The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


By Dr. Roman Serbyn, Professor of Russian and East European History
University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada
The Ukrainian Weekly, Ukrainian National Association
Parsippany, NJ, November 6, 1988, No. 45, Vol. LVI


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).


by Dr. Roman Serbyn


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.


NOTE: To read the entire article by Roman Serbyn about "The First Man Made Famine in Soviet Ukraine 1921-1923" click on:

By Dr. Roman Serbyn, Professor of Russian and East European History University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada
The Ukrainian Weekly, Ukrainian National Association (UNA) Parsippany, NJ, November 6, 1988, No. 45, Vol. LVI
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