Much has been written in recent years about the man-made famine that ravaged Ukraine in 1932-1933 and caused the deaths of 7 million to 10 million people. This is in stark contrast to the largely ignored famine of 1921-1923 – the first of three famines that Ukraine’s population has suffered under the Soviet Communist regime, and a famine that, contrary to popular belief, was not caused by drought and crop failures, but by the policies of the Soviet state.
What follows on the next few pages of The Ukrainian Weekly is a pull-out section about the 1921-1923 famine, featuring an article prepared and illustrations collected by Dr. Roman Serbyn, professor of Russian and East European history at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Prof. Serbyn is currently preparing an album of several hundred photographs and a monograph on the first man-made famine in Ukraine. He is co-editor with Dr. Bohdan Krawchenko of “Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933” (Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukraine Studies, University of Alberta, 1986).
Grain requisition and export – not drought and poor harvest – were the real causes of the first great famine in Soviet Ukraine which occurred in 1921-1923. This is borne out by Western and Soviet documents alike.
The famine was concentrated in the rich grain-growing provinces of southern Ukraine, an area inhabited by about a third of the republic’s 26 million citizens. It affected both the rural and the urban population. Most of the victims were Ukrainians; national minorities like Germans, Jews and Russians also suffered. Between the fall of 1921 and the spring of 1923, 1.5 million to 2 million people died of starvation and due to accompanying epidemics.
Saving this population would have required no more than half a million tons of grain or equivalent foodstuffs per year. During the two years of the famine, the Bolshevik government took from Ukrainian peasants many times that amount. Most of the confiscated grain was shipped abroad: the first year to Russia, and the second to Russia and the West. Ukraine was also obliged to send additional “voluntary” famine relief to the Volga, and to feed some 2 million people who came from Russia as refugees, soldiers and administrators.
At the time of the famine, many witnesses recorded the tragedy, and some of them even hinted at its criminal nature. But the passage of time dulled the memory of succeeding generations, and subsequent publications dealing with Ukraine and the Soviet Union said little of substance about this particular disaster. More surprisingly, the Ukrainian community itself has preserved but a vague memory of these events. Today most Ukrainians would be hard-pressed to explain why the famine had broken out, why it lasted so long and what was done to overcome it.
Famine and epidemics
The High Commissariat of Dr. Fridtj of Nansen was a Geneva-based international organization devoted to famine and refugee relief work. In his capacity as Dr. Nansen’s representative, Captain Vidkun Quisling toured Ukraine in early 1922, and filed some of the best informed and most detailed reports on the famine. On February 25, after inspecting the province of Zaporizhzhia, Quisling wired:
“The situation is terrible. Local official statistics show that of the province’s l,288,000 inhabitants, 900,000 are without food. This number will certainly grow by 200,000 before the end of April. Sixty percent of the famished are children. Public resources are exhausted and public institutions can provide only 10,000 rations daily.”
Two days later he reported: “the situation in the province of Katerynoslav is just as bad…At this time it is estimated that 520,000 persons are without food, including 200,000 children. By the end of May there will be 730,000.”
In mid-March, Quisling found that “in the province of Mykolayiv, about 700,000 persons, or half of the population, is without food. It is estimated that by the end of March the number will rise to 800,000, and by the end of April to 1 million… 40 to 50 percent of the starving children die…The situation is particularly bad in the city of Kherson and the surrounding district, where many villages have died out and remain desolate.” By the fall of the same year, the city of Kherson was reduced to one-quarter of its normal population.
Quisling’s most complete report, titled “Famine Situation in Ukraine,” was written in March and published by the High Commissariat in April 1922. It gives a detailed account of the famine conditions in the five provinces completely overcome by starvation: Odessa, Mykolayiv, Katerynoslav, Zaporizhzhia and Donetske; it also describes the affected districts of three other provinces; Kremenchuk, Poltava and Kharkiv. A dozen photographs of famine victims and a map of the famine regions accompany the document. The report faults the Soviet government for not recognizing the famine in time and criticizes the regime for doing so little about it afterwards. It concludes that unless help comes quickly, the number of the starving will reach 7 million by the summer.
Weakened by malnutrition, the population of southern Ukraine easily fell prey to contagious diseases. In October of 1921, Volga refugees brought typhus and cholera to Ukraine, and in the next month the whole country was swept by epidemics. The epidemics continued, on and off, throughout the whole period of the famine. Although no complete statistics are available on deaths from diseases, we know that epidemic cases were recorded by the hundreds of thousands and that their mortality rate was very high.
The prime victims of the famine and the epidemics were children. They also were the main targets for kidnappings and cannibalism. A million children had been orphaned by wars and the famine, and they had to fend for themselves as best they could since neither the state nor state-controlled charitable organizations could care for them in any significant way. These children known as “bezprytulni,” continued to pose serious social problems during the 1920s. Hordes of these children succumbed to starvation and disease; others resorted to petty crime. Still others became wanderers. They flocked to railway stations and rode freight cars in search of food and shelter.
Ukrainian railway stations became the main gathering centers for people fleeing the famine. Refugees lived for weeks in dilapidated wagons, waiting for a chance to board a train that would take them away. Pennyless, they fought for space on wagon rooftops. In the winter, many train riders died of cold and exposure. Suzanne Ferriere, assistant secretary general of the International Save the Children Fund, visiting Poltava in 1922, was told that in that city 400 frozen children were removed from the train on two particularly cold days.
Mortality was so high during the famine that the corpses could not be buried fast enough. For days and weeks they lay in morgues and cemeteries, or simply where they fell. Many cadavers were devoured by hungry animals, and there were cases of starving people being reduced to anthropophagy.
Uniqueness of Ukrainian famine
Simultaneously with Ukraine, the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) experienced a major famine along the Volga valley, in the northern Caucasus and the Crimea (the latter was joined to Ukraine only in 1954). It was the Volga disaster that attracted particular attention and became well-publicized. It later provided the focal point for the study of what is described by history books as “the Russian famine of 1921-1922.”
Today, historians writing on the famine of the 1920s take the Volga experience as the basis for their analysis and assume that the situation was identical in the rest of Russia and Ukraine. The famine is presented as essentially a natural calamity, brought on by a prolonged period of drought and subsequent poor harvests. To these destructive forces of nature, Soviet historians add the nefarious effects of wars, economic blockade and the peasants’ own cutback in grain production, while Western scholars stress Bolshevik mismanagement and ruinous economic policies. If we combine all the factors mentioned above, we get a fairly accurate picture of the Russian – and only the Russian-famine. The same explanation does not hold for Ukraine.
In 1921, and again in 1922, southern Ukraine was subjected to a terrible drought. Harvests fell to between 10 and 25 percent of the normal crop yield, and in some cases the crop failure was complete. In spite of this, Ukraine as a whole had enough food to feed every one of its inhabitants. The crops in the northern part of the country generally were good, and there were still some reserves from previous years. To overcome the crisis in Ukraine it would have been sufficient to prevent grain from leaving the country and to organize food distribution in the south. Had the Soviet government- of Ukraine taken these steps – simple measures which any national government worthy of the name would not hesitate to take – there would have been no famine at all.
The Bolshevik administration of Christian Rakovsky in Kharkiv (the capital of Soviet Ukraine until 1934) did not, and probably could not, act like the independent government it pretended to be. Until the creation of the USSR in December of 1922, Soviet Ukraine was officially a sovereign state, only allied with the Russian SFSR by the treaty of 1920. In fact, Ukraine was bound to Moscow by the centralized Russian Communist Party, of which the Communist Party of Ukraine (overwhelmingly non-Ukrainian in leadership and composition) was but a branch. Russian control of Ukraine was further assured by the Red Army and the infamous Cheka, the forerunner of the NKVD and KGB. The alliance treaty signed between the two “sovereign republics” in 1920 further integrated their economic and military affairs, and put the resources of Ukraine at the disposal of Russia. During the last quarter of 1921, while famine ravaged the southern provinces of Ukraine, the Kharkiv government did virtually nothing to alleviate it. Instead it was very actively involved in organizing famine relief for Russia.
The reaction of the Soviet authorities to the famine in Russia stood in marked contrast to their inaction in response to the Ukrainian tragedy. In the RSFSR, the famine had broken out somewhat earlier than in Ukraine and eventually affected about three times as many people; the final toll was about twice as heavy. After a brief attempt to hide this catastrophe, which the Bolsheviks feared would be interpreted as a failure of their rule, Moscow launched an elaborate famine relief campaign. In July 1921, the famine regions in Russia were declared a disaster zone and were exempted from food taxation. Food and money collection was organized for them in the Soviet republics, and help was sought also from the West. The Volga famine zone included many nationalities, but aid seems to have been concentrated in the ethnically Russian areas. During the second year of the famine, Western agencies noticed that the majority of the starving population consisted of national minorities (Tatars, Germans, etc.)
Throughout the whole period, the starving areas of Ukraine continued to be taxed, and forced to provide ‘voluntary” aid for Russia. This amounted to criminal behavior on the part of the Bolshevik authorities and astounded foreign observers.
“Up to the time the ARA began its activities (January 1922),” wrote H. H. Fisher, a former ARA worker, “neither the central government at Moscow nor the Ukrainian at Kharkiv had made any serious move to relieve the famine in the south [i.e., Ukraine]. In fact, the only relief activity which went on in Ukraine, from the summer of 1921 to the spring of 1922, was the collection, for shipment to the distant Volga, of foodstuffs, for lack of which people along the Black Sea were dying.”
“…not before the 11th of January of this year,” wrote Quisling in the March 1922 report quoted above, “could the gubernia of Donets stop their obligatory relief work for the Volga district and begin to take care with all their forces of their own famine problem, at a time when already more than every 10th person in the Donets was without bread. In the beginning on March of this year, you could still see, in the famine stricken gubernia of Mykolayiv, placards with: ‘Working masses of Mykolayiv, to the rescue of the starving Volga district!’ The gubernia of Mykolayiv itself had at the same time 700,000 starving people, about half the population.”
It was only in the beginning of 1922 that the Kharkiv government made a half-hearted effort to organize famine relief for the starving Ukrainian population. Meager financial aid was allocated to the Sovietized Ukrainian Red Cross and the recently formed Pomhol (Famine Relief Committee). These organizations could not help even 10 percent of the starving Ukrainian population, as their main duty continued to be famine relief for Russia. Starving Ukrainians had to look for help elsewhere than to “their own” government. This aid eventually came from the West.
In July of 1921, anguished cries pierced the air, begging the West to “save starving Russia.” Tikhon, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, wrote to the pope and the heads of other Churches; the prominent Russian writer Maxim Gorky addressed Western intellectuals; George Chicherin, as commissar for external affairs, sent a message to the heads of states; and Lenin appealed to the proletariat of the world. This campaign received an immediate response. States, Churches and charitable organizations offered to supply food, medicine and clothing.
The most significant aid, by virtue of its size and quality, was that provided by the American Relief Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, secretary of commerce in the Harding administration. At the height of its activities, in the summer of 1922, ARA fed 10 million people in the RSFSR and another 2 million in Ukraine. It also provided medical supplies and clothing.
The Soviet authorities begged the West to send aid to Russia, but interfered with its delivery to Ukraine, at least at first. Although as early as August 1921, the West knew from Soviet sources about the catastrophic conditions in Ukraine, Soviet representatives either denied that there was starvation in the country or played down its importance. Moscow insisted that all aid go to the Volga and assured the West that Ukraine could take care of itself and even help Russia. Not being eager to assume more financial burdens, the West found it convenient to ignore the Ukrainian disaster, even if it meant letting the country starve.
The situation improved at the end of the year when the American Jewish community decided to send massive help to starving brethren in the Soviet republics. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee put pressure on the ARA to organize distribution centers in Ukraine for the food parcels sent by American Jews to their friends and relatives living there. The “Joint” (as it was commonly known) also wanted the ARA to investigate the famine situation in Ukraine, since it was getting alarming news from Ukrainian Jewry. The ARA succeeded in persuading the Soviets to allow a delegation to visit Ukraine in December of 1921. The result was the Hutchinson-Golder report and a separate agreement signed by the ARA and Soviet Ukraine, which led to the extension of American aid to Ukraine.
Help came to Ukraine in two forms: a) food and clothing parcels, and b) soup kitchens.
Since the fall of 1921, food parcels could be bought by private individuals and organizations in the West and sent through relief organizations to designated parties in the Soviet republics. Most of these parcels, costing $10 each and capable of feeding one person for one month, were bought in the United States and distributed by the ARA in Ukraine.
A small number of parcels were bought by Ukrainians. ARA records show that on July 5, 1922, the Rev. Basil Kusiw of Bloomfield, N.J., paid $200 on behalf of the Ukrainian Relief Committee for food parcels to be distributed equally among five Kiev institutions: the (Shevchenko?) Scientific Society, the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, the National Ukrainian Theatre, the Medical Academy and the Ukrainian Institute of Popular Education. Three weeks later, the Ukrainian Relief Committee of Newark, N.J., bought $500 worth of food for general distribution by the Ukrainian Red Cross in Kiev. But the Ukrainian American aid channeled through the ARA was insignificant when compared with the millions of dollars spent by the American Jewish community for Ukrainian Jewry.
Of much more significance for the Ukrainian population were the soup kitchens. These mass feeding stations began to be organized in May of 1922. By the summer of that year, the ARA was feeding about 1 million children and another million adults. Dining halls were also set up by various religious organizations, agencies of the Red Cross, and the international network of the Save the Children Fund. Representatives of the American and Canadian Mennonite communities were particularly active among the German Mennonite colonies set up on the former lands of the Zaporozhian Sich.
While the responsibility for organizing the American famine relief in Ukraine fell to the ARA, the actual costs of the soup kitchens were underwritten by the Joint. By the time the ARA decided to intervene in the Ukrainian famine, its own resources had been committed to the Volga relief. At this point the Joint offered to help finance famine relief in Ukraine, on condition that the kitchens be set up in predominantly Jewish districts and that they carry Yiddish signs acknowledging the support of the Jewish organizations that sponsored them. The ARA was delighted by Joint’s offer and only insisted that the kitchens be made accessible to all, regardless of religious or ethnic background. This was agreed upon and a wide network of soup kitchens was set up in Ukraine, frequented mostly by Jews but benefiting hundreds of thousands of non-Jews as well. Later on, Hoover even suggested that the Joint take over and run the operations in Ukraine by itself, but after some hesitation, the Joint declined the proposition.
“Save Starving Ukraine!” pleaded Svoboda on August 22, 1921. “Thousands of our people are dying every day from hunger and horrible diseases.”
It undoubtedly seemed incredible to Ukrainians living abroad that their homeland, the famed “breadbasket of Europe” could find itself on the verge of mass starvation. But there could be no mistake. On August 10 The New York Times published an article on the grain shortage in what it referred to as “Russia.” It was accompanied by a map based on Soviet data. The map clearly identified as areas of total crop failure, not only the Middle and Lower Volga, Kuban and Crimea, but also Katerynoslav, Mykolayiv and Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainians in Western Europe and America were also getting alarming letters from their relatives in Soviet Ukraine.
The author of the Svoboda article, signed only with the initials B.L., exhorted the rich countries of the West to help Ukraine and Russia. He especially appealed to the Ukrainian organizations abroad, the diplomatic missions of the two recently exiled Ukrainian governments (of “Great Ukraine” and Galicia) and the financial institutions set up by the Ukrainian diaspora. He urged the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to seek aid in Constantinople, and the Ukrainian Catholics in Rome.
The Svoboda article demanded that the aid be sent to Ukraine “directly, and not via Moscow or Petrograd,” thus betraying fear that supplies earmarked for Ukraine might be diverted in Russia to other purposes. It was further insisted that the distribution be handled by the Ukrainian Red Cross and Ukrainian welfare organizations. This was a categorical refusal to recognize the Bolshevik regime as the legitimate government of Ukraine or to trust it with the relief supplies.
What strikes us today about the article is its timely appearance and the gravity of its message. More difficult to understand is why the Ukrainian diaspora did not reply to this urgent call immediately. The aid which was eventually given to starving Ukraine by the Ukrainian emigration came late and in most inadequate quantities. There were many reasons for this.
Most of the Ukrainians living in the West came from Galicia and were understandably most concerned about the fate of this region. In November 1918, Galicia proclaimed itself an independent state, the Republic of Western Ukraine, and two months later attempted to unite with the Kiev-led (Eastern) Ukrainian National Republic. This union came to nought when Poland and Russia attacked Ukraine and then divided the country between them through the treaty of Riga. The new political division of Ukraine split the concerns of the Ukrainian diaspora, focusing most of its attention on the events in Galicia rather than the problems in Soviet Ukraine. Polish occupation of Galicia had not immediately been accepted by the great powers, and in 1921 there was still hope that the Ambassadors’ Conference in Paris would decide in favor of the region’s autonomy, if not outright independence.
The smaller and weaker emigration from Eastern Ukraine at first avoided getting involved in famine relief because this would have implied a certain amount of cooperation with the hated Communists who, in any case, would divert it to their own use. Therefore, Eastern Ukrainians concentrated all their effort on driving the Bolsheviks out of Ukraine, the success of this policy being the best guarantee for the speedy solution of the famine problem. Hopes ran high in November 1921 when Tiutiunnyk left Poland with the remnants of Petliura’s forces, and the early reports spoke of Ukrainian victories.
In the meantime, the diplomacy of the Ukrainian governments-in-exile found itself in an impossible situation with regard to the famine. Ukrainian delegates lobbied Western governments simultaneously for military aid against the Soviet regime and for famine relief for the Ukrainian population. At the same time they insisted that the food supplies be sent through the Ukrainian national authorities, knowing full well that this would be considered by the Western powers as an impossible request.
Ukrainian religious, social and charitable organizations, as well as prominent community leaders, also tried to alert the West to the Ukrainian disaster. The Synod of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine, led by Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivsky, published an open letter to the West. Both Ukrainian Red Cross organizations, the one in exile and the one controlled by the Soviets, made representations to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Save the Children Fund. Metropolitan Sheptytsky, primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, wrote to Felix Warburg, president of the Joint Distribution Committee. He suggested that the more affluent Jewish community come to the rescue of Ukrainians and that for the sake of bettering Jewish Ukrainian relations, this help be made public.
As for the Ukrainian diaspora, it began its famine relief drive in earnest only in the summer of 1922. Until that time, Svoboda was raising money for “national defense” of the Western Ukrainian Republic. “Every honest Bolshevik must be in favor of the Galicia loan,” ran one imaginative ad, showing that the loan organizers were ready to accept contributions from any quarter.
In May, a committee called For Starving Ukraine was struck in Austria under the chairmanship of Prof. Mykhailo Hrushevsky, and with such well-known members as the writer Oleksander Oles and Gen. Okunevsky. Several weeks later, a National Committee for Ukrainian Famine Relief was set up in Lviv. This organization had the support of all the Church and community leaders in Galicia. It was headed by Prof. Julian Romanchuk, Dr. Kyrylo Studynsky, Oleksander Barvinsky and other prominent Ukrainians, and its objective was to coordinate fund-raising in western Ukraine, North America and Western Europe. Eventually, similar committees were organized in most larger Ukrainian centers. These committees organized public fast days and the money thus saved on food was to be contributed to the relief fund.
Ukrainian newspapers which I have been able to consult, such as Svoboda and Hromadskyi Vistnyk (Lviv) contain long lists of contributors, but few comprehensive reports on how the money was spent. Some donations were quite significant for their time: Metropolitan Sheptytsky, for example, gave 250,000 Polish marks. Svoboda published several reports of Prof. Hrushevsky’s Vienna committee. For the money received from American Ukrainians, Hrushevsky sent $160 worth of goods in March and April 1922, and later Dr. Surovtseva sent three $10 packages just to Kiev academic institutions. In his fourth report, sent in November, Hrushevsky was able to show expenditures for several thousand dollars. I do not know if any attempt has ever been made to tally up the funds collected by the Ukrainian community in the West for famine relief. My impression is that it would not show more than $100,000. This was a large sum for the young and poor Ukrainian emigration but hardly one that could command respect from the international relief organizations or make a serious dent in the famine.
Compare this sum to the $16 million raised by the American Jewish community in the space of several months in 1921-1922, of which some $5 million was reserved for the Ukrainian operations mentioned above.
Exporting Ukrainian grain
In the summer of 1922, the Soviet delegation to the Hague Economic Conference shocked the world with an announcement that the Soviet republics intended to resume grain exports. It was then of public notoriety that because of the persistence of drought, the reduction in the number of cattle and a further shrinkage of cultivated land, Ukraine and Russia would need further aid in the 1922-1923 agricultural year. Any export of foodstuffs would just condemn more people to starvation.
But Lenin’s government had decided on a policy of industrial reconstruction, and for this it needed capital. This capital would have to come from the West and could be gotten in one of two ways: loans or grain sales. At first the Communists wanted to negotiate a loan, and the reference to grain export was a sort of blackmail whereby the Soviets were holding their own citizens hostage to Western generocity. When the Western countries, as a result of Moscow’s refusal to honor debts incurred by the pre-revolutionary government, declined to even consider new loans, the Kremlin decided to go through with the exports.
Western relief agencies protested against the export of grain, pointing to the fact that the Soviet republics would need all the foodstuffs they could gather, since the famine would resume after the brief summer hiatus. The Soviets responded by officially declaring that the famine was over and replacing the Pomhol with Naslidhol (Aftermath of Famine). The purpose of the euphemistic title for the new committee was to camouflage the reality of the famine, but at the same time to allow the West to continue its aid. Thus, while people continued to starve, while some help was mustered in the West, the Soviets resumed the export of Ukrainian grain. In January 1923, Odessans could witness the bizarre spectacle of the SS Manitowac discharging a cargo of ARA relief supplies in their port while alongside it the SS Vladimir was simultaneously loading a cargo of Ukrainian grain bound for Hamburg.
This criminal activity of the Soviet authorities sparked protests and violent reaction on the part of the civilian population in Ukraine and in Russia. Railway workers, assigned to trains transporting grain to the Ukrainian ports of Odessa, Mykolayiv and Kherson, as well as workers on Russian lines (some grain was shipped through the Baltic ports) went on strike. Grain trains were blown up by peasant and partisan bands. In April 1922, a grain elevator in Mykolayiv, containing some 10,000 tons of grain destined for export, was set on fire. Soviet criminal policies drove the population to desperate acts.
Some protest against the sale of Ukrainian wheat abroad came from Ukrainian members of the Communist Party. At a plenary session of the Central Committee in Moscow, on November 15, 1922, Romanchuk, a delegate from the Mykolayiv workers, condemned the party’s decision to export Ukrainian grain:
“Perhaps in Moscow, where one is well-fed, one can elaborate export projects. In the Kherson region, once rich but now starving, not only is it impossible to speak about such things seriously but, I would add, it is dangerous to mention them to peasants and especially workers. (…) It is from the south that the grain will leave; it will precisely pass through the country where 4 million people are starving and will probably not be able to survive until spring.”
On his way to Moscow, Romanchuk witnessed the destruction of grain collected from the people. “With tears in my eyes, I saw heaps of rotting grain around which comrade soldiers of the Red Army were keeping guard, absolutely uselessly, since instead of grain there was only manure.”
“The village population,” conclude Romanchuk, “demanded from its delegates that they prevent the export of even one pud (36 pounds) of grain (…) The workers and the sailors of Mykolayiv condemned this project as robbery of the last piece of bread snatched from starving workers. This, comrades, is the authentic voice of the people…”
The opposition generated within the Soviet republics had no more success in stopping grain exports than the protests from without. Ukrainian grain was sold to Germany, France, Finland and other Western European countries. The Bolshevik, a Communist Party paper in Kiev, could brag on February 28, 1923, that 16,000 tons of Ukrainian grain had just arrived in Hamburg, and a week later inform its readers of deaths from hunger in Mykolayiv.
Man – not nature – was the cause of the first mass starvation in Soviet Ukraine. In this respect, the Ukrainian famine of 1921-1923 was very different from the contemporaneous Russian famine, but quite akin to the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. Since starvation in Ukraine was the result of a policy of plunder by Lenin’s government, the responsibility lies with the Soviet state.
Moscow’s treatment of Ukraine at the time of the famine was-that of an imperial government with regard to a rebellious colony. By removing grain from starving Ukraine, the Bolsheviks accomplished several objectives at once: Ukrainian grain helped nourish hungry Russia; it provided a marketable commodity easily exchanged for hard currency in the West; finally, and not insignificantly, it physically weakened Ukrainian opposition to Russian domination. Bullets can miss their target; famines – never.
The famine of 1921-1923 can be regarded as the final blow to the Ukrainian national liberation movement launched in 1917. The Ukrainian national revival in the Soviet Union of the 1920s was to be primarily cultural. Armed struggle for Ukrainian independence became, at least for the time being, a thing of the past.
The famine of 1921-1923 was only the first of three such tragedies inflicted upon the Ukrainian nation by the Communist regime. The other two took place in 1932-1933 and 1946-1947. The Ukrainian diaspora owes it to Ukraine and to itself to study all three families, for without a proper understanding of the deep impact of these tragedies on the Ukrainian nation we can comprehend another present-day Soviet Ukraine nor the Ukrainian diaspora. The first two famines are now being investigated, but is it not ironic that the latest famine remains completely neglected? Is it not high time that a research project be organized by one of our academic institutions in order that this last disaster become a well-documented historical fact?
Ukrainians can make a major contribution in the field of international politics by becoming advocates against the use of food as a weapon. Who is better placed than Ukrainians to inform the world on how totalitarian systems resort to under nourishment and starvation in order to keep whole nations in submission? There are striking parallels between the recent famine in Ethiopia and the Soviet famine of the 1920s. How much more effective would Western aid in Ethiopia have been had the West applied the lessons from the earlier disaster?
Finally, the Ukrainian diaspora should establish a date for the yearly commemoration of the famine-genocide. Such a date could be solemnly proclaimed at the forthcoming fifth convocation of the World Congress of Free Ukrainians. Each year, the Ukrainian diaspora – acting in unison on the same date – should observe the tragedy of genocidal famines against the Ukrainian nation, and in so doing remind the world that what happened in Ukraine is happening and can still happen elsewhere.
The Ukrainian Weekly, November 6, 1988, No. 45, Vol. LVI