Holodomor in the light of the UN Convention
on the Prevention of Genocide (1948)

Prof. Roman Serbyn

The Ukrainian catastrophe corresponds to the criteria set out in the 1948 UN Convention:

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • a key element of the definition is the “intent to destroy”; Stalin's intention is well illustrated by the documents (“five ears of corn law”), outward appearance of the regimes actions (return of Ukrainian farmers fleeing to Russia in search of food) & the results (millions of famine victims; export of grain during the famine; denial of the famine & rejection of foreign aid) - Stalin's intent to destroy is now generally accepted.
  • the Convention speaks of “destruction in part” and this is what Stalin did - he still needed the Ukrainian farmers farmers to farm the land, even if it was in collective farms
  • more complex is the question of target groups: Ukrainians formed a distinct group in the national and ethnic sense: national refers to civic identity (citizens of UkrSSR) and ethnic to their identity with the Ukrainian ethnic background; there were 8 million ethnic Ukrainians in the RSFSR and 23 million ethnic Ukrainians in the UkrSSR (81% of republic). The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians were farmers (UkrSSR & RSFSR)
  • the expression “as such” means that the group was targeted for destruction as an entity, in the physical and/or spiritual sense: the specific forms of destructions listed by the Convention show that the destruction was not necessarily physical: forcing a group to change from one nationality to another, one religion to another is tantamount to the annihilation of that group (as such), and fits the Convention's definition.

(a) Killing members of the group;

  • most of the Ukrainians perished from starvation, mainly the farmers, but some urban residents also died from hunger and many others (intellectuals, workers, employees) were executed or died from exposure during deportation or in the gulag

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

  • some harm could lead to death, other lead to crippling; but these people were lost to their group, which was thus weakened; in Ukrainian case; general undernourishment had long-term effects on all, especially on children, who could not develop properly and on pregnant women who would abort; it should be noted that the clause does not specify complete physical destruction

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  • sins of commission and omission which inflicted these conditions: confiscation of the fruits of farmers' work; export of food the foodstuffs necessary for survival; refusal to accept foreign aid

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

  • separation of families (husband sent to one camp & wife to another);
  • starvation is an impediment to procreation

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

  • the sense of this clause is that the children are not physically destroyed but become lsot to the group of origin by change of nationality, ethnicity, religion (race does not apply here)
  • the subjection of whole families to the same transfer certainly fall under this category: in other words, the deprivation of an ethnic group of those conditions which allow it to live and develop as an ethnic entity
  • in the Ukrainian case: deportation from Ukraine to Russia, where Ukrainians must integrate into the Russian milieu
  • the abolition of Ukrainization in the RSFSR in 1932 and forced Russification of all public life was one way of transferring the ethnically Ukrainian population to the Russian ethnos
  • the result of this decree was the fact that the census of 1937 showed 3 to 4 million ethnic Ukrainians in the RSFSR, where as there were 8 million according to the 1926 census.

If we analyze the Ukrainian situation from 1929 to 1933 we see that the loss of millions of lives due to the regime-made famine and other means of extermination of the Ukrainian population across the whole area where Ukrainians lived and where the Communist regime had power over them, was indeed the result of an act of genocide, as defined by the United Nations Convention.


E. Postscript: The question of motives:

The UN Convention does not demand the search for motives, only proof of intention. However, the understanding of motives help us to be better convinced of the intention. Did Stalin have any reason to destroy the Ukrainian nation as such? To destroy the whole Ukrainian population in the physical sense would have been folly, after all they constituted over 30 million out of a total of about 150 million. They were also known for being good farmers. Such a loss of manpower would have been most detrimental to the great-power status that Stalin was seeking for his empire. On the other hand, he did want to destroy the Ukrainian nation as a nation, namely a people, who were acquiring a strong national consciousness, were becoming aware of their subordination and exploitation by Moscow (expressed by Khvyliovy, Volbuev, Skrypnyk). There was the danger that this “revolution from above” would drive the Ukrainian elites to unite with the Ukrainian farmers, the mainstay of the Ukrainian nation and now on the brink of destruction, against the scourge coming from Moscow. This was the reason for the first decapitation of the Ukrainian elites (SVU & “kulaks”) and then, in 1932-1933, the purges within the Communist Party of Ukraine and the state administration. When Stalin wrote to Kaganovich in the summer of 1932 that the Ukrainian Communist Party of 500,000 is full of rotten elements, infiltrated by Petliurists and Polish agents, and that “we can lose Ukraine” unless we take steps to transform it into a “Soviet fortress”, he meant that the Ukrainian nation must be broken, and the two elements that must be decimated to achieve this were the farmers (“the nation's army”) and its elites. Thus Stalin did have a motive to attack the Ukrainian nation as such. Ukrainians perished because they stood in the way of Stalin's ambitions. No Russian was accused of Russian nationalism and of trying to separate Russia from the Soviet Union; Ukrainians were.


Consequences of the Ukrainian Genocide – The Holodomor.  

Three relevant testimonials from the period:

  1. “The current disaster will bring about a preponderantly Russian colonization of Ukraine. It will transform its ethnographic character. In a future time, perhaps very soon, one will no longer be able to speak of a Ukraine, or a Ukrainian people, and thus even of a Ukrainian problem, because Ukraine will become a de facto Russian region.” Report of Italian consul from Kharkiv, 31 May, 1933.

  2. “The famine was brought about in Ukraine in order to reduce the number of Ukrainians, resettle in their place people from other parts of the USSR, and in this way kill all thought of independence. ” Statement by Prokopenko, a party member government plenipotentiary, reported by the OGPU 12 May 1934.

  3. “My friend overheard by chance her parents’ conversation. Father [sent to collectivize the farmers] explained that he called Molotov in Moscow and told him about that people had nothing to eat and asked for permission to open the granary and feed the people. Molotov answered: ‘I forbid. Half will croak, the other half will go into the kolkhoz.’ This is how collectivization was realized.” Russian writer A.A. Andreeva, interview in newspaper “My i Mir” N. 4, 2001.