The Great Famine in Ukraine. The Holodomor claimed the lives of millions of victims

, 13:31, 26.11.2023
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

An artificial defeat premeditated by the headquarters of the Communist Party in Moscow led to the depopulation of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Between 4 and 8 million people died. The actions that caused mass starvation resulted from the opposition of the rural population of the Ukrainian SSR to the collectivization of agriculture and the collection of compulsory, free supplies of agricultural products exceeding the production capacity of the village. This policy was introduced at the turn of 1929/1930 by the leadership of the WKP(b) and the authorities of the USSR.

The Great Famine in Ukraine. The Holodomor claimed the lives of millions of victims

Memorial to the Holodomor Victims (Kyiv, Ukraine)

An artificial defeat premeditated by the headquarters of the Communist Party in Moscow led to the depopulation of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Between 4 and 8 million people died. Since 2004, every fourth Saturday of November, the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Great Famine and Political Repression is celebrated in Ukraine to commemorate this event.

Areas of Ukraine are some of the most fertile lands in the world. Mineral-rich chernozems are abundant here, and the climate is favorable for plant vegetation. The potential of the Ukrainian steppes to become the granary of Europe was enormous. Paradoxically, it was these exceptionally fertile lands that became the site of the greatest famine the Old Continent saw in the 20th century.

Ukrainians failed to maintain their statehood after the end of World War I. The lands of today's Ukraine were included in the borders of the Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which in 1922 became part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was the people living in the Ukrainian SSR who fell victim to the crime, which was the result of the systematic actions of the Soviet regime.

The Holodomor – A Look Back at Stalins 1932-1933 Genocide in Ukraine

The state of workers and peasants persecutes peasants

The ideology of the communist state assumed that all private property and means of production would be forced into a centrally planned economy. This also applied to rural farms. Forced food deliveries were already met with resistance from peasants at the very beginning of the history of Soviet Russia - the greatest anti-Bolshevik uprising was the bloodily suppressed Tambov Uprising in 1918-1921, the peasants' protest against requisitions and collectivization plans. The resistance of the peasants and, above all, the tragic economic situation of the country prompted Lenin to liberalize the economic course under the slogan of the New Economic Policy. As a result, until the end of the 1920s, farms remained private property in the USSR.

The course against the peasantry became more severe when Joseph Stalin took power. Forced collectivization of agriculture then began. For the purposes of propaganda, a new enemy of the people was created — the Kulak, a rich peasant who exploits his compatriots by speculating on the prices of agricultural produce. Under the slogan of dekulakization, the Soviets began to systematically and forcefully take away land and livestock, which became the basis for the kolkhozes and sovkhozes created by the Bolsheviks. In practice, any peasant could be considered a kulak.

The collectivization campaign led Ukraine's agriculture to complete ruin. Even before being incorporated into collective farms, peasants massacred cattle, herds, and horses. In 1930 and 1931, there was not enough draft power and fertilizer to work the fields. The sown area decreased dramatically and there was still no way to harvest the crops. Tractors could only be admired on propaganda posters. In 1932, 1/3 of the harvest remained in the fields of Ukraine

Despite this, the central authorities of the USSR decided that Ukraine was obliged to supply the common granary with the same amount of grain as in years of good harvest. Due to the opposition of the peasants, the Soviets decided to force quotas.

The Holodomor – A Look Back at Stalins 1932-1933 Genocide in Ukraine

Soviet locusts

At the turn of August and September 1932, a commission headed by Vyacheslav Molotov came to Ukraine, whose task was to ruthlessly execute the planned food deliveries. Special commissioners heading police and military units undertook systematic searches of collective farms and individual farms.

Possessing agricultural produce was treated as theft of collective farm property - a crime punishable by death.

For almost half a year, Ukrainian villages were completely robbed of all food, including grain that was intended for next year's sowing.

The Holodomor – A Look Back at Stalins 1932-1933 Genocide in Ukraine

Death follows hunger

In December, the first cases of death from starvation appeared. In January and February, they became massive. In April, the deaths of entire villages were already recorded.

About 25,000 people died every day. In the pre-harvest spring, dogs and cats disappeared from the village. Desperate peasants hunted mice, rats, and birds. Eventually, they began to eat tree bark and farm equipment made from leather. There were cases of cannibalism. The fate of peasants who managed to escape from the villages to the city, despite Soviet cordons, was also unenviable. In cities, there were food rations for working people.

The official propaganda did not notice the phenomenon. It was emphasized that the village hid food products that had to be taken away from them and clearly stated that the peasants still had food hidden, so they were not in any danger. This propaganda turned out to be effective against the inhabitants of Ukrainian cities. When the peasants reached Kyiv, Kharkov or other centers, the city inhabitants refused to help them out of fear or reluctance. The bodies of peasants who died of hunger on the pavement have become an element of the city landscape.

A campaign of lies and a man of truth

Soviet disinformation worked not only for the benefit of the Ukrainian SSR. Any mention of famine was treated throughout the Soviet Union as a crime against the state. The official press published reports, both enthusiastic and based on lies, about happy collective farmers and state farmworkers living in happiness and prosperity.

The world was not informed about the famine. On the contrary, grain continued to be exported abroad.

Who is Citizen Jones?

The propaganda campaign was supported by “useful idiots” from the West. Among them were the influential New York Times journalist Walter Duranty, French Prime Minister Eduard Herriot and the widely read writer George Bernard Shaw. All of them were taken by the Soviets around the areas affected by the Great Famine, and the places of visitation were properly prepared for their arrival, by disposing of the corpses and decorating the houses.

Later, all three of them supported official Soviet propaganda with their authority. On the antipodes of this attitude was the figure of Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist who, on his own, got to Soviet Ukraine and was one of the few who gave the Western public a reliable picture of the Holodomor.

Terrifying absurdity

At the same time, it turned out that food collected using drastic methods and transported to railway stations could not be transported from Ukraine due to logistical difficulties. So mounds of potatoes and piles of grain were rotting at the stations, while a few kilometers away people were dying of hunger.

The authorities decided to counteract the effects of famine only in April 1933.

They reacted only when it turned out that the villagers were so weak that they did not go out to work in the fields. The lack of sowings threatened the quotas that Ukraine was supposed to provide in 1933. It was then announced that everyone who showed up to work on the kolkhoz would receive a food allowance for survival.

Irreparable losses

In many cases, it was already too late, and therefore it was necessary to colonize the lands of Ukraine with settlers from central Russia.

The Great Famine in Ukraine was one of the breakthrough events in the history of Ukraine in the 20th century. It led to the breakdown of traditional Ukrainian social structures, Ukrainian folk culture and the interconnections between rural and urban social classes. Regardless of population losses, it led to the atomization of the Ukrainian nation. From then on, it was a Soviet society, submitting to the manipulations of the authorities without any major resistance.

In total, most historians agree that 3.9 million inhabitants of Ukraine died as a result of the Great Famine, but there are estimates that also give the number of 5 or even 8 million victims - the overwhelming majority of them were Ukrainians.

The Holodomor – A Look Back at Stalins 1932-1933 Genocide in Ukraine

For similar reasons, famine also struck the Kazakh SSR at that time, causing the death of approximately 1.5 million people. The causing of famine in Ukraine and Kazakhstan also had an impact on food supplies throughout the Soviet Union. It is estimated that 5 to 7 million people died due to malnutrition in the entire USSR.


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