"A Genocide" - The Ukrainian-Soviet Terror Famine 1932-1933

Lisa Pichovich

A Tsar rules this world
A Tsar without mercy
And his name is hunger


Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. First Argument - Collectivization and starvation: Stalin's initial weapons

  3. Second Argument - Attack on Opposition: When starvation isn't enough

  4. Third Argument - Manipulation of the Human Mind: Lies of a dictator and his government

  5. Conclusion

  6. Bibliography

  7. Footnotes



       The Ukrainian famine of 1932 truly made it's tragic marking on Soviet history. The events about to be discussed took place in a time when communist ideology was rushing through the blood of the power hungry politician, Joseph Stalin. Stalin, the ruthless Bolshevik dictator of the USSR from 1928 to 1953, crushed the Ukrainian peasantry by inflicting an artificial famine upon the countryside. Historians argue over the estimated amounts of total deaths from the Ukralnian famine, and the figures range anywhere from 14 to 20 million.1 Certain obstacles such as censorship and denied access of historical documents and files prevent us from finding out the whole truth. However the astonishingly high number of casualties surpasses the number of total deaths for all countries involved in World War One, which was approximately 10,000,000. Joseph Stalin felt threatened by the Ukrainian nationalistic feeling and the opposition from richer peasant's impending danger to the communist party's plans. Therefore, he committed an act of genocide designed to undermine the social basis of Ukralnian national resistance. 2

      When Joseph Stalin was in charge, his main motive was to rebuild the Soviet State in his own communist image. Stalin was well known for being a ruthless dictator, doing everything in his power to achieve his goals. One of Stalin's main goals for the Soviet Union was for it to be industrialized in order to catch up with other countries and for all this to happen under a state governed by communist policies. In order to pay for the industrialization of his country, he seized the only exportable resource available- food. Following will be the arguments used to prove how Stalin carried out one of his strategies, his man made famine inflicted upon the Ukraine from the years 1929-1932.

       One can argue that Stalin's governing policies towards the Ukraine caused and maintained the great famine of 1929-1932. One's reasons for calling this famine "manmade" will be proven. Primarily, Stalin took over the peasant's private farms and established collective farms, which were large government owned farms, geared towards growing enormous amounts of crop to send abroad. He also confiscated every morsel of available fqod, (for the same reason), thus starving the population. Secondly, he eliminated all opposition by killing resisting peasants and sending the others to work for the collectives or in labor camps, where many died. He attacked social institutions, such as the church, which provided an alternative view of life as opposed to the one instituted by the regime. Thirdly, he prevented help from the outside world by denying altogether the existence of the famine, and used censorship and propaganda to control information.

       This paper will allow us to catch a glimpse into the psyche of a dangerous minded dictator determined to govern unconditionally by his own methods at the cost of a whole nation.


Collectivization and Starvation: Stalin's initial weapons

        Stalin took advantage of the collective farms by being more vigorous with his demands than he originally planned, and starved the peasants by confiscating their personal food supply. One must observe these facts when arguing that this was the first step in creating the famine, and attempting to discipline the peasants in order to achieve his desired refurbished government by frightening them with starvation.

       Collectivization was the idea proposed by Stalin that in selected areas, the peasants would be persuaded to join their small farms together into large farms called collectives. They were, managed by a communist party member and owned by the state. Their goal was to provide a fixed amount of food to the government, which resold it in the towns. The workers then shared what was left. This idea was very popular with Stalin and his officials, for it abided by the original rules of communism stated by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, which call for "the abolition of private property" 3 If, contrary to communist beliefs, peasants owned farms or sold their own produce, there would always be peasants that were more prosperous than others, creating a separate, higher class. The classless society was another common viewpoint held within communist beliefs. The collective farms would solve this problem by rendering everyone equal and having them work for the collective. Stalin could not allow this to exist. He had to "quiet" these kulaks, in a sense5 or else communism would never work, as he perceived that it should.

      There was a more prosperous peasant, also known as the "kulak", which did not agree with these ideas at all. They would be the class to lose the most from the collective farming system, because they would lose most of their wealth. He noticed that he had to tighten his grip now that he had this new group of peasantry attempting to crush his plans by stubbornly resisting his ideas and insisting things be done the old way. In a way, they motivated him to be fiercer and demanding now that he realized he had opposition.

       Originally, collectivization was a way of industrializing and building up Russia's economy as part of the Five-Year Plans. Stalin invented the Five-Year Plans so that the USSR could catch up with other modern industrialized nations, which were already about 50 to 100 years ahead.4 He needed the USSR to be strong and prosperous in the event of a socialist revolution, and the country had already been devastated, economically and otherwise, by the civil war of 1918-1921. Trading grain in for materials useful to the USSR's industrial development (such as tractors) was widespread. However, the ideas changed when collectivization in the Ukraine was officially stated as "destruction of Ukrainian nationalism's social base- the individual land holdings.''5 It became all about starving the peasants into submission.

       Once Stalin discovered how effective collectivizing was, he began tightening his grip and seizing the peasant's surplus. On January 5th, 1930, the Central Committee issued a decision, switching from the original plan of collectivizing 20% of the sown area during the first year of the Five Year Plan to the complete, 100% eolleetivization of the bulk of the more important regions by the autumn of 1930.6 This meaning, they reinforced the amount, in numbers, of crop in which they wished to collect as opposed to their original planned numbers. The party's plans got out of hand and between January and March of 1930, and the number of peasant holdings brought into collective farms increased from four million to fourteen million and over half of the total peasant households had been collectivized. Peasants rebelled by destroying their livestock, rather than leaving it to the hands of the state. Stalin's government eventually accepted defeat, and the peasants left the collective farms to return to normal life. Although Stalin retreated, he did not forget his plans. He now proposed to bring it into being over a longer period of time by means just as inhuman but not as disorganized. With a far a betterprepared combination of ruthlessness and economic measures, the party faced the hostile peasantry again with the almost complete eolleetivization of the bulk of the country, not only the more important regions.

       By this point, one might question "How could this possibly result in widespread famine?" Besides the fact that peasants were asked to produce amounts of crop their fields were incapable of producing, resistance was now met with a simple method. If the peasant had produced only enough for himself, it was simply taken away. The last sacks of grain were taken from the barns for exports while famine was raging. Butter was sent abroad while Ukrainian children were dying from lack of milk. Studies show that the famine can quite flatly be blamed on Stalin himself The crop in 1932 was indeed 12% below average, but this was far from famine level. Proeurements of food from the peasants were up 44%, and this resulted in large-scale starvation and perhaps the only case in history of a man made famine.7

       The early autumn of 1932 was not like the rest of the autumns. There were no pumpkins lining the streets, there we no apples or pears scattering the ground beneath the trees of the orchards, there were no ripe ears of corn or wheat scattering the fields, and the scent of home distilled vodka did not fill the air. There were no signs reflecting the calm flow 9f peasant life and the quiet expectation of winter that comes with prosperity. 8

       Stalin did not seem to care about the Ukrainian people starving to death. It was almost as if the famine did not even exist before his very eyes. He sent out brigades, which were special forces of his men that raided households and searched every square inch for hidden food. They poked the earth with iron rods in search of a loose spot that might reveal a hole filled with illegally hidden grain. The brigade workers were told that they were helping to accomplish better things for the nation, a necessary series of events leading to what would one day be a better Russia for everyone. They had to block their ears to the children and mother's wails, and were told that those peasants were only being ignorant and selfish. Even so much as a grain of salt was always confiscated. If anything was found hidden, perhaps a potato underneath a floorboard for a newborn baby dying of malnourishment, you would be accused of sabotaging Stalin's plans and you were either shot on the spot or sent to labor camp. A woman, seven months pregnant, caught plucking spring wheat, was beaten to death with a board. Peasants were considered "parasites" for digging in the snow trying to find acorns to feed their children, and they were immediately said to be lazy and trying to get off of working. Horse manure, dogs, cats and even human flesh was eaten. Peasants would stand by the roads with human skulls for sale if they could get some sort of food compensation for it. (Things got so extreme, that if someone appeared to be content, or not starving, everyone would become suspicious of that person for he or she may be hiding food in their house). Food was given to the horses, to keep them fit, because they had to cart away the dead bodies on the street. Just about everyone in the villages were swollen with hunger except the head of the collectives, the brigadiers and the activists. All this was because Stalin took every morsel of food from the peasants and wanted people to believe it was for the betterment of the USSR in the long run. The reason for everything was to fulfill the communist dream, building a strong economic base for Russia in order to let communism flourish the way it should.

       There was a restaurant especially for these special government people, and day and night, it was guarded with security keeping peasants away. In the dining room, for very low prices, there was meat, bread, poultry, canned fruit and deserts. Wines and sweets were served to district bosses. Employees of the restaurant were issued the "Mikoyan Ration" which contained twenty different articles of food. Meanwhile, famine and death were raging, and food was still constantly being requisitioned from the peasants.

      Collectivization turned into a game for Stalin, and building Russia's economy seemed to be forgotten, at least in fact for the peasants, what collectivization seemed to achieve was the starvation of millions of people and one of the worst famines ever seen in the Ukraine.


Attack on Opposition: when starvation isn't enough

      We are already familiar that Stalin seemed to realize the only way to correctly manipulate the population was to instill mass terror throughout the body of the nation and the peasantry. Stalin and his associates crushed 2 elements seen as most threatening to the regime: the peasantry of the USSR as a whole, and Ukrainian nationalism. In his quest to reshape the Soviet Union in his image, after exploiting and starving the population into submission, his second objective was to rid himself of opposition. Stalin viewed people as his most expendable resource, because there was always more to replace the last. The first step he took was dekulakization. He pretended that there really was a class of rich peasants whom the poorer peasants wanted gone. Kulaks were richer peasants, the better off and the most influential and threatening to the party's plans. They were considered a threat because considering they would lose all of their wealth if they gave up their farms to the government, there would most likely be some opposition and denial to conform to the rules. In other words, they could delay the plans by being stubborn. Dekulakization meant deporting the kulaks and their families to the arctic, or killing them. In response to their resistance, they were forced into exile, sent to labor camps, and their livestock and equipment was confiscated to be used on collective farms.

       However, it was not just the Kulaks that were a problem; it was all the peasants. In a time when Stalin wanted to build a strong industrial base, they clung to their rural traditions. When he wanted to abolish private ownership of land, they refused to surrender their farms. Ukrainians were a threat to the revolution. As a result, the persistence of the Ukrainian peasants in not surrendering grain they did not have was explicitly blamed on nationalism 9. The Unique way in which Ukrainians expressed their cultural differences from most Russians were evident. Ukrainian parishes became independent, elementary schools taught only in Ukrainian and not Russian, and Ukrainians were developing their own unique style of literature and poetry. Ukrainians were becoming more independent, and Stalin could not tolerate this nationalistic uniqueness. The Ukrainian peasant suffered as a Ukrainian and as a peasant. Because of the extent of the nationalistic feeling in the Ukrainians, Stalin also cleverly changed the meaning of the word Kulak as time wore on. He wanted it to include a broader category of people, since he felt threatened by everyone and not only the richer peasants anymore. At first, Kulak meant a prosperous peasant who had at least 24 acres of land and was self-employed. As time wore on, the meaning changed to include any peasant who had a little more than his poorer neighbors, a cow or a few chickens, and then slowly it began to mean anyone who had anything, because if everything was being taken away, no one should have anything left for themselves unless they were greedy criminals. At least this is how Stalin saw things.

      After the Kulaks had been deported and killed, it was time to attack the Ukrainian social institutions. Stalin, being a communist, obviously did not approve of religion. Communist's believed religion was "the opiate of the masses''10, in other words, it was sort of like a drug used to numb reality and provide an alternative look at things. The way this links with the famine, is that religion gave the peasants hope and faith that they would pull through. It gave them something to do, a place to go and speak about their conditions and hope for improvement. Perhaps even a place to plan a revolt against the system. The reason why people get rid of challenge is because it is a natural human condition to be frightened by it. Perhaps one will never know whether or not Stalin was afraid of religion, afraid that if the peasants prayed hard enough their prayers may be answered. Stalin did not want this. Therefore, religion was condemned; other gods had no place in Stalin's Soviet Union. He wanted to destroy organized religion. Church services were banned, religious books and other printed materials were burned, and churches were turned into dubs and theaters. By the mid 1930's, half of the population had turned it's back on religion. The Soviet economy, did however, begin to grow and prosper, and it did not bother him that millions of people were dying as a result.


Manipulation of the Human Mind: Lies of a Dictator and his Regime

       How, one may question; was Stalin able to get away with these horrible crimes against mankind? The answer is quite simple; he possessed an inhuman power to lie. Deception was practiced on a giant scale. Every effort was made on his part to ensure that valuable information did not trickle into the West, and that it would continue to be so afterwards. Stalin is actually known for having denied the very existence of the great famine of 1929-32 altogether, or to have said it was naturally caused.

       To stop information from spreading to other countries, Stalin had to first guarantee that no word of the famine would be spoken right in the center of the disaster itself- the Ukraine. Citizens had special passports that disabled them from leaving their proper cities, or finding work elsewhere. They were not allowed to say the word famine or hunger. If children said they were hungry, they were accused of spreading Hitler's propaganda. Anyone who committed these small-supposed crimes was subject for arrest for of anti-soviet propaganda. A crime, which had a sentence of five or more years working in the labor camps. Soviet movie theaters featured pictures demonstrating happy peasant life.

       Brigade workers who showed the least bit sympathy for the peasant's or their families were reminded over and over that they were only helping a necessary transformation take place, and that in the end the people would be better off Lev Kopeev, a Soviet activist at the time, recalls telling the peasants "Come on, give up your grain! The workers have nothing to eat; there is a world crisis! Hitler is taking over Gemany; Japan is taking over Manchuria...our country is a fortress surrounded by enemies!" 11 Officials would say anything to make it seem as if the peasant's were overreacting for attention or out of sheer rebelliousness, and that their distress and suffering was actually only a product of their own ignorance. After all, if one were really loyal to Stalin and supported the regime's plans to achieve socialism, then why would there be any need for crying and whining? This is how the government accused innocent, dying people of sabotaging plans and being nothing but a burden.

       Stalin had to lie to such a degree for the simple reason that he needed to protect his dignity, for rightist politicians such as Hitler were anti-communist, and would jump at the fact that the USSR was struggling in trying to achieve socialism, which was on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum. He has to make it look as though his plans were foolproof and that the Soviet Union was growing and prospering without fault. In a time when technology did not permit for there to be much distribution of news and affairs in other countries, it wasn't very difficult for Stalin to control what would leave the country.

      There are real examples proving the extent of seriousness involved in controlling information being sent abroad. A wife sent her husband (a soldier); a letter describing the conditions at home, but the letter was seized and claimed to be a forgery. A doctor was given the death penalty after he said his sister had died of starvation caused by lack of nutrition, rather then from natural causes. People were expected to lie to cover up for Stalin, as if they were blindfolded from reality and the deaths of their loved ones didn't effect them. At the peak of the famine, French prime minister at the time, Edouard Herriot was invited by Stalin to take a five day guided tour of the Ukraine's countryside and city. His impressions were that everything was going well. Workers on the collective farms stated that they were doing better than ever, everyone looked happy, and there was no sign of famine. Stalin and his officials had carefully planned and structured the Prime Minister's ,visit and would see to it that there were no slip-ups. Stories such as these prove how desperate Stalin was to prevent word from escaping or "rumors" spreading. Everyone was expected to be convinced by Stalinist propaganda that any suffering that was actually government responsibility, was really a figment of fabricated lies. Stalin was quoted as saying "there was no starvation in the Soviet Union; you are listening to Kulak rumors."

       It was almost impossible to keep every single journalist or foreigner from eye certain situations; therefore Stalin practiced censorship on a wide scale. means manipulating and changing previously attained information about a situation to have it included only what is desired. Alexander Asatkin, former first secretary of the Byelorussia communist party had tried to get some figures in the newspaper, but the censor took them out. As conditions in certain areas worsened, journalists such as W. H. Chamberlain informed their editors that they were ordered to stay in Moscow, and were refused permission to revisit areas he had already been. There wasn't even any reference to the famine in the Soviet press, including Ukrainian papers. To this day. Ukrainians everywhere are trying to revoke Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Walter Duranty was a Soviet journalist, also known as the greatest liar of journalists in Moscow, or as the greatest liar of journalists ever. He denied the very existence of the famine, when later on, confidential conversations were found quoting him saying that he had seen over ten million people dying in the streets.

       However, one way or another, bits of information were slowly being revealed to the West. Gareth Jones, former secretary of Lloyd George's entered the Ukraine through villages in the Kharkov province. No one knew he was there, and he was able to report back to West that he heard cries such as "we have no bread, we are dying." He personally saw with his own eyes the swollen bellies of starving children that were rotting in the streets. He added that more than half of livestock had perished as well. Things got to the point where there was some sense of truth behind the lies that the Soviet government used to destroy, distort and blanket.

       In May 1934, an international humanitarian effort was made. An international relief committee was set up. However, it is a rule that there must first be consent from the government concerned before any relief could take place, and the Red Cross had to reply to appeals that the Soviet government had denied there being any need for help. All reports were claimed to have been lies, and shipments of food were grinded to a halt at the border.

      After the famine had taken place, it was still nearly impossible to access any sort of information on casualties. Soviet authorities did not allow for there to be any research within their archives, in fact it was thought that even original archives could not be trusted, because no one ever knew whether or not the figures were tampered with by a censor.



       In conclusion, Stalin's main aim was the collective victory of communism, and for the sake of that aim everything was tolerable and in fact necessary-to lie, to steal, to exploit and then do away with human beings; real people. He had to get rid of all those who could delay or obstruct any party plans, everyone with any sort of opposition. And to think twice or doubt about all this was to give in to "rightist propaganda" and "stupid liberalism". Stalin's steps included total collectivization of crops- in other words-complete withdrawal of food resulting in starvation, and in turn ridding himself of the opposition who stood ,in his way. Meanwhile, he prevented all help from the outside by hiding the fact that the famine ever existed by using lies and conniving censorship and propaganda.



  1. Conquest, Robert, Harvest of Sorrow., University of Alberta press, 1986

  2. Conquest, Robert, The Great Terror, The Macmillan Company, 1968

  3. Harvest of Despair, Ukrainian Famine Research Committee, Toronto, 2003, videocassette

  4. Jones, Lesya and Korobaylo, Lesia, Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine 1933, Historical Pamphlet, Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Ukrainian Canadian Research and documentation center, 1999

  5. Layer, John, Russia and the USSR 1905-56, Hodder & Stoughton, 1997

  6. Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto, Bantam, 1992

  7. Oftinosk, Steven, Joseph Stalin -Russia's last Czar, The Millbrook Press, 1993

  8. http://www.faminegenocide.com, December 4, 2003



  1. Conquest, Robert, Harvest of Sorrow, University of Alberta press, 1986

  2. Jones, Lesya and Korobaylo, Lesia, Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine 1933,Historical pamphlet, Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Ukrainian Canadian Research and documentation Ccentre, 1999

  3. Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto, Bantam, 1992

  4. Laver, John, Russia and the USSR 1905-56, Hodder & Stoughton, 1997

  5. Conquest, Robert, Harvest of Sorrow, University of Alberta Press, 1986 pg.219

  6. Conquest, Robert (1968) The Great Terror, The Macmillan Company pg. 21

  7. Conquest, Robert (1968) The Great Terror, The MacMillan Company

  8. Info Trak:Faces: people, places, and cultures-Natalia's Hunger, Cobblestone Publishing, 2002

  9. Conquest, Robert, Harvest of Sorrow, University of Alberta Press, 1986, pg. 3

  10. Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist manifesto, Bantam, 1992

  11. Harvest of Despair, Ukrainian Famine Research Committee, Toronto, 2003,videocassette