LONDON – The commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the Great Famine in Ukraine (1932-33) by Britain’s Ukrainian community as well as a brief overview of events leading up to the man-made tragedy that left some 7 million Ukrainians dead of starvation were the subjects of a recent article by Stephen Courtier in Soviet Analyst, a fortnightly commentary.
“To mark the anniversary, a national committee set up by Ukrainians in London has published a 72-page booklet, with illustrations depicting some of the emaciated victims of the famine, resembling scenes from Belsen,” wrote Mr. Courtier. The book’s author, Stephen Oleksiw, said he wrote the book to tell the world of Moscow’s responsibility for the famine and “to prevent similar policies of mass extermination from occurring ever again.”
Mr. Courtier also mentioned a recent demonstration in London commemorating the famine, during which organizers demanded that the United Nations and other organizations set up an international tribunal to investigate the famine.
According to Mr. Courtier, the “terror for Ukrainians” began with Soviet resistance to Ukrainian independence shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, which culminated with the collapse of the Ukrainian National Republic in the early 1920s.
The groundwork for the famine, Mr. Courtier wrote, was laid with the launching of the first Five-Year Plan, which called for huge capital investment in industrialization efforts, funds that would have to come from the sale of grain. The resulting quotas and the policies of collectivization so disrupted the agricultural apparatus, however, that production dropped drastically. Yet, Moscow planners continued to raise quotas so that grain could be sold on the international market.
“As people began to die of starvation, others stole grain to live, although this was punishable by death,” wrote Mr. Courtier. “While millions died Moscow was exporting grain to secure foreign exchange for the Five-Year Plan.”
In Ukraine, the catastrophic economic aspects of Soviet policy was accompanied by the destruction of the Ukrainian intelligentsia and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
“That the whole Ukrainian campaign was designed for political as well as economic ends was made plain by Moscow’s emissaries,” said Mr. Courtier. “Thus, Pavel Postyshev, who was sent to step up the terror, said in 1932: ‘The Bolsheviks always fought and are continuing to wage an implacable struggle against Ukrainian nationalism…'”
Mr. Courtier closed his article with a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, who was a journalist in Moscow at the time of the famine and one of the few Western correspondents to report the truth about the holocaust. In a foreword to Mr. Oleksiw’s book he wrote: “What I realized was the utter ruthlessness of the Soviet regime in dealing with nationalities like the Ukrainians far exceeded that of the tsarist regime. Lenin promised the peasants their land, only to take it away from them, making them helots of the state.”
The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND – Eyewitness accounts by survivors of the Great Famine in Ukraine (1932-33) now living in the Cleveland area were included in an article about the tragedy by Elizabeth Sullivan in the August 14 issue of The Plain Dealer.
In the article, headlined “Ukrainians here reveal horror of Soviet famine,” Ms. Sullivan quotes a 76-year-old survivor identified only as H.K., who recalled returning home to Kiev as a music student to find his father hideously bloated by starvation and his mother emaciated by lack of food.
An estimated 7 million Soviet Ukrainians starved to death during the famine, orchestrated by the Soviet regime to break the national will of the fiercely independent Ukrainian peasantry. The mass starvation resulted from the confiscation by authorities of all grain, foodstuffs and seed, which it decreed to be state property.
Another eyewitness, identified as Natalie, a 65-year-old mother of three in Cleveland, told Ms. Sullivan that she once walked through seven kilometers of forest with a morsel of dried bread for her family.
Despite the unthinkable scope of the famine, news of the tragedy was either ignored in the West or distorted to conform with Soviet explanations, wrote Ms. Sullivan.
“Eugene Lyons, United Press correspondent in Moscow from 1928 to 1934, has written that reporters purposely ignored the story in their efforts to curry favor with official sources during a 1933 Moscow trial of British engineers accused of spying,” Ms. Sullivan wrote.
She added that eyewitness accounts by British journalist Gareth Jones were also debunked by fellow reporters, and that The New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, in refuting Jones’s stories, wrote in March 1933 that “there is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation” in Ukraine.
Ms. Sullivan called the media treatment of the famine “one of the blackest chapters of U.S. foreign reporting.”
But even though many newspapers chose to ignore or downplay the famine, Ms. Sullivan said that Ukrainians here in the United States have never forgotten the national tragedy. She said that this year, the 50th anniversary of the holocaust, Ukrainians have planned commemorations. In addition, she mentioned Robert Conquest’s upcoming book on the famine, which is being researched by Dr. James Mace of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and which is jointly sponsored by HURI and the UNA.
Ms. Sullivan also talked with Nadia Deychakiwsky, president of the 500-member Cleveland chapter of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, who has been taping eyewitness accounts for the Harvard project. She said the famine was designed to destroy Ukrainian culture among the peasant class, which had fiercely resisted attempts at Russification.
“The cities were already Russified, but the villages, the peasants were the backbone of the Ukrainian state, they were the most dangerous,” she told the paper.
Ms. Deychakiwsky also said that the Cleveland UNWLA and six other Ukrainian women’s groups were sponsoring a food bank for needy Ukrainians in remembrance of victims of the famine.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The Great Famine in Ukraine (1932-33) was the subject of an article by Alexander Motyl in the August issue of The American Spectator.
Calling the famine “one of the 20th century’s prime examples of mass destruction,” Mr. Motyl said that the fate of some 5 million victims of Stalin’s economic and political policies remains largely unknown in the West.
“Soviet mendacity, Western gullibility and a readiness on both sides to condone the liquidation of nations and classes thought to stand in the way of ‘progress’ have conspired to transform a major human tragedy into a forgotten historical footnote,” wrote Mr. Motyl.
In his view, the famine was the result of several interrelated economic and political factors, including exorbitant grain quotas imposed by the government to fund industrialization policies, forced collectivization and the government’s determination to root out all nationalist opposition.
Many Western Sovietologists, however, have viewed the famine as “an unplanned and largely unavoidable by-product of the revolutionary zeal and bureaucratic shortsightedness of the collectivization campaign,” wrote Mr. Motyl, adding that these historians tend to downplay its political aspects.
But other scholars, particularly British historian Robert Conquest and Dr. James Mace of the Harvard Ukrainian Research institute, see the famine as a deliberate political act. Prof. Conquest has argued that the famine was a policy instrument directed against the most recalcitrant peasants, regardless of nationality, while Dr. Mace has maintained that the famine was specifically targeted to affect national groups considered inimical to Stalin’s plans for Soviet Russian domination.
Mr. Motyl quoted Dr. Mace as saying that “the areas affected by the man-made famine all contained groups which could plausibly be considered hindrances to Stalin’s plans to resurrect a politically homogenous Russian empire.” The groups hardest hit by the famine – the Ukrainians, Don and Kuban Cossacks and the Volga Germans – were most likely to constitute a threat to the new centralized and Russified Soviet Union envisioned by Stalin, according to Dr. Mace.
But, despite mounting evidence that the famine was indeed a planned exercise in mass murder, it remains largely unacknowledged by both East and West.
The Ukrainian Weekly, August 28, 1983, No. 35, Vol. LI