Ukraine: what is the Holodomor, recognized as “genocide” by the National Assembly?

Gauthier Delomez with AFP
modified to

9:52 p.m., April 01, 2023

It is a vote that has repercussions in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The National Assembly on Tuesday recognized the Holodomor as “genocide”, like the European Parliament last December. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky hastened to welcome this vote by sharing his “gratification towards the deputies for this historic decision”. Radically different story from the side of Moscow, which qualifies it this Saturday as “disgusting anti-Russian zeal”. The two countries actually have two opposing readings of this event which marked the beginning of the 1930s.

In 1932 and 1933, approximately 3.5 million Ukrainians perished as a result of the “Holodomor”, a term which means, in Ukrainian, “extermination by starvation”. It is a great famine caused according to historians by the Soviet authorities, whose leader was Stalin at the time. Against the backdrop of land collectivization, the latter wanted to repress any desire for independence in Ukraine, then a Soviet republic and nicknamed “the granary of Europe” for the fertility of its black soils.

Bad harvests in 1931

As French historian Nicolas Werth, a specialist in the history of the Soviet Union, reports, in 1931 the Russian state faced bad harvests in Western Siberia and Kazakhstan, where already a severe famine killed several thousand of Kazakhs. The Soviet leaders therefore decided to increase their share in the collection of cereals from Ukraine, going from 30% of production in 1930 to more than 42% in 1931. The local populations experienced the onset of famine from May to July 1932, and if the authorities alert the top of the State, it then takes time to react.

In the midst of a generalized shortage in the Soviet Union, the Russian authorities sent little food aid in the spring of 1932. The latter had in fact overestimated the production of cereals in 1931-1932, which then served rather to supply the sectors of the industry and exports. Stalin then takes a series of measures towards the peasants, but he also fears the survival of the Soviet regime in Ukraine where there were many “kulaks”, that is to say “enemies of the people”.

Exodus of peasants to the city

While the great cereal collection plan did not achieve the objectives set, restrictive measures were adopted at the end of 1932-beginning of 1933. At the same time, more and more farmers deserted the countryside to reach the cities and flee the famine, while the State tries to prevent this exodus by installing roadblocks manned by the army. Tens of thousands of peasants were forced to return to live in their villages, and local Communist Party cadres were executed or deported.

In 1933, mortality reached its climax in the Ukraine, as famine was compounded by typhus and cannibalism. In total, nearly 3.5 million Ukrainians died during this period, while the USSR was still exporting grain abroad. The Soviet authorities decided to hide this disaster, and at the beginning of 1933 took new emergency measures to help the most modest inhabitants, except those opposed to the regime.

Why Russia refuses to talk about “genocide”

This great famine began to be made public a few months later, in particular thanks to the work of journalists. In France, the book The Gulag Archipelago written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn allows the general public to discover this tragic event. Today, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is a fear of a return of the “Holodomor”, especially when the army of Vladimir Putin bombards the grain reserves.

If Ukraine has campaigned for years for the Holodomor to be officially recognized as a genocide, a concept forged during the Second World War, Russia categorically refuses such a classification, claiming that the great famine which raged in the Union The Soviets in the early 1930s had not only Ukrainian casualties, but also Russians, Kazakhs, Volga Germans and members of other peoples, thus concurring with the opinion of other historians. Germany, which in November also recognized the Holodomor as genocide, had been accused by Moscow of “demonizing” Russia.

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