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27 April, 2011  ▪  Myroslava Antonovych

The Holodomor As Genocide

The tragedy of Ukrainian peasants meets the West's criteria for genocide

As top politicians in Ukraine suggest amending the law “On the 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine” and erasing this tragedy from the nation's memory and from a secondary school textbook, an increasing number of Western scholars are recognizing that the terrible famine was genocide.


American lawyer Samuel Totten and Australian historian Paul R. Bartrop write in their recently published book Genocide Studies Reader that 5-7 million peasants, mostly ethnic Ukrainians, were starved to death in 1932–33 in Ukraine. The man-made soviet famine happened because Stalin’s government expropriated the region's entire crop and even means of producing foods. The subsequent huge number of deaths was the result of ideologically motivated destruction of Ukrainian society. The goal was to eliminate the so-called kulaks, but in fact everyone who supported ukrainization (Ukrainian nationalism, freedom, and cultural expression) – including the poorest – was targeted. These actions were accompanied by forced integration of various religious and national groups into the existing soviet political structure under violent russification. Genocide, the product of an extreme manifestation of social engineering, transformed the traditional forms of land ownership and use and swept everything peasants could eat, down to the last crumb, from their villages.

The authors come to the conclusion that the mass murder of people by the soviet regime fits even the strictest definition of genocide and place the 1932–33 Holodomor in Ukraine among the three most significant such acts against humanity in the first half of the 20th century – together with the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust.

Of the points included in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998) on genocidal acts, the one that is most frequently applied to the Holodomor is “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

In the Elements of Crime, also used by the ICC as a source of law, the following components are singled out in this criminal act:

1. The perpetrator inflicted certain conditions of life upon one or more persons.

2. Such person or persons belonged to a particular national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

3. The perpetrator intended to destroy, in whole or in part, that national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such.

4. The conditions of life were calculated to bring about the physical destruction of that group, in whole or in part.

5. The conduct took place in the context of a manifest pattern of similar conduct directed against that group or was conduct that could itself bring about such destruction.


Each of the above elements of genocide can be identified in the 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine. Certain conditions were inflicted artificially through inordinate grain quotas and expropriation of, first the entire crop and then the rest of the region's food.

This action was first aimed against peasants, most of whom were Ukrainians, and this leads to the second element of the crime of genocide — that such persons belonged to a particular national, ethnical, racial or religious group. An essential part of the nation was targeted, and because the Ukrainization of the early 1930s reached a level the Bolshevik leaders considered dangerous, they decided to destroy or at least undermine the spirit of this segment of the Ukrainian people. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ruled that “if a specific part of the group is emblematic of the overall group, or is essential to its survival, that may support a finding that the part qualifies as substantial.”

The regulation of the CC VKP(B) and the USSR Council of People's Commissars “On Grain Procurement in Ukraine, the Northern Caucasus and Western Oblast” of December 14, 1932, clearly shows that the government was frightened by the possible results of ukrainization, which had surpassed the “allowed” boundaries, and this shows a direct link between its results and the grain expropriation policy. The latter was to become a method for crushing social and national resistance.

The third element of genocide — the criminal intention to destroy, in whole or in part, that national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such — can also be clearly seen in the 1932-33 Holodomor. Of course, such an antihuman government as the soviet one did not emphasize in any document its plans to starve millions of Ukrainian peasants to death. However, the International Criminal Court notes that a conclusion about the genocidal intent and knowing participation may be inferred from facts and circumstances. In other words, genocidal intent does not necessarily have to be fixed in documents or expressed in public speeches.

The facts and circumstances surrounding the Holodomor point to the existence of such elements in this crime as the genocidal intent and knowing participation. There are a number of documents that confirm the government's awareness of the horrible condition of Ukrainian peasants. Dispatches of foreign consuls and reports of the GPU’s secret agents in the Ukrainian SSR describing the famine in various regions of Ukraine were published. For example, an informer reported to the GPU’s Odesa Oblast Department on June 9, 1932, that peasants had no bread left and a famine was raging. There is an abundance of evidence that the government knew about the murderous famine.


The fourth element of the crime of genocide is that the conditions of life were calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the group, in whole or in part. Stanislav Kosior and Vlas Chubar, among others, were granted the right to suspend product deliveries to Ukrainian villages until those villages met grain procurement quotas set for them. These quotas were obviously too high to meet, and thus suspending delivery meant famine. This regulation pertained only to Ukrainian villages. Among actions aimed at the physical destruction of their residents were the so-called “black boards” introduced also specifically in regions populated by Ukrainians. All in all, collective farms in 82 districts of Ukraine were put on the black boards; this accounted for nearly one-fourth of Ukraine’s territory which held a population of five million people. The Bolsheviks put military units around such villages and removed all food and seed reserves from them, while at the same time banning trade and blocking any products from being brought in. In other words, being on the black board spelled death by famine.

The fifth element notes that the effort took place in the context of a manifest pattern of similar conduct directed against that group or was conduct that could itself effect such destruction. The Holodomor was organized as one of a series of crimes aimed at the destruction, in whole or in part, of the Ukrainian nation. Rafael Lemkin, who invented the term genocide, wrote in his article Soviet Genocide in Ukraine that the Bolsheviks in the Ukrainian SSR took four steps to destroy the Ukrainian nation: destroying 1) the intelligentsia; 2) the national churches; 3) a significant part of the Ukrainian peasantry; and 4) “the fragmentation of the Ukrainian people at once by the addition to the Ukraine of foreign peoples and by the dispersion of Ukrainians throughout Eastern Europe.” All four stages of this destruction were nationally motivated, Lemkin wrote, because the main victims of the genocide, Ukrainian peasants who were starved to death, were “the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit, of Ukraine.”

From the above we can see that the 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine contains all five elements of the crime of genocide.

Yet, some people denying that the Holodomor was genocide may also play a positive role as this will spur arguments in favour of classifying it as a crime. In turn, this will facilitate international recognition of the Holodomor. James Mace wrote that one of the organizations that supported the establishment of the US Congress Commission on the Ukraine Famine was the American Jewish Committee and one of its biggest contributions to defending the rights of the Jews and people across the world was sponsoring literature talking about Holocaust denials. Ukrainians must also learn this lesson, Mace wrote.

До фоток


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The palace revolutions after the death of Peter the Great: 1725-1741

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Defeat in the Crimean War: 1853-1856

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Collapse of the Soviet Union: 1991

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