In 1932-33 millions of Ukrainians died in the largest Famine of the 20th century. This Famine was not caused by a natural calamity such as drought or epidemic or pestilence. It was not the result of devastation or privation caused by a cataclysmic event such as war.
The Famine in Ukraine was engineered, orchestrated and directed from the Kremlin. It was implemented by Stalin and his comrades in order to complete Ukraine's subjugation to Moscow. Starvation became the tool and the Ukrainian farmers became the main victims.
This genocide had a double motive. First, it was necessary to destroy the Ukrainian farmers because they formed 80% of the Republic's population and were therefore, the backbone of the intelligentsia-led national revival. Second, the Ukrainian farmers stood in the way of the unbridled exploitation of agriculture which the regime intended to carry out for the sake of rapid industrialization.
"The nationality problem is by its essence a farmer problem," Stalin wrote.
Arrests, show trials, executions and deportations destroyed the Ukrainian intelligentsia, while the Ukrainian "kurkuli" or successful farmers were dispossessed and deported in cattle cars to Russia. Having thus eliminated the country's national and social elites, the regime could now more easily force the leaderless farmer masses into the collective farms.
Collectivization was largely completed in Soviet Ukraine by the time the Famine began to be implemented. In 1932 there was enough grain harvested to adequately feed the population. However, Moscow imposed draconian grain quotas on Ukraine which resulted in genocide.
Zealous Communist League members and armed troops were dispatched into Ukraine from Russia to guard the fields and warehouses. The troops entered every household, tore up floorboards in their search for buried grain, and confiscated whatever foodstuffs they came across. Resisting farmers were arrested and shot or exiled to Siberia. Theft of food, now Socialist State property, warranted a minimum of five years of imprisonment, or just as often, execution. Anyone caught picking up a few stalks of wheat risked being executed on the spot. The regime even went so far as to forbid people from naming the cause they were dying from.
The word "holod" (famine or hunger) was decreed a "counter-revolutionary rumour."
In December of 1932 the internal passport system was introduced and the Ukrainian-Russian border was sealed to prevent Ukrainians from escaping the genocidal famine.
"Food is a weapon," said Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs.
The breadbasket of Europe became one vast graveyard.
As Victor Kravchenko, a former Soviet trade official put it, "on the battlefield men die quickly, they fight back, they are sustained by fellowship and a sense of duty." In Soviet Ukraine, he observed, people were "dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously .... trapped and left to starve, each in his home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables... The most terrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon-like abdomens. Starvation had wiped every trace of youth from their faces, turning them into tortured gargoyles... Everywhere we found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless."
Untold suffering and agony prevailed, along with typhus and scurvy. Corpses piled up grotesquely next to streets, roadways, and fields, for the living no longer had the strength to bury the dead.
While the Famine was raging, Stalin was exporting Ukrainian grain to the West. When international relief organizations offered to assist the starving, the offer was rejected by the Soviet Government on the grounds that there was no famine in Ukraine and hence no need to aid its victims!
Many reporters in the West, particularly those who supported the Communist line and put their hopes in the Soviet Utopia, accepted this Soviet disinformation and the reports of mass starvation were dismissed as scare stories. In 1932 it was counter for Western politics to acknowledge this Genocide, since negotiations were underway to accept the Soviet Union into the League of Nations.
Numerous historians and commentators have called this Famine-Genocide an unprecedented tragedy in modern history. Even today, the Famine-Genocide remains one of the least understood events of this century; it has almost totally disappeared from the public consciousness. The victims deserve a place in history and in our memory. Canada became home to many famine survivors after the Second World War, and although this generation is passing away, their children still carry the memory of their parents' nightmare.
Awareness of this tragedy must not be limited to the Ukrainian community; the famine victims deserve to be honoured, along with victims of other genocides, in a Canadian Museum of Genocide.
Famine-Genocide Commemorative Committee
Ukrainian Canadian Congress
© November 2002
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