“Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” - Josef Stalin
In 1932-33 a politically engineered famine took place in Ukraine. Holodomor, as it was to become known, saw some seven and a half million people, approximately one third of them children, brutally starved to death.
This famine was to take place on the most fertile soil in Europe, and it was to be carried out in secret.
Following the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the Russian Empire fell apart, and Ukraine quickly moved to assert it’s own identity, declaring independence in January 1918. During an ensuing period of political instability, Ukraine faced armed incursions by Poles in the west, and Bolsheviks in the east, and Bolshevik rule was soon to replace the fledgling democracy.
During this early period, the Soviet government introduced a policy of indigenisation, under which, over several years, Ukrainian culture flourished. A Ukrainian language based education system saw dramatic increases in literacy levels, and in literature, the theatre, and in public life the Ukrainian language blossomed. During this period of Ukrainisation, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was founded.
However, the policy of Ukrainisation was to be brutally reversed from 1928, starting with the arrest and execution of much of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, destruction of churches, and dispossession of the Kulaks, the most productive and successful of the peasant farmers. Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism was declared to be problematic, and a threat to the Soviet system. The renaissance was over, and in the Kremlin Josef Stalin was planning what was to be, in terms of cruelty and in numbers, one of the most brutal acts of genocide the world has witnessed.
The elimination of the intelligentsia and the Ukrainian elites was to be followed by the collectivisation of the agricultural sector, something that Ukrainian farmers resisted strongly. Collectivisation brought quotas, imposed in 1932, whereby villages were required to deliver unrealistic quantities of grain. Failure to deliver resulted in seizure of all foodstuffs within the community, and all trade was banned, making it impossible for the peasantry to obtain any food at all.
The desired outcome of these actions was unequivocal. A Politburo resolution, dated November 18, 1932, states: “Comrades Redens and Kosior have until November 23 to develop an efficient plan for exterminating the main counter revolutionary clusters of the Kulaks and Petlura, first of all in Pavlograd, Uman and Bilotservka districts and also in the areas outside the towns of Borzny and Miny…”
As farms and villages failed to meet their totally unrealistic quotas, they were penalised by having those quotas raised. Soon, armed cadres of the Communist Party and the GPU, forerunners of the KGB, were ransacking homes, taking away any and all foodstuffs.
All food was deemed to be the property of the Collectives, and by extension, the property of the state. Possession of food was therefore theft, punishable by imprisonment, or execution by shooting “…with no reduction of the sentence possible”.
“The Communards took everything to the last grain. They sought everywhere in barns, pantries, thrust pitchforks into the ground to check on foodstuffs… A peasant woman, Krupchya (she was 37), was sentenced to five years imprisonment for wheat ears. And she had five children, they wanted to eat”. - Olga Vasylivna Kozlenko, Holodomor survivor, Malyn District.
As the tragedy rapidly unfolded, escape was made impossible. Villages and entire districts were ‘blacklisted’ and surrounded by armed men, those attempting to flee the famine and reach cities were either turned back, or imprisoned. Although the cities were less badly affected by the famine, the street cleaning services in Kyiv collected over 9,000 bodies in 1933. Soon the death rate was to reach 25,000 per day.
“The mortality rate has been so high that numerous village councils have stopped recording deaths”. - Zinovy Borisovich Katsnelson, Head of Kharkiv department, GPU.
One of the more tragic statistics of the time is the fact that 2,500 people were prosecuted for cannibalism during the period of the Holodomor.
So devastating was the famine, that large areas of Ukraine were effectively de-populated. The Kremlin addressed this problem by sending large numbers of Russian and Belarussian families and workers to the affected areas, beginning in December 1933. This colonisation of Ukraine by Russians was to help sow the seeds for today’s conflict in the region.
The Soviet population census of 1937 showed such a drastic fall in the Ukrainian population that on Stalin’s orders all those who had carried out the census were either sent to the Gulag, or shot. The census results were suppressed.
Indeed, the very fact of Holodomor was suppressed for many years. Any suggestion of famine was down-played, and if there had been a famine, then the official Soviet line was that it had been down to a poor harvest caused by drought in the region. There remains to this day much debate on the matter, and we can see here how the present Moscow regime is attempting to sanitise the past. Whilst in 2006 the Ukrainian Parliament passed a legislation definiing Holodomor as ‘Genocide’, in April 2010, Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin former President Viktor Yanukovych told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that “Holodomor was a common tragedy that struck Ukrainians and other Soviet peoples, and that it would be wrong to recognise the Holodomor as an act of genocide against one nation”. Twenty-five countries have recognised the tragic events of 1932-33 as genocide.
“This was the first instance of a peacetime genocide in history. It took the extraordinary form of an artificial famine deliberately created by the ruling powers. The savage combination of words for the designation of a crime - an artificial deliberately planned famine - is still incredible to many people throughout the world, but indicates the uniqueness of the tragedy of 1933, which is unparalleled for a time of peace, in the number of victims it claimed.”
Wasyl Hryshko - Author and Holodomor Survivor.
The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory hosts an exhibition ‘The Holodomor 1932 - 1933 - Genocide Against Ukrainian People’. Open daily from 10a.m. - 6p.m. (except on Mondays) it can be visited at 3 Lavrska Street, Kyiv (nearest metro station Arsenalna).
This article was originally published on September 19th 2015.
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