Famines In Ukraine: Induced Starvation, Death For Millions, Genocide
By Roman Serbyn, Professor Emeritus
Universite du Quebec a Montreal, Canada
Action Ukraine Report (AUR), #791, Article 1
Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, November 19, 2006
During the 70 years of communist rule in Ukraine, this Soviet republic
suffered a number of severe famines, the most destructive of which was
the terrible Holodomor of 1932-1933.
The term "holodomor" was coined from the Ukrainian noun "holod" (hunger,
starvation, famine) and verb "moryty" (to cause to be wasted, to kill).
Since it is now known that all the famines were preventable, many Ukrainians
apply the term to the other Ukrainian famines as well.
Recent studies, based on documentation released since the fall of communism
and the breakup of the Soviet Union show clearly, that throughout the whole
period, the Ukrainian Soviet Republic produced enough foodstuffs to be able
to feed all of its inhabitants.
The famines were the result of Moscow's diverting of Ukrainian resources to
purposes other than the satisfaction of Ukrainian population's hunger.
FAMINE OF 1921-1923
The first widespread famine began in the summer of 1921 and lasted for two
years. It affected the grain rich southern half of the republic, where two
consecutive years of drought completely destroyed the harvest.
Approximately one million people died, mostly in the villages but the urban
centres were also affected.
Had Ukraine been truly an independent country with a government which
put the vital interests of the Ukrainian population at the centre of its
preoccupations, this famine could have been avoided.
Ukraine had not yet been completely despoiled by the German occupation of
1918, or by the part of the Russian civil war fought on Ukrainian soil, or
by the White and the Red Russian wars of reconquest of the Ukrainian "bread
basket". The harvest in the northern half of the republic were adequate and
even in the southern part there were still some, if insufficient, reserves.
An truly independent Ukrainian government would have arranged to have
foodstuffs transferred from the north to the south, and no human lives
needed to have been lost.
But Kharkiv, now the capital of an officially sovereign and independent
Ukrainian SSR was in fact an administrative centre taking direct orders from
Moscow. And Moscow had other priorities than to safeguard the lives of
Drought had also devastated the Volga valley and the Northern Caucasus
regions in the RSFSR and affected several times more people than in
Ukraine. Famine casualties there were also much higher than in Ukraine.
Moscow decided to come to the rescue of the starving population of the
RSFSR. All taxation in the famine regions were suspended while they were
twinned with regions that had a regular harvest, and the latter were ordered
to provide famine relief.
At the same time, Moscow ignored the famine in Ukraine and ordered the
Ukrainian republic, designated as a single unit, to help the starving
population along the Volga . Moscow also appealed to the West for foreign
aid for Russia, keeping silent about the famine in Ukraine.
In fact, when in November 1921, a fact-finding mission of the American
Relief Administration enquired about conditions in Ukraine, it was told by
Moscow that there is no reason to go to Ukraine because that Republic was
providing famine relief to Russia.
What the Russian authorities failed to mention was that Ukraine was doing
this at Moscow's orders and at the expense of it's own population's
starvation and death.
Ukraine was eventually opened to famine relief, due to the perseverance of
the ARA-JDC effort to bring aid to the starving Jewish population of
Since the 1921-1923 famine was a regional scourge, decimating the urban as
well as the rural dwellers, the Jewish population of southern Ukraine also
suffered greatly and alarmed their relatives and friends in Western Europe
and North America. The American Joint Distribution Committee was already
a participant in the ARA relief effort in the RSFSR.
Together with the ARA it prevailed upon Moscow to allow a fact-finding
mission to go to Ukraine and eventually American aid, paid for the most part
by the JDC, was allowed to come to Ukraine. ARA soup kitchens were opened
in Ukraine in April 1922, eight months after their appearance in Russia.
Other charitable organizations were also allowed to set up famine relief in
Ukraine in 1922. In October 1922, the Kremlin declared the famine vanquished
and Moscow began exporting grain from Odessa, to the disgust of
international charitable organizations, which continued to provide famine
relief for another year.
GREAT FAMINE OF 1932-1933
The great famine of 1932-1933 differed from the one in 1921-23 in which
there were important adverse climatic conditions, the harvests in 1932-1933
All serious scholars agree that in spite of the upheavals due to
dekulakization and collectivization, and even grain export, there was enough
cereal grain reserves to feed all the population of the Soviet Union.
The 1930s famine also differed in that its target was the whole rural
population of Ukraine, while the urban centres received survival rations.
The people who died from starvation in the urban centres were mostly
peasants who had come to seek food.
Unlike the 1921-23 famine, the 1932-33 catastrophe affected primarily
Ukraine and the Kuban' region of Northern Caucasus, while the food
shortages in the regions of the RSFSR contiguous to Ukraine were much
As a result of the famine the Ukrainian SSR lost, according to various
estimates, from four to ten million people, overwhelmingly ethnic
Ukrainians, since they made up 90 % of the republic's agriculturalists.
Perhaps as many as one million farmers died in the RSFSR, but we do
not have a clear idea of their ethnic composition.
One of the most heavily devastated areas was the Northern Caucasus
Territory, where 2/3 of the population of the Kuban region was Ukrainian;
other affected regions were inhabited by Germans, Tatars and other ethnic
The great famine came in the wake of the so-called Stalin's revolution from
above. Having outmaneuvered his competitors for Lenin's mantle, Stalin
could finally undertake the transformation of the backward Soviet empire
into a modern industrial and military superpower.
Most of the capital for this endeavor would have to come from agriculture,
which would also have to sustain the growing industrial population with
Tsarist agriculture had shown Stalin that the best providers of marketable
grain were the large estates of rich landowners, while the more recent
Bolshevik experience taught him that door to door confiscation of peasants
produce was a very inefficient method of procurement.
Since most of the arable land was now in the hands of the middle and poor
peasants, most of the food produce was now consumed by the farmers and
little was left for the State procurement.
Collectivization would recreate large agricultural exploitations over which
the State would have a direct control and could squeeze out of them as much
as it wished. Collectivization would also correspond to Marxist ideology and
the satisfy the Party's quest for better control over the peasant
Stalin and the party hierarchy was well aware that collectivization would be
strongly opposed by the peasantry, especially in Ukraine, the Kuban, and
other regions that did not have the Russian tradition of peasant obshchina
(sort of commune).
They also knew that forceful imposition of collectivization would have very
disruptive consequences for Soviet agriculture and that total production
would undoubtedly decline.
Finally, Stalin and his henchmen could not fail to realize that in Ukraine,
the opposition to the destruction of the peasants' traditional way of life
would assume national overtones.
In fact, recent documents such as Stalin's correspondence with Kaganovich
and Stalin-inspired decisions of the Politburo reveal that the "peasant"
and "national" questions became intertwined in Kremlin's policies during the
DEKULAKIZATION OF THE VILLAGES
Collectivization was adopted as part of the first Five Year Plan in December
1927 but was not strongly implemented until 1929. In December of that year,
the Politburo ordered the dekulakization of the villages.
Kulaks were rich peasants or those deemed to have a kulak mentality.
Theoretically numbering about 5 % of the peasant population they were
divided into three categories and dealt with accordingly.
The first category, the richest and most ferocious adversaries of the State,
were exiled into special settlements outside Ukraine, after some of the
heads of families were executed.
The second category was exiled to other regions of Ukraine and third
category was allowed to stay in the same village. In both cases they were
prevented from joining collective farms and were allotted poorer lands for
their own use.
In this way several hundred thousand of Ukraine's most dynamic and
productive agriculturalists were destroyed or marginalized from the
The property confiscated from the "kulaks" was turned over to the
collective farms in order to draw to them the poor peasants.
Dekoulakization thus fulfilled several goals for the regime: it brought
class struggle into the village, it provided property for the new collective
farms, it provided cheap labor in remote desolate regions of Russia, and
it removed the natural leaders of the Ukrainian peasant opposition.
Dekulakization weakened but did not prevent active peasant opposition to
collectivization. This opposition manifested itself in various ways, from
armed resistance to the so-called "babs'ki bunty" (women's revolts).
Dekulakization was over by 1931, and most of Ukrainian peasants had been
forced to join the kolkhozes by the fall of 1932 when the great famine
began. Throughout the dekulakization, collectivization and the famine
itself, USSR exported huge quantities of grain: 1930 - 5.8 million tons;
1931 - 4.7 m.t.; 1932 - 1.6 m.t.; 1933 - 2.1 m.t.
One million tons was sufficient to feed five million people for one year. It
should also be noted that even with the exports, the State's grain reserves
never dipped below 1.5 m.t., i.e., enough to save the starving population
from untimely suffering and death.
The first wave of induced famine hit Ukraine in the winter-spring 1932 when
half a million died; the second wave commenced in the fall of that year and
peaked sometime in the early spring days of 1933.
FAMINE CAUSED BY HIGH PROCUREMENT QUOTAS
The direct cause of famine were high procurement quotas which most of the
kolkhozes and remaining individual peasants were unable to meet and which
Stalin refused to lower to a manageable level.
Stalin knew very well the situation in Ukrainian villages. He was
continually informed by his envoys to Ukraine Molotov, Kaganovich, Kosior
and Postyshev. He received complaints and requests for lowering of
procurement quotas from the Ukrainian leaders Petrovsky, Chubar, Terekhov.
The OGPU sent periodic reports showing the catastrophic situation in the
Ukrainian villages. Stalin's response was always the same: there is grain in
Ukraine, saboteurs are hiding it, the grain must be found and the saboteurs
During the worst months of the famine, party faithfuls, helped by workers
sent to Ukraine from Russian industrial centres and by local peasant
activists went from house to house, seeking hidden grain and other
foodstuffs, confiscating the last pieces of edibles from the peasant tables.
Kolkhozes and individual farmers were put on "balck boards" (black lists),
forbidden to buy the basic necessities of life: matches, kerosene, and other
EXTERMINATION POLICY DIRECTED SPECIFICALLY
Two documents which have recently come to light reveal that Stalin's
extermination policy was directed specifically against the Ukrainian people.
On 14 December 1932 a joint resolution of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party and the Council of Peoples Commissars of the USSR
condemned the process of Ukrainization which had been carried out in
Ukraine and Northern Caucasus (especially Kuban) for the problems in
State procurement in these regions.
Ukrainization had allowed, according to the document, Petliurites, Ukrainian
bourgeois nationalists to infiltrate local administrations, educational
establishments and the mass media outlets, create counterrevolutionary cells
and pursue a policy of sabotage and destabilization.
The solution ordered by the Party/State hierarchy was put Ukrainization in
Ukraine on its original track: to integrate the Ukrainian people into the
Soviet system. Petliurites and Ukrainian bourgeois nationalist were to be
removed from Soviet institutions in Ukraine and punished.
The punishment of the 8 million Ukrainians in the RSFSR amounted to
complete annihilation of their ethnic identity: Ukrainian bourgeois
nationalists were to be removed from all public institutions in RSFSR,
the Russian language was to replace Ukrainian in all sectors of social life
where Ukrainian was used: local administration, newspapers and journals.
All Ukrainian schools were to be Russified. In addition, the inhabitants of
many of the Ukrainian stanytsias, settled by descendants of the Ukrainian
Zaporozhian cossacks were to be deported to the north and resettled with
loyal Russian peasants from infertile lands.
The second document, which shows Stalin's intent to exterminate a part of
the Ukrainian nation, is his directive cosigned by Molotov, and sent on 22
January 1933 to the republican authorities in Ukraine and Belarus, and five
Russian regional administrations along the Ukrainian borders.
The order blames the OGPU for allowing the previous year peasants from
Ukraine and the Kuban to go north, allegedly in search of food, but in fact
to spread propaganda against the kolkhoz system. These Petliurites and
agents of Pilsudski must not be allowed to do the same this year.
A mass movement has already started once more in Ukraine and the Kuban,
and it must be nipped in the bud. The addressed authorities must warn their
peasants against leaving their villages and take all the necessary means to
prevent a peasant exodus. The Railways are forbidden to sell tickets to
peasants in those regions.
The OGPU is ordered to arrest all peasants who do not heed the warning
and try to cross the Ukrainian border. As a result of this directive, in the
ensuing six weeks, the OGPU arrested some 220,000 people, sent about
190,000 back to their starving villages and dealt otherwise with the rest.
STALIN-MADE-FAMINE OF 1932-1933, A GENOCIDE
These two documents provide convincing evidence that the Stalin-made famine
of 1932-1933 meets the requirements of genocide as defined by the United
Nations Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, adopted by the General
Assembly on 9 December 1948.
The crucial element of the definition, the question of intent to destroy in
whole or in part, is demonstrated by Stalin's decision to close internal
Soviet borders thus isolating peasants of Ukraine and the Kuban to prevent
them from seeking refuge in the more benign conditions of Russia and
The second element of the definition, that the target group be identified as
national or ethnic is also met. The segregated peasants made up a national
group (in the civic sense of the term) as citizens of Ukraine, while at the
same time 90 % of them were ethnic Ukrainians.
Some three quarters of the Kuban peasants and Cossacks were of Ukrainian
ethnic background and thus compose an ethnic group. The nexus between
the two targeted groups was their Ukrainianness.
THIRD FAMINE BEGAN IN THE FALL OF 1946
The third famine began in the fall of 1946 and reached its peak in the
spring of 1947. The main causes of the famine were similar to those of the
previous famines: exorbitant procurement quotas for grain and other
agricultural produce, which drained the country side of vital resources, and
Stalin's unwillingness to aid the starving population in those regions that
suffered from drought and a poor harvests.
During the famine period, the Soviet Union shipped cereals to its new
satellites: Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and
even Finland and France. Some 2.5 m.t. of grain was exported.
The famine touched particularly the newly annexed Izmailivs'ka and
Chernivets'ka oblasts, where collectivization of agriculture had dire
consequences for the agrarian population. Other regions of Central and
Eastern Ukraine were also affected by food shortages.
To escape the famine, peasants fled to Western Ukraine, where the climatic
conditions had been more benign and the harvest more plentiful. To prevent
this peasant movement, the authorities posted guards along the main routes
to turn the refugees back.
In Western Ukraine, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and
the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) tried to impede the export of Ukrainian
grain to the West. Soviet authorities provided famine relief only to those
who worked in the fields, where soup kitchens were set up during working
In all, about one million Ukrainians, mostly peasants, perished from
starvation during the famine of 1946-1947.
In conclusion, all three famines, 1921-1923, 1932-1933, and
1946-1947 were the result of Moscow's deliberate diverting of
Ukrainian resources to purposes other than the satisfaction of
Ukrainian population's hunger.