The Holodomor (Голодомор) is the famine that took place in Soviet Ukraine during the 1932-1933 agricultural season when the devastating famines also took place in several other regions of the USSR. The Holodomor ravaged the rural population of the Ukrainian SSR, and is considered one of the greatest national catastrophes to affect the Ukrainian nation in modern history. Estimates for the total number of casualties within Soviet Ukraine range between 2.2 million (demographers' estimate) and 3-3.5 million (historians' estimate), though much higher figures are often quoted by the media and cited in political debates.
The reasons of the famine are the subject of intense scholarly and political debate. Some historians claim the famine was purposely engineered by the Soviet authorities as an attack on Ukrainian nationalism, while others view it as an unintended consequence of the economic problems associated with radical economic changes implemented during the period of Soviet industrialization. It is sometimes argued that natural causes may have been the primary reason for the disaster.
There is no international consensus among scholars or politicians on whether the Soviet policies that caused the famine fall under the legal definition of genocide ; however, as of March 2008, the parliament of Ukraine and the governments of several other countries have recognized the actions causing Holodomor as an act of genocide.
The origins of the word Holodomor come from the Ukrainian words holod, ‘hunger’, and mor, ‘plague’, possibly from the expression moryty holodom, ‘to inflict death by hunger’. The Ukrainian verb "moryty" (морити) means "to poison somebody, drive to exhaustion or to torment somebody". The perfect form of the verb "moryty" is "zamoryty""kill or drive to death by hunger, exhausting work". The neologism “Holodomor” is given in the modern, two-volume dictionary of the Ukrainian language as "artificial hunger, organised in vast scale by the criminal regime against the country's population Sometimes the expression is translated into English as "murder by hunger.
While a complex task, it is possible to group some of the causes that contributed to the Holodomor. They have to be understood in the larger context of the social revolution 'from above' that took place in the Soviet Union at the time.
In 1927, a drought shortened the harvest in southern areas of the Ukrainian SSR and North Caucasus. In 1927–28 the winter tillage area was badly affected due to low snow levels. Despite seed aid from the State, many affected areas were not re-sown. The 1928 harvest was affected by drought in most of the grain producing areas of the Ukrainian SSR. Shortages in the harvest and difficulties with the supply system invoked difficulties with the food supply in urban areas and destabilized the food supply situation in the USSR in general. In order to alleviate the situation, a system of food rationing was implemented in the second quarter of 1928 initially in Odessa, and later spread to Mariupol, Kherson, Kiev, Dniprelstan (Dnipropetrovsk), and Kharkiv. At the beginning of 1929 a similar system was implemented throughout the USSR. Despite the aid from the Soviet Ukrainian and the Central governments, many southern rural areas registered occurrences of malnutrition and in some cases hunger and starvation (the affected areas and thus the amount of required food aid was under-accounted by authorities). Due to the shortage of forage livestock, its numbers were also affected . Most of Kolkhozes and recently refurnished sovkhozes went through these years with few losses, and some were even able to provide assistance to peasants in the more affected areas (seed and grain for food).
Despite the intense state campaign, the collectivization, which was initially voluntary, was not popular amongst peasants: as of early 1929, only 5.6% of Ukrainian peasant households and 3.8% of arable land was “collectivized”. In the early of 1929, the methods employed by the specially empowered authority “UkrKolhozcenter” changed from a voluntary enrollment to an administrative one. By October 1, 1929, a plan for the creation of kolkhozes was “outperformed” by 239%. As a result, 8.8% of arable land was “collectivized”.
While “summoned “ by November 10, 1929 – November 17, 1929 meeting of VKP(b) Central Committee “Twenty-Five Thousanders" only trained at special short courses, the main driving force of collectivization and dekulakization in Ukraine became a "poor peasants committee" (“komnezamy”) and local village councils (silrady) where komnezams members had a voting majority.
The USSR Kolhozcenter issued the December 10, 1929, decree on collectivisation of livestock within a 3-month period (draft animals 100%, cattle 100%, pigs 80%, sheep and goats 60%). This drove many peasants to slaughter their livestock. By January 1, 1930, the percentage of collectivized households almost doubled, to 16.4% of the total number of households.
Despite the infamous January 5, 1930 decree, in which the deadline for the complete collectivization of the Ukrainian SSR was set for the period from the end of 1931 to the spring of 1932, the authorities decided to accelerate the completion of the campaign by autumn of 1930. The high expectations of the plan were outperformed by local authorities even without the assistance of the 7500 “Twenty-Five Thousanders – and by March 70.9% of arable land and 62.8% of peasant households were suddenly collectivized. The “Dekulakization” plan was also “over-performed”. First stage of delukakization lasted from second half of January till beginning of March 1930. Such measures were applied to 309 out of 581 total districts of Ukrainian SSR were accounted 2524 thousands peasants households (out of 5054 thousands total). As of 10 of March 1930 61897 of peasants households were “dekulakized” – or 2.5% of total. While at 1929 percentage of “kulak –households” registered as 1.4%. Some of the peasants and "weak elements" were arrested and deported “to the north”. Many arrested 'kulaks' and "well-to-do" farmers resettled their families to the Urals and Central Asia. The term 'kulak' was ultimately applied to anybody resisting collectivization as many of the so-called 'kulaks' were no more well-off than other peasants.
The fast-track to collectivization incited numerous peasant revolts in Ukraine and in other parts of the USSR. In response to the situation "Pravda" published the Stalin's article "Dizzy with successes". Soon, numerous orders and decrees were issued banning the use of force and administrative methods. Some of those “mistakenly” dekulakized, received their property back, and some returned home. As a result the collectivization process was rolled back and by 1 May 1933 38.2% of Ukrainian SSR peasant households and 41.1% of arable land had been collectivized. By the end of August these numbers declined to 29.2% and 35.6% respectively.
A second "forced-voluntary" collectivization campaign was initiated in the winter–summer of 1931 with significant assistance of the so-called "tug-brigades" composed from kolkhoz udarniks. Many "kulaks" along with families were deported from the Ukrainian SSR.
According to declassified data, around 300,000 peasants in Ukrainian SSR were affected by these policies in 1930–31. Ukrainians composed 15% of the total 1.8 million 'kulaks' relocated Soviet-wide. Since summer 1931 all further deportations were recommended to be administered only to individuals.”
This second "forced-voluntary" collectivization campaign also invoked a delay in sowing. During winter and spring of 1930–31, the Ukrainian agricultural authority "Narkomzem" issued several reports about the significant decline of livestock caused by poor treatment, absence of forage, stables/farms and due to "kulak sabotage".
According to the First Five-Year Plan, Ukrainian agriculture was to switch from an exclusive orientation of grain to a more diverse output. This included not only a rise in Sugar beet crops, but also other types of agricultural production were expected to be utilised by industry (with even cotton plants being established in 1931). This plan anticipated a decrease in grain acreage, in contrast to an increase of yield, area and of acreage for other crops.
By July 1, 1931, 65.7% of Ukrainian SSR peasant households and 67.2% of arable land were reported as "collectivized", however the main grain and sugar beet production areas were collectivized to a greater extent — 80-90%.
Decree of Central Committee of VKP(b) from August 2 1931 clarified the “all-over collectivization” term - in order to be considered complete the “all-over collectivization” does not have to reach “100%”, but not less then 68-70% of peasants households and not less then 75-80% of arable lands. According to the same decree “all-over collectivization” accomplished at Northern Caucasus (Kuban) - 88% of households and 92% of arable lands “collectivized”, Ukraine (South) – 85 and 94 percents respectively, Ukraine (Right Bank) – 69 and 80 percents respectively, and Moldavian ASRR (part of Ukrainian SRR) – 68 and 75 percent.
As of the beginning of October 1931, the collectivization of 68.0% of peasant households, and 72.0% of arable land was complete.
| Oblast (in late 1932 |
| % of peasantry|
|Ukrainian SSR||23270||69.0 (77.1% of arable land)|
The plan for the state grain collection in the Ukrainian SSR adopted for 1931 was over-optimistic — 510 million poods (8.4 Tg). Drought, administrative distribution of the plan for kolkhozes, together with the lack of relevant management generally destabilized the situation. Significant amounts of grain remained unharvested. A significant percentage was lost during processing and transportation, or spoiled at elevators (wet grain). The total Winter sowing area shrunk by approximately 2 million hectares. Livestock in kolkhozes remained without forage, which was collected under grain procurement. A similar occurrence happened with respect to seeds and wages awarded in kind for kolhoz members. Nevertheless, grain collection continued till May 1932 but reached only 90% of expected plan figures. By the end of December 1931, the collection plan was accomplished by 79%. Many kolkhozes from December 1931 onwards suffered from lack of food, resulting in an increased number of deaths caused by malnutrition registered by OGPU in some areas (Moldavian SSR as a whole and several central rayons of Vinnytsya, Kiev and North-East rayons of Odessa oblasts ) in winter-spring and the early summer months of 1932. By 1932 the sowing campaign of the Ukrainian SSR was obtained with minimal draught power as most of the remaining horses were incapable of working, while the number of available agricultural tractors was too small to fill the gap.
The Government of the Ukrainian SSR tried to remedy the situation but had little success. Administrative and territorial reform (oblast creation) in February 1932, also added to the mismanagement. As a result Moscow had more details about the seed situation than the Ukrainian authorities. In May, 1932, in a desperate effort to change the situation, the central Soviet Government provided 7.1 million poods of grain for food for Ukraine and dispatched adsitional 700 agricultural tractors intended for other regions of USSR.
By July, the total amount of aid provided from Central Soviet Authorities for food, sowing and forage for “agricultural sector” was numbered more than 17 million poods.
Speculative prices of food in cooperative network (5-10 times more as compared with neighboring Soviet republics) brought significant peasant “travel for bread”, while attempts to handle situation with speculation had very limited success. Such provision (quota on carried-on foods) was lifted by Stalin (at Kosior's request) at the end of May 1932. The July GPU reports for the first half of 1932, mentioned the “difficulties with food” in 127 rayons (out of 484) and acknowledged the incompleteness of the information for the regions. The Decree of Sovnarkom on “Kolkhoz Trade” issued in May, fostered rumors amongst peasants that collectivization was rolled-back again as it had been in spring 1930. The number of peasants who abandoned kolkhozes significantly increased.
As a result, the government plans for the central grain collection in Ukraine was lowered by 18.1%, in comparison to the 1931 plan. Still, collective farms were expected to return return 132,750 tons of grain which had been provided in spring 1932 as aid. The grain collection plan for July 1932 was adopted to collect 19.5 million poods. The actual state of collection was disastrous, and by 31 July only 3 million poods (compared to 21 million in 1931) were collected. As of July 20 the harvested area was half of that in 1931. The sovhozes had only sowed 16% of the defined area.
Since July 1932 Ukrainian SSR met with difficulty in supplying the planned amount of food to rationing system was implemented in early 1928 to supply extensively growing urban areas with food. This system became the almost sole source of food delivery to cities while the alternatives, cooperative trade and black market trading, became too expensive, and under-supplied, to provide long-range assistance. By December 1932, due the fault of grain procurement daily rationing for rural population limited to 100-600 grams of bread, some group of rural citizens completely withdrawn from rationing supply.
This disparity between agricultural goals, and actual production grew later in the year. An expected 190 thousand tons of grain were to be exported, but by August 27, 1932, only 20 thousand tons were ready. By October 25, the plan for grain collection was lowered once again, from the quantity called for in the plan of August 22, 1932. Nevertheless, collection reached only 39% of the annually planned total. A second lowering of goals deducted 70 million poods but still demanded plan completion, and 100% efficiency. Attempts to reach the new goals of production proved futile in late 1932. On November 29, in order to complete the plan, Ukraine was to collect 94 million poods, 4.8 of them from sovkhozes. As of January 2, targets were again lowered, to 62.5 million poods. Later that month, on January 14,the targets were lowered even further– by 29.4 million poods, to 33.1 million. At same time, GPU of Ukraine reported hunger and starvation in the Kiev and Vinnytsia oblasts, and began implementing measures to remedy the situation. The total amount of grain collected by February 5 was only 255 million poods (compared to 440 million poods in 1931) while the numbers of “hunger and malnutrition cases” as registered by the GPU of Ukrainian SSR, increased every day.
|1927||18.67||0.83 centralized collection only|
|1933|| 22.29 (including sorgo) ||5.98|
This is one of the factors for reducing the sowing area in 1932 and significant losses during harvesting.
By December 1932 0.725 millions of hectares of grain at most affected by famine at spring 1933 areas of Ukrainian SRR remains uncollected
A second significant factor was “the massacre of cattle by peasants not wishing to sacrifice their property for nothing to the collective farm.
During winter and spring of 1930–31, the Ukrainian agricultural authority "Narkomzem" Ukrainian SRR issued several reports about the significant decline of livestock and especially drought power caused by poor treatment, absence of forage, stables/farms and due the "kulaks sabotage".
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|1932|| || || || || || || || |
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In 1928, a "by contract" policy of procurement (contracts for the delivery of agricultural products) was implemented for kolkhozes and ordinary peasants alike ("kulaks" had a "firm" plan for procurement). Accordingly, from 1928 through January 1933, "grain production areas" were required to submit 1/3–1/4 of their estimated yield, while areas designated as "grain" were required to submit no more than 1/8 of their estimated yield. However, between the Autumn of 1930 and the Spring of 1932, local authorities tended to collect products from kolkhozes in amounts greater than the minimum required in order to exceed the contracted target (in some cases by more than 200%). Especially harmful methods utilized in the "by contract" policy were "counterplan" actions, which were additional collection plans implemented in already fulfilled contracts. Such "counterplan" measures were strictly forbidden after the Spring of 1933 as "extremely harmful for kolkhoz development.
In 1932 a "1/4 of yield" procurement quota for "grain production areas" of the Ukrainian SSR was planned for implementation. On September 23, 1932, a telegram signed by Molotov and Stalin noted that the harvest of 1932 was "satisfactory", according to estimates provided by the agricultural planning authorities, and therefore requests for seed for winter crops were refused while total winter-tillage acreage demands were increased. Later, Stalin blamed the statistical and planning authorities for inaccurately estimating potential yields and thus a "Commissions for yield estimation" was created on December 17, 1932 by his order. The 1932 harvest figures provided at the time were largely overestimated and the actual difference between estimated and actual harvest was significant. Such unrealistic figures resulted in demand that was impossibly to fulfill and resulted in lesser reduction of grain procurement plan and greater grain procurement then were possible in late 1932 through the February 5, 1933
The 1932 grain procurement quota, and the amount of grain actually collected, were much smaller than those of any other year in the 1930s. In 1932, some 5.8 million tons of procured grain were returned to the rural sector, more than had been in 1930 or 1931.
During the First Five-Year Plan, urban population growth brought more than 10 million people from villages to cities; the number receiving food rations increased from 25 million in 1930 to 40 million in 1932. Food production declined and urban food supplies fell drastically. Reserves did not keep pace with ration requirements. Desertion of factories combined with peasants' flight from collective farms resulted in millions of people moving around the country. In response, the government revived the tsarist institution of internal passports at the end of 1932.
Special barricades were set up by GPU units throughout the USSR to prevent an exodus of peasants from the hunger-stricken regions. During a single month in 1933, 219,460 people were intercepted and escorted back or arrested and sentenced.. In Ukraine, these measures had the following results, according to the declassified documents - during the 11 days (23 January–2 February) after the January 22, 1933 Decree 3861 people were intercepted of which 340 were arrested "for further recognition". During the same period, in trains and at railway stations on the whole Ukrainian territory, there were 16,773 people intercepted (907 of those not living in Ukraine); out of those, 1,610 people were arrested. Such figures also included criminals. In the same document, the OGPU informed about the number of peasants which already had left the Ukrainian territory (94,433 persons) during the period from December 15, 1932 to January 2, 1933 (data for 215 districts out of 484, and Moldavian ASRR).
The government introduced new identity papers and obligatory registration for citizens in December 1932. Initially, the area of new identity papers and obligatory registration implementation were limited to Moscow and Leningrad (encircling 100 km ) and Kharkiv (encircling 50 km) and the new measures were planned for implementation by June 1933. In Ukraine introduction of the passport system was to be carried out by the end of 1933 with top priority given its enforcement in Kharkiv, Kiev, and Odessa.
Travel from Ukraine and the Northern Caucasus (Kuban) kray (region) was specifically forbidden by directives of January 22, 1933 (signed by Molotov and Stalin) and of January 23 1933 (joint directive VKP(b) Central Committee and Sovnarkom). The directives stated that the travels "for bread" from these areas were organized by enemies of the Soviet power with the purpose of agitation in northern areas of the USSR against kolkhozes, same as it happened last year (1932) from Ukraine, but were not prevented. Therefore, railway tickets were to be sold only by ispolkom permits, and those who already reached the north should be arrested.
For example Gareth Jones, one of Lloyd George’s private secretaries spent several days in mid-March in travel “all twenty villages, not only in the Ukraine, but also in the black earth district, and in the Moscow region, and that I slept in peasants' cottages, and did not immediately leave for the next village”. He easily reached neighboring rural areas of capital of Soviet Ukraine – Kharkov, spent some days there and despite what he has not “saw in the villages no dead human beings nor animals” this journalist who never before saw a famine evidence, reported “that there was famine in the Soviet Union” (actually increasing of death rate from starvation wider affected Kharkov Oblasts in mid April-begin of June 1933).
On August 23, 1933 foreign correspondents were warned individually by the press section of the Foreign Office of USSR not to attempt to travel to the provinces or elsewhere in the Soviet Union without first obtaining formal permission. Foreign Office of USSR without explanation refused permission to William H. Chamberlain, Christian Science Monitor correspondent, to visit and observe the harvest in the principal agricultural regions of the North Caucasus and Ukraine. Several months (May-July 1933) ago two other American correspondents were forbidden to make a trip to Ukraine. Such restriction was softened since September 1933.
Scholars who have conducted research in declassified archives have reported "the Politburo and regional Party committees insisted that immediate and decisive action be taken in response to the famine such that 'conscientious farmers' not suffer, while district Party committees were instructed to supply every child with milk and decreed that those who failed to mobilize resources to feed the hungry or denied hospitalization to famine victims be prosecuted."
Based on data collected by undercover investigation and photos, the Bohemian-Austrian Catholic Theodor Cardinal Innitzer by the end of 1933 made campaigns of awareness in the West about the massive deaths by hunger and even cases of cannibalism that were occurring in Ukraine and the North Caucasus at that time.
The first reports regarding malnutrition and hunger in rural areas and towns (which were undersupplied through recently introduced rationing system) to the Ukrainian GPU and Oblast authorities are dated to mid-January 1933. Measures were introduced to localize these cases using locally available resources. While the numbers of such reports increased the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine issued a Decree on February 8, 1933 that urged every “hunger case” to be treated without delay and with maximum mobilization of own resources of kolkhozes, raions, towns, and oblasts”. The decree set a 7 days term for food aid which was to be provided from “central sources”. On February 20, 1933 the Dnipropetrovsk oblast received 1.2 million of poods of food aid, Odessa – 0.8 million, Kharkiv – 0.3 million accordingly. The Kiev oblast by March 18 was allocated 6 million poods. The Ukrainian authorities also provide the aid but it was limited to resources available. In order to assist orphaned children the Ukrainian GPU and People's Commissariat of Health created a special commission; establishing a kindergartens network where children could get food, specially directed for him from Central Ukrainian and Soviet authorities. Urban areas affected by food shortage adhered to a rationing system. On March 20, 1933 Stalin signed a Decree which lowered the monthly milling levy in Ukraine by 14 thousand tons, which was to be redistributed as an additional bread supply “for students, small towns and small enterprises in large cities and specially in Kiev”. However, food aid distribution was not managed effectively and was poorly redistributed by regional and local authorities.
After the first wave of hunger in February-March, Ukrainian authorities met with a second wave of hunger and starvation in April-May – specifically in Kiev and Kharkiv oblasts. The situation was aggravated by the delayed winter.
Between February and June 1933, thirty-five Politburo decisions and Sovnarkom decrees authorized the issue of a total of 35.19 million poods (576,400 tonnes) or more than half of total aid to Soviet agriculture as a whole. 1.1 million ton were provided by Central Soviet authorities in the winter-spring 1933 - of grain for food, seeds and forage for Ukrainian SSR peasants, kolhozes and sovhozes. Such figures did not include grain and flour aid provided for the urban population, children and aid from local sources. In Russia Stalin personally authorized distribution of aid in answer to a request by Sholokhov, whose own district was stricken. However, Stalin also later reprimanded Sholokhov for failing to recognize "sabotage" within his district. This was the only instance that a specific amount of aid was given to a specific district. Other appeals were not successful and many desperate pleas were cut back or rejected.
Documents from Soviet archives indicate that the aid distribution was made selectively to the most affected areas and from the spring months such assistance was the goal of the relief effort at sowing time. A special resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine for the Kiev Oblast, from March 31, 1933, ordered peasants to be hospitalized into either ailing or recovering patients. The resolution ordered improved nutrition within the limits of available resources so that they could be sent out into the fields to sow the new crop as soon as possible. The food was dispensed according to special resolutions from government bodies, and additional food was given in the field where the laborers worked.
Some publications claim that after recognition of the famine situation in Ukraine during the drought and poor harvests, the Soviet government in Moscow continued to export grain rather than retain its crop to feed the people, even though on a significantly lower level than in previous years. In 1930–31 there had been 5,832,000 metric tons of grains exported In 1931–32, grain exports declined to 4,786,000 tons. In 1932–33, grain exports were just 1,607,000 tons and in 1933–34, this further declined to 1,441,000 tons. Officially published data slightly differ
Cereals : 1930 - 4,846,024;
1931 - 5,182,835; 1932 - 1,819,114 (first half of 1932 - approx 750 000, from late April grain also imported - approx. 157,000 tonnes ); 1933 - 1,771,364 tonnes (first half of 1933 - 220 000, late March grain also imported).
From that wheat: 1930 - 2,530,953; 1931 - 2,498,958 ; 1932 - 550,917; 1933 - 748,248 tons. Via Ukrainian commercial ports in 1932 were exported (thousand tons): 988.3 -grains, 16,5 other types of cereals; in 1933 - 809.6,-grains 2.6 -cereals; 3.5 meat, 0.4- butter, 2.5 - fish.
Via Ukrainian commercial ports in 1932 were imported (thousand tons): 1932 - no more than 67.2 of grains and cereals 1933 - 8.6 of grains.
Received from other Soviet ports - 1932 (thousand tons): 164 - grains, 7.3 - other types of cereals, fish -31.5 and no more than 177 thousand tons of meat and butter 1933- 230 - grains, 15.3 other types of cereals 0.1 - meat , 0.9- butter, fish - 34.3.
|Year||Fallow land||Winter tillage|
Drought began to be mentioned as the major reason of Holodomor by Soviet propaganda sources since 1983. This explanation has been supported by several Western historians, such as Dr. Mark Tauger. Mark Tauger has concluded that the famine was not fundamentally “man-made”. He says that the most that can be said of the contribution of human actions is that draft shortages, lack of labor, systemic economic problems, mismanagement, and peasant resistance exacerbated the crop failures already created by natural disasters.
In 1932, extremely dry weather reduced crops in some regions, and unusually wet and humid weather in most others fostered unprecedented infestations. These conditions from the start reduced the potential yield, as drought had in 1931. Drought, rain, and infestations destroyed at least 20 percent of the harvest, and this would have been sufficient on its own to cause serious food shortages or even famine. The historian Mark Tauger believes that if these factors had not developed in 1931 and 1932, agricultural production would have been considerably larger. However, the drought was not as bad as that of the non-famine year of 1936, and it was centered outside Ukraine, according to the leading Soviet authority on drought. Nevertheless, there was a significant drought in 1931, which caused a considerable decrease in the harvest, while in 1936 the decrease in the harvest was not as catastrophic.
Another factor in the decline of the harvests were the shortage of draught power for ploughing and reaping was even more acute in 1932 than in the previous year. The number of working horses declined from 19.5 million on July 1, 1931 to 16.2 million on July 1, 1932. The desperate efforts to replace horses by tractors failed to compensate for this loss. In 1931, the total supply of tractors to agriculture amounted to 964,000 hp, 393,000 produced at home and 578,000 imported. But in 1932, because of the foreign trade crisis and home producing establishing, no tractors at all were imported.
By the end of 1933, millions of people had starved to death or had otherwise died unnaturally in Ukraine, as well as in other Soviet republics. The total estimate of the famine victims Soviet-wide is given as 6-7 million or 6-8 million. The Soviet Union long denied that the famine had ever existed, and the NKVD (and later KGB) archives on the Holodomor period opened very slowly. The exact number of the victims remains unknown and probably impossible to find out even within a margin of error of a hundred thousand.
The estimates for the number of deaths due to famine in Ukraine (excluding other repressions) vary by several millions and numbers as high as seven to ten million is sometimes given in the media and a number as high as 10 or even twenty million is sometimes cited in political speeches.
Estimates vary since some are based on Ukrainians who died within the 1933 borders of Ukraine; while others are based on deaths within current borders of Ukraine. Other estimates are based on deaths of Ukrainians in the Soviet Union. Some estimates use a very simple methodology based percentage of deaths that was reported in one area and applying the percentage to the entire country. Others use more sophisticated techniques involves analyzing the demographic statistics based on various censuses. Many question the accuracy of Soviet censuses since the may have been doctored to support Soviet propaganda. Other estimates come from recorded discussion between world leaders like Churchill and Stalin however the estimate of ten million deaths, which is attributed to have been circulated from within Soviet official sources could be based on a misinterpretation of the memoirs of Winston Churchill who gave an account of his conversation with Stalin that took place on August 16, 1942. In that conversation, Stalin gave Churchill his estimates of the number of "kulaks" who were repressed for resisting collectivization as 10 million, in all of the Soviet Union, rather than only in Ukraine. When using this number, Stalin implied that it included not only those who lost their lives, but also forcibly deported.
Some estimates count death toll from the political repression including those who died in the Gulag while others refer only to those who starved to death. Many of the estimates are based on different time periods. So to come up with a definitive answer is impossible but what all the estimates have in common is the death toll was large. Millions died.
Even the results based on scientific methods obtained prior to the opening of former Soviet archives also varied widely but the range was somewhat more narrow: 2.5 million (Volodymyr Kubiyovych), 4.8 million (Vasyl Hryshko) and 5 million (Robert Conquest).
|Ethnicity||1926||1937||1937 in % compared to 1926|
|Russians||177 792 124||193 933 065||120,7%|
|Ukrainians||31 194 976||26 421 212||84.7%|
|Belarusians||4 738 923||4 874 061||102.9%|
|Uzbeks||3 955 238||4 550 532||115%|
|Tatars||3 029 995||3 793 413||125.2%|
|Kazakhs||3 968 289||2 862 458||72.1%|
|Jews||2 672 499||2 715 106||101.6%|
|Azerbajanians||1 706 605||2 134 648||124.1%|
|Georgians||1 821 184||2 097 069||115.1%|
|Armenians||1 568 197||1 968 721||125.5%|
One modern calculation that uses demographic data including that available from formerly closed Soviet archives narrows the losses to about 3.2 million or, allowing for the lack of the data precision, 3 million to 3.5 million.
The aftermath of Holodomor and its effects on the Ukrainian population can be seen more clearly by comparing the rate of population growth of the various ethnic groups within the Soviet Union when comparing the Soviet census of 1926 with the 1937 census.
The formerly closed Soviet archives show that excess deaths in Ukraine in 1932-1933 numbered 1.54 million. In 1932-1933, there were a combined 1.2 million cases of typhus and 500,000 cases of typhoid fever. Deaths resulted primarily from manifold diseases due to lowered resistance and disease in general rather than actual starvation. All major types of disease, apart from cancer, tend to increase during famine as a result of undernourishment resulting in lower resistance to disease, and of unsanitary conditions. In the years 1932–34, the largest rate of increase was recorded for typhus. Typhus is spread by lice. In conditions of harvest failure and increased poverty, the number of lice is likely to increase, and the herding of refugees at railway stations, on trains and elsewhere facilitates their spread. In 1933, the number of recorded cases was twenty times the 1929 level. The number of cases per head of population recorded in Ukraine in 1933 was naturally considerably higher than in the USSR as a whole. But by June 1933, incidence in Ukraine had increased to nearly ten times the January level and was higher than in the rest of the USSR taken as a whole.
However, it is important to note that the number of the recorded excess deaths extracted from the birth/death statistics from the Soviet archives is self-contradictory and cannot be fully relied upon because the data fails to add up to the differences between the results of the 1927 Census and the 1937 Census.
|Year||Typhus||Typhoid Fever||Relapsing Fever||Smallpox||Malaria|
Stanislav Kulchytsky summarized the natural population change. The declassified Soviet statistics show a decrease of 538,000 people in the population of Soviet Ukraine between 1926 census (28,925,976) and 1937 census (28,388,000). The number of births and deaths (in thousands) according to the declassified records are given in the table (right).
According to the correction for officially non-accounted child mortality in 1933 by 150,000 calculated by Sergei Maksudov, the number of births for 1933 should be increased from 471,000 to 621,000. Assuming the natural mortality rates in 1933 to be equal to the average annual mortality rate in 1927-1930 (524,000 per year) a natural population growth for 1933 would have been 97,000, which is five times less than this number in the past years (1927-1930). From the corrected birth rate and the estimated natural death rate for 1933 as well as from the official data for other years the natural population growth from 1927 to 1936 gives 4.043 million while the census data showed a decrease of 538,000. The sum of the two numbers gives an estimated total demographic loss of 4.581 million people. A major hurdle in estimating the human losses due to famine is the needed to take into account the numbers involved in migration (including forced resettlement). According to the Soviet statistics, the migration balance for the population in Ukraine for 1927 - 1936 period was a loss of 1.343 million people. Even at the time when the data was taken, the Soviet statistical institutions acknowledged that its precision was worse than the data for the natural population change. Still, with the correction for this number, the total number of death in Ukraine due to unnatural causes for the given ten years was 3.238 million, and taking into account the lack of precision, especially of the migration estimate, the human toll is estimated between 3 million and 3.5 million.
In addition to the direct losses from unnatural deaths, the indirect losses due to the decrease of the birth rate should be taken into account in consideration in estimating of the demographic consequences of the Famine for Ukraine. For instance, the natural population growth in 1927 was 662,000, while in 1933 it was 97,000, in 1934 it was 88,000. The combination of direct and indirect losses from Holodomor gives 4.469 million, of which 3.238 million (or more realistically 3 to 3.5 million) is the number of the direct deaths according to this estimate.
A 2002 study by Vallin et al utilizing some similar primary sources to Kulchytsky, and performing an analysis with more sophisticated demographic tools with forward projection of expected growth from the 1926 census and backward projection from the 1939 census estimate the amount of direct deaths for 1933 as 2.582 million. This number of deaths does not reflect the total demographic loss for Ukraine from these events as the fall of the birth rate during crisis and the out-migration contribute to the latter as well. The total population shortfall from the expected value between 1926 and 1939 estimated by Vallin amounted to 4.566 million. Of this number, 1.057 million is attributed to birth deficit, 930,000 to forced out-migration, and 2.582 million to excess mortality and voluntary out-migration. With the latter assumed to be negligible this estimate gives the number of deaths as the result of the 1933 famine about 2.2 million. According to this study the life expectancy for those born in 1933 sharply fell to 10.8 years for females and to 7.3 years for males and remained abnormally low for 1934 but, as commonly expected for the post-crisis peaked in 1935–36.
According to estimates about 81.3% of the famine victims in Ukrainian SRR were ethnic Ukrainians, 4.5% Russians, 1.4% Jews and 1.1% were Poles. Many Belarusians, Hungarians, Volga Germans and rest nationalities became victims as well. The Ukrainian rural population was the hardest hit by the Holodomor. Since the peasantry constituted a demographic backbone of the Ukrainian nation, the tragedy deeply affected the Ukrainians for many years.
The overall number ethnic Ukrainian who died from 1932-1933 famine that took place in many regions of the USSR is estimated as 4.5 - 5 million out of 6-8 million total.,
By the end of the 1930s, approximately four-fifths of the Ukrainian cultural elite had been "eliminated". Some, like Ukrainian writer Mykola Khvylovy, committed suicide. One of the leading Ukrainian Bolsheviks, Mykola Skrypnyk, who was in charge of the decade-long Ukrainization program that had been decisively brought to an end, shot himself in the summer of 1933 at the height of the terrifying purge of the CP(b)U. The Communist Party of Ukraine, under the guidance of state officials like Kaganovich, Kosior, and Pavel Postyshev, boasted in early 1934 of the elimination of "counter-revolutionaries, nationalists, spies and class enemies". Whole academic organizations, such as the Bahaliy Institute of History and Culture, were shut down following the arrests.
In the 1920s, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) had gained a significant following amongst the Ukrainian peasants due to the Soviet policy of weakening the position of the Russian Orthodox Church (see History of Christianity in Ukraine). Nonetheless, in the late 1920s the Soviet authorities closed thousands of parishes and repressed the clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. By 1930 the church was taken off the Soviet Registry and the NKVD made sure that it did not exist unofficially.
Ukrainian music ensembles had their repertoires severely restricted and censored. Foreign tours by Ukrainian artists were canceled without explanation. Many artists were arrested and detained often for months at a time without cause. After not receiving any pay for many months, many choirs and artistic ensembles such as the Kiev and Poltava Bandurist Capellas ceased to exist. Blind traditional folk musicians known as kobzars were summoned from all of Ukraine to an ethnographic conference and disappeared (See Persecuted bandurists).
Repression of the intelligentsia occurred in virtually all parts of the USSR. Despite the assault, education and publishing in the republic remained Ukrainianized for the years to come.
In 1935-36, 83% of all school children in the Ukrainian SSR were taught in Ukrainian even though Ukrainians made up about 80% of the population. In 1936 from 1830 newspapers 1402 were in Ukrainian, as were 177 magazines, in 1936 69 104 thousand Ukrainian books were printed.
R.W. Davies and Stephen G. Wheatcroft have interacted with Conquest and note that he no longer considers the famine "deliberate". Conquest -- and, by extension, Davies and Wheatcroft -- believe that, had industrialization been abandoned, the famine would have been "prevented" (Conquest), or at least significantly alleviated.
They see the leadership under Stalin as making significant errors in planning for the industrialization of agriculture.
Davies and Wheatcroft also cite an unpublished letter by Robert Conquest:
This retraction by Conquest is also noted by Kulchytsky.
Some historians maintain that the famine was an unintentional consequence of collectivization, and that the associated resistance to it by the Ukrainian peasantry exacerbated an already-poor harvest. Some researchers state that while the term Ukrainian Genocide is often used in application to the event, technically, the use of the term "genocide" is inapplicable.
The statistical distribution of famine's victims among the ethnicities closely reflects the ethnic distribution of the rural population of Ukraine Moldavian, Polish, German and Bulgarian population that mostly resided in the rural communities of Ukraine suffered in the same proportion as the rural Ukrainian population. While ethnic Russians in Ukraine lived mostly in urban areas and the cities were affected little by the famine, the rural Russian population was affected the same way as the rural population of any other ethnicity.
According to University of West Virginia professor Dr Mark Tauger, any analysis that asserts that the harvests of 1931 and 1932 were not extraordianrily low and that the famine was a political measure intentionally imposed through excessive procurements is clearly based on an insufficient source base and an uncritical approach to the official sources.
The term democide, introduced by the academic R.J. Rummel, is "the murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder". One view claims that the famine primarily affected the rural population of Ukraine. However, in 1932, 75% to 85% of the Ukrainian population resided in villages.
According to the US Government Commission on the Ukrainian Famine, the seizure of the 1932 crop by the Soviet authorities was the main reason for the famine. The US commission stated that "while famine took place during the 1932-1933 agricultural year in the Volga Basin and the North Caucasus Territory as a whole, the invasiveness of Stalin's interventions of both the Fall of 1932 and January 1933 in Ukraine are paralleled only in the ethnically Ukrainian Kuban region of the North Caucasus".
At the international conference of the Ukrainian Holodomor, which was held in October 2003 at the Institute of Social and Religious History of Vicenza, 28 conference participants that included the well-respected historians like James Mace, Hubert Laszkiewicz, Andrea Graziosi, Yuriy Shapoval, Gerhard Simon, Orest Subtelny, Mauro Martini, etc. - endorsed a resolution addressed to the Italian government and the European Parliament with a request to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.
On May 15, 2003, the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine also passed a resolution declaring the famine of 1932–1933 an act of genocide, deliberately organized by the Soviet government against the Ukrainian nation. On November 26, 2006 the Ukrainian Parliament approved a bill, according to which the Soviet-era forced famine was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. In 2007 president Viktor Yushchenko proposed a law that would criminalize denial of Holodomor. However, the law was never voted by the parliament.
Governments and parliaments of several of other countriesm have also officially recognized the Holodomor as an act of genocide.
At the conference on "Recognition and Denial of Genocide and Mass Killing in the 20th Century," held at City University of New York on 13 November 1987, it was stated that Soviet Ukraine suffered a man-made famine in 1932–1933, during which millions died. As the United States Government Commission concluded this was part of the central governments's attack on Ukrainian nationality and culture. The United States Government received numerous contemporary intelligence reports on the famine from its European embassies, but chose not to acknowledge the famine publicly. Similarly, leading members of the American press corps in the Soviet Union willfully covered up the famine in their dispatches. In both cases, political considerations relating to the establishment of diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. seem to have been critical factors in this cover-up.
The Russian Federation officially says that the Holodomor not an ethnic genocide and the State Duma passed a resolution on the subject in 2008 saying it should not be considered genocide - "There is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines. Its victims were million of citizens of the Soviet Union, representing different peoples and nationalities living largely in agricultural areas of the country," the Russian State Duma resolution said. Russian politician Mikhail Kamynin has claimed that Russia is against the politicisation of the Holodomor, and this question is for historians, not politicians. Simultaneously the vice-speaker of the Russian State Duma, Lyubov Sliska, when asked in Kiev when Russia would apologize for its part in repressions and famines in Ukraine, replied, "why always insist that Russia apologize for everything? The people whose policies brought suffering not only to Ukraine, but to Russia, Belarus, peoples of the Caucasus, and Crimean Tatars, remain only in history textbooks, secret documents and minutes of meetings." Ukrainian mass media censured Evgeny Guzeev, the Consul-General of the Russian Federation in Lviv, who stated that "the leaders of the period were sensible people, and it is impossible to imagine that this was planned."
On November 17 2007 members from Aleksandr Dugin's radical Russian nationalist group the Eurasian Youth Union broke into the Ukrainian cultural center in Moscow and smashed an exhibition on the famine.
The final report of the "International Commission of Inquiry Into the 1932–33 Famine in Ukraine", delivered to the UN Under-Secretary for Human Rights in Geneva on May 9, 1990, concluded that the famine in Ukraine was, in fact, genocide. At same time the commission majority (5 of 6) deems it plausible that the constituent elements of genocide were in existence at the time of the famine. Commission is unable to affirm the existence of a preconceived plan to organize a famine in the Ukraine, in order to ensure the success of Moscow policies.
A significant step in the world recognition of Holodomor was the Joint declaration at the United Nations in connection with 70th anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933 (10 November 2003), evaluating the Holodomor as a great tragedy. According to Valery Kuchinsky, the chief Ukrainian representative at the United Nations the declaration was a compromise between the positions of Great Britain, United States and Russia denying that Holodomor was a genocide and the position of Ukraine that insisted on recognition of Holodomor as a form of genocide.
On 3 July, 2008 the Parliamentary Assembly of OSCE passed the resolution condemning the Ukrainian famine acknowledging the direct responsibility of the Soviet action. The resolution called upon all parliaments to take measures on recognition of the fact of Holodomor in Ukraine but fell short of recognizing it as an act of genocide as requested by the document prepared by the Ukrainian delegation.
Nowadays, scholars agree that the famine affected millions. While it is also accepted that the famine affected other nationalities in addition to Ukrainians, the debate is still ongoing as to whether or not the Holodomor qualifies as an act of genocide, since the facts that the famine itself took place and that it was unnatural are not disputed. As far as the possible effect of the natural causes, the debate is restricted to whether the poor harvest or post-traumatic stress played any role at all and to what degree the Soviet actions were caused by the country's economic and military needs as viewed by the Soviet leadership.
Still, the Holodomor issue is politicized within the framework of uneasy relations between Russia and Ukraine (and also between various regional and social groups within Ukraine). Russian political interests and their supporters in Ukraine have reasons to deny the deliberate character of the disaster and play down its scale.
In 2007, President Viktor Yushchenko declared he wants "a new law criminalising Holodomor denial," while Communist Party head Petro Symonenko said he "does not believe there was any deliberate starvation at all," and accused Yushchenko of "using the famine to stir up hatred." Few in Ukraine share Symonenko's interpretation of history and the number of Ukrainians who deny the famine or view it as caused by natural reasons is steadily falling..
On November 10, 2003 at the United Nations twenty-five countries including Russia, Ukraine and United States signed a joint statement on the seventieth anniversary of the Holodomor with the following preamble:
In the former Soviet Union millions of men, women and children fell victims to the cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian regime. The Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine (Holodomor), which took from 7 million to 10 million innocent lives and became a national tragedy for the Ukrainian people. In this regard we note activities in observance of the seventieth anniversary of this Famine, in particular organized by the Government of Ukraine.
Honouring the seventieth anniversary of the Ukrainian tragedy, we also commemorate the memory of millions of Russians, Kazakhs and representatives of other nationalities who died of starvation in the Volga River region, Northern Caucasus, Kazakhstan and in other parts of the former Soviet Union, as a result of civil war and forced collectivization, leaving deep scars in the consciousness of future generations.
The Ukrainian communities are sometimes criticized for using the term Holodomor, Ukrainian Genocide, or even Ukrainian Holocaust, to appropriate the larger-scale tragedy of collectivization as their own national terror-famine, thus exploiting it for political purposes.
One of the biggest arguments is that the famine was preceded by the onslaught on the Ukrainian national culture, a common historical detail preceding many centralized actions directed against the nations as a whole. Nation-wide, the political repression of 1937 (The Great Purge) under the guidance of Nikolay Yezhov were known for their ferocity and ruthlessness, but Lev Kopelev wrote, "In Ukraine 1937 began in 1933", referring to the comparatively early beginning of the Soviet crackdown in Ukraine. .
While the famine was well documented at the time, its reality has been disputed for ideological reasons, for instance by the Soviet government and its spokespeople (as well as apologists for the Soviet regime), by others due to being deliberately misled by the Soviet government (such as George Bernard Shaw), and, in at least one case, Walter Duranty, for personal gain.
An example of a late-era Holodomor objector is Canadian and journalist Douglas Tottle, author of Fraud, Famine and Fascism: The Ukrainian Genocide Myth from Hitler to Harvard (published by Moscow-based Soviet publisher Progress Publishers in 1987). Tottle claims that while there were severe economic hardships in Ukraine, the idea of the Holodomor was fabricated as propaganda by Nazi Germany and William Randolph Hearst to justify a German invasion.
In 2006, the Holodomor Remembrance Day took place on November 25. President Viktor Yushchenko directed, in decree No. 868/2006, that a minute of silence should be observed at 4 o'clock in the afternoon on that Saturday. The document specified that flags in Ukraine should fly at half-staff as a sign of mourning. In addition, the decree directed that entertainment events are to be restricted and television and radio programming adjusted accordingly.
In 2007, the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor was commemorated in Kiev for three days on the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. As part of the three day event, from November 23-25th, video testimonies of the communist regime's crimes in Ukraine, and documentaries by famous domestic and foreign film directors are being shown. Additionally, experts and scholars gave lectures on the topic. Additionally, on November 23 2007, the National Bank of Ukraine issued a set of two commemorative coins remembering the Holodomor.
On November 17 2007 members from Aleksandr Dugin's radical Russian nationalist group the Eurasian Youth Union broke into the Ukrainian cultural center in Moscow and smashed an exhibition on the famine.