When Stalin Starved Ukraine

Since its launch last month, Rus­si­a’s inva­sion of Ukraine has sent observers around the world scram­bling for con­text. It is a fact, for exam­ple, that Rus­sia and Ukraine were once “togeth­er” in the com­mu­nist mega-state that was the Union of Sovi­et Social­ist Republics. But it is also a fact that such Sovi­et togeth­er­ness hard­ly ensured warm feel­ings between the two lands. An espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant chap­ter of their his­to­ry is known in Ukraine as the Holodomor, or “death by star­va­tion.” Span­ning the years 1932 and 1933, this peri­od of famine result­ed in three to six mil­lion lives lost — and that accord­ing to the low­er accept­ed esti­mates.

“It was geno­cide,” says the nar­ra­tor of the Vox “Miss­ing Chap­ter’ video above, “car­ried out by a dic­ta­tor who want­ed to keep Ukraine under his con­trol, and would do every­thing in his pow­er to cov­er it up for decades. That dic­ta­tor was, of course, Joseph Stal­in, who accom­pa­nied bru­tal meth­ods of rule with tight con­trol of infor­ma­tion. “In 1917, after the fall of the Russ­ian Empire, Ukraine briefly gained free­dom,” the video explains. “But by 1922, it was forcibly inte­grat­ed into the new­ly formed Sovi­et Union.” A rur­al and high­ly fer­tile land, Ukraine was known as “the bread­bas­ket of the Sovi­et Union” — hence Stal­in’s desire to nip any poten­tial rev­o­lu­tion there in the bud.

First came a “wide­spread, vio­lent purge of Ukrain­ian intel­lec­tu­als along with priests and reli­gious struc­tures.” At the same time as they advanced this attempt­ed dis­man­tling of Ukrain­ian cul­ture, Sovi­et high­er-ups were also imple­ment­ing Stal­in’s five-year plan of indus­tri­al­iza­tion, con­sol­i­da­tion, and col­lec­tiviza­tion, includ­ing that of all agri­cul­ture. This was the time of the kulak, or “wealthy peas­ant,” the label invent­ed to dis­grace any­one resis­tant to this process. Any kulaks known to Stal­in faced a ter­ri­ble fate indeed, includ­ing exile, impris­on­ment, and even exe­cu­tion; those farm­ers who remained then fell vic­tim to the dic­ta­tor’s engi­neered famine.

Under the pre­text of enforc­ing delib­er­ate­ly unre­al­is­tic grain-pro­duc­tion quo­tas, Stal­in’s enforcers seized farms across Ukraine in order to sell their prod­ucts to the West. Before long, “Sovi­et police began seiz­ing not just grain, but any­thing edi­ble.” Farm­ers were stopped from leav­ing their home­land, where Stal­in intend­ed them to starve, “but even in this unimag­in­able suf­fer­ing, Ukraini­ans fought for their lives and each oth­er.” This video incor­po­rates inter­views with a grand­son and grand­daugh­ter of two such Ukraini­ans who left behind per­son­al records of the Holodomor. A sto­ry of endurance and sur­vival under the very worst cir­cum­stances, and ulti­mate­ly a return to nation­al inde­pen­dence, it goes some way to explain­ing how and why Ukraine con­tin­ues to put up such a valiant fight against the forces that have descend­ed upon it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Putin’s War on Ukraine Explained in 8 Min­utes

Why Rus­sia Invad­ed Ukraine: A Use­ful Primer

Russ­ian Inva­sion of Ukraine Teach-Out: A Free Course from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan

Joseph Stal­in, a Life­long Edi­tor, Wield­ed a Big, Blue, Dan­ger­ous Pen­cil

H.G. Wells Inter­views Joseph Stal­in in 1934; Declares “I Am More to The Left Than You, Mr. Stal­in”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (6)
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  • Jonathan Collins says:

    And yet there’s many peo­ple in this coun­try, in acad­e­mia, and pol­i­tics who sub­scribe to Marxism/Leninism and see noth­ing wrong. Hell, even the ex may­or of NYC went on his hon­ey­moon to the Sovi­et Union. Incred­i­ble

  • Ray Collins says:

    Admit­ting that com­mu­nists cov­ered up some­thing immoral? Well, well, OC has def­i­nite­ly turned a page. Too bad leftists/statists like Wal­ter Duran­ty of the New York Times got away with claim­ing the USSR was a par­adise at the time. Heck, he even got a Pulitzer Prize!

  • David Rowley says:

    The terms “geno­cide” and “holo­caust” should not be used care­less­ly.
    Please read this: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/169438

  • gwr says:

    Blam­ing Marx for Stal­in­ism is like blam­ing the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion on Christ.

  • Ray Collins says:

    Cas­tro said out­right, “I am a Marxist/Leninist, and I will be until the day I die.” Marx nev­er said *how* to imple­ment his crack­pot ideas in “The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo,” but there was only one way to do it: total state pow­er, crush­ing any­one in its path. Imple­ment­ing Marx­ism ipso fac­to means vio­lence toward those who resist, does­n’t it?

  • Cesar Camba says:

    Open “cul­ture“ spread­ing unproved, unsub­stan­ti­at­ed his­tor­i­cal myths too? Shame on you.

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