The Ukrainian Weekly
Parsippany, New Jersey
November 15, 1998
One of the most enduring characteristics of the Great Famine of 1932-1933
in Ukraine is how often and the variety of ways in which it was, and in some
ways still is, denied.
When it was happening, almost everyone denied that it was happening.
When it was over, almost everyone agreed that it never happened.
When eyewitness reports, survivor testimonies, census statistics and
diplomatic documents surfaced indicating that at least 5 million, and by
some estimates 15 million, had died from forced starvation in Ukraine in the
course of 18 months, the information was denied as exaggeration, part of a
Ukrainian émigré bourgeois nationalist plot drummed up in cahoots with
right-wing running dog intelligence services.
After all, it was simply a bad harvest in a year of bad weather, and
unfortunately some people in remote villages did not get enough to eat.
Fifty-five years later, during the flush of glasnost and perestroika, the
Soviet government began to admit that the Famine had occurred, and that it
wasn't just the result of bad weather. The deniers were replaced by
After all, Stalin was simply overzealous in his attempt to collectivize
agriculture. He didn't mean to hurt anyone, not his own people for heaven's
sake. And then, why would he kill them all, who would do the farming?
Seven million dead - it was public policy gone awry.
Or, it's the Ukrainians' own damn fault that millions of them starved. In
other places where Stalin undertook collectivization, resisters were
arrested or deported. But the Ukrainians resisted too much, that's why
he had to kill them.
When it became clear that during his collectivization efforts Stalin
specifically and consciously targeted the Ukrainian village - which he
regarded as the seedbed of Ukrainian consciousness - because it was
Ukrainian, and not simply because it was a village, the apologists began to
hush. After all, if Stalin wanted to collectivize, he simply had to deport
the land-owning kulak. But to get rid of Ukrainian consciousness he had to
destroy the Ukrainian.
Then the deniers popped back up: after all, the Famine's not as bad as other
world tragedies, there have been worse; or, only about 20 to 25 percent of
the population starved; or, it was all so long ago, hardly anyone remembers;
and besides when you talk about numbers of dead, the war was terrible - now
that was a tragedy!
Stalin undertook collectivization throughout the Soviet Union, and over the
years hundreds of thousands of non-Ukrainians died and were deported as
well as a result of his aggressive attempts to reorganize agriculture. But
1932-1933 Famine in Ukraine was first and foremost a Ukrainian Famine:
under the guise of collectivization, the richest farmland in Europe was
and in the process the Ukrainian who for centuries had farmed it was
The Famine's legacy endures: collective farm managers and hard-core
Communists don't want the Famine and the taint of brutal death associated
with their preferred form of agricultural management. In turn, people state
flat out that they are unwilling to assume the risk of large-scale private
farming, in part because of the cost and in greater part because they don't
believe that in another generation the land won't be taken away from them,
again, and maybe their children along with it.
Throughout Ukraine, almost every family is directly connected to the land
for food - parents feed children in the city, city dwellers maintain food
plots in the suburbs, nouveau riche hire villagers to work the land beside
their dachas. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows
how to get a burlap sack or two of vegetables. Foreign economists argue
that this is an indicator of poverty and the failure of the centralized
Ukrainians explain it more simply: even if I had money, I would grow my own
food - I would never completely trust anybody else to feed me.
More than two generations have passed since the Famine, yet it will only be
the third generation that will be able to fully begin to acknowledge the
horrific consequences of those two winters.
The Ukrainian Weekly, November 15, 1998, No. 46, Vol. LXVI
Roma Hadzewycz, Editor-in-chief, 2200 Route 10, Parsippany,
New Jersey. Published by the Ukrainian National Association.
There is an extensive archive of historical material about the Great
Famine on The Ukrainian Weekly website.
For personal and academic use only.