A few weeks ago a new ‘Storyville’ documentary appeared on British television which recounted the experiences and reportage of the Welsh journalist and foreign correspondent Gareth Jones in the 1930s. His greatest scoop was to reveal the starvation to death of millions in Ukraine, caused by Stalin's policies; a period referred to as the ‘Holodomor’ (Голодомор, 'Морити голодом'), literally the killing by hunger). This was a man-made deliberate famine which claimed the lives of over seven million Ukrainians. While the filmmaker, George Carey, did a good job in explaining the life and times of Gareth Jones and his ties to the political elites of the day, he only passed cursorily over the details of the Holodomor. The contemporary visuals were let down by the absence of a clear description of the disaster. Perhaps this brief explanation will assist in filling in the gaps. Perhaps it will also help explain why there has been such an outpouring of dissent in the Ukraine against making Russian an official language.
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 7.0 million and 7.5 million though some put it much higher The famine was purposely engineered by the Soviet authorities as an attack on Ukrainian nationalism, although the Russians deny it. 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. This was connected with Stalin’s drive to collectivise Soviet agriculture.
Soviet approaches to changing from individual farming to a collective type of agricultural production had existed since 1917, but for various reasons (lack of agricultural equipment, agronomy resources, etc.) were not implemented widely until 1925, when there was a more intensive effort by the agricultural sector to increase the number of agricultural cooperatives and bolster the effectiveness of already existing sovkhozes (Soviet collective farms). In late 1927, after the XV Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, then known as the All-Union Communist party (Bolsheviks) or VKP(b), a significant impetus was given to the collectivization effort.
For centuries, the Ukraine was the breadbasket of Central Europe; its thick black friable soil produced an abundance of food for humans and a large aggregation of livestock. The land provided a decent standard of living for the peasant farmers. 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 enrolment to an administrative one. By October 1st, 1929, a plan for the creation of kolkhozes was put into effect. As a result, 8.8% of arable land was immediately “collectivized”.
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%) were collectivised. 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. A few days later the government issued a decree collectivising the land as well.
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 the autumn of 1930. The already high expectations of the Soviet plan were “outperformed” by local authorities and by March 70.9% of arable land and 62.8% of peasant households were suddenly collectivized.
The Soviets decided that any peasant who was still self-sufficient was a “kulak” a wealthy farmer. They decided to punish the kulaks by taking their land and property and expelling them from the Ukraine. The “Dekulakization” plan was also “over-performed”. The first stage of dekulakization 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 and accounted 2,524 thousand peasants households (out of 5,054 thousands total). As of 10 of March 1930 61,897 peasant households were “dekulakized” – or 2.5% of the total. While at 1929 the total percentage of “kulak –households” had been 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.
Because of this disruption very little grain was planted and the ensuing harvest was much less than expected. The Soviets refused to believe that this drop in production was the result of their policies and accused the peasants of ‘hoarding grain’. The OGPU (later to become the KGB) took all the grain they could find and sought out any ‘hoarders’. Indeed there was a boy who became famous in this period (and later a hero of the Pioneer movement) called Pavlik Morozov who betrayed his parents to the OGPU because they were hiding grain to survive the winter. The parents were taken away and Pavlik was a hero.
Soviet expectations for the 1932 grain crop were high because of Ukraine's bumper crop the previous year, which Soviet authorities believed were replicable. When it became clear that the 1932 grain deliveries were not going to meet the expectations of the government, the decreased agricultural output was blamed on the "kulaks", and later on agents and spies of foreign intelligence services. "nationalists", and "Petlurovites" and, from 1937, on Trotskyists. According to a report of the head of the Supreme Court, by January 15, 1933 as many as 103,000 people (more than 14 thousand in the Ukrainian SSR) had been sentenced under the provisions of the August 7 decree. Of the 79,000 whose sentences were known to the Supreme Court, 4,880 had been sentenced to death, 26,086 to ten years' imprisonment and 48,094 to other sentences.
On November 8, Molotov and Stalin issued an order stating "from today the dispatch of goods for the villages of all regions of Ukraine shall cease until kolkhozy and individual peasants begin to honestly and conscientiously fulfil their duty to the working class and the Red Army by delivering grain." On November 24, the Politburo instructed that all those sentenced to confinement of three years or more in Ukraine be deported to labour camps (mainly in Siberia). It also simplified procedures for confirming death sentences in Ukraine. The Politburo then dispatched Balytsky to Ukraine for six months with the full powers of the OGPU
The current practice of administrative punishment known as “black board” (black list) by the November, 18 Decree of Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine was applied to a greater extent and with more harsh methods to selected villages and kolkhozes that were considered to be "underperforming" in the grain collection procurement. That blacklist involved the “Immediate cessation of delivery of goods, complete suspension of cooperative and state trade in the villages, and removal of all available goods from cooperative and state stores”. All food supplies and goods were blocked from being delivered to the areas involved. The state issued a full prohibition of collective farm trade for both collective farms and collective farmers, and for private farmers; cessation of any sort of credit was coupled with a demand for early repayment of credit and other financial obligations.” Initially such sanctions were applied to only 6 villages, but later they were applied to numerous rural settlements and districts. For peasants, who were not kolkhoz members and who were "underperforming" in the grain collection procurement, - special “measures” were adopted. To “reach the grain procurement quota” amongst peasants. 1,100 brigades were organized by activists (often from neighbouring villages) who had accomplished their grain procurement quota or were close to accomplishing it and empowered them to raid their neighbours to seek out hidden grain.
By the end of 1932 the population of the Ukraine was dying by the tens of thousands from starvation. Factories closed, transport dwindled and crops went unplanted. The OGPU built barricades to keep the peasants from escaping; special papers were required to travel. All foreigners were banned from the Ukraine and foreign journalists threatened with immediate arrest.
During this famine the Soviet authorities continued to export grain from the Ukraine while the Ukrainians starved or were jailed and exiled. By the end of 1933 more than seven and a half million Ukrainians had died, mostly from famine or diseases associated with famine. At the same time this policy also destroyed the Ukrainian cultural elites and educated classes.
The famine of 1932-1933 followed the assault on Ukrainian national culture that started in 1928. The events of 1932-1933 in Ukraine were seen by the Soviet Communist leaders as an instrument against Ukrainian self-determination. At the 12th Congress of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Moscow-appointed leader Pavel Postyshev declared that "1933 was the year of the defeat of Ukrainian nationalist counter-revolution." This "defeat" encompassed not just the physical extermination of a significant portion of the Ukrainian peasantry, but also the virtual elimination of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church clergy and the mass imprisonment or execution of Ukrainian intellectuals, writers and artists.
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 2006, the Security Service of Ukraine declassified more than 5 thousand pages of Holodomor archives. These documents suggest that the Soviet Regime singled out Ukraine for mass punishment, while regions outside it were allowed to receive humanitarian assistance. The Ukrainians call this genocide. The Soviets, and now the Russians, deny that destroying, imprisoning or exiling almost 40% of the Ukrainian population could possibly constitute genocide.
This has been a deep wound between the two nations, despite a large Russian-speaking presence in the Donbass mining areas. The election of the current President, Yanukovych, marked a triumph for the resurgence of Russian-linked domination, despite the Orange Revolution. The battles over the Russian language and the quashing of Ukrainian nationalism are not likely to cease. The world may have forgotten about the Holodomor, but not the Ukrainians.
[Note: I did the research for this a while ago and have lost my footnotes. Please excuse the absence of sources]