The Ukrainian Famine

Owen Ziegler

The Ukrainian Famine was dreadful famine premeditated by the Soviet Union, headed by Joseph Stalin during 1932-1933, as a means to undermine the nationalistic pride of the Ukrainian people. It served to control and further oppress the Ukrainian people by denying them the basic essentials they needed to survive. The Communist Regime sought to eliminate any threat from Ukrainian nationalists, whom they feared had the potential to form a rebellion and to seek independence from the Soviet Union.

Stalin regarded the self-sufficient farms of the Ukraine peasants, as a threat to his ideals. He did not want the Ukrainian peasants to prosper freely from the wealth accumulated from independent farm holdings. The wealthier farmers became the primary target of an effort to eliminate independent farm-holdings, and create collective farm units. The Communists attempted to gain the support of the poorer class of peasants, by turning them against the wealthier class of farmers. Contrary to the expected outcome of the Communists’ plan, the poor farmers sided with the wealthy farmers, instead of siding with the Soviet authorities. As a result many of them became new targets.

The Soviet police confiscated the Ukrainian farmers of their homes, livestock, wheat crops, and valuable possessions. They imposed heavy grain taxes, deliberately leaving families to starve. Those who resisted giving up their homes and crops, were violently shot to death or deported to regions in Siberia. This campaign of terror was organized to instill fear within the people, and force them to relinquish all that they had. The ultimate goal was to have these people embrace Soviet-ism and abandon all nationalistic pride.

When news of the Famine reached the Ukrainian Diaspora in the United States and Europe, food supplies were sent to Ukraine to assist the starving people. However all food shipments were denied at the border by Soviet authorities. Following the Soviet Union’s policy of denying any allegations having to do with the Famine, all outside assistance was refused. Even journalists were not allowed in Ukraine, because the Soviet government feared that the media would reveal the perpetrated crimes against the Ukrainian people.

All the grain taken from Ukrainian farmers were exported to European countries, and the money generated from these sales, were used to fuel Stalin’s Five Year Plan for the transformation of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union purchased many products and weapons from Western countries. Those western countries in return remained silent in regards to the starving Ukrainians. Grain that was not yet shipped out was reserved in granaries. While the animals that were needed for work on the farms were fed, the people were left to starve. The granaries were guarded to ensure no one would steal grain supplies. Anyone who attempted to do so was shot and killed.It was estimated that about 25,000 Ukrainians were dying every day during the Famine.

Currently Russia does not recognize the Ukrainian Famine or Holodomor, as genocide. The Russian State Duma stated that there was starvation in many parts of the Soviet Union, and it is insulting and incorrect for the Ukrainians to claim that they were directly targeted. Despite Russia’s persistent denial of the Ukrainian Famine, many countries around the world have recognized the atrocious crimes committed against the Ukrainian people as genocide. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Estonia, Ecuador, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, and the United States of America regard the Ukrainian Famine from 1932-1933 as genocide. Argentina, Czech Republic, Chile, Slovakia, Spain, Balearic Islands, Spain, and Vatican consider Holodomor as a deliberate act of famine.

On November 28, 2006 the Parliament of Ukraine adopted a law that recognized the artificial famine in Ukraine as genocide committed against the Ukrainian people. The law also made public denial of the Ukrainian Genocide illegal. Ukrainian Genocide commemoration day is on November 26.

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"I saw the ravages of the famine of 1932-1933 in the Ukraine: hordes of families in rags begging at the railway stations, the women lifting up to the compartment window their starving brats, which, with drumstick limbs, big cadaverous heads and puffed bellies, looked like embryos out of alcohol bottles ..."

(as remembered by Arthur Kaestler, a famous British novelist, journalist, and critic. Koestler spent about three months in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv during the Famine. He wrote about his experiences in "The God That Failed", a 1949 book which collects together six essays with the testimonies of a number of famous ex-Communists, who were writers and journalists.)

"What I saw that morning ... was inexpressibly horrible. On a battlefield men die quickly, they fight back ... Here I saw people dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his own home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables. There was not even the consolation of inevitability to relieve the horror."

(as remembered by Victor Kravchenko, a Soviet defector who wrote up his experiences of life in the Soviet Union and as a Soviet official, especially in his 1946 book "I Chose Freedom". "I Chose Freedom" containing extensive revelations on collectivization, Soviet prison camps and the use of slave labor came at a time of growing tension between the Warsaw Pact nations and the West. His death from bullet wounds in his apartment remains unclarified, though it was officially ruled a suicide. His son Andrew continues to believe he was the victim of a KGB execution.)

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"Where did all bread disappear, I do not really know, maybe they have taken it all abroad. The authorities have confiscated it, removed from the villages, loaded grain into the railway coaches and took it away someplace. They have searched the houses, taken away everything to the smallest thing. All the vegetable gardens, all the cellars were raked out and everything was taken away.

Wealthy peasants were exiled into Siberia even before Holodomor during the “collectivization”. Communists came, collected everything. Children were crying beaten for that with the boots. It is terrifying to recall what happened. It was so dreadful that every day became engraved in my memory. People were lying everywhere as dead flies. The stench was awful. Many of our neighbors and acquaintances from our street died.

I have no idea how I managed to survive and stay alive. In 1933 we tried to survive the best we could. We collected grass, goose-foot, burdocks, rotten potatoes and made pancakes, soups from putrid beans or nettles.

Collected gley from the trees and ate it, ate sparrows, pigeons, cats, dead and live dogs. When there was still cattle, it was eaten first, then - the domestic animals. Some were eating their own children, I would have never been able to eat my child. One of our neighbours came home when her husband, suffering from severe starvation ate their own baby-daughter. This woman went crazy.

People were drinking a lot of water to fill stomachs, that is why the bellies and legs were swollen, the skin was swelling from the water as well. At that time the punishment for a stolen handful of grain was 5 years of prison. One was not allowed to go into the fields, the sparrows were pecking grain, though people were not allowed."

(From the memories of Olexandra Rafalska, Zhytomir)

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As genocide is most likely to occur during war, one of the best ways to reduce the chances of genocide is to address the root causes of violence and conflict: hatred, intolerance, racism, discrimination, tyranny, and the dehumanizing public discourse that denies whole groups of people their dignity and their rights. To deter people from committing crimes of genocide, those responsible for such crimes need to be brought to justice. Fighting impunity and establishing a credible expectation that the perpetrators of genocide and related crimes will be held accountable can effectively contribute to prevention.When, where, and how to intervene militarily in domestic situations to prevent or respond to genocide or other mass atrocity crimes is to be decided by the Security Council, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

The United States Government received numerous contemporary intelligence reports on the famine from its European embassies, but chose not to acknowledge the famine publicly. similarly, leading members of the American press corps in the Soviet Union willfully covered up the famine in their dispatches. In both cases, political considerations relating to the establishment of diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. seem to have been critical factors in this cover-up.