The term Holodomor (death by hunger, in Ukrainian) refers to the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in 1932–33 as a result of Soviet policies. The Holodomor can be seen as the culmination of an assault by the Communist Party and Soviet state on the Ukrainian peasantry, who resisted Soviet policies. This assault occurred in the context of a campaign of intimidation and arrests of Ukrainian intellectuals, writers, artists, religious leaders, and political cadres, who were seen as a threat to Soviet ideological and state-building aspirations.
Between 1917 and 1921, Ukraine briefly became an independent country and fought to retain its independence before succumbing to the Red Army and being incorporated into the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, Soviet central authorities, seeking the support of the populace, allowed for some cultural autonomy through the policy known as “indigenization.”
By the end of the 1920s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin decided to curtail Ukraine’s cultural autonomy, launching the intimidation, arrest, imprisonment and execution of thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals, church leaders, as well as Communist Party functionaries who had supported Ukraine’s distinctiveness.
At the same time, Stalin ordered the collectivization of agriculture. The majority of Ukrainians, who were small-scale or subsistence farmers, resisted. The state confiscated the property of the independent farmers and forced them to work on government collective farms. Prosperous farmers (owning a few head of livestock, for example) and those who resisted collectivization were branded kulaks (rich peasants) and declared enemies of the state who deserved to be eliminated as a class. Thousands were thrown out of their homes and deported.
In 1932, the Communist Party set impossibly high quotas for the amount of grain Ukrainian villages were required to contribute to the Soviet state. When the villages were not able to meet the quotas, authorities intensified the requisition campaign, confiscating even the seed set aside for planting and levying fines in meat and potatoes for failure to fulfill the quotas. Special teams were sent to search homes and even seized other foodstuffs. Starving farmers attempted to leave their villages in search of food, but Soviet authorities issued a decree forbidding Ukraine’s peasants from leaving the country. As a result, many thousands of farmers who had managed to leave their villages were apprehended and sent back, virtually a death sentence. A law was introduced that made the theft of even a few stalks of grain an act of sabotage punishable by execution. In some cases, soldiers were posted in watchtowers to prevent people from taking any food from the harvest. Although informed of the dire conditions in Ukraine, central authorities ordered local officials to extract even more from the villages. Millions starved as the USSR sold crops from Ukraine abroad.
The USSR vigorously denied that the Holodomor had occurred. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party, secret police, and government archives that have become accessible to researchers support the conclusion that the famine was caused by Soviet state policies and was indeed intentionally intensified by Soviet authorities. (Text modified from http://holodomor.ca/holodomor-basic-facts/)
As millions died, and others moved in search of food, armed guards sealed off the border with Russia, where there was food. As millions died, the USSR exported grain. According to Dr. Taras Hunczak of Rutgers University, 28 million tons were exported during 1932 and 1933 – four tons of grain per each man, woman, and child who starved. There was no physical reason that they should have died. It was a deliberate policy.
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For further reading:
- Davies, R.W. and Wheatcroft, Stephen G., The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931–1933. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
- Graziosi, Andrea, “The Soviet 1931–1933 Famines and the Ukrainian Holodomor: Is a New Interpretation Possible, and What Would Its Consequences Be?”, Harvard Ukrainian Studies 27 (2004–2005), pp. 97–115.
- Klid, Bohdan and Motyl, Alexander J., co-compilers and co-editors. The Holodomor Reader: A Sourcebook on the Famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine. Edmonton and Toronto: CIUS Press, 2012.
- Conquest, Robert. The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
- Kulchytskyi, Stanislav V., “Holodomor in Ukraine 1932–1933: An Interpretation of Facts,” in Holodomor and Gorta Mór: Histories, Memories and Representations of Famine in Ukraine and Ireland. Ed. Christian Noack et al. London, New York and Delhi: Anthem Press, 2012, pp. 19–33.
- “Lemkin on Genocide of Nations,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 9 (2009), pp. 123–30.
- Martin, Terry. The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001.
- Naimark, Norman M. Stalin’s Genocides. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010.
- Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books, 2010.
- Werth, Nicholas, “The Great Ukrainian Famine of 1932–33,” Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, published 18 April 2008. Online at http://www.massviolence.org/The-1932-1933-Great-Famine-in-Ukraine.