Ukraine is famous for its fertile black soils and, consequently, for its agricultural sector ("bread basket"); Ukraine produces millions of tons of such commodities as grain, sugar, sunflower oil, and meat. The mention of Ukraine still conjures up visions of boundless fields of grain, of a European breadbasket.
The Holodomor, which in Ukrainian means "extermination by hunger," wreaked havoc on Ukraine, and an estimated 3 million to 6 million lives - nearly one-fifth of the country's population - were lost as a result. The dreadful famine that engulfed Ukraine, the northern Caucasus, and the lower Volga River area in 1932-1933 was the result of Joseph Stalin's policy of forced collectivization. The heaviest losses occurred in Ukraine, which had been the most productive agricultural area of the Soviet Union. Stalin was determined to crush all vestiges of Ukrainian nationalism. Thus, the famine was accompanied by a devastating purge of the Ukrainian intelligentsia and the Ukrainian Communist party itself. The famine broke the peasants' will to resist collectivization and left Ukraine politically, socially, and psychologically traumatized.
In November 1929, the decision to collectivize agriculture was made. In order to prevent resistance to expropriation of peasants' property, the state opposed the owners and proletarized strata of the village population. Rich peasants (or kurkuli), who strongly resisted collectivization, were expropriated or deported. When peasants refused forced labor, Stalin's response was famine. The results were terrible.
Throughout Stalin's reign, his collectivization efforts created food shortages also in the North Caucasus, Kazakhstan and the Lower Volga region, all results of policies geared toward inducing rapid industrialization by squeezing resources from agriculture. According to some estimates, collectivization in the Soviet Union resulted in a 25 percent drop in agricultural production and a loss of nearly 15 million lives due to famine.
The policy of all-out collectivization instituted by Stalin in 1929 to finance industrialization had a disastrous effect on agricultural productivity. Nevertheless, in 1932 Stalin raised Ukraine's grain procurement quotas by forty-four percent. This meant that there would not be enough grain to feed the peasants, since Soviet law required that no grain from a collective farm could be given to the members of the farm until the government's quota was met. Stalin's decision and the methods used to implement it condemned millions of peasants to death by starvation.
The renowned American scholar and professor of Stanford University Robert Conquest, in his book Harvest of Sorrow, wrote that the famine was planned by Moscow to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry as a national bastion and that the Ukrainian peasants were destroyed not because they were peasants but because they were Ukrainian peasants. Conquest's statement explains much, for Muscovite scholars frequently declare that a famine also occurred at this time in the Trans-Volga region and Kazakhstan. However, Conquest notes that a vigorous resistance to the Bolshevik regime in Ukraine lasted until the early 1930s.
The year 1930 heralded the period when entire villages in Ukraine were resisting, with the peasants refusing to relinquish their property and their honour. This greatly angered the Kremlin, and in late 1932 Muscovite emissaries were dispatched to Ukraine, specifically Viacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich and Vsevolod Balitsky, the former head of the GPU, as well as a whole brigade of party workers, approximately 1,700 people, who were ordered to rectify this situation. As a result of the exceedingly savage actions of Molotov's committee, an immense quantity of grain was confiscated from the Ukrainian peasantry. According to Moscow's plans, Ukraine was slated to supply a quota of 360 million poods of grain [1 pood=36.11 lbs/16.38 kgs.], only 70 per. cent of which the country was capable of producing. These were the methods used to break the back of the Ukrainian nation and to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry.
The famine in Ukraine began in 1932 as Stalin's plan requiring peasants to collectivize their farms began to take effect. As the year went on and Soviet forces began encountering unexpected resistance in Ukraine, the quota for the amount of grain to be produced for Soviet benefit was raised to an "unrealizable" level. Many of the peasants who resisted collectivization were arrested; sometimes their villages were destroyed, and local leadership purged. Party officials, with the aid of regular troops and secret police units, waged a merciless war of attrition against peasants who refused to give up their grain. Even indispensable seed grain was forcibly confiscated from peasant households. Any man, woman, or child caught taking even a handful of grain from a collective farm could be, and often was, executed or deported. Those who did not appear to be starving were often suspected of hoarding grain. Peasants were prevented from leaving their villages by the NKVD and a system of internal passports.
In January 1933, Stalin ordered a close ally, Pavel Postyshev, to Ukraine. Postyshev, a key member of the Ukrainian Communist Party, raised the quota once again, ordering even more grain to be collected despite the fact that none was left. Special Communist Party brigades were sent to farms and homes throughout Ukraine to confiscate any remaining food and livestock from the peasants, despite the massive numbers of people dying from starvation.
It was not until the fall of 1933, after Postyshev determined that the "Ukrainians had at last been broken," that peasants were able to keep a small portion of what they had grown, thus triggering the beginning of the end of the famine and alleviating hunger across the country.
The death toll from the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine has been estimated between three million and seven million. According to a Soviet author, "Before they died, people often lost their senses and ceased to be human beings." Yet one of Stalin's lieutenants in Ukraine stated in 1933 that the famine was a great success. It showed the peasants "who is the master here. It cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay."..
The American government had adequate and timely information about the Famine-Genocide, but did not take any steps to ease the situation. On the contrary, the U.S. Administration granted diplomatic recognition to the Soviet government in November 1933, immediately after the Famine-Genocide. After returning from Moscow in 1933 the famous playwright and free-thinker George Bernard Shaw declared that "there is no famine [in Ukraine]", because he had partaken of one of the finest dinners of his life-an example of the lavish displays with which the Soviet government regaled foreigners in order to isolate them from real life in Ukraine.
In 1983 the Americans partially broke their silence about the Ukrainian "Holocaust" by creating a special Congressional Commission on the Famine. Displayed on these panels are two items from the materials prepared by this commission, as well as translations into Ukrainian of the commission's nineteen con-clusions that were ratified by the U.S Congress. These points condemn the inaction and deliberate silence of the American government and acknowledge that the famine was an action planned by Moscow against the Ukrainians.
Pointing to the fact that grain was forcibly requisitioned from the peasantry despite the protests of the Soviet government in the Ukrainian Republic, some historians believe that Stalin knowingly brought about the famine to stop national ferment in the Ukrainian Republic and break the peasants' resistance to collectivization. Based on the thesis that the famine in Ukraine was a deliberately planned "genocide" of Ukrainians by the Soviet government, the famine-genocide campaign surfaced intermittently over the decades following the Great Patriotic War. Ukrainian nationalists say Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, should bear responsibility. Russia says the famine cannot be considered an act that targeted Ukrainians, as millions of people from different ethnic groups also lost their lives in vast territories across the Soviet Union. In January 2010, a court in Kiev found Bolshevik leaders, including dictator Joseph Stalin, guilty of genocide against Ukrainians during Holodomor, but dropped criminal proceedings "due to the suspects' deaths."
In November 2006 the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada passed a bill declaring the 1932-33 Holodomor (Great Famine) as genocide. The original draft law would have imposed fines for public statements or dissemination of materials denying the Holodomor. However, the law as passed states: "Public denial of 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine is recognized as desecration of memory of millions of victims of the Holodomor, humiliation of dignity of the Ukrainian people, and is unlawful" but does not specify penalties.
When the United States presented a Holocaust Remembrance resolution at the United Nations in 2008, some thought it would lead to resolutions from other countries asking UNESCO to remember other tragedies. Sure enough, the Ukrainians decided to submit a resolution, document 34 C/50, on the remembrance of victims of the Great Famine (Holodomor) in Ukraine. The U.S. decided to co-sponsor the Ukrainian resolution, which was strongly opposed by the Russians. At one point the Ukrainian resolution became so controversial that it looked as though there would be a vote, which worried the US which was afraid that a vote might have an adverse effect on our Holocaust resolution. Fortunately, the Holodomor resolution was also adopted by consensus.
It is "unjust" to call the Stalin-era famine that killed millions across the Soviet Union a genocide of the Ukrainian people, President Viktor Yanukovych said on 28 June 2010. Yanukovych's statement to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) marked a complete reversal of the policy of his predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, who sought international recognition of the 1932-1933 Great Famine, known to Ukrainians as the Holodomor, as genocide. "We consider it incorrect and unjust to consider the Holodomor a fact of genocide of a certain people," Yanukovych said, calling it "a common tragedy" of the Soviet people. The Ukrainian president said not only Ukrainian, but also Russian, Belarusian and Kazakh people starved during the famine.
One of the world’s leading scholars on the development of agriculture in the Soviet Union during its early years is Mark Tauger. He is an associate professor of history at West Virginia University. Tauger’s writings challenge several interpretations of the famines which struck regions of the Soviet Union during the first 15 years or so of the country’s existence in the 1920s and 1930s, including in Ukraine. He argues that the periodic food shortages which marked those years were a result of a complex of primarily natural factors that waxed and waned, causing severe reductions in agricultural production. He argues that Soviet policies were not aimed to exploit the peasants but to overcome natural disasters by emulating American large-scale industrialized farming methods in their own Soviet way.
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