Famine Genocide In Ukraine, 1932-1933
Kyrylo Daniel Rewa
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The famine of 1933 in Soviet Ukraine was an atrocity, which has been revealed to the world in the last 10 years. The effects of this genocide in which over 7 million deaths occurred, have many repercussions that are still felt today. In this paper it is of utmost importance to understand the onset of this tragedy in order to appreciate the consequences. For th, is reason I have started with a brief history of Soviet Ukraine, and then move into the repercussions of the Famine, so that we may comprehend why Ukraine is what it is today.
Ukraine means borderland. 1 An appropriate name for a land lying between Poland and Russia, on the southeast edge of Europe - at the threshold of Asia. A land where the earliest traces of human habitation go back 150,000 years.2 At the end of the First World War, Ukraine gained a short-lived, and hard-fought, independence from the Russian Empire. During this short-lived independence, Ukrainian culture blossomed, and a strong nationalism grew among the citizens. The independence of Ukraine ended in 1921, when the Red Army, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, marched over the White Army and took control of Ukraine 3 During the following years, the economy of the Soviet Union withered away, and Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik party, introduced his New Economic Policy. This policy gave freedom to the peoples under the Soviet government to engage in capitalist economies and freedom to express their culture and heritage while contradicting Lenin's own thoughts. "The interest of socialism are above the interests of the right of nations to self-determination". Thus, we find that the Stalinist policies, oblivious of the suffering of the people as long as they were for the good of the nation, upheld Lenin's thoughts. But Lenin's policies did encourage economic growth in all sectors of production, and led to peace throughout the Soviet Union.
In 1924, after the death of Lenin, Stalin came to power. With him came the dawn of a new era for the Soviet Union, one of great rebuilding and of new Russian domination over other ethnicities. In the late 1920s, Stalin set out on a plan to industrialize the Soviet Union. To accomplish his goals, Stalin introduced his Five-Year Plan as the first step for the industrialization of the USSR. This plan was adopted in 1928, and was supposed to increase industrial production by over 250% and agricultural production by 150% through collectivization.4
The Ukrainians saw Stalin's moves as an attack on their fanning population. They believed that these policies imposed by Stalin were implemented in order to destroy a large proportion of the nationalistic and anti-Russian peasantry, and to subject them to 'Russification'. Stalin expected some resistance, especially from the peasantry who would be deprived of their lands, but dismissed it by his famous quote, "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, " 5 suggesting that Stalin was willing to force a change in the economy of his country, even if it meant killing several million opposing citizens.
In the late spring of 1932, under the rule of Stalin, a famine was affecting Ukraine. Stalin had imposed collectivization upon the Soviet Union, but unlike Russian farmers, who were used to collectivization, Ukrainian farmers protested, because traditionally they held their own lands, and worked them. However the collectivization process continued because, 'Stalin...believed that collectivization of agriculture - voluntary if possible, but forced if necessary - - was essential to the building of socialism.”6 The collectivization of agriculture caused disorder in the Ukrainian fields, and consequently much waste in the harvests of the early 1930s. Fields were left unseeded and, "when crops were being gathered... in many areas, especially in the south, 20, 40, and even 50 percent of the crop was left in the fields. Crops were either not collected at all or mined in the threshing." 7 The Ukrainian people were able to survive this horrible year in large part due to reserves put away when the harvests were plentiful. But as collectivization continued, the next year's harvest was just as bad as the first, and this time no reserves were left for the people of Ukraine to rely on. The Soviet government decided to maintain quotas at their current level, rather than aiding the floundering Ukrainian peasantry.8 Through harsh climate conditions and the disorganization caused by the move to collectivization, these quotas could not be met,9 and severe actions were taken to try to reach them. The government even increased grain requisitions and forced the peasants to hand over even the smallest amounts of food in their possession. As punishment for not meeting their quotas, the Bolsheviks sent armed soldiers to villages and had them go from house to house, confiscating all the food that could be found, leaving the peasant families to face certain death from hunger. 10
During the period of the famine, many of the Ukrainian people had to resort to other means of nutrition. They had no more reserves from their past years of harvest, and since collectivization was underway, they lost much of their new harvests. "In regions such as Poltava and Kharkiv, people died in their homes or collapsed on the street. Animals were consumed and even the bark disappeared from the trees.'' 11 Birds and wildlife disappeared, grass and leaves from trees were eaten, and an eerie silence settled in on certain regions of Ukraine's countryside. All that could be heard was the crying of children ~d the moaning of the elderly due to hunger, instead of dogs barking and the singing of the birds.
As a result of the great famine in Soviet Ukraine, over 7,000,000 Ukrainians lost their lives. "At the peak of the genocide, which was in March 1933, Ukrainians were dying at the rate of 25,000 per day, 1,000 per hour or 17 every minute.''12 The number of deaths due to the famine was almost equal to one quarter of the population of Ukraine. This also counts for one third of the children of Ukraine starving to death. 13 This tremendous change in population over the course of one year had many drastic effects on Ukraine. Having lost nearly on quarter of its population, which included one third of their children, Ukraine was in a state of entanglement. "80 percent of Ukrainian intellectuals were liquidated because they refused to collaborate in the extermination of their countrymen. Out of about 240 Ukrainian authors, 200 disappeared, and 62 of 84 linguists perished. 14 Because of the large losses that Ukraine had taken during the famine, Ukraine was unable to fight off the "Russification" imposed by Stalin. Many survivors of this great famine fled the. Soviet regime when the Germans marched into the USSR. They feared that another period of famine and oppression would follow once World War II ended and the Soviets regained their power. As a result millions of Ukrainians settled in various parts of the world after the war, leading to another huge decrease in Ukraine's population.
In, the August 1991, Ukraine was able to declare independence once more, and try to revive its lost traditions and culture. I know from experience, from travels to Ukraine that the most commonly spoken language in Ukraine in Russian. Many have forgotten their heritage, and many still live in fear from the days that Russian was the only acceptable language. Slowly, the affects of Stalin's reign of fear, and his imposition of the Russian way of life are wearing off.
Over the past 70 years, Ukraine has been on the road to recovery. The population that was left accepted collectivization and the fields started again to grow crops. From this point on, citizens were able to work their lands in relative peace. Many of the surviving peasants moved to the cities and worked in factories that were springing up. Education was being offered to children only in the Russian language and thus a new intelligentsia was emerging. Ukrainian folk culture was revived but with a heavily Russified element. Ukraine's population during the last 70 years increased from 21 million to over 40 million. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine's most important step to recovery with much support from the Diaspora 15 was its independence in 1991. With independence Ukraine's economy improved. Technology and production, such as manufacturing, power production, and tourism started to grow. A revitalization of the Ukrainian language in the education system occurred and the Ukrainian culture developed on its own natural path, instead of the predetermined course set out by the Soviets. However, the pain of the millions starved to death was still only a heart-felt horror known to the Ukrainians.
It was only recently that awareness of this genocide has been made public to the world. "In 1932 and 1933 between seven to 10 million people, mostly Ukrainian, died in what was known the as the Soviet Union. Josef Stalin and his gang decided the culture and spirit of Ukraine had to be smashed and that the farmers and peasants of the northern Caucasus and the lower Volga River had to be forced into docility .... We now know that Soviet Communism was a hellish ideology that had as little concern for life and love as German National Socialism. Ukrainians have known this for a very long time. They simply want the rest of the world to know it as well.''16
Thanks to the Stalin's massive censorship, up until a decade ago, the western world was unaware of this genocide in Ukraine. The impact of this genocide made Ukraine's population decrease, the stifling of natural cultural development of a people, retardation of economic growth of a nation, a painful recovery over the last 70 years, that still bears many scars. Due to the famine caused by the Soviet regime, the Ukrainian people have suffered without end to this day. Not only has the famine cause civil unrest within the country, with a large decrease in population, and the deaths of millions, it is now a known story across the whole world. It has taken 70 to get Ukraine where it is today, and maybe another 70 years to restore it to its proper economical level, before the rule of Stalin.