The 1932-33 Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine
Artem Yaroslav Luhovy
The 1932-33 Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine was deliberately instigated by Stalin and his regime in order to complete Ukraine's subjugation to Moscow. Stalin's ongoing assault on Ukrainian independence, murderous grain requisitioning methods, the internal passport system, eye witness accounts, enforced censorship and manipulation of the media, indicate that Stalin was fully aware of and intentionally engineered this genocide to consolidate his hold over the Soviet Union and destroy a nationally conscious Soviet Ukraine. Stalin's campaign of terror caused the death by starvation of between 7 and 10 million people. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, this atrocity can no longer be denied, diminished or justified, as facts prove that the 1932-33 famine was not caused by a poor harvest or collectivisation.
During the 1920's, Ukraine experienced its first cultural and political freedom in over 200 years. In 1917, The Czarist Russian Empire fell, Ukraine broke away and re-claimed its independence. At the same time, a shift in power took place in Russia and in 1917 the Bolsheviks took control. Lenin started to re-claim former Czarist occupied territories, focusing on Ukraine to the south which is rich in resources and highly productive, fertile land. In the fall of 1920, Ukraine was forcibly incorporated as one of the Soviet Republics of the USSR. Lenin, afraid of losing control of Ukraine, was forced to allow her freedom as a temporary tactic of appeasement.
A national revival surrounded Soviet Ukraine. Art was based on western orientation, as writers such as Mykola Khvylovy stated "away from Moscow". All areas of Ukrainian cultural, political and religious life began to develop throughout its society. Lenin died in 1924 and as Stalin, a ruthless and cunning prot6g6 of Lenin's gained power, Stalin's fear of a strong Ukrainian nation increased. By 1928, Stalin had become the unquestionable authority of the Soviet Union eliminating all opposition in the Politburo. Russian nationalism was injected throughout the USSR. Stalin now focused on ending Ukraine's freedom. In 1929, he began purging the Ukrainian intelligentsia. Mass arrests engulfed the country. Tens of thousands were deported, shot or sent to the gulags. "For Ukrainians, communism came to be just another name for Russian imperialism, one even more oppressive than Czarist imperialism".1
Firstly, "Stalin abandoned Lenin's New Economic Policy. Stalin's first Five-year Plan (1928 to 1932), was intended to industrialise the Soviet Union. The corner stone was the forced collectivisation of agriculture.''2 However, progress was considered too slow. Capital needed to be raised to pay for Western machinery and technology required for this industrialisation. This capital was obtained from requisitioning immense quantities of grain and dumping it on western markets at low prices - grain being the most important resource available for export. This grain was to be taken from Ukraine's fertile lands. Collectivisation was introduced in order to maximize agricultural export. In 1932, Stalin's henchmen Viacheslav Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich, a trusted lieutenant of Stalin, were demanding that Ukraine increase its grain yield by 150%.3 The state seized all land from the independent farmers, their livestock, grain and equipment. Farmers were forced to work for the state like factory workers. In order to force farmers to join these collective farms, unrealistic food quotas or taxes were set for all farmers who owned land. This state-imposed quota kept deliberately increasing - eventually, up to three times the quota of a collective farm. If the quota was not met, the farmer would be tried and labeled a kurkul (kulak or rich peasant). The kulak, however, was no more than a Party construct, impossible to define. A kulak was anyone deemed in opposition to collectivisation or against communist rule. Communist activists were sent to homes, taking families away. 1,000,000 farmers were deported in sealed boxcars and sent to remote regions. Property and food were seized at will by communist brigades. Farmers revolted. "The collective farm was widely perceived to be the reinstitution of serfdom''4. Grain was burned, livestock killed. Farmers refused to work. Collective farms were sabotaged. Authorities were attacked and property was taken back. Communist troops were sent in from the cities to end rebellions, often shooting at groups of protestors. By 1932, collectivisation was largely completed in Soviet Ukraine. Now Stalin began to implement the Famine-Genocide.
Secondly, Stalin began to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry as it made up 80% of the republic's population and was the backbone of the intelligentsia-led national revival. "Food is a weapon," stated Maxim Litvinov, Stalin's Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs. Stalin raised the quotas even in the collective farms. On Stalin's orders, Pavel Posteshev, with an army of secret police from Russia,- and 112,000 militiamen were sent to supervise and subdue the countryside. The cities were flooded with farmers willing to sell precious heirlooms, watches and gold for bread.
In December of 1932, Stalin countered this by introducing an internal passport system forbidding any movement. No peasant was allowed to leave the farm. All potential border crossings were effectively sealed to prevent Ukrainians escaping the famished regions. Starving villagers who sought to flee areas stricken with famine and the resulting outbreaks of pneumonia, typhus and tuberculosis were turned back at checkpoints controlled by Soviet patrols that enforced newly imposed internal passport regulations.5 In this way, the orchestrated famine was contained entirely in Soviet Ukraine and North Caucasus, regions inhabited mostly by ethnic Ukrainians.
Thirdly, first hand accounts show that when no more grain could be found, they began to search for buried food, dig holes and break ovens in search of hiding spots. "Graphic portraits of horrors of village life emerge fi:om the files of the Harvard University Refugee Interview Project, in the early 1950's.''6 Other survivors who came to Canada in 1951 recall, "[...] they would poke into the floors of the house. Ira speck of grain came up they would dig up the floor". It is further stated that, "the Soviets used to walk around at night looking for smoke coming out of chimneys [signifying that dinner was being cooked]... those arrested were either shot or sent to Siberia.''7 Another incident describes a young group of boys that was brought to a collective farm to work. They were told to feed the horses at night when no one was awake. If they made too much noise people would want to eat the horse fodder. They asked, how can you feed the horses instead of the people? They were told that you need horses to cart the bodies away.8 A famine survivor now living in Edmonton documented that "First comes the gnawing, twisting pain in the stomach. Then hallucinations, which drive some mad. Then apathy, emaciation, swelling of hands, feet and stomach. Then death. [...] Dogs and cats went early. Cannibalism came later. Fresh corpses were dug up and boiled for stew.''9 Another witness stated. "... their heads [children's] like heavy balls on thin little necks, like storks, and one could see each bone of their arms and legs protruding from beneath the skin, how bones joined, and the entire skeleton was stretched over with skin that was like yellow gauze. And the children's faces were aged, tormented [...]."10 Children were abandoned on trains, their parents hoping that someone would find them and feed them. Some international relief institutions, informed about the conditions in Ukraine, sent train loads of food to the USSR. Upon reaching the border, they were turned back. In 2003, Montreal famine-survivor recalled as young boy, "We used to go in the spring and dig for hours, hoping that we would fred some frozen potatoes. The army left nothing in the villages, not even a handful of grain.'11 As the famine raged, Russian families were moved to occupy the now empty Ukrainian homes and villages.
Fourthly, the Soviet Union steadfastly denied the famine and a state-engineered cover up was executed. The regime even went so far as to forbid people from naming the cause they were dying from. The Moscow press corps stationed in the USSR consisted of western journalists sympathetic to the cause of the Russian Revolution. When word began leaking into Moscow from foreign engineers and technicians returning from Soviet Ukraine, their reports were discounted by most. Some Western journalists were taken on guided tours. Moscow strictly controlled where they went and only allowed journalists who were known to be communist sympathisers 'to visit collective farms and the countryside. New York Times writer and later Pulitzer Prize winner, Walter Duranty, claimed that there was no famine. He was allowed to travel freely throughout Soviet Ukraine. He discounted the famine as a hoax. In private, however, he is quoted as saying that as many as 10 million people may have died in the famine. In 2003, there are efforts to remove the Pulitzer Prize from him for his deliberate, false reporting in the 1930's.
Western governments, however, knew Joumalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge, of the atrocities occurring in Soviet Ukraine. stationed in Moscow, defied Soviet authorities, documented and took pictures of the bodies. He called Walter Duranty "the greatest liar of any journalist that I have met in 50 years." Initially, he was a communist sympathizer sent to Moscow for the Manchester Guardian. Living in Moscow he became disillusioned by the atmosphere of fear he had found. When he heard of the famine, Muggeridge eluded the security net and took a train to Ukraine. He saw for himself the famine-genocide unfolding and sent his reports back to Britain by diplomatic pouch to avoid censor. The Guardian, printed them. Muggeridge returned to Britain to find himself in disfavour with the socialist elite and unable to find a job.12 A rich source regarding the famine is the British archives. "Britain ...was the first European nation to establish diplomatic relations with Moscow after the revolution, London knew more, with the possible exception of Berlin, about the situation in the Soviet Union than any other Western government.''13 Britain also kept silent about the famine-genocide. "... there was a desire not to disrupt trade with the Soviet Union. Cheap wheat was more important than human life...''14 "When Edouard Herriot [...] premier of France visited Ukraine in 1933 [...] he returned to the West denying the famine."15 Fred E. Beal, an American Communist who worked as a propagandist among foreign workers employed in Kharkiv (Ukraine) and editor of the American Communist factory paper, The Tempo, stated in 1933, "[...] we know that millions are dying. That is unfortunate, but the glorious Future of the Soviet Union will justify it." Ewald Ammende wrote in 1933, "What has the Soviet Government done in the face of the catastrophe within its borders. It has simply denied the existence of the famine.''16 Volodymyr Maniak who, since 1989, collected witness accounts pointed out that "[...] the Soviet cover up of the famine was tantamount to stealing from the [Ukrainian] people their history.''17
The first Soviet census, held in 1926, gave a detailed account of the population before collectivisation, famine and the purges. But the results of the 1937 census, was never primed because of the drop in population. Stalin withdrew it before distribution and everyone who conducted this census was shot for not finding enough people. In 1939, a new Soviet census was published in a form of less than ten pages of tables. Comparing the 1926 population and 1939 population there is a 10% decrease for Ukrainians, whereas, Russians increased by 28%.18
Stalin's Soviet Union was a new power in Europe no one wanted to offend. Russia's industrialisation made her Europe's only new and unclaimed market and both Germany and Britain wanted it. With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, at the height of Stalin's genocide, both France and Britain wanted the Soviets as allies while Germany wanted Russia to prevent the economic encirclement of Germany by other European states. The raging famine was considered an internal problem for the USSR, not a matter for international relations. In 1983, The Wall Street Journal printed, "The Western press was largely silent about the genocide that was occurring in Soviet Ukraine. Some reporters concealed the truth because of ideological commitment to Soviet communism.''19 Despite the U. S. Government's knowledge of the famine, President Roosevelt gave diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union on November 1933 and on September 1934, the Soviet Union was admitted to the League of Nations signing a number of treaties with various countries. With scanty press coverage and Soviet secrecy and censorship, the story of the famine died. It re-emerged only because of vast dislocations of populations caused by WWII 20 "The Communist record offers the most colossal case of political carnage in history.''21
By 1934, Stalin had completed his genocide. The breadbasket of Europe was one vast graveyard. Ukrainian nationalism was a crime punishable by death. Stalin's assault on the Ukrainian independence, murderous grain requisitioning methods, the internal passport system, chilling eye witness accounts, enforced censorship and manipulation of the media show beyond dispute the tyrant's ruthlessness in enforcing the famine-genocide to consolidate his power within the Soviet Union and destroy a nationally conscious Soviet Ukraine. Food was used as a weapon to secure a hold over Ukraine. Over 25% of the Ukrainian population was starved to death between 1932 and 1933. At the height of the famine 17 people died every minute, 1000 an hour, 25 000 a day.22 One must learn from this that atrocities cannot be ignored. An entire nation can be destroyed if it is allowed to happen. As history professor Frank Chalk, director of the Montreal Institute for Genocides and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, stated in November 2003, "there is no question in my mind that the famine-genocide suffered by the Ukrainian people deserves recognition as one of the largest and most neglected of the 20th century.''23 History should not be allowed to repeat itself.