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Ukraine Explainers

Nov 25, 2022
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#27 The Holodomor of 1932-1933, explained How the USSR deliberately starved to death 4.5 million Ukrainians and then tried to cover it up. A thread.

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“Holodomor” literally means “murder by starvation.” It refers to a state-managed famine of 1932-1933 when the USSR starved to death 4.5 million Ukrainians (up 7 million acc to other studies). The Holodomor is considered a genocide in Ukraine and 20+ other countries.
Each year, on the fourth Saturday of November (which is tomorrow), we remember the victims of the Holodomor and other man-made famines in Ukraine. On this day, each household lights a candle near a window to remember our murdered ancestors. But how did such famine come about?
In the late 1920s, Stalin aimed to industrialize the USSR using the export of agricultural surplus. Ukraine, “the breadbasket of Europe,” played a central role. Stalin also announced collectivization, a forced seizure of the farmland into a state-managed “kolkhoz” system.
In reality, collectivization meant mass terror: crops and land were taken away, and tens of thousands of peasants were sent to concentration camps in Siberia. Unsurprisingly, around 4,000 mass demonstrations of farmers were recorded in Ukraine during the early 1930s.
When poor crops, inefficient collectivization, and social unrest led to the failure of 1931 targets, Stalin ordered to eliminatethe “nationalist” and “counterrevolution” threat and “turn Ukraine into a model Soviet republic.” The USSR went from state-managed famine to genocide.
By the end of 1932, up to 1 million Ukrainians had already died from starvation. It was already a crime against humanity. But then, Stalin doubled down specifically on Ukraine. At the end of 1932, not only the crops but even all livestock was taken away at gunpoint.
The Soviets were going house to house in search of any hidden food. If people resisted the confiscation, they were shot dead. In January of 1933, the border from Ukraine to Belarus and to Russia was closed. The cities were also closed off to the peasants.
The Ukrainians were locked out and couldn’t escape starvation. By the end of 1933, at least 4 million Ukrainians starved to death (plus 500,000 unborn). But it’s not enough to just count the number of deaths. We have to understand how exactly these people were dying.
The genocide was happening for 2 years until people didn’t have a single crumb of bread to eat. Villagers would lie on the ground as lifeless swollen bodies until a truck arrived to pick up the dead (or still dying) and take them to a mass grave. Cannibalism became common.
While starvation was happening, nobody was allowed to escape this hell, and nobody from the outside was allowed to come and help. It was a slow, targeted, and deliberate extermination of the Ukrainian peasantry. And the Soviet leadership knew exactly what it was doing.
The USSR did everything to cover up the famine: observers were not allowed or were presented with orchestrated tours detached from reality. Gareth Jones was the only journalist who went to Ukraine and reported the horrors of the Holodomor. He was mysteriously murdered in 1935.
Any notions of “famine” were downplayed. In the spring of 1933 (!), the NYT Pulitzer prize-winning Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty wrote, “Russia is hungry, but not starving.” In case you were wondering, the Pulitzer Board refuses to withdraw his award to this day.
Local officials were ordered not to specify starvation as the cause of death. The 1937 Soviet census was banned from publishing and its authors were imprisoned because it revealed the massive scale of post-famine depopulation of Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
For decades, the knowledge of the Holodomor survived only in oral history and was passed on by the surviving folk. The Holodomor became publicly discussed only since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Beyond the death rate, it’s hard to measure or communicate the trauma of the Holodomor. In 1902, Ukrainian writer Olha Kobylianska wrote: “We are the people who only know soil. It is black, and our hands are black from it, but it is sacred.”
By breaking the Ukrainians’ reliance on their land, Stalin broke the sense of security for Ukrainians for generations. Not only land, but food became sacred. Even in 2022, the scarcity mindset about food still persists in Ukraine.
Social cohesion was also destroyed. Starvation meant that everybody was on their own to find enough calories to survive. Communities and families fell apart; trust was broken. The social and political life of Ukraine was deeply scarred by the Holodomor.
The Holodomor (and the Kazakh Asharshylyk) was both a mass terror of the peasantry class and a genocide of the Ukrainian nation. In the 1930s, hundreds of Ukraine’s brightest intellectuals were executed and sent to the Gulag. Ukraine was deboned and beheaded at the same time.
Rafal Lemkin, a scholar who coined the term genocide, believed that the Holodomor was “the classic example of Soviet genocideб its longest and broadest experiment in Russification – the destruction of the Ukrainian nation.” The Holodomor was also a colonial crime.
The Soviets treated Ukraine as a resource that existed only to be extracted for the benefit of the metropole. Ukrainians were treated as inferiors who had to be murdered if they stood in the way of this resource extraction.
Since the mid-2000s, Ukraine has campaigned to raise awareness of the Holodomor genocide. So far, many countries have recognized it as genocide, including Poland, the Baltic states, Georgia, Czechia, Romania, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, the USA, Canada, Mexico, and more.
Unsurprisingly, Russia has been the most vocal critic of this campaign. Russia, the successor state to the USSR, claims that many regions of the USSR suffered from famine at the time, so there is nothing genocidal about Ukraine’s famine.
Not only Russia refuses to take responsibility and apologize for the genocide, but it also hides the truth. The Soviet archives related to the Holodomor remain hidden from the world behind the Kremlin walls to this day.
The genocidal nature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – especially evident in Bucha, Irpin, Izium, and Mariupol – has shocked and horrified the entire world. The invasion serves as the window into the many crimes of the Russian imperial project. Holodomor is one of them.
Today, the best way to honor the 4.5 million Ukrainians who starved to death in 1932-1933 is to support Ukraine in its current fight for survival. Donate to @U24, @Повернись живим, and other trusted organizations that help defend Ukrainians from Russian terror.
Finally, check if your country has labeled the Holodomor as genocide. If it hasn’t, this weekend is the best time to demand action from your government. End of thread.
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