Ukrainian Genocide Survivors Sue Over Unreleased Documentary

Investors in a documentary about a Stalin-era genocide in Ukraine are suing the film's producers for failing to release the picture. The plaintiffs allege the failure caused emotional distress for the Ukrainian community and constituted a fraud on all those who put up money with the expectation that an atrocity that exterminated approximately 25 percent of the Ukrainian population in the early 1930s would finally be recognized by the world.

The film, Holodomar: Ukraine's Genocide, 1932-1933, details how Joseph Stalin broke a Ukrainian national revival in 1932 by requiring the country's farmers to turn over grain to the Soviet Union and exacted brute punishments whenever quotas weren't met. Ukrainian communes that didn't cooperate were blacklisted and those who tried to flee the country were forced to return to villages and starve. As a result, it's said the 1932-1933 famine killed 10 million Ukrainians.

In 2006, one of the survivors of the ordeal, Eugenia Dallas, and a daughter of someone who survived, Luba Keske, began discussing a film project. They were introduced to Marta Tomkiw and Robert Leigh, who is said to have represented himself as a 12-time award-winning filmmaker. By the end of the year, a documentary was in the works, and Dallas agreed to be interviewed and the participation of other Ukrainians was fostered.

Over the next couple of years, the work-in-progress needed funding, and so Dallas, Keske and a number of other Ukrainians say they put up personal funds. Altogether, donations are said to have come to the film's producers in the amount of $175,000.

In May 2009, the documentary was given the Grand Jury Award at the Monaco Charity Film Festival, but despite numerous alleged promises and the interest of high-ranking Ukrainian politicians and others, the plaintiffs say they could never get the filmmakers to give them a screening. 

Having grown impatient, the investors went to Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, demanding an accounting of the money and repayment.

Dallas also alleges that she gave interviews on the condition the film would be released, and says she did so without having signed a release. She's suing the filmmakers now for violating her publicity rights.

Lastly, the plaintiffs allege the fund-raising amounted to a fraud and that by inducing genocide survivors to relive their horrors, it caused severe emotional distress. The plaintiffs are asking for a declaratory judgment that would deem the defendants to be not the sole owners of the copyright in Holodomar: Ukraine's Genocide.


Twitter: @eriqgardner