February 9, 2018

Holodomor – the Ukrainian Genocide: Remembering and counting the losses

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The tragedy of the Ukrainian people, who even today suffer from Russian aggression, was planned first in 1492, when Moscow devised a concept of building up its principality as an empire envisioning itself as the Third Rome.

These intentions become germane regarding Ukrainian territory, especially after the Pereyaslav Council of 1654. The Ukrainian Kozaks found themselves in untenable political circumstances after a long struggle with Poland. Their hetman, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, had to conclude an alliance with Moscow for armed support, naively believing in the assurances of a consensual Orthodox alliance.

This Kozak oath of loyalty was exploited by Moscow as a step towards the assertion of its hegemony over the Kozak Ukrainian state, so that 100 years later that state ceased to exist. The Moscow autocracy then implemented a consistent prohibition against everything Ukrainian through Russification, the elimination of the Ukrainian Church, limitations on education in the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture, the promotion of mixed marriages with the Russian side in more favorable political circumstances, the massive resettlement of Ukrainian peasants to undeveloped Russian territories far from their homeland, and the settlement of Ukrainian territory by Russians. In 1863, the tsar’s minister, Pyotr Valuev, declared that the Ukrainian language “never was, isn’t and never will be.”

That Ukrainians survived this policy was a testament to their perseverance. They even managed to rise up in a national revolution during the first world war which culminated in the proclamation of the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR). Surprisingly, given their own treatment by other nationalities, for the most part they did not become chauvinists and were supportive of other nationalities in Ukraine in pursuing their own culture. One of the first acts of the UNR was a law on national autonomy protecting the rights of national minorities.

However, Bolshevik Russia would not tolerate the existence of the UNR. Vladimir Lenin admitted that “without Ukrainian bread, without Ukrainian coal, without Ukrainian sugar, without the Ukrainian iron ore, the Russian Soviet republic is impossible.” As a result of aggression on the part of the Bolsheviks, the tsarist forces and the Poles and without the support of the West, the UNR fell. The UNR government was forced to go into exile. Still, the struggle for Ukrainian independence continued, albeit less pronounced.

To win over the Ukrainians, Lenin initiated a policy of Ukrainization. A massive revival of national consciousness began not only in Ukraine itself but also beyond its borders, where Ukrainians – 7 million people – lived in compact masses in the North Caucasus, Slobozhanshchyna, the Volga region, Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Far East. The Ukrainian working class, particularly in the cities of Russia, felt this revival. This became particularly worrisome to Joseph Stalin and his Kremlin henchmen. They saw only one solution: to put the Ukrainian peasantry on its knees since the peasantry was the heart of the Ukrainian national liberation movement. It was possible to achieve this only through a man-made famine which could be disingenuously attributed to natural causes. And Moscow resorted to this.

Fifteen years later, in December 1948, the United Nations, in its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, codified and defined the crime of genocide. The Holodomor fit the U.N. definition of the crime in at least five aspects: there was an intentional use of food as a weapon to subdue national aspirations, there was the imposition of a prohibition on travel in search of food to preclude survival, there was an attempt to cover up the crime, there was a refusal of aid from abroad to ameliorate the situation while persistently exporting grain, and there were settlements of Russians in place of the deceased Ukrainians. Each one of these aspects is well documented. Here are only a few examples:

On June 21, 1932, Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov sent a telegram to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) that emphasized the mandatory nature of the quotas imposed at “whatever the cost.” Thereafter in a confidential report of the CPU, compliance with this directive was described: “those who failed to turn over bread and other governmental obligations were summoned to the village council, beaten, stripped naked, forced to kneel with signs attached to their chests marking them as outlaws and were led through the village… then led naked into the steppe, kept for days in cold ditches, refused food and sleep, hit with revolvers, their homes and other structures destroyed…”

On December 6, 1932, the “Black list directive” was issued. Villages that failed to meet their quotas were placed on a public black list and blockaded from receiving any food products. Three days later a telegram was sent to forcibly remove the inhabitants from those villages.

On January 1, 1933, Stalin sent a telegram to urge the voluntary transfer of bread after which everything edible would be swept away and the residents condemned to die.

Finally on January 22, 1933, Stalin and Molotov issued a directive preventing travel from the villages of Ukraine and the Kuban region. According to the census of 1926 there were 915,450 Ukrainians in the Kuban, more than two-thirds of the entire population of that region. This directive also authorized the arrests of those peasants from Ukraine and the Kuban who had managed to escape to the north.

By February 14, 1933, a total of 31,785 had been detained, of which 28,351 were returned to their former places of residence and 3,434 arrested or killed. Another 579 were sent to Kazakhstan.

Without diminishing the suffering of the Kazakh people themselves during this time, it is significant to point out that, while the hungry nomadic Kazakhs migrated to the regions of western Siberia, Kirghizia and even China, no directives were issued or implemented for their forcible return. In fact on April 15, 1933, a special Soviet directive was issued titled “On methods for providing assistance to migrant Kazakhs in the Middle Volga, Western Siberian regions and the Kirghiz ASSR.” No similar directives of aid were issued on behalf of starving Ukrainians who had migrated to the neighboring regions of the Russian SFSR.

Thus, the genocidal character of the Holodomor against the Ukrainian people is indisputable.

How many people did Ukraine lose during the genocidal Holodomor in 1932-1933?

A complete answer can be obtained only through documents that must continue to be located and analyzed in once encrypted archives. The population of the Ukrainian SSR on the eve of the Holodomor, as of January 1, 1932, was 32,600,700. Based on this number, the prominent Ukrainian demographer Arsen Khomenko extrapolated that, under normal conditions for the population of the USSR, as of January 1, 1934, the population of the Ukrainian SSR should have increased to 33,464,000 and by January 1, 1937, to 35,615,000.

The data from the All Union Census of 1937 of the population of the Ukrainian SSR was revealed only in 1990 as it had been purged by Stalin. The number of inhabitants of the Ukrainian SSR – 28,383,000 – was less than the number in the 1926 census. On January 15, 1937, the head of the Department of National Economy of the Ukrainian SSR, Asatkin, secretly reported to the leaders of the republic that “of all 525 districts of the Ukrainian SSR, only in 85 districts does the population exceed the results of the census in 1926, and in 93 of those districts the population was 30 and more percent less than in the 1926 census.” At the same time, a simple re-calculation of results in the districts showed that the official 1937 Census results were overestimated by at least 532,000 people, since 12 districts were still subject to scrutiny. With this overstatement of the population of Ukraine, at the beginning of January 1937 that population was only 27,851,000. Khomenko had extrapolated 35,615,000. Thus, the actual number was 7,764,000 less.

Using another calculation, subtracting from the 1937 figure of 27,851,000 the increase of the population of the Ukrainian SSR based on official government statistics of excess births over deaths over the three-year period of 1934-1936 – 88,200 in 1934, 417,200 in 1935 and 533,700 in 1936, for a total of 1,039,100 – on January 1, 1934, the population of the Ukrainian SSR was 26,811,900. A simple subtraction of the numbers between January 1932 and January 1934, indicates that during the two years of famine, there was a direct loss of 5,788,800 people.

Furthermore, when we add those who were born in 1932-1933 – 782,000 and 470,000, respectively, according to official government statistics – then the total number of losses during the Holodomor was 7,040,800 people. Assuming some 1 million died in 1932-1933 from natural causes, then 6,040,800 was the loss from the Holodomor in the Ukrainian SSR alone.

Why do we insist today that the loss figure is at least 7 million people? Because more than 6 million died from the Holodomor in the Ukrainian SSR alone. These losses were primarily peasants in villages. Ukrainians comprised the peasant population. Cities were often restocked with an influx from other ethnic groups. At least another 1 million Ukrainians died as a result of famine outside Ukraine, the Kuban region and the like.

Of all the nationalities comprising the USSR, the Ukrainians experienced the greatest losses not only in Ukraine, but also in their ethnic settlements outside the Ukrainian SSR. The only statistics available listing populations by nationality throughout the USSR rather than total populations listed by the constituent republics of the USSR were the censuses. Let’s consider the censuses.

According to the 1926 census Ukrainians in the USSR numbered 31,195,000. The total population of the USSR was 147 million, with roughly 31 million Ukrainians and 116 million non-Ukrainians. According to the 1937 census Ukrainians numbered 26,421,000, almost 5 million less. By comparison, the total of the USSR population was 162,039,000 with 135,618,000 non-Ukrainians. The non-Ukrainian population grew by 17 percent. This includes Kazakhs whose population declined in that period of time due to both death by starvation and migration. Simply using the non-Ukrainian rate of growth during this period of 17 percent, the Ukrainian population should have been 36,498,000. However, the Ukrainian population was more than 10 million less. Various other factors outside the Holodomor may have led to this, including some Ukrainians declaring themselves Russians, as this would have enhanced their livelihood and chance of survival, but the numbers of losses are staggering.

To date, unfortunately, some avenues of scientific research have not been pursued in ascertaining the number of Holodomor deaths. A recent study by Ukrainian and American demographers arrived at a figure of 3.9 million to 4.5 million victims in Ukraine. However, this study missed the January 1932 records entirely. Their starting point was the 1926 census, where the population of Ukraine was 31,195,000. The population in January 1932 was 32,600,700 – a difference of 1.5 million. Simply adding that difference to their finding of 4.5 million results in the number of 6 million victims in Ukraine alone which has been stated above.

Omissions on the part of researchers should not disparage their work. They simply need to move forward in their research with the benefit of documents that have been discovered by others. Even so, perhaps, even years of additional work will not allow us to produce a conclusion of scientific certitude as to the number of victims. More work will be needed. After all the USSR was shrouded in deliberate secrecy for some 70 years.

The conservative estimate of 7 million victims of the Holodomor, arrived at many years ago by Western historiography and the Ukrainian diaspora prior to the demise of the USSR and the opening of its borders and its repositories of documents, is corroborated by newly discovered evidence from Soviet archives today.

Volodymyr Serhiychuk, Ph.D.. is professor of history at Kyiv National University.

Translated and edited by Askold S. Lozynskyj.

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