Unit 2: Genocide
Chapter 5: The Holodomor
Valentina Kuryliw, the Director of Education at the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium
Bolsheviks – the Russian word bolshevik means “one of the majority.” The bolsheviks were members of the majority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which was renamed the Communist Party after seizing power in the October Revolution of 1917. They were leaders of the revolutionary working class of Russia and led by Lenin.
Collectivization – a Soviet government policy in which private ownership of farmland was discontinued. Land was forcibly taken from owners and amalgamated into government-owned structures known as collective farms, which were large agricultural units where people worked in a factory-like environment controlled by the totalitarian Soviet government.
Communism – a totalitarian system of government in which all the land, natural resources, industries, and institutions, including education and media are owned and controlled by the government. This system is based on political theory derived from Karl Marx who believed that capitalism would inevitably provoke revolutionary class warfare and result in the production of a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.
Diaspora – a group of people who have been dispersed from the area in which they had lived for a long time or who are living outside the area in which their ancestors lived.
Gulag – a system of Soviet labour camps, including detention and transit camps and prisons, that existed from 1919 to the mid-1950s. By 1936, the Gulag held a total of 5,000,000 prisoners, a number that was probably equaled or exceeded every subsequent year until Stalin died in 1953. Besides rich or resistant peasants arrested during collectivization, people sent to the Gulag included purged Communist Party members and military officers, German and other Axis prisoners of war (during World War II), members of ethnic groups suspected of disloyalty, Soviet soldiers and other citizens who had been taken prisoner or used as slave labourers by the Germans during the war, suspected saboteurs and traitors, dissident intellectuals, ordinary criminals, and many utterly innocent people who were hapless victims of Stalin’s purges.
Halych-Volhynia State (also spelled Galicia-Volhynia) – a break-off principality formed in the western regions of the Kyivan Rus State during the late Middle Ages.
Kozaks (also spelled Cossacks) – Originally (in the fifteenth century) the term referred to semi-independent Tatar groups, which formed in the Dnieper region. The term was also applied (by the end of the fifteenth century) to peasants who had fled from serfdom in Poland, Lithuania, and Muscovy to the Dnieper and Don regions, where they established free self-governing military communities. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Russians used Cossacks extensively in military actions and to suppress revolutionary activities. Under Soviet rule Cossack communities ceased to function as administrative units. In the 21st century, under Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cossacks resumed their historical relationship with Moscow.
Kulaks (Ukrainian term – kurkuli) – a wealthy or prosperous peasant, generally characterized as one who owned a relatively large farm and several head of cattle and horses and who was financially capable of employing hired labour and leasing land. Lenin’s introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921 favoured the kulaks. Although the Soviet government considered the kulaks to be capitalists and, therefore, enemies of socialism, it adopted various incentives to encourage peasants to increase Soviet agricultural production and enrich themselves. In 1929, the government began a drive for rapid collectivization of agriculture. The kulaks vigorously opposed the efforts to force peasants to give up their small privately owned farms and join large cooperatives. At the end of 1929, a campaign to “liquidate the kulaks as a class” (dekulakization) was launched by the government. By 1934, when approximately 75 percent of the farms in the Soviet Union had been collectivized, most kulaks—as well as millions of other peasants who had opposed collectivization—were deported to remote regions of the Soviet Union or arrested and their land and property confiscated.
Kyivan Rus/Kievan Rus – the origin of the Kievan state and that of the name Rus, which came to be applied to it, remain matters of debate among historians. It was founded by the Viking Oleg, ruler of Novgorod from about 879. In 882, he seized Smolensk and Kiev, and the latter city, owing to its strategic location on the Dnieper River, became the capital of Kievan Rus. Extending his rule, Oleg united local Slavic and Finnish tribes, defeated the Khazars, and, in 911, arranged trade agreements with Constantinople. The thirteenth century Mongol conquest decisively ended Kiev’s power. Remnants of the Kievan state persisted in the western principalities of Galicia and Volhynia, but by the fourteenth century those territories had been absorbed by Poland and Lithuania, respectively. Russian, Ukraine, and Belarus all claim to be the modern successors of the medieval empire of Kievan Rus under Vladimir/Volodymyr the Great (c. 958 – 1015).
Industrialization – the transformation from a mainly agricultural society to one based on the manufacturing of goods and in which manual labour is replaced by mechanization.
Grand Duchy of Moscow/Muscovy – a medieval principality that, under the leadership of a branch of the Rurik dynasty, was transformed from a small settlement in the Rostov-Suzdal principality (that succeeded Kievan Rus) into the dominant political unit in northeastern Russia (Moscow).
Propaganda – used to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols (words, gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, hairstyles, designs on coins and postage stamps, and so forth). Deliberateness and a relatively heavy emphasis on manipulation distinguish propaganda from casual conversation or the free and easy exchange of ideas. Propagandists have a specified goal or set of goals. To achieve these, they deliberately select facts, arguments, and displays of symbols and present them in ways they think will have the most effect. To maximize effect, they may omit or distort pertinent facts or simply lie, and they may try to divert the attention of people they are trying to sway from everything but their own propaganda.
Russification – laws, decrees, and aggressive actions taken by imperialist Russia and Soviet authorities aimed at imposing Russian language and culture, and social and political systems on all non-Russians.
Secret police – police established by governments to maintain social and political control. In Russia, the secret police suppressed political dissent through terror, intimidation, torture and killing. In the Russian empire, they were called by the acronym CHEKA, and later in the USSR, they were known as NKVD, OGPU, and KGB.
Totalitarianism – a form of government that permits no individual freedom and seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to the authority of the state. Any dissent is branded as evil, and internal political differences are not permitted. Nazi Germany (1933–1945) and the Soviet Union during the Stalin era (1928–1953) were the first examples of decentralized or popular totalitarianism, in which the state achieved overwhelming popular support for its leadership. That support was not spontaneous; its genesis depended on a charismatic leader, and it was made possible only by modern developments in communication and transportation.
Ukraine – Google Maps
This really happened
The Famine of 1932-1933 is called the Holodomor, a Ukrainian word that means murder by starvation. The Holodomor is known as a man-made famine because it was not caused by crop failure or natural disaster. Joseph Stalin created the conditions for mass starvation in order to destroy the people who dared to oppose his government’s plan for collectivization and industrialization.
Earlier historians of the Soviet Union presented various explanations for the Famine of 1932-1933, such as excesses in the Soviet drive for collectivization, the slaughter of livestock by farmers opposed to collective farms, drought, and a poor harvest. However, most scholars today recognize that the Famine was deliberately planned and engineered and was not the result of natural causes, such as drought or a poor harvest. During the years of the Famine, the weather conditions were favourable and the harvest was plentiful enough to feed the entire population of Ukraine, as evidenced by official government reports from those years. Survivor accounts confirm that the Famine was artificially created by Stalin’s government. The government imposed crop quotas that were excessive, demanding that the entire harvest in the fields of Ukraine be confiscated, as well as all food supplies in people’s homes.
By the fall of 1932, the rural population of Ukraine was starving. Laws, such as the Decree of August 7, 1932, made it a punishable crime to gather and hide for oneself any produce from the fields, as these were declared to be “socialist property.” Entire regions of Ukraine were placed under food blockades, with orders to halt the delivery of food to stores in these regions. Distressingly, as millions lay dying in the streets and in village huts, Soviet granaries were filled to capacity with the year’s harvest. Large shipments of Soviet grain were sold to Germany and other countries, contributing to a depression-era drop in the price of wheat in Europe.
Soviet regions just outside the borders of Ukraine experienced minimal food shortages. Police patrols had to be placed on Ukraine’s borders during the time of the Holodomor to keep starving Ukrainians from crossing into Russia where they could obtain food to survive.
Official documents and materials now available to the public confirm the extreme lengths taken by Stalin’s regime to suppress news of the Famine in 1932-1933. Soviet authorities ordered the press to deny the existence of the Famine, and punished anyone who spoke or wrote about it. The country was eventually closed to foreign correspondents. The suppression of the truth continued for several decades until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The few western journalists who travelled to Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933 were too intimidated to write about what they were witnessing at the time. They chose to share their experiences after they were safely at home. Journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones were appalled by the starvation and loss of life, particularly in central Ukraine. Unfortunately, one very influential journalist, Walter Duranty, denied that he had witnessed the horrible results of the Famine in exchange for lavish Soviet favours. Duranty’s articles for The New York Times in 1932-1933 convinced many people that reports of starvation in Ukraine were untrue. He pointed to large grain exports from the Soviet Union as proof that all was well in Ukraine.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, researchers have gained access to government documents and Communist Party archives. They have found numerous documents that prove the conditions for forced famine were created by Stalin’s regime. Stalin himself admitted to Prime Minister Winston Churchill that 10 million peasants died in Ukraine and neighbouring regions in the 1932-1933 Famine. He viewed this as successful revenge against people who were considered to be hostile to the Soviet communist system.
Adapted from the Genocide Never Again Workbook. Used with permission.
While the exact number of victims is impossible to assess in any case of genocide, scholars today put the number of victims in Ukraine at 3.9 million.
Read historian Anne Applebaum on how Stalin hid the famine from the world. Her book Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (2017) is an award-winning history of the genocide. Listen to her discuss the book.
Map of depopulation of Ukraine and southern Russia, 1929-1933. Territories in white were not part of the USSR during the famine.
Ukrainians trace their historical roots to the Kyivan Rus state and an East Slavic tribe, the Polianians. The thirteenth century Mongol conquest decisively ended Kiev’s power. Remnants of the Kievan state persisted in the western principalities of Galicia and Volhynia, but by the fourteenth century those territories had been absorbed by Poland and Lithuania, respectively.
The town of Moscow was founded in 1147. Moscow’s authority was greatly enhanced when in 1326 the metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church transferred his seat from Vladimir to Moscow. Thereafter the town was to remain the centre of Russian Orthodoxy, and after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 it claimed the title of the Third Rome. Muscovy was the foundation for the future Russian empire.
In the nineteenth century, Russian leaders introduced the secret police and continued imperial expansion, making russification of all ethnic groups a government policy. It was at this time that some of the descendants of the Kyivan Rus state began to refer to themselves as Ukrainians, in order to clearly differentiate their nationality from Muscovites/Russians.
Following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1917, the bolsheviks under the leadership Vladimir Lenin seized power. Lenin believed that a transition to communism required a period of dictatorship. The bolsheviks laid claim to all lands of the former Russian empire. They established their own secret police to imprison and execute anyone who opposed Soviet dictatorship, calling them “enemies of the state.”
In 1917, Ukrainians declared independence and created the Ukrainian National Republic, but were soon overrun by German and Austrian forces. A civil war ensued on Russian-held territory as the bolsheviks continued to consolidate power. Six different armies were operating on Ukrainian lands during this time of anarchy and collapse of authority. When Ukraine was allied with Poland for a short term it gained some ground, but by 1920 all of eastern and central Ukraine except Crimea was taken over again by the bolsheviks. In 1922, the communists created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) as a federation of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcaucasia. When the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991, Ukraine became an independent state.
“Bitter Memories of Childhood,” Holodomor monument, Wascana Centre, Regina SK (2015)
Photo provided by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Saskatchewan.
The following timeline provides an overview of historical events leading up to the Holodomor. It traces Ukraine’s history from 1918 to the present day.
Source: O. Subtelny, 2009. Ukraine: A History, Fourth ed. Toronto, 380-381.
The timeline traces Russian imperialist aggression toward Ukraine beginning in the nineteenth century. You will notice that the Holodomor was one in a series of attempts by Russian imperialists and later Soviet authorities to dominate the land and people of Ukraine. However, the Holodomor was the most ruthless of all in that Stalin’s decrees created the conditions for genocide. As reports of starvation continued to surface, there was no compassion and no reversal of the plan. Stalin was determined to destroy Ukrainian citizens who openly defied communist ideology and collectivization within the USSR. The result was massive starvation of millions of men, women, children, and infants.
This engineered famine and tragic loss of millions of lives has slowly gained international recognition–Canada was the first western country to acknowledge the genocide. However, there are still many countries that do not officially recognize the events of 1932-1933 as a genocide created by the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin. Let’s take some time to examine primary and secondary sources of information.
Dying peasants on the streets of Kharkiv during the Famine-Genocide (1933 photo by A. Wienerberger)
Artifact 1: Politburo Resolution on Grain Procurement in Ukraine
No.44 Resolution of the CC AUCP(b) Politburo on grain procurement in Ukraine
January 1, 1933
RGASPI, fond 17, list 3, file 913, sheet 11.
CC AUCP (b) – Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) based in Moscow
Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih. Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing (2008), 77.
Artifact 2: Report from the Consul of Italy in Kharkiv
No. 67 Report from the Consul of Italy in Kharkiv to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy on “Famine and Sanitary Conditions” (excerpt)
Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih. Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing (2008), 114-115.
Artifact 3 – Population Figures
Population Figures for the East Slavic Nationalities and the USSR as a Whole
Number of Children Attending Schools
Artifact 4 – Resettlement Directives
No. 68 Resolution of the USSR SNK on resettlement to Kuban, Terek and Ukraine
No. 69 Resolution of the CC CP(b)U Politboro on additional resettlement of Steppe raions (excerpt)
SNK – Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR (Soviet Narodnyhkh Komisariv)
Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih. Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing (2008), 116-117.
Artifact 5: International Recognition of Holodomor
Canada recognizes the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. In addition to Canada, other countries who recognize the Holodomor are:
Canada Remembers Holodomor Victims
In 2003, the United Nations (UN) and delegations from 25 countries issued a Joint Statement on the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine (Holodomor). The opening statement reads as follows:
While the UN considers the Holodomor a national tragedy, they fall short of using the term genocide. In 1990, the UN International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932-1933 Famine in Ukraine (Geneva) concluded that the Famine in Ukraine was in fact a genocide. At the same time, the Commission could not confirm that the Moscow authorities had a preconceived plan to organize a famine in Ukraine. The only dissenting opinion came from Professor Sundberg, the head of the commission, who concluded that: “the evidence shows that the famine situation was well-known in Moscow from the bottom to the top. Very little or nothing was done to provide some relief to the starving masses. On the contrary, a great deal was done to deny the famine, to make it invisible to visitors, and to prevent relief being brought.”
Artifact 6 – An Author’s Chronicle of Events
Following an unofficial trip to Ukraine in 1933, journalist Gareth Jones shared his stories of government oppression and famine with George Orwell, a young British author. Years later, Orwell wrote the novel Animal Farm in which he satirized the corrosive effects of communism. He also alluded to an artificial famine and the need to conceal it from the outside world in chapter seven of his novel.
Orwell created a different preface to his novel in an underground Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm that was published in 1947. The translated edition was circulated throughout displaced persons’ camps in Europe following World War II.
Artifact 7 – Intergenerational Impact of the Holodomor
Researchers have found that collective trauma is passed down from generation to generation, a phenomenon known as intergenerational trauma. In Canada, the impact of intergenerational trauma has been highlighted by survivors of residential schools. It is what happens “when untreated trauma-related stress experienced by survivors is passed on to second and subsequent generations. The trauma inflicted by residential schools and the Sixties Scoop was significant, and the scope of the damage these events wrought wouldn’t be truly understood until years later.”
A research study by Brent Bezo and Stefania Maggi (The Intergenerational Impact of the Holodomor Genocide on Gender Roles, Expectations, and Performance: The Ukrainian Experience, 2015) investigated how three consecutive generations perceived the impact of the Holodomor on their lives in modern-day Ukraine. The findings indicate that:
The Press – Facts versus Fake News
Previously sealed files from the Soviet era are now available to historians and researchers. Many of the documents from the files provide compelling evidence of a government-imposed famine, with losses of 3.9 million people in the Ukrainian lands and 1.1 million in the grain-growing regions of Soviet Russia and Kazakhstan.
Unfortunately, in 1932-1933 evidence of the famine was kept well-hidden. Journalists were rarely allowed into Ukraine due to a travel ban. At least three noteworthy journalists did manage to travel to the region, one with the permission of Soviet authorities, and two who ignored the travel ban. The articles they wrote convey divergent views.
Read the article written by Ian Hunter titled “A Tale of Truth and Two Journalists.” Study the summary of interpretations offered in the chart and examine the articles published by both Malcolm Muggeridge and Walter Duranty (links given) to gain greater insight into each interpretation.
Note: Duranty’s article was written in response to the eyewitness accounts of journalist Gareth Jones. Walter Duranty travelled with the permission of Soviet authorities. Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones ignored the travel ban and went on their own.
The University of Alberta’s Holodomor Research and Education Consortium offers some reasons for the lack of awareness by the public about the artificial Famine of 1932-1933. It is interesting to note that even though many detailed accounts of the Holodomor were written, Duranty’s articles, which were backed by Soviet authorities, overshadowed the work of other journalists.
Write your answers and then discuss as a class.
Why is it that the earliest accounts of the Holodomor originated from diaspora Ukrainians and not from survivors living within Ukraine?
Write your answer and then discuss and compare with a partner in class.
Although the Holodomor of 1932-1933 is now widely recognized (see Artifact 5), Canada prides itself on being the first country in the world to declare that the Soviet engineered famine was a genocide against the Ukrainian people.
The Senate calls upon the Government of Canada “to recognize the Ukrainian Famine/Genocide of 1932-1933 and to condemn any attempt to deny or distort this historical truth as being anything less than genocide.” June 17, 2003.
In 2008, a private members’ bill was introduced to establish a day of remembrance for the Holodomor, Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day.
After viewing Artifacts 1, 2, and 3, reflect on the following questions:
A. Holodomor survivors who escaped to countries such as Canada have shared eyewitness accounts of cruelty and starvation in Ukraine during 1932-1933.
B. The next question refers to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. If you have read it, please proceed.
Andrea Chalupa has researched Orwell’s introduction to the Ukrainian version of Animal Farm (see Artifact 6). She speaks of the “revived revolutionary spirit” among displaced persons (DPs) upon reading this satire about communism, collective farms, and famine. Do you think that Orwell’s book motivated Ukrainian survivors to share their recollections of the Holodomor in the diaspora? Why or why not?
Artifact 7 explores intergenerational trauma. Define the following terms related to the history of residential schools in Canada: colonization, mistrust, indigenous inhabitants, cultural genocide, intergenerational trauma, and resettlement.
The Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward in China
Twenty-five years after Stalin’s Holodomor, General Mao Zedong launched the “Great Leap Forward” in 1958. Both communist leaders wielded apparently unlimited power in their efforts to eliminate private farms and promote rapid industrialization. According to an expert on the subject, historian Frank Dikötter, Mao’s policies precipitated mass famine, rampant cannibalism, causing an estimated 30 million deaths.
Dikötter, Frank – Mao’s Great Leap to Famine. International Herald Tribune. December 15, 2010
A. Select 10 adult participants for a history survey. First thank them for participating and let them know they will be identified only by number with no names recorded.
B. Question for them:
C. Give them scores out of a total of 5 based on correct answers to:
D. Participants may be asked to volunteer their level of education and how they learned about these genocides.
E. Analyze your results as individuals and then as a class looking at trends and the potential explanations of those trends.
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Other chapters on Genocide: