17 Mar 2019

Text & Translation: Corinna

#Stalin’s Genocide in the Ukraine

In the winter of 1932/33 Stalin starved the Ukrainian people to death in order to undercut any attempts at independence. Ukrainians call this event Holodomor – ‘death by hunger’.

The Holodomor has not much in common with the Holocaust, however, Raphael Lemkin described it as genocide. He noted that at first it wasn’t planned to exterminate the entire Ukrainian population, but the intellectual, political and religious elite, which was relatively small and therefore easy to eliminate. In the 1920s and 1930s, many teachers, writers, artists, thinkers, clergymen and politicians were arrested, deported or even liquidated.[1]

‘This isn’t just a case of mass murder. It’s a case of genocide, of destruction, not just of individuals, but of a culture and a nation.’[2]Raphael Lemkin

Photo: Holodomor Memorial in Kiew by Steve Haslam/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

However, Ukrainian farmers were also to be weakened, as they were regarded as the source of Ukrainian tradition and culture. They possessed great national pride and didn’t want to bow to communism and its forced collectivization. For Stalin they thus became a danger to the Soviet Union, which has to be eliminated. As a result, he starved between five and ten million people to death in the winter of 1932/33.[3]

The annihilation of the scholars and priests as well as the peasants was tantamount to the annihilation of the entire people, as these three groups essentially shaped the culture and values of the Ukraine and made it a nation.[4]

Photo: 1933 Famine Photo’s of Kharkov, Ukraine, from Dr. Ewald Ammende’s 1935 ‘Muss Russland Hungern?’Cardinal Theodor Innitzer’s archives in Vienna in The 1933 Original Photographs from Karkiv, Ukraine.

#Liquidation of the Kulaks

At the end of the 1920s, the government in Moscow decided to radically change its policy. The Soviet Union was to be transformed into a modern industrial state, therefore Stalin’s revolution focused primarily on the industrialization and forced collectivization of agriculture. However, to do this the resistance movement in the countryside had to be eliminated.[5]  Especially the Kulaks (rich farmers, but also anyone who resisted collectivization) were seen as a problem and should be liquidated. The self-sufficient farmer was the perceived enemy of Stalin.

‘At first it was the kulaks (the rich peasants). Later also the village poor. Anyone who did not voluntarily enter collective farms (large Soviet enterprises) was considered an enemy of the state, received no work and was expropriated. Those who voluntarily entered the collective farms received a little money, later only a handful of food.’ [6]  – Yuri Krawtschenko, grandson of a survivor

In the Ukraine alone, about 200,000 kulak farms were closed. Many owners were shot, hundreds of thousands were deported to the east of the Soviet Union, many died on their way there. Many farmers offered strong resistance, sabotaged the grain deliveries and organized partly violent protests.[7]

Photo: Alexander Wienerberger/ Lizenziert unter Gemeinfrei über Wikimedia Commons

#Hunger as a murder weapon

At the beginning of the 1930s there were two poor harvests and due to these circumstances, the agricultural production decreased. But instead of counteracting the food shortage, the Soviet Union increased its coercive measures to confiscate grain, triggering a famine in the winter of 1932/33 that caused the certain death of millions of people.[8]  The quotas for grain levies became unattainable and the Central Committee imposed penalties on about 90% of the kolkhoz. Due to this decision the kolkhoz had to deliver additional meat at the rate of 15 times the monthly norm.

As that wasn’t possible any longer, police officers started to confiscate all food, livestock and valuables in many villages. Anyone who resisted or tried to hide grain was either shot or transported to Siberia.[9]  So-called ‘black lists’ were drawn up and all villages on these lists were forced to stop all trade completely and to hand over all goods. In January 1933, Stalin and Molotov, chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union, issued a directive to all party and state bodies in the Ukraine and the North Caucasus to close all borders.[10]

Many peasants went to the cities and begged for food, but they were arrested and sent back to the countryside. Tens of thousands of children were abandoned by their parents in the hope of saving them.[11]

‘In the terrible spring of 1933 I saw people die of hunger. I saw women and children with bloated bellies, saw them turning blue, still breathing, but with empty, lifeless eyes. And corpses – corpses in torn sheep’s clothing and cheap felt boots, corpses in farmer’s huts…’[12] – Lev Kopelev, Writer

Photo: Unknown/ Lizenziert unter Gemeinfrei über Wikimedia Commons

While its own population starved to death, the Soviet Union exported over 1.8 million tons of grain to European countries to advance industrialization. According to various sources, the Soviet Union’s strategic grain reserves have exceeded three million tons – enough to satisfy the hungry.[13] Foreign food donations were rejected at the border and journalists were not allowed into the country.

It is estimated that the daily mortality rate in the Ukraine was 25,000. People fed on leaves and buds and animal carcasses. There are even reports of cannibalism.[14] The depopulated areas were subsequently colonised with Russian farmers.[15]

‘I was very afraid when I heard that our neighbour killed and ate her two children while her husband was working as a lumberjack in Siberia. Her hunger was more powerful than her mother’s instinct. She still didn’t survive.’ [16]  – Natalia Mikitiwna Nidzelska, Survivor

There are no exact figures on how many people really died, because many official documents and statistics were falsified or destroyed in the 1930s – probably to cover up the mass murder. It is estimated that there were between five and ten million deaths. So far, the names of 880,000 victims are known.[17]

Photo: „Josef Stalin“/ Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R80329 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 / Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 3.0 de über Wikimedia Commons

#The Holodomor today

For many decades the famine was kept silent – for fear of further reprisals. After the Orange Revolution of 2004, the Ukraine opened its archives and survivors began to tell their stories. The Ukrainian public prosecutor’s office even opened a trial against Stalin, but it was soon discontinued because the accused died in 1953. In November 2006, the Ukrainian government enacted the law ‘On the Holodomor in the Ukraine’, thus recognizing it as genocide and punishing its denial.[18]

Many other countries have also recognised the Holodomor as a genocide, including the USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Estonia, Ecuador, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Paraguay, Peru and Poland. In October 2008, the European Union recognised the Holodomor as a crime against humanity.[19]

‘Collective memory cannot be destroyed. It was a deliberate and systematic murder of millions of people while Stalin was on holiday on the Black Sea’.[20]  – Miklos Kun, Historian

Photo: Unknown/ Lizenziert unter Gemeinfrei über Wikimedia Commons

#Genocide Deniers

Already during the Holodomor Stalin spoke of ‘the fairy tale of a famine’. The Soviets denied that there was a food shortage in large parts of the Union. Even today, Russia, the legal successor of the Soviet Union, remains of the opinion that the famine was due to storms, poor harvests and the rebellion of Ukrainian peasants and was therefore not genocide.[21]

According to the deniers, it was mainly the kulaks who were to blame for the starvation of the Ukrainian population. According to them many farmers killed their cattle out of fear of forced expropriation, destroying valuable labour and food. Furthermore, according to the deniers, the kulaks called for harvesting only what was needed for their own needs. The rest of the harvest rotted in the fields. As a climax of the resistance many kulaks joined the kolkhoz, took over leading positions and resisted the grain levies. [22]

The deniers argue that the government had no choice but to use violence and coercion to defend socialism. In addition, collectivization was allegedly necessary to protect the peasants from exploitation by the kulaks. The systematic settlement of Russian peasants in the now depopulated areas served the purpose of education. This step increased the productivity of the collective economy and strengthened the alliance between workers and peasants. Many Holodomor critics argue that the whole genocide debate is only part of an anti-communist campaign to criminalize communism.[23]


It should be noted that many people within the Soviet Union suffered from hunger, but nowhere as intensively as in the Ukraine. The food shortage was not exclusively the result of natural grievances and rebellion, but of Stalin’s unscrupulous policies. The borders were deliberately closed and the farmers were prevented from fleeing. Hunger was used by the Soviet Union as a weapon to decimate the Ukrainian nation and break the resistance. Millions of people lost their lives to Soviet communism.[24]



# www.bpb.de (2013) „Analyse: 80 Jahre Holodomor – die Große Hungersnot in der Ukraine“. By Gerhard Simon. Available at: http://www.bpb.de/internationales/europa/ukraine/174179/analyse-80-jahre-holodomor-die-grosse-hungersnot-in-der-ukraine?p=all (Accessed13.01.16)

# Jones, A. (2010) Genocide – A comprehensive Introduction. 2nd Edition. London and New York: Routledge.

# Kappeler, A. (2014) „Kleine Geschichte der Ukraine“. München: Verlag C. H. Beck OHG.

# Lemkin, R. (2014) „Soviet Genocide in the Ukraine“ – The Holodomor: occasional paper series 1. Based on a speech by the author in New York City in 1953. Kingston, Ontario: Kashtan Press.

# www.mlpd.de (2011) „Hungersnot in der Ukraine vor 75 Jahren – „Völkermord Stalins“?“. Available at: https://www.mlpd.de/2011/kw40/hungersnot-in-der-ukraine-vor-75-jahren-2013-201evoelkermord-stalins201c (Accessed 13.01.16)

# www.spiegel.de (2007) „Ukraine: Als Stalin die Menschen zu Kannibalen machte“. Von Fanny Facsar. Available at: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ukraine-als-stalin-die-menschen-zu-kannibalen-machte-a-458006.html (Accessed 13.01.16)

# United Human Rights Council „Ukraine Famine“. Available at: http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/ukraine_famine.htm (Accessed13.01.16)

# www.welt.de (2013) „Stalins brutalstes Mordwerkzeug war der Hunger“. By Gerhard Gnauck. Available at:: http://www.welt.de/geschichte/zweiter-weltkrieg/article122152364/Stalins-brutalstes-Mordwerkzeug-war-der-Hunger.html (Accessed13.01.16)

[1]Lemkin, R. (2014), S. 11
[2]Lemkin, R. (2014), S. 15
[3]Lemkin, R. (2014), S. 12
[4]Lemkin, R. (2014), S. 14
[5]Kappeler, A. (2014) S. 197
[6]www.spiegel.de (2007)
[7]Kappeler, A. (2014), S. 199 / 200
[8]Kappeler, A. (2014), S. 200
[9]www.bpb.de (2013)
[10]www.bpb.de (2013)
[11]Lemkin, R. (2014), S. 13
[12]Kappeler, A. (2014), S. 200
[13]Jones (2012), S. 193
[14]www.spiegel.de (2007)
[15]www.welt.de (2013)
[16]www.spiegel.de (2007)
[17]www.welt.de (2013)
[18]www.welt.de (2013)
[19]United Human Rights Council
[20]www.spiegel.de (2007)
[21]www.mlpd.de (2011)
[22]www.mlpd.de (2011)
[23]www.mlpd.de (2011)
[24]Kappeler, A. (2014) S. 201

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