Ukraine, “The Bread Basket of Europe,” a 233,000 square mile expanse of fertile steppe stretching from Poland and Romania in the West to Russia in the East.  Much like in Turkey, her southern neighbor across the Black Sea, Ukrainian culture combines elements of the Asiatic and the European into a Eurasian entity that is undoubtedly one of the most distinct in the world.  Even during the tyrannical rule of the Soviet Union, Ukraine retained the unique agricultural identity that defined it, consistently expressing an anti-regime, nationalistic fervor while making up for over a quarter of the USSR’s grain production.

Ukraine’s significance as the agricultural gold mine of Eastern Europe was the cornerstone of it’s economy for centuries, making it the most valuable territory to the former Soviet Union.  The strategic importance of Ukraine as a center of agricultural output is most notably evidenced by the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33, also known as the Holodomor (Голодомор). This great tragedy was deliberately created by Joseph Stalin to quell a strain of Ukrainian nationalism that had started to become active in the late 1920‘s.  The main thrust behind the designed famine, however, was Stalin’s desire to accelerate the industrialization of the Soviet empire by utilizing Ukraine’s enormous agrarian resources.

The famine was a result of the forced collectivization of Ukrainian farms by the government in which virtually all of the food produced on the collectives was seized by Soviet authorities and sold on the international market to raise the national income, leaving the Ukrainian locals with nothing to eat.  This collectivization was against the will of the Ukrainian “kulak” class of wealthy farmers who opposed Soviet rule and ran private farms for personal profit.  In devising this artificial famine, Stalin decimated the population of Ukraine and, through murder and banishment, eliminated the Kulak class, along with any rebellious sentiment represented by the Kulaks.

What Stalin did to the Ukrainians has been described by many historians as mass genocide.  Between 1932 and 1933, over seven million Ukrainians died of starvation.  Ukrainian famine survivor Miron Dolot, who was a child in Ukraine during the forced collectivization, recalls grisly scenes in which desperate villagers resorted to cannibalism and the consumption of rats to stay alive.   Stalin had reduced the Ukrainians to a condition of destitution that was beyond comprehension.  To the heartless dictator,  fast industrialization was the end goal, and any amount of life that stood in his way was expendable.

The Holodomor is a stain on the history of the former Soviet Union, and was only recently recognized by the Russian government.  To this day, the Ukrainian Famine is one of the only instances in history in which a dictator calculatedly reduced a contingent of his people to starvation and abject poverty.

– Josh Forgét

Sources: Execution by Hunger, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, CIA World Factbook
Photo: United Human Rights