The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


Dr. Yuri Scherbak, Ambassador of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine
Former Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States and to Canada
Remarks at the International Symposium on the
Great Famine and Genocide in Ukraine 1932-33
Vicenza, Italy, October 16-18, 2003

Dear professor De Rosa,
Dear participants of the Symposium,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

That is my pleasure to congratulate all of you, and first of all our Italian hosts, on the occasion of the opening of the International Symposium on Ukrainian Great Famine.


All of us here are united by our interest toward Ukraine and its tragic history, by our confidence, that justice has to win, by our hope, that lessons of Ukrainian genocide are very didactic for today's modern globalizing world.


Two months ago, in Kyiv, in the framework of the World Congress of Ukrainians very special event took place: Round Table "Time to say the truth" - discussion on 70 years anniversary of Ukrainian Famine. It was very dramatic and passionate conference, which has shown that topic of the Great Famine is still live and actual for our divided society.


Some state institutions were accused by participants of passivity and lack of political will to pay more attention of international community to Ukrainian tragedy.


What are reasons, which determines such incredible interest to the crimes of Communist regime in the 30th of last century?


I'm deeply convinced that there are fundamental causes of that:

    1. Enormous, huge Mega - number of victims of the Famine; I would like to remind you, that during 4 years of War World I the total military casualties amounted 8,5 mln of solders: Russia lost 1,7 mln people, France 1,3 mln, Germany 1,7 mln, Austro-Hungary 1,2 , British Empire - 0,9 mln people.

    Ukraine lost 7,5 mln innocent peasants and members of their families over just 2 years of Bolshevik's Genocide!

    2. Ukrainian Famine is still not widely known on international scale and needs more aggressive informational campaign first of all initiated and supported by Ukrainian State.

    3. There is still exigency to define some political and legal circumstances of that gloomy story for prevention it in the future.




I would like to point out, that ideology and practice of the Leninism-Stalinism has became one of the most dangerous, influential, contagious, cynical and immortal invention of the 20th century. Criminal practice of mass murder has chimerically combined with dream of millions people on social justice; ugly chauvinism and suppression of national-democratic movements - with sounding promises of national-self-determination. It was theatre of Kafkian absurd, but it was well organized absurd, the new omnipotent political technology - from 20th century and forever. Among of one of the dreadful Stalin's illuminations there was the idea to make link between social and national approaches to wide scale of political repressions.


In his famous letter in August 11, 1932 to Kaganovich, Stalin changed point from focusing on social reasons of struggle in agriculture (I mean struggle against "kulaks" in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan without national differences). He announced Ukrainian nationalism as main enemy. Stalin alarms that "Things in Ukraine are terrible . If we don't make an effort now to improve situation in Ukraine, we may lose Ukraine".


Thus, Stalin has created a new kind of lethal political weapon - the combination of national and social instruments, useful for political repressions and destruction of large groups of innocent people. Hitler used to be a small copyist of his great communist guru.


Moreover, Stalin in his domestic struggle with the Ukrainian people, has perfectly played a geopolitical card. In letter we quoted, Stalin warned on Polish threat: " Keep in mind that Pilsudski is not daydreaming, and his agents in Ukraine are many times stronger than Redens (chief of GPU) or Kosior (party's leader) think".


On the other side, dual political standards, cynicism (so-call "pragmatism") and indifference to destinies of millions people have characterized position of Western States toward to the catastrophic situation in the USSR, especially in Ukraine.


Let us recall the Soviet grain export (practically dumping) to the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany. Let us recall the situation with unemployment in Germany and US. As one of key German diplomats in the USSR (I. Von Herwarth) stressed: " Some (diplomats) suggested that the German government should suspend all deliveries of industrial equipment to the Soviet Union as long as the government continued to doom millions of people to death by starvation. I considered it immoral for us to be shipping goods to the Soviet Union at all. This was decidedly not the position of the Weimar government. Its response was to pretend to be preoccupied with the problem of unemployment in Germany".


Let us recall mass manifestation of members of Ukrainian-American organizations in 1933 against recognition of the Soviet Union by US: White House and Department of State have been deaf to these protests.


Truly it was diabolic time, black hole of history and nobody did not listen miseries of Ukrainian peasants and my grandparents among them. And let us ask ourselves: whether mankind has made appropriate political conclusions from history of Great Famine, or not? Honestly speaking, we cannot say definitely "yes".


The belligerent Stalinist doctrine has been adopted by different parties, terrorist's movements and dictatorship's states - from Nazi Germany to Cambodia, from Liberia to Afghanistan under the Taliban, from Rwanda to Iraq under Saddam Hussein.


The so-called treasury of " Leninism-Stalinism" is still open and inspires of numerous learners and followers over the world.


No doubt that in the future we can see attempts of certain political forces to use Hunger-methods perfectly worked out by Stalin, Molotov and Kaganovich in the 1930th. We could observe some elements of artificial famine during the civil wars in Ethiopia - Eritrea and Cambodia and - without any war - in North Korea.


We can meet it in the case of worsening agriculture and food's situation in Subequatorial Africa and Asia. Don't forget, that the starvation is a strong biological weapon against regular troops, guerrilla's and unsubordinated population in rebel's areas. Very significant that Italian Ambassador in Moscow in cable of July 11, 1933 to his Foreign Minister underlines that "the Government's great skill has thus been its knowledge of how to make the most of the famine weapon".


The special International Watch Center (or group) is needed with regard to tragic Ukrainian experience. We have to inform global opinion that political lessons of Ukrainian Famine are very important to avoid future tragedies.




One of the most controversial issue from the very beginning of Stalin's Famine has been the correct legal definition of this catastrophe. It was clear that we have deal with real war of Bolshevik's regime against the people.


But how to describe it in appropriate juridical terms?


In the 1930th, when definition of genocide did not exist, Stalin' s crime could be classified according to Hague convention of 1907 as a brutal violation of clause 46 of Rules of prosecution of war. After War World II the definition of Crimes against Humanity first appeared in the Nuremberg trials (1946). It included some sort of crimes, like murder, extermination, slavery, deportation, torture and other inhuman treatments against any civil population.


It worth to admit that rules, according to which Nazi-criminals were prosecuted have been created after crimes were committed.


In December 8, 1948 the Convention for the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide was adopted by United Nation. Term "genocide" for the first time was invented in 1944 by Polish expert in criminal law Rafael Lemkin. But very symbolic, that R. Lemkin previously presented his ideas at the 5 International Conference on the Unification of Criminal Law, held in Madrid in.1933! He has raised idea that destruction of racial, religious or social communities declares crimes "juris gentium" . That is not excluded, that Mr. Lemkin has heard something on Artificial Famine in the USSR.


The Convention defines genocide, as follows:

". any at the following acts committed with the intend to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group; killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part".


Very important to note, that two key elements are required to constitute a case of genocide:
    - a "national, ethnical, racial or religious group";
    - an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, this group "as such".


We have to underline, that the concept of Convention was extended to embrace crimes committed during, before or after a war and in peace time.


Dramatic job has been done in 1988-1990, during the outstanding work of the International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine.


The Commission majority deemed it plausible that the constituent elements of genocide were in existence at the time of the famine although the Genocide convention was not created until 1948.


The Final Report states very carefully and quite contradictory that "Commission feels justified in maintaining that if genocide of the Ukrainian people occurred, it was contrary to the provisions of the international law then in force".


The Commission notes, that " is no doubt, that the famine and the policies from which it arose were not confident to Ukraine . Moreover, history has since largely confirmed that Stalin's hatred extended beyond the Ukrainians. One is led to envisage the possibility of series of genocides. but this in itself does not rule out the hypothesis of a genocide during the 1932-33 famine". On the other side, it was the impression of the Commission, that Stalin tried, through the famine, to deal a terminal blow to the Ukrainian nation "as such".


The Commission concluded that "it may be incontrovertibly established in the near future - for example, when the archives from Stalin' s day have been examined - either that Stalin had from the outset imagined an insane programme to starve the Ukraine or, conversely, that the authorities attitudes upon the outbreak of famine in the autumn of 1932 resulted from their carelessness and inexperience".


Some members of the Commission did not agree to call disaster of 1932-33 as a genocide. They found that two issues fundamental to the legal crime of genocide were absent:
    - criminal intent to destroy Ukrainian ethnicity-nationality; and an
    - exclusively Ukrainian scope of injury through central Soviet operations, union-wide.


One member of the Commission stated that a qualification of the facts presented should establish crimes against humanity but not genocide.


Thus, the core of today's legal discussion of Famine is - whether it was genocide against the Ukrainians or not.


I believe that in the light of new facts and documents from archives (Stalin's letter to Kaganovich for example) discovered by historians later, there is evidence of deliberate intention of inner circle of Soviet leadership to destroy a national and social groups of Ukrainian peasants and intelligentsia which undoubtedly means the crime of Genocide. I call upon participants to support this conclusion in the final resolution of the Symposium.


The implementation of Rome Statute (June, 2000) of the International Criminal Court became one more foundation stone in the building of the modern system of Justice. According to Rome Statute, "genocide" means any of the following acts:
    - killing members of the group (national, ethnical, racial or religious);
    - causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    - deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical distraction in whole or in part;
    - imposing measures intended to prevent birth within the group.


Among crimes against humanity we can find such criteria as "extermination includes the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alias the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population.


The inauguration on March 2003 of the International Criminal Court became the serious step to establish global justice system. This International Institution is designed to protect and strengthen the principle of the rule of law, to eliminate impunity and to provide accountability for the commission of such serious criminal acts as aggression, genocide, crimes against humanity and military crimes.


The struggle for appropriate and perfect juridical definition for Great Famine as a real genocide does not have a scholastic character but bears a deepest sense - sense of justice, of retribution, of unforgettable memory of millions innocent victims. And unambiguous warning to future dictators.


We believe that Ukrainian Famine must take its place in row with Armenian genocide of 1915-16, Holocaust of Jews during the World War II and others genocides. After 60 years of silence and ignorance by communists authorities, the Independent Ukrainian state now makes attempts to inform the public opinion on the Ukrainian tragedy.


The statements of the Parliament of Ukraine, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers have officially recognized the famine as the act of genocide against Ukrainian people.


The President of Ukraine Mr. Kuchma spoke at the General Assembly' s session of UN September this year. He urged delegates to recognize the Famine as a genocide.


It's very remarkable that the President of Russia Mr. Putin while speaking at the UN forum this year also mentioned Great Famine when "millions people in the Volga region, in North Caucasus and other regions of Russia died". Putin also admitted that Famine became a national tragedy for the people of Ukraine".


At the same time in 2003, the Senate of Canada adopted resolution to recognize the Ukrainian Famine /Genocide of 1932-33 and condemned any attempt to deny or distort this historical truth as being anything less than genocide.


Representatives of Ukraine at United Nations delivered official draft of Project of General Assembly's Resolution which call to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as genocide and crime against humanity and to condemn acts and policies which brought about mass starvation and death of millions of people in the territory of Ukraine in 1932-33 and also - to express sympathy to the victims of the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33.


The same declaration was adopted in September, 2003 by the Senate of Argentina. It condemned "such state policy or decision of authorities which ignores and violates human rights". Initiator of the declaration, former President of Argentina Ramon Puerta called the Famine in Ukraine as a terrorist action of the Regime and long-term moral-psychological trauma for the people of Ukraine.


During the Round Table on Famine, what I mentioned, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has been attacked furiously - for passiveness in promotion of above mentioned resolution at the General Assembly of the United Nations.


At this point lots of Ukrainians has discovered very bitter and unpleasant truth of our times:

    Any country (exception of Georgia) did not support the draft of special resolution delivered by representatives of Ukraine at UN!

    The United States and Russia have definitely refused to support it, having different but the very same reasons. US are afraid to get resolutions condemned their own genocides against Africans slaves, Indians and Mexicans, Russia does not want to be involved to affairs with its bloody historical heritage too.


According to some experts there were more then 60 different kinds of genocides in the modern history and any resolution on this topic could open the Pandora's box - old national hurts.


That is why I call upon all of you - to establish special group of international lawyers and to continue efforts for the legal recognition of Ukrainian Genocide.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Recently the discussion on accept limits to state sovereignty and to domestic jurisdiction in international law took place in framework of the International Commission on intervention and State Sovereignty. This Commission established in 2000 on initiative of Canada with participation of prominent international experts taken in account tragic events in Rwanda, East Timor, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and elaborated special document - "The responsibility to protect" (2001) which is a substantial step forward to development of new principle of interstate relations and a foundation of world order in the age of globalization.


The basic principle of the document is that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe - from mass murder and rape, from starvation.


Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.


The responsibility to protect embraces three specific responsibilities:

    - The responsibility to prevent;
    - The responsibility to react;
    - The responsibility to rebuild.


We can imagine that with accordance to those principles, Western States in the 1930th had to strongly react on Stalin's mass crimes against humanity in the USRR.


But we are not so naive and we know very well that perfidious and hypocrites double standards of state behaviour in the 1930th fully or partially retained in our times. What was impossible 70 years ago toward to Soviet Union, is impossible today toward to several nuclear powers or good friends of some superpowers. But despite of all our disappointments let us believe, that humankind has progressed in the field of prevention of mega-catastrophes, like Famine 1932-33.




Two events without any visible linkage occurred in Ukraine in 2003:

    First: During the parliamentary hearing on commemoration of victims of the Ukrainian Famine 1932-33 in February 2003, the members of Communist faction have left their seats to protest against so-called "anti communist provocation". Symonenko, leader of Communist Party of Ukraine denied the artificial nature of the famine and blamed disastrous weather conditions in Ukraine.

    And Second: Because very poor forecast for Ukrainian harvest in 2003, the prices on grain and meal drastically increased and long lines for that foods appeared in some regions of Ukraine. Nightmare of famine have restored immediately because it has been coded on the genetic level of the second and third generation of Ukrainians as a result of Great Famine.


We were not surprised by lack of moral, by ignorance and cynicism of Communists, because they have inherited old tradition of leftists, including so-call "progressive" intelligentsia on the West - to deny any crimes committed on behalf of Red Utopia everywhere.


How moral lessons could exist among characters of Dostoyevsky "Devils" - without morality, remorse and compassion?


Who knows examples of public remorse of leftists for their support of Red Crimes? As George Nivat, professor - slavicist from Switzerland put it: "we all together have been Stalinists , consciously or unconsciously, we drooped eyes in front of terror, violence and cold hypnotism of the Stalinism".


How can we react on this tragic experience?


Maybe best response will be words of apostle Paul to the Romans:

"Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord". (Romans, 12, 19)

1. International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine. The final report, 1990
2. Famine Genocide in Ukraine 1932-33. Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre, 2003
3. The Responsibility to Protect. Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Ottawa, December 2001

The Onlus Institute for the Research of Social and Religious History sponsored the international conference. Scholars from Italy, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Germany, the United States, and Canada took part. Prof. Gabrielle de Rosa is director of the Institute.

The academic paper presented at the conference by Dr. Scherbak is posted and distributed by the  Information Service (ARTUIS) with specific written permission from Dr. Yuri Scherbak.

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