Location:Soviet Union (Ukraine)
Perpetrators: Soviet state under Josef Stalin
Numberof deaths (estimated): 3-7 million
Recognizedby Canada? Yes
The word “Holodomor” is derived from two Ukrainian words: “Holod”, or hunger, and “mor” as death or plague. Literally, this word translates as hunger plague.
Some of the most important context to keep in mind when learning about this aspect of Eastern European history is that for centuries, farmers in this region were considered serfs, or indentured workers:this meant that they did not have ownership over the land they worked and were essentially kept in a state of continuous poverty to the nobles who actually owned the land. After many decades of rebellions, riots, and massacres,successful peasants were finally granted ownership over the land they and their ancestors had tilled and worked for centuries. The symbolic nature of independent land ownership went far beyond the practicalities of accruing wealth; there was a sense of personal and social identity built into the very land that these farmers had fought and died to own.
· Josef Stalin
· Walter Duranty
· Malcolm Muggeridge
1917: The Russian monarchy falls and the Bolsheviks or the Red Party, later known as the Communist Party, takes power.
1924: Joseph Stalin becomes the leader of the USSR after the death of Vladimir Lenin. He will remain as the region’s autocratic dictator until his death in 1953.
1928: Stalin introduces a revolutionary new form of agricultural production known as collectivization. Collectivization was an attempt on the part of the government to turn all agricultural land into a collectively owned agricultural production. Instead of each farmer tending to and harvesting their own plot of personal land, this practice of collectivization essential meant that the government took ownership of all the agricultural land and forced local farmers to work it in sections. This was seen as extension of the basic Communist ideology, where the means of production and industry are no longer owned by individuals but by the state. As you will remember from the background context, Eastern European farmers,especially Ukrainians, were fiercely independent due to the historical conditions of the region; they were unwilling to sacrifice their ownership and independence for a head state located thousands of kilometers away. Successful and prosperous farmers, known in Russia as kulaks, spearheaded the resistance to these changes. The label of “kulak” was not especially well-defined, but was generally understood as a farmer who owned at least 24 acres of land or was prosperous enough to hire additional workers.
1929-1932: This period is characterized by what was termed “dekulakization.” Essentially, the Communist government attempted to break down the physical, mental, and spiritual strength of those resisting collectivization. The state police confiscated the homes and livelihoods of prosperous families, with thousands of people being deported from the region and sent to Siberia. Most did not survive. It was illegal for other community members to attempt to assist their kulak neighbours. In desperate attempts at resistance, some kulak farmers opted to burn their fields and kill their own livestock instead of handing it over to the Soviet officials. There was a particular emphasis on the destruction of religious and intellectual leaders, as they were seen as the backbone of the social structure. An estimated 1.5 million Ukrainians die under this policy.
1932-1933: The Soviet government drastically increased the mandatory production of the Ukrainian farmers, so much so that farmers were unable to meet the new quotas. While there was more than enough food produced to feed the Ukrainian people as well as export surplus, the state police were under orders to seize any and all produce. The purpose of setting unattainable quotas was that farmers would be forced to submit all produce to Soviet authorities. Armed brigades would march house to house in order to confiscate food. Any attempts to hide grain or livestock from these armed men would be a death sentence, even for children. Blockades were set up around villages in order to both stop the import of external food, as well as stop any towns person from leaving the area in search of food. Stalin is alleged to have stated he was “teaching a lesson through famine” when discussing his policy of engineered famine in Ukraine.
1933: At the height of the famine, an estimated 30,000 people a day were dying from starvation and diseases related to being in such a weakened state.
1934: By the end of this period, an estimated 4 million people in Soviet Ukraine died from starvation and famine-related illnesses. This number does not include the untold thousands who were forcibly deported and sent to Siberia, or simply executed for real or perceived resistance.
The Holodomor was inadequately reported in Western nations for a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons was that the strict secrecy in Soviet countries made it difficult for foreign reporters to enter or travel freely, and local journalists would have been putting themselves in jeopardy by honestly reporting on the conditions they witnessed. Unfortunately, Soviet law enforcement and security was complicit in carrying out this artificial famine and therefore were unlikely to act as agents of justice. Furthermore, any Western journalists who did enter the country and were allowed to report on ongoing issues were often journalists who were sympathetic to the cause of the Communist Party. One infamous example of this is Walter Duranty, a New York Times journalist who was the Russian correspondent during this period. His minimization and, in some cases, outright denial of the genocide shaped the American public’s understanding of what took place. Furthermore, the brutal process of collectivization and industrialization that Stalin was forcing on his people across the Soviet Union was creating lucrative economic opportunities for Western countries in the form of increased trade, so for many, it was against their financial interest to speak out or intervene diplomatically.
Unfortunately for the victims and the survivors, the majority of valid academic research and public inquiry into the planned famine did not take place until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. With the fall of the Communist state and the release of classified documents, both Western researchers and Ukrainian historians were able to bring to light the atrocities of nearly five decades prior. In 2006, Ukraine formally passed a national decree naming the Holodomor as an Act of Genocide, with Canada following suit in 2008, marking the fourth Saturday of November as Holodomor Memorial Day. At the time of writing, Russia continues to deny allegations of genocide, calling it a “falsification of history.” At most, Russia has presented the famine as a national tragedy that affected all Soviet citizens,rather than a direct attack and planned starvation on a particular group of people in Ukraine.