Reason‘s December Special IssueThe 30th anniversary marks the end of the Soviet Union. This is part of an ongoing investigation into the global legacy that this evil empire left behind. We want to make sure that there are no further tragedies. Not forgetting the terrible effects of communism is not easy.
In the 1930s, Ukraine’s people were starved to death for two consecutive years. Five million Ukrainians died of preventable causes, as a result of political vanity and poisonous ideologies.
A form of this struggle is still ongoing nearly 90 years later. Understanding post-Soviet Ukraine’s ongoing tensions and Russian aggression is key to understanding the Holodomor. This was the Soviet regime’s program of mass starvation that forced Ukrainians into poverty.
Josef Stalin was the Soviet leader. He sent Communist Party members and activists into rural areas with instructions to transform private farms owned by families into collective enterprises.
Ukrainian farmers were resistant to the party’s threats and torture and they even resorted graphically to public shame. Anne Applebaum has found that there is one Ukrainian provincial. Red Famine (Doubleday), Communist apparatchiks forced farmers to submit one at a time in a room. The revolver was shown to anyone who didn’t comply. They were then marched to jail if they refused. State grain hoarder maliciously inscribed on their backs.
Stalin’s revolutionary economic plan was founded on the belief that almost all agricultural equipment, food, land and supplies were government property. The state sponsored program of mass theft collectivization was carried out under the assumption that Ukraine wasn’t even a country.
There was little incentive to work if there wasn’t private property, local pride, or any personal profit. The state-run farms had a lower production rate than anticipated, which led to severe shortages. At the same time, Stalin increased grain procurement requirements from Soviet localities—Ukraine in particular—so that most of what was produced was seized by the state. Ukraine began to starve by 1932.
Stalin was sent sensitive notes by local leaders. Numerous local leaders wrote delicate notes to Stalin asking for food aid. They essentially begged Russia to return some of the grain that the Communists stole from farmers.
Stalin’s efforts to eradicate the famine in Ukraine were often accompanied by imprisonment or deportation. Kulas—somewhat wealthier citizens the Soviets viewed as ideological enemies. Eventually, kulak became an all-purpose term for anyone viewed as politically inconvenient, including artists, musicians, intellectuals, and writers.
It was more than just to implement a Marxist economic transformation. The goal was to eliminate Ukraine’s idea of it as a separate political and cultural entity. This violent attempt to destroy Ukraine as an independent country.
Through whispers, the cultural memory about starvation continued to be kept alive for many decades after the great famine. Journalists and intellectuals from Ukraine who could have written their own stories had been either eliminated or muzzled by the Soviet government. It was questioned by the West, which sympathizers with communism, if it ever took place.
The U.S. Congress issued a bipartisan report in the middle of the 1980s confirming the horrendous situation. Many Ukrainians, it said, “starved to death in a man-made famine in 1932–33, caused by the seizure of the 1932 crop by the Soviet authorities.” Ukraine gained independence in 1990 after the Soviet Union collapsed. They held democratic elections and officially acknowledged the Holodomor.
However, the shadow of that time of terror and tragedy still hangs over Pakistan’s national identity. The country’s central conflict with Russia continues to recur in various forms.
Russia has gone back to denialism in recent years. It admits that food shortages have occurred but blames bad weather and foreign interference for these deaths. And under Vladimir Putin, Russia has waged a campaign of violence and political intimidation against Ukraine, annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and waging an ongoing war in the region ever since—all while continuing to argue that the country was merely a Russian client, and thus violence and repression were justified as efforts to reclaim people and territory who were rightfully Russian to begin with.
Putin wrote an agitprop-ridden, lengthy history of Ukraine in summer 2021. It argued that Russians as well Ukrainians are one and the same people. Putin said that the Soviet era is the sole source of modern Ukraine. Ukraine could not claim “true sovereignty” unless it was “in partnership.” It was all part of Russia’s ongoing effort to squelch the Ukrainian identity by subsuming it into the Russian state—the Holodomor’s long and terrible tail. While the starvation may be over, Ukraine’s hunger for independence is not.