The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


"The Famine, which the communists called "rozkurkuliuvannia" (de-kulakization), did untold damage to Ukraine's national psyche. Not only did millions die; the survivors and their descendants were permanently traumatized."


by Andrew Fedynsky
The Ukrainian Weekly
Ukrainian National Association
Parsippany, New Jersey
October 25, 1998


Ukraine and agriculture are virtually synonymous. Do a computer search in the Microsoft Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia under "Breadbasket of Europe" and you're directed to "see Ukraine." But who needs a computer? Just look at the flag: blue sky and golden wheat. Better yet look out the window of a train rolling across the Ukrainian steppes in late summer and what do you see? The landscape forming the Ukrainian flag.

Everything begins with the land because the land, ultimately, is what feeds us and the land is where Ukraine's salvation is likely to be. With 6 billion people in the world, wheat - no less than petroleum and natural gas - is a strategic commodity and the source of capital and political power.

Unfortunately, the Soviets left a total mess of things economically, and Ukraine is not going to be able to live up to the nickname "Breadbasket of Europe" unless some fundamental reforms are implemented first. Above all, the government has to give up control of the land and the agricultural economy. This, of course, is one of Ukraine's most difficult political issues, rooted as it is in Ukraine's tragic experience during the Soviet era and the deal the Communists struck with the people.

Faced with revolution in August 1991, the Communists agreed to independence and all the symbols of national sovereignty. In return, they stayed in power, preserving the failed economic infrastructure that Lenin and Stalin had put in place generations ago. Ever since, the United States, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Union - not to mention grim reality itself - have been pressing for reform.

Most Ukrainians have made their break with communism, but unfortunately, enough of them remain to block change and with it Ukraine's road to prosperity. And it all begins with the land.

From the dawn of civilization, Ukraine has been a peasant society. People lived in partnership with nature, coaxing wheat, vegetables and fruit out of the soil, marking the passage of time with the change of the seasons, communing with God in harmony with the calendar. This pattern prevailed for thousands of years; pagan rituals developed deep in the past, merging into Christian holidays.

Just about everything we associate with Ukrainian culture - pysanky, the didukh at Christmastime, bonfires on Ivana Kupala, borsch and pyrohy, even Shevchenko's "Kobzar" - stems from the village and peasant society.

Stalin understood the power that Ukrainian wheat offered anyone who controlled it. That's why he and everyone else who ever ruled the Soviet empire found the very idea of Ukrainian independence to be unthinkable.

That, of course, has had catastrophic consequences for Ukraine. "The nationality problem," Stalin said, "is in its very essence, a problem of the peasantry." By "problem," he meant opposition to the Soviet Union, support for an independent Ukraine and a love for the land and personal freedom.

One of the official aims of collectivization, therefore, was "the destruction of Ukrainian nationalism's social base - the individual land-holdings." Stalin's solution to the "nationality problem" was mass murder: a political famine that killed more than 10 million peasants in a single year.

The Famine, which the communists called "rozkurkuliuvannia" (de-kulakization), did untold damage to Ukraine's national psyche. Not only did millions die; the survivors and their descendants were permanently traumatized.

Consider, for example, the repulsive story of Pavlik Morozov, a 12-year-old boy who in 1933 informed on his own father for "stealing" grain from his family fields. The unfortunate man was tried and sentenced as "an enemy of the people." To honor the boy who denounced his starving father, the Soviets put up a statue of him, turned his house into a museum and held him up as a model to encourage other children to betray their parents and their friends.

It's impossible to overstate the damage such evil caused, evil that was commonplace from the 1930s to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. As much as anything, the perverse values promulgated by Marxism-Leninism are the root cause of the corruption, cynicism and despair that plagues post-Soviet Ukraine.

It's been 65 years since the Great Famine. In the final weeks of the 105th session of the U.S. Congress, Michael Sawkiw, director of the Ukrainian National Information Service in Washington, led the successful effort to win passage of a congressional resolution commemorating this tragedy and reminding the world of the brutality of Soviet policy in Ukraine.

I'm not much of a fan of commemorative resolutions, but this one, in my view, is just as important to Ukraine as the generous financial assistance the United States, the IMF, the World Bank and others have been providing.

The Communists, who continue to seek and hold seats in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, have never acknowledged the Famine nor apologized for their party's having perpetrated it. They use the power they have to block reform, particularly any program that would dismantle the collective farm system and return the land to the people. These Verkhovna Rada members, more than anyone, would benefit from reading the congressional resolution on the Famine.

Ukraine is now in its eighth year of independence. Russia, her neighbor to the north, is financially, morally and politically bankrupt. Poland, to the west, is building commercial bridges to Europe in a successful transition to free enterprise prosperity. President Leonid Kuchma, National Bank of Ukraine Chairman Viktor Yuschenko and others are working to honor Ukraine's financial obligations and to maintain the value of the hryvnia. Will it be enough?

Not unless Ukraine starts producing things the rest of the world wants to buy. It doesn't take a rocket scientist, as they say, to know that the world needs food. India, for example, just had riots because of a shortage of onions, of all things. Can Ukraine grow onions? Well, we know they can grow garlic. Can Ukraine grow wheat? Look up "Breadbasket of Europe." The agricultural sector in Ukraine can easily become the engine that powers the rest of the economy. That's how America became great.

The 20th century has not been kind to Ukraine, but, now that the country is finally free after centuries of foreign domination, the future holds enormous promise - if only it can successfully overcome the legacy of the past, the Famine above all. Acknowledging the pain is an important step toward healing and in this, the 65th anniversary year of that genocide tragedy, we need to thank the Congress of the United States for helping our community to honor the victims and remind their descendants in Ukraine that they still have unfinished business.

The Great Famine victims deserve a monument. Nothing would mean more than giving the people their land. Just watch. Once that happens, people will again start calling Ukraine the "Breadbasket of Europe."

Andrew Fedynsky is director of the Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland, Ohio. Check out their website:

The Ukrainian Weekly, October 25, 1998, No. 43, Vol. LXVI, Roma Hadzewycz, Editor-in-chief, P. O. Box 280, Parsippany, New Jersey. Published by the Ukrainian National Association.
Check out the extensive material on this website about the Great Ukrainian Famine. For personal and academic use only.