toronto, Ontario

Interviewer: Sophia Isajiw

Length of Interview: 01:36:23 (raw)


Interviewer:  Before we leave talking about your career, what else have you done?

Valentina Kuryliw (VK): I could retire, I found out that I could retire with the number of years I had taught and so forth, so I said this is it for me. But I continued to run libraries for them, for half a year as a retired teacher, because you need special skills to run libraries and I had my library papers. And that’s the time when I decided that I had to do something about the Holodomor. I did workshops prior to that on the Holodomor and on internment of WWI. It just came out that the Toronto District School Board [TDSB] was introducing a genocide course and they were not including the Holodomor, and I was part and parcel of that Board and I was upset. So I had to stay in the back for a while because there was a conflict of interest until I resigned. And then when I did resign, I came out and I talked to “КУК,” to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress [UCC] that we had to do something about this. So I got involved in getting the Holodomor into the curriculum in Ontario.

I: So you started doing that in the 1980s?

VK: The first time I did a workshop on the Holodomor was in the 1980s, yes, with Orest Subtelny, by the way, who was teaching at York University. They were doing a half-day on the Holocaust, and because I talked about it with my colleagues one of them suggested, “Valentina why don’t you do it on your, on the Ukrainian genocide?” So we did. And I called Orest to come in and he did an hour lecture on the history of Ukraine, giving the information, and I did the teacher thing: where it fits into our curriculum and why it should be taught and how it should be taught. So we did this and that was a good thing. So that was then. And then after that we set up a special committee, I got all professional people: a trustee, a principal who was teaching the principal’s course at OISE [Ontario Institute for Studies in Education], myself, as a specialist in history, we had parents and we came in and we knew what we were doing. And I think that shocked the TDSB a little bit. And they did pass a resolution that they were going to have a special memorial day for us and they actually had 2 of their staff members produce 2 units of study and I was their consultant, I helped them – I provided all the materials, etc.

And so it started. And then I realized that it wasn’t enough just to do it in Ontario, you have to go across the country. And so I convinced “КУК” [UCC] that we shouldn’t just have an Awareness Committee on the Holodomor, we need an education committee. And I was prepared to be the Chair. And so I’m still doing that. And that helped because there were people in other provinces that had already started this as well, but you need coordination, and so I helped to coordinate these things so that we could share our resources and we could do things. And out of all that, the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium  [HREC] was born. I had been talking about having a centre, a permanent location, not just a committee of volunteers – that we needed a solid base for something like this to continue, so that it could be there after I’m gone, after I’m finished and someone could be hired to continue this work. And my good friend, Jim Temerty, who has sponsored many good projects, phoned me one day and said, “I guess I should be doing something, shouldn’t I?” I never asked him for money. But anyway, so this he decided to sponsor. And that was good because now we have a research arm and we have an education arm.

So since then there have been 2 conferences that I’ve organized – one in 2013 in Toronto and we just finished a very successful conference on Holodomor education at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg with 120 attendees [130 with presenters]. And what was unique about it was that we had academics, 2 academics were the keynote speakers, and then we had Faculty of Education staff who actually teach teachers how to teach about methodologies. They came from the University of Manitoba and from the University of Winnipeg and took part in our discussions and took part in our panels and so forth. And then we had over 90 teachers from across Canada from different grade levels. And I would say about 60 percent of them were non-Ukrainians, which for me was a blessing because, finally, we are getting into the mainstream and it was extremely important.

And from all that, over the last 10 years I have been working on a [educators’] workbook, which I hope will be published this year. It’s called Holodomor in Ukraine, the Genocidal Famine, 1932-1933: Learning Activities for Teachers and Students. It’s about 300 pages and it has everything a teacher needs in order to be able to teach it, at least I think so. I tried to think if I were doing this, I didn’t know anything about it, what is it that I would need? So you have materials that you can hand out to kids, you have lesson plans that they could use, and that makes it very important that it gets published. During the conference I handed out a small little booklet, that comes out of this book [holds up draft book], which is the book that’s going to be published, it’s just going through it’s last edit. And teachers came up to me and they said: “this is exactly why we came to this conference – we need materials.” And I so think that’s very important. And I know myself, if I have to teach something and I don’t have time to look for materials, I will not teach it. So this is going to be a blessing, I hope.


• Valentina Kuryliw is interviewed in UCRDC Archive File #362 Video CD. Interviewer: Ariadna Ochrymovych on April 9, 2012 for the “Share the Story” project

• Valentina’s mother Nadia Mychajlowska, is interviewed in UCRDC Archive File #264 (Video). Interviewer: Ariadna Ochrymovych for “Share the Story” project (“Nadia’s Story”; ”Share the Story” project webpage)

• Valentina’s father Ivan Mychajlowskij, is interviewed in UCRDC Archive File #325 (Audio CDs: 6CDs, 6 hours). Interviewed by Victor Susak on Dec. 27, 1995 about his time in the Belomor Canal Soviet concentration camp in the 1930s and time spent as a forced labourer in Germany

Valentina’s husband, Ihor Kuryliw is interviewed in UCRDC Archive File #450 (Video). Interviewer: Sophia Isajiw on July 28, 2017 for the “Oral History of Ukrainian Canada” project. 

Article on Valentina Kuryliw by Sophia Isajiw from her interview with the Children of Holodomor Survivors Speak oral history project for the Canada Race Relations Foundation online project "Our Canada – 150 Stories: Celebrating Canada's Sesquicentennial"

Article and interview with Valentina Kuryliw by Welcome to Ukraine Magazine, “Valentina Kuryliw, a historian and an expert in methodology of teaching history”

Article on Valentina Kuryliw’s mother Nadia Mychajlowska interviewed by Kristina Skorbach (originally in The Epoch Times, 2012) “Torontonians remember the Ukrainian famine of 1930s,” [scroll halfway down]

Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), “UCC Committee Chair Valentina Kuryliw Named Director of HREC.” Ukrainian Canadian Congress newsletter, March 13, 2013. 

Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC), Education website.

Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC), Facebook page. 

excerpt from the Interview with VALENTINA KURYLIW

The interviews can be accessed at the UCRDC. Please contact us at: office@ucrdc.org