In 1933, Ukraine experienced a manmade famine orchestrated by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime. As a result of the Holodomor Genocide somewhere around 10 million Ukrainians perished. Whether the Holodomor (translated from Ukrainian as “extermination by famine”) was a genocide, as Ukrainian history insists, or a byproduct of the ongoing Soviet famine, as some contemporaries still suggest, the stories of the millions that died should be remembered to ensure that such a widespread tragedy does not happen again.
Here are 10 facts about the Holodomor Genocide:
- The Soviet Union: Ukraine became a republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 and their agriculture became a major part of the Soviet economy. As Stalin took power he capitalized on Ukraine’s agricultural prosperity and created collective farms to spread grain and other products throughout the member nations. From 1932 to 1933, Stalin increased the quotas required by Ukrainian farmers and severely punished those who resisted.
- The Resistance: Many Ukrainians resisted Stalin’s rule over their farms. As a result of their resistance, these Ukrainians came to be considered enemies of the state and were shipped away to remote areas such as Siberia. Many died in transit or else starved to death due to the harsh conditions.
- The Policies: The mass expulsions of Ukrainian farmers meant that Stalin had access to all of their resources. For those that remained Stalin increased their quotas to impossible standards. Food and livestock were confiscated, and those caught stealing from the farms in which they worked were arrested. The heart of the famine saw the deaths of 25,000 people every day due to malnutrition and starvation.
- The Eyewitness Accounts: The lens through which the world sees famine is often abstract. For victims of the Holodomor, the experience is far more personal. According to surviving eyewitness accounts, Ukrainians survived on anything they could find. From the blossoms of acacia trees to the rotting flesh of cats and dogs, they tried to survive by any means possible. Despite the decreasing number of dogs and abounding malnutrition, denial of the Holodomor Genocide was, and, is still today abundant.
- Refusal of Assistance: The international community was by no means ignorant to the famine in Ukraine, however, Stalin refused assistance. The Soviet Union did not acknowledge the widespread problem and suppressed censuses that would help prove the genocide. Visitors to the Soviet Union were likewise confined to Moscow and denied entry to Ukraine.
- The Actual Number of Dead is Unknown: While the consensus is that the number of Holodomor victims is around ten million, there are a number of factors that skew the true number. Stalin’s suppression of the Ukrainian census and the large number of people exiled abroad distort the calculations. Denials of the famine both by the Soviet Union and Western publications further alter the number.
- Denial of the Famine: The Soviet Union was steadfast in their denial of the Ukrainian famine. Throughout the Holodomor, the USSR released propaganda material under-emphasizing the situation in Ukraine. Soviet official Maxim Litvinov went so far as to say, “there is no famine… You must take a longer view. The present hunger is temporary. In writing books, you must have a longer view. It would be difficult to describe hunger.” This view was by no means eradicated by the passage of time; since 1932 Russia has continued to deny its role in the Holodomor Genocide.
- Walter Duranty: Denial of the Holodomor was not isolated to Soviet propaganda. Walter Duranty, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times, wrote articles that conformed to Stalin’s agenda. This included suppression of the famine in Ukraine, writing that “conditions are bad, but there is no famine.” Duranty’s misleading writing and the denial of the famine by the Soviet Union combined to mask the full extent of the Holodomor. The New York Times has since publicly acknowledged Duranty’s failures and called for his Pulitzer Prize to be canceled.
- Recognizing Genocide: In 2016, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko officially called for the Holodomor to be acknowledged as a genocide orchestrated by the Soviet Union, which, for decades, Soviet rule prevented Ukraine from doing. Now, memorials stand all over the world that honor the victims and officially acknowledge the Holodomor.
- Russia Still Denies Genocide: Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Russia has maintained its innocence. Discussion regarding the famine was banned and falsification of evidence took place and Russia, to this day, continues to deny their role in the genocide. Russian officials regard evidence of the genocide as “falsifications of history,” and claim that the famine was due to a natural disaster that affected the entirety of the Soviet Union.
The denial by the Soviet Union of their role in the genocide has prevented a nation from healing. While the U.S. and other Western nations believed accounts that lessened the famine or ignored Stalin’s complicity, they have taken steps to remedy their failure. Russia must do the same to ensure that nothing like the Holodomor Genocide happens again.
– Eric Paulsen