Holodomor

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Ukraine – Freedom Frontier

Almost a century ago, the Bolsheviks could not secure their victory and retain power over the vast Russian Empire without controlling Ukraine, which used to be the resource base of the entire region. The Communists consolidated overwhelming forces to destroy the newly independent Ukrainian People’s Republic that emerged in 1918. Ukraine lost this battle, yet the fight for freedom continued. The sole fact that Ukrainian territories were not annexed and incorporated into Russia, but assembled as a Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic demonstrated that the war exhausted both sides. However, this status quo was short-lived.

In late 1920s, Joseph Stalin became the supreme authority in the Kremlin and embarked on an ambitious program to build up a totalitarian state. The people across the Soviet Union were outraged, protesting and rioting against Stalin’s new policies. The revolutionary promise “Land to the farmers and factories to the workers” became a farce as the state prohibited even small private enterprises. Slavery was returned to the lands, revealing itself through the confiscation of property, inventory and restrictions on the freedom of movement. On the other hand, rural uprisings threatened Stalin’s plans. Over half of these protests took place in Ukraine. The Communist dictator designed a ruthless response, creating a man-made famine.

In 1922-1933, several million Ukrainians perished after being besieged by Soviet troops who confiscated not only bread, but anything edible from the Ukrainian households. In June of 1933 about 24 Ukrainians were dying every minute.

Stalin’s design went much farther than simply suppressing protest movements. Ukrainians had finally experienced the taste of freedom after centuries of Russian colonialism; hence their protests acquired not only economic dimension. The national liberation movement was not completely eliminated despite the Soviet occupation. Illustratively, even Ukrainian Communists lobbied their own programs of development that emphasized the sovereignty of Ukraine, which was so different from Moscow’s policies. Ukrainian cultural renaissance of the 1920s spread ideas of freedom even within the Soviet framework. Such a small island of relative free thinking on the western border of the Soviet Union was a chief obstacle toward a construction of a totalitarian society. The Bolsheviks’ plans of global dominance were doomed to fail without it. Those who envisaged a new world order could not tolerate any different vision of any individual, let alone a whole republic.

Ukraine was turned into a testing ground of the Soviet empire where the mechanics of occupation and totalitarian build-up were tried first. The Communists used these practices later in other states of Central and Eastern Europe conquered in the course of World War II.

The genocide by man-made famine led to irreversible demographic, cultural and mental casualties. Nevertheless, the fact that Stalin failed to bring all Ukrainians to submission prevented the dictator from changing the configuration of the whole free world at his personal whim. The Communists were exhausted after the World War II and waves of military struggle with insurgents in western Ukraine, as well as the rebellions in Gulag labour camps. They still managed to instal the puppet pro-Moscow governments in half of Europe, but there was no resources to conduct genocide similar to the Holodomor, or mass purges such as the Great Terror of 1937-1938.

Soviet dissidents, among which are Vasyl Stus and Yevhen Sverstyuk, told the world what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. These people were the few who averted complete loss of freedom in these lands.

They were not the first ones, nor the last ones. Even during the Holodomor, British journalists Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones wrote reports about atrocities of the man-made famine in Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainians who escaped from the Soviet Union after World War II, tirelessly told the people in Europe, the United States, Australia, African and Asian states about the unknown genocide – the Holodomor. A plethora of brave historians, honest journalists and responsible politicians came to their aid. Ultimately, the Soviet Union was forced to acknowledge the fact of famine even before the Communist empire collapsed.

The truth, which could not be hidden despite information blockade and could not be killed despite millions of claimed lives, became a step toward freedom. It is likely that without it repressions, tortures, kidnappings and extreme oppression of the freedom of speech might have continued to this day.

Ukraine restored independence in 1991 and is still taking a twisted road toward democracy, overcoming the clampdowns on human rights, corruption and power abuse. However, Ukrainians remain a strong and reliable foothold of European freedom. Totalitarianism is gradually recovering further to the East. The war with it is all-embracing. It claimed a hundred of lives during the Euromaidan in Kyiv, and thousands of Ukrainians in a war with expansionist Russia.

Ukraine believes the world will not abandon the brave and committed people, it will not stay silent about Russian crimes against a free country. Our message to the world is freedom. We shall stand for it and defend it.

Volodymyr Viatrovych

Historian, Director of Ukrainian

Institute of National Remembrance

Background of the Holodomor

What?

Holodomor is a Ukrainian term meaning killing by starvation. This is the name given to the national catastrophe of 1932 - 1933, which claimed millions of lives. The famine did not emerge as a result of natural disasters such as drought or crop failure. This was part of a deliberate policy of the Communist regime aimed at physical elimination of the Ukrainians. According to the UN Convention on Genocide Prevention and Punishment of 1948, this policy was a crime against humanity.

Ukrainian State in 1919.

Why?

After the October Revolution of 1917, the Communists managed to seize power in most areas of the former Russian Empire. In particular, they occupied the newly independent Ukrainian People’s Republic after a brutal struggle that lasted for several years. The Communists secured control over Ukraine by making some concessions to the Ukrainian national movement in the area of culture, as well as set up a Communist puppet regime, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Ukrainians took advantage of this cultural autonomy. In the 1920s, Ukraine experienced a rapid development of European-focused modern culture; Ukrainians created a national education system based on the idea of Ukraine as an independent economic actor.

From the late 1920s, the Communist authorities consolidated their power and launched an offensive against the Ukrainian cultural uprising. Stalin embarked on a program of rapid industrialization. The paramount goal was to create a powerful military-industrial complex and technically equipped army so that the Communist state could dominate the international scene. Stalin eliminated any kind of opposition to his authority through a powerful repressive apparatus.

Although Ukraine enjoyed only a brief period of independence in 1917-1921, there was fierce resistance against Communism. There was a Ukraine-oriented educated elite as well as economically independent peasantry with strong national consciousness. The Stalinist regime perceived the Ukrainian question as an existential threat to the Soviet Union, opting for a horrifying tactic – death by starvation.

Mykola Khvylovy, a Ukrainian writer, came out with a slogan Away From Moscow! in the 1920s. In 1933, he committed suicide in protest against the Stalinist policies of oppression.

How?

The origins of the Holodomor were initiated by Moscow Communists led by Stalin back in the 1920s.

In January 1928, the Communists introduced compulsory grain procurements. The state took most (or even all) of grain harvests from farmers at much reduced prices. At the same time, the regime started a campaign against a class of wealthy peasants known as the kulaks. The so-called dekulakization envisaged confiscation of property, land and forceful eviction of peasants. Most of them had been deported to Siberia.

Over 352 thousand households were eliminated in Ukraine, terrorizing around 1.5 million people.

Expelling the kulaks from their houses in Donetsk region, early 1930s.

“On Sunday evening she gave birth to two girls. On Thursday, they were driven out of the house, and the babies were taken and thrown on snow. They said we had no right to take anything from the house. And she cries, the little one is standing beside her, and where should she put those two? Then she was told to take the pillows. So she brought the pillows out, they helped her do it. And they put the pillows on the snow, and she put the children. They said to their village council, there is no right to let anybody into the house”.

Eyewitness testimony to the United States Congressional Committee, interview SW73

In 1929 the Communists started a drive toward wholesale collectivization. Independent private farms were forced to unite in state collective farms also known as the kolkhoz. Members of collective farms were forbidden to benefit from the products of their work.

Forced collectivization caused mass protests and uprisings all over Soviet Ukraine. Throughout 1930 there were more than 4,000 mass anti-state demonstrations in Ukraine. According to historians, about 1.2 million peasants took part in protests. Resistance was brutally suppressed. By October 1931, 68% of farms and 72% of arable land had been collectivized and became state-owned.

Confiscation of livestock for a kolkhoz, Donetsk region, early 1930s.

“When I was arrested, they held me in prison for almost a year ... They claimed I was a member of the [anti-Communist] UVO (Ukrainian Military Organization), then the [anti-Communist] POV (Polish Military Organization). All because I taught at the Ukrainian Institute and the Polish one was nearby. Then they said that I was an officer. I said I could not be an officer, as my year of birth shows I was a young boy at the time”.

Eyewitness testimony to the United States Congressional Committee, interview LH 57

Collective and individual farms were devastated after grain procurements in 1931. In the spring of 1932, over 100 thousand Ukrainians died from starvation. Massive loss of life could have been avoided. It was crucial to reconsider excessive grain procurements, declare the famine-affected regions as areas of humanitarian disaster, and launch a large-scale relief program.

By contrast, the Communists tactic became even more ruthless that led to genocide.

July 1932 – Soviet authorities impose deliberately unrealistic plans for grain procurements on Ukrainian households.

KGB agents with confiscated grain, Kherson, 1932.

August 7, 1932 – The resolution on “protection of socialist property” is adopted. It acquired notoriety under a common name of the law of five spikelets because it was used to imprison people who collected as little as a handful of grain left after the entire harvest was counted.

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