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The Holodomor, Famine-Genocide in Ukraine 1932-1933


The 20th century was a century of colossal human tragedies— among them --the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, and the Rwandan Genocide. In this workbook we will study an unknown genocide in which millions of men, women and children died in the early 1930s, specifically in an engineered genocidal famine in Ukraine. This event is also known as “The Holodomor”— meaning death inflicted by starvation.

The Soviet regime that conducted this genocide not only denied this genocide, it terrorized its own population into silence for generations and this huge crime faded in world awareness. Since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 archives, both in Russia and Ukraine, which had been previously closed to scholars, made documents and materials available for the study of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide. The gradual accessibility and study of these documents revealed the motivation of the top Soviet leadership in the 1930s in Ukraine and the conduct of its regional leaders during the Holodomor. This has led to major changes in understanding the tragedy, its far-reaching consequences and historical significance. There is a consensus that millions of humans perished in Ukraine and the Kuban, an area in Russia adjacent to Ukraine, largely inhabited by Ukrainians. Exact numbers are still being studied and debated.

Why study the Holodomor- the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide?

Historical Significance of the Holodomor

  1. To prevent future genocide

    1. Genocide is one of the greatest crimes against humanity and has been recognized as such by the 143 countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Yet, since its declaration in 1948 to this day, global bodies have failed to prevent a number of genocides. The prevention of genocides remains a challenge for a civilized global citizenry. Education on the process of genocides is important because it helps people recognize the discriminatory patterns that can lead to genocide and what constitutes genocide which may aid in its prevention. According to Barbara Colarosa, the first step to genocide is bullying, the dehumanizing of one individual.

    2. An informed citizenry can put pressure on their elected officials to act in the face of developing genocides. The genocides of the 20 th century have often been met with ignorance and inaction by foreign governments that had little incentive to act. The principle of non-interference in the actions of a sovereign state is still powerful in stopping outside countries from stopping a genocide. Countries that have not been taken to task for their genocides may also pose an obstacle to other countries taking action to prevent genocides.

  2. To reduce prejudice by seeing the extremes to which prejudice can lead

    1. Study of genocide engages critical thinking, and can help students understand how extreme beliefs or fundamentalist interpretation of ideologies can foster and later unleash discriminatory and violent actions; the incremental nature of bullying, prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination, and how these can evolve into genocide; how ordinary men and women can participate in ethnic violence; how power relations impact decisions regarding discrimination and exploitation. This understanding may develop respect for legislation to reduce prejudice that may divide a society and overall help to create a humane and informed citizenry. A better understanding of an individual or a group’s rights is in keeping with the spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These rights are not the birthright of the few, but the birthright of all.

  3. To train students to be vigilant for encroachments on human rights

    1. The study of genocides shows that a precursortomany is a stepped-up“legally-enforced” erosion of human rights. Vigilance is required in the Western world to monitor both democratic and authoritarian governments and their actions re human rights abuses and genocide. Examples of genocide under totalitarian regimesshould include, not only the vanquished regimes such as Nazi Germany, but also Communist genocides of states such as the Soviet Union that lasted most of the 20 th century and was a super power.

    2. Genocides are often studied or looked upon as ‘war crimes’, but the Holodomor, Famine-Genocide was a genocide committed in time of peace in the 1930s under the eyes of the rest of the world.

  4. To critically examine Canada’s response to crimes against humanity and their condemnation and redress

    1. Canada has played an important role in international peacekeeping and in establishing the International Criminal Court. To further develop its international role in these areas it needs citizens to study these questions in depth and to find solutions to prevent and also provide for redress when genocides occur.

  5. To gain a better understanding the United Nations convention on Genocide and its author

    1. The Holodomor case study provides an opportunity to examine the person and the circumstances of the originator of the term “genocide” and the primary author of the UN Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment
of the Crime of Genocide , Raphael Lemkin. Through his story one can see the difficulties and the devotion required to bring about international justice. He was very familiar with the situation in Ukraine. In his speech of 1953, “Soviet Genocide in the Ukraine” Lemkin refers to the Soviet-Genocide in Ukraine as a classic example of genocide. He describes the genocidal destruction of the Ukrainian elite, the Ukrainian Autocephalous (Independent) Orthodox Church, the intentional starvation of the Ukrainian farmers and their replacement with Russians and Byelorussians in the 1930s. This denationalization of Ukraine was brought about by the murder of millions of Ukrainians. It is this emphasis on the national character of the Ukrainian genocide in the 1930s that distinguishes it from other atrocities committed in the Soviet Union. Lemkin also went on to record all the legal acts of the Nazis that accompanied the Holocaust. He participated in the prosecution of the Nuremburg trials. He was aware of the Armenian genocide and the Holodomor when he was formulating his ideas on genocide even prior to World War II.

    2. The Holodomor was located in Ukraine in Eastern Europe in what Professor of History, Timothy Snyder, in his recent book, Bloodlands, calls “an example of the escalation of genocidal activities by authoritarian regimes, which are not confronted for their crimes against people under their authority”.

  6. To examine how Media can be easily manipulated

    1. Because of the media cover-up of the 1932-33 Famine Genocide in Ukraine, studying articles written on the Famine-Genocide in Ukraine by different journalists in the 1930s is an excellent opportunity for teaching students about the use and abuse of media to control world opinion about the Soviet Union in the 1930s.  

      • To gain a better understanding of Communist totalitarian regimes

      • The study of the Holdomor shows the destruction of humanity that took place because of the totalitarian nature of the Soviet Union.

      • The Holodomor was located in Ukraine in Eastern Europe in what Professor of History, Timothy Snyder, in his recent book, Bloodlands, calls “an example of the escalation of genocidal activities by authoritarian regimes, which are not confronted for their crimes against people under their authority”.

      • The Holodomor is one of the most tragic examples of peace-time social engineering in world history. Within one year the Soviet Union wiped out millions of Ukraine’s citizens because of who they were, not for what they had done, according to the ideology that the Soviet Regime espoused.

      • Genocides perpetrated by a communist regime have yet to be dealt with and condemned by the world community. The Soviet Union with a history that spans most of the 20 th century, was one of the most ruthless and powerful regimes lasting much longer than Nazi Germany. (Prof. Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides)

      • Historians ignored the nationalities problem within the Soviet Union and have tended to treat the history of the Soviet Union and its peoples as a homogeneous unit of ‘soviet people’ or as Russians. They ignored the plight of the largest minority ethnic group within the USSR, the Ukrainians, and only now are examining and analyzing the problems that resulted because of their subjugation.

      • Hitler learned many lessons from Stalin. He saw that the West did not acknowledge the Ukrainian Genocide in the 1930s, nor was Stalin punished with sanctions for his crimes. Prof. Snyder (Bloodlands) writes that Stalin’s strategy was well thought out, even methodical and was likely a template for the crimes of the Nazis. Could the Holocaust have been prevented or contained if the Genocide in Ukraine had been recognized and acted upon by the West in the 1930s?

  7. To better understand post-soviet society in Ukraine today
    The Holodomor was a genocide that was methodically planned and perpetrated by depriving the very people who were the producers of food, of their nourishment. The evil example of destruction by using ‘food as a weapon’ has been repeated since the 1930s in the latter half of the 20th century in other parts of the world.
    • Today, Ukraine is both a post-genocidal and post-colonial society that is having difficulty coming to terms with its history, physical and cultural destruction and denial of a separate identity. A study of the Holodomor is crucial to understanding political processes in Ukraine today
  • To examine Canada’s connection to the Famine-Genocide

    • Canadian soldiers encountered thousands of refugees of Ukrainian background in Displaced Persons camps in Europe and in German concentration camps at the end of World War II. Many of these were also survivors of Soviet concentration camps and the Holodomor.

    • More than 1, 250, 000 Canadians are of Ukrainian ancestry. Quite a few survivors of the Holodomor, their children and grandchildren have made Canada their home . Canadians of Ukrainian ancestry with children attending schools in different provinces across the country want significant events in their history to be included in the curriculum taught to their children.

  • To question concepts of Denial and Historical Justice

    • In the early 1930s, in the very heart of the breadbasket of Europe, Stalin’s Communist regime committed an act of genocide against millions of Ukrainians and denied it before the world. An ancient nation of agriculturalists was subjected to man-made starvation, one of the most ruthless forms of torture and death.

    • The Holodomor, a man-made and artificially induced famine, has been denied, ignored and covered up for almost 70 years. Ukrainians starved to death in the millions because ALL FOOD was taken away by force with the aid of a bayonet. Historical justice has to be restored, the victims must be remembered and the perpetrators brought to light.

    • Holodomor denial is still a thriving industry in some academic circles and for the inheritors of the Soviet system. The truth needs to be t

Valentina Kuryliw
National Holodomor Education Committee
Ukrainian Canadian Congress
October 3, 2012


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