The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

September of 1933

Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine 1932-1933
Report to Congress, Commission on The Ukraine Famine (1988)
April 22, 1988, Pages 151, 164-167, 184



"Despite ample and timely knowledge about the man-made Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine, the US government did not publicly acknowledge what it knew or respond in any meaningful way. Similarly, a number of members of the American press actively denied in public what they confirmed in private about the famine........................

"Robert F. Kelly, chief of the State Department's Division of Eastern European Affairs from 1926 until its abolition in 1937, oversaw research and processed intelligence on the USSR. The single most important post for reliable, timely intelligence was the Russian affairs section at the US Legation in Riga, Latvia, which had monitored the Soviet Union since 1922.


"The first Ukrainian group to send an appeal to a member of the Administration was the US World War Veterans of Ukrainian Descent of New York. On September 18 (1933) the organization wrote and sent a number of photographs and press accounts to Postmaster General James J. Farley, who was also chairman of the Democratic Committee in Roosevelt's home state. (Note 56) The letter went through various hands in the New York Democratic Committee, who noted that it contained possible "political dynamite." It was then sent to the State Department, where it too went to Kelley, who wrote:

There has been referred to this Department for attention your letter of September 18, 1933, addressed to the Postmaster General, and its enclosures, certain photographs and newspaper clippings relating to the sufferings of persons living in the Ukraine and to the communist movement in the United States. Your letter and its enclosures have been read with interest. (Note 57)

Many letters came from the large and active Ukrainian community in Canada. On October 2, representatives of the Ukrainian community in Ward, Manitoba, write the President, asking that he "give a helping hand" and support the starving millions of Ukraine and the North Caucasus. On the same day, the Ukrainian National Council in Canada also appealed to him. Attached to the latter appeal was a detailed statement by Mrs. Marie Zuk of Kalmazivka in Odessa Oblast', who had been permitted to leave Ukraine on August 7 to join her husband, a farmer in Alberta. (Note 60) The Consul General in Winnipeg was directed to inform the organization's leaders that, since these conditions "do not appear to directly affect American citizens or interests, the Department is not in a position to take any action. (Note 61)

On October 13, the Ukrainian Community in Oshawa, Ontario, held a mass meeting to protest the Famine and Soviet policies responsible for it. Its resolutions were also sent to the US State Department. (Note 62) The Consulate in Hamilton was directed merely to acknowledge receipt of the communication and nothing further. (Note 63)

On October 20, a White House press release announced an exchange of letters between FDR and USSR President Mikhail Kalinin regarding normalization of relations. Formal recognition of the Soviet government was extended on November 16.

The letters from those who wrote about the Famine out of humanitarian concerns continued to arrive. Ukrainians throughout the world wrote to President Roosevelt and the State Department. On October 28, Paul Skoropadsky, who had been Ukrainian Hetman (monarch) in 1918, appealed to FDR not to recognize the Soviets and, failing that, to insist that the Soviets acknowledge "the right of the U.S. to organize a relief committee for the starving on Ukrainian territory. No response was sent. On October 29, Henry Bayne of Edmonton, Alberta, sent a handwritten letter to the President asking his help. On November 3, the Ukrainian Deputies and Senators in Poland sent a telegram which begged him to "consider the tragic situation in Ukraine where (the) population starves" in his negotiations with the Soviets. Only after recognition was extended did the Warsaw Embassy receive orders to even acknowledge receipt of the communication. (Note 67)

On November 6, the Czechoslovakian Committee for the Salvation of the Ukrainians wrote to President Roosevelt, describing the situation in Ukraine and the North Caucasus and asking that a special American mission be sent to Ukraine in order to study Soviet policy toward non-Russians in the Soviet Union. No response is recorded. (Note 68) On November 11, the Committee for Aid to the Starving Ukrainians sent a telegram from Brussels, asking that an American Committee of Inquiry be sent to Ukraine. The US consul in Brussels was instructed to give the now standard response that "although sympathy is felt for the sufferings of the persons referred to, there does not appear to be any measure which this Government can appropriately take at the present time to alleviate their sufferings." (Note 70)

Even Eleanor Roosevelt was approached in November with a request to exert some influence to pressure the Soviet government to allow duty-free admission of relief packages through 'torgsin.' Mrs. Roosevelt replied that although she realized "that the need was very great, she deeply regretted" that she could do nothing to help. (Note 71)

The Soviets did everything in their power to deny the existence of the Famine. When the London 'Daily Express' reported a Soviet purchase of a modest 15,000 tons of wheat from abroad to alleviate the shortage of bread at home, Pravda on May 27, 1933, published an indignant denial. (Note 72) Stalin denied the existence of the Famine and continued to export grain, albeit at a lower rate. In 1931, the USSR exported 5.06 million metric tons of grain. In 1932 this fell to 1.73 million and in 1933 to 1.68 million. (Note 73)

Yet, complete concealment of the Famine was impossible. Early in 1933, Gareth Jones, a reporter and former aide to Lloyd George, traveled to Ukraine. In March he reported what he had seen there, "I walked alone through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, 'There is no bread; we are dying.' " Jones estimated that a million people had perished in Kazakhstan since 1930, and now in Ukraine millions more were threatened. (Note 74) The United Press Moscow correspondent, Eugene Lyons, later called this the first reliable press report in the English-speaking world. (Note 75) Moscow responded by forbidding journalists to travel there. (Note 76)


"The Man-Made Famine, given the absence of internationally recognized human rights norms and an Administration committed to closer ties with the Soviets, was seen as an internal Soviet affair, viewed with skepticism, or simply not mentioned.

"Politicians and opinion makers either turned a blind eye toward Stalin's famine out of expediency or saw sympathy for the Soviet Union as a litmus test of one's commitment to a more just society in this country.

"The tragedy is that the reality of mass starvation and collective victimization became politicized such that the question of fact concerning whether there was a famine was subordinated to the question of one's political values.

"This is ever the case when human issues are viewed through the prism of one's commitment to the Right or the Left. If there is one lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it must reside in the universality of human rights and human suffering.

"If the quest for a 'greater good' or the struggle against some 'greater evil' is seen to require a double standard of blindness toward the injustice and evil perpetrated by those who claim to be on our side of the political spectrum, the victims will always be ignored." (End of Chapter 6)


    56. Volodimir Jurkowsky, Secretary, US World War Veterans of Ukrainian Descent, New York, New York, to Postmaster General James J. Farley, September 18, 1933; 861.48/2449.

    57. Robert F. Kelley to Volodimir Jurkowsky, October 11, 1933; 861.48/2449.

    58. N. Yaroway and N. Bilash, Ward, Manitoba, Canada, to President F. Roosevelt, October 2, 1933; 861.4016/362.

    59. "We are taking the liberty of directing your attention to the deplorable fact that for a considerable time the population of Eastern Ukraine ... are being systematically starved by the Moscow authorities... Thousands of letters are being received in Canada continuously, containing gruesome details of the vast number dying; there are settlements in Ukraine where only one-thirdsometimes one-fourthof the original population are still alive.

    "Crop failure is not the reason for this famine, but the brutal policy of the Moscow rulers who ... pitilessly take everything from the farmers, already proletarianized. Especially in Ukraine, where the peasants are opposed to the foreign Russian rule, are they being deprived of literally everything, being left without even the smallest ration for daily meals, under the excuse that they are hiding food. With such tactics, even a bumper crop, of huge yield, could not save these people from starvation.

    "Having in mind the tragic plight of their compatriots, and realizing their moral duty in the matter, the Ukrainian National Council in Canada, Winnipeg, to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, October 2, 1933; 861.48/2452.

    60. "There were several cases in our district where parents have eaten their own children in a state of insanity caused by extended starvation. ...The most remarkable case of this kind happened this spring in the village of Oleshky, where a young married couple, Ivan Chuhan and his wife, killed and consumed their two small children. The gruesome crime was discovered when a pig was stolen from the kolhosp (collective farm) and the members of the militia organized a search of all the houses in the vicinity in an endeavor to locate the stolen 'treasure'. Finally they found some meat of a particular appearance at Chuhan's home and, pressed to the wall, the man admitted having murdered both his children in order to still the unbearable hunger. The head of the second child was found in the oven, where it was being prepared for consumption. The couple were arrested.

    "The conditions in Ukraine were bad enough in 1930, but in 1931 they became really critical. The present situation is as follows. There is literally no bread there; no potatoes (all the seed potatoes having been eaten up); no meat; no sugar; in a word, nothing of the basic necessities of life. Last year some food was obtainable occasionally for money, but this year most of the bazaar (markets) are closed and empty. All cats and dogs have disappeared, having perished or been eaten by the hungry farmers. The same is the case with horses, so that cows are mostly used as draught animals. People also consumed all the field mice and frogs they could obtain. The only food most of the people can afford is a simple soup prepared of water, salt, and various weeds. If somebody manages to get a cup of millet in some way, a teaspoon of it transforms the soup into a rare delicacy. This soup, eaten two or three times a day, is also the only food of the small children, as the cow or any other milk has become a mere myth.

    "This soup has no nutritive value whatever, and people remaining on such a diet get first swollen limbs and faces, which make them appear like some dreadful caricature of human beings, then gradually turn into living skeletons, and finally drop dead wherever they stand or go. The dead bodies are held at the morgue until they number fifty or more, and then are buried in mass graves. In the summer the burials take place more often in view of quick decomposition which cannot be checked even by the liberal use of creoline. Especially devastating is the mortality from hunger among children and elderly people. Nobody ventures to dress the dead family members in any clothes, as the next day they would be found at the morgue, naked, stripped of everything by unknown criminals.

    "There are many cases of suicide, mostly by hanging, among the village population, and also many mental alienations.

    "The famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1921 was undoubtedly a terrible one, but it appears like child's play in comparison with the present situation.

    "The village Kalmazivka was one of the more fortunate ones, but in the adjoining villages of Olshanka and Synukhin Brid the death toll defied all description. Those who were not deported to the dreaded Solovetsky Islands, or to the Ural Mountains, died from starvation, and at present not one quarter of the original population is living there and they are leading a life of misery. No word of complaint or criticism, however, is tolerated by the authorities and those guilty of the infraction of this enforced silence, disappear quickly in a mysterious way.

    "Worst of all, there is no escape from this hell on earth, as no one can obtain permission to leave the boundaries of Ukraine, once the granary of Europe, and now a valley of tears and hunger.

    "In crass contrast to this terrible condition of mass death from starvation is the real condition of the crops. Last year the wheat crop in our district was good, and this year it is even better still. Unfortunately the peasants derive no benefit from it, as the grain fields are watched day and night by armed guards, to prevent theft of grain ears, and after threshing the grain is immediately removed to the government storehouses, or to the nearest port.

    "There are two classes of peasants in Ukraine. Most of them are already 'collectivized' and are working on the state or collective farms. A limited number still work on individual farms, but the taxes in kind, imposed on them by the authorities, render their existence a permanent privation. Cow milkand there are only very few fortunate enough to possess a cowmust also be delivered to the government creameries at a nominal price. The only exception in this general suffering are the members of the Communist Party, and the various officials, mostly non-Ukrainians, as they receive their 'paioks' or rations of food from the government depots . . .

    "What a different picture did I find in Moscow on my way to Canada! The markets there were flooded with the most delicious foodstuffs! Only Ukraine seems to have been sentenced to death by starvation by the central government in Moscow..." Ukrainian National Council in Canada, Bulletin No. 1, Winnipeg, September 15, 1933; 861.48/2452.

    61. Robert F. Kelley to US Consul General, Winnipeg, November 20, 1933; 861.48/2452.

    62. Michael Petrowsky, Oshawa, Ontario, to Department of State, October 13, 1933; 861.4016/361.

    63. Robert F. Kelley to US Consul, Hamilton, Ontario, November 22,1933; 861.4016/361.

    64. Paul Skoropadsky, former Hetman of Ukraine, Berlin, to President Roosevelt, October 28, 1933; 861.48/364.

    65. Henry M. Bayne, Edmonton, Alberta, to President Roosevelt, October 29, 1933; 861.4016/366.

    66. Dmytro Lewitsky, Chairman, Ukrainian Deputies and Senators in Poland, to President Roosevelt, November 3, 1933; 861.4016/363.

    67. Robert F. Kelley to US Charge d'Affaires a.i., Warsaw, November 24, 1933; 861.4016/363.

    68. G. H. Bobishkovsky, Chairman, and J. Palyvoda, General Secretary, Committee of Salvation for Ukraine, Prague, to President, November 6, 1933; 861.48/2458.

    69. Yakovliv, President, Comité Belgique de Secours aux Affamés en Ukraine, Brussels, to President Roosevelt, November 11, 1933; 861.48/2455.

    70. Robert F. Kelley to US Consul, Brussels, November 23, 1933; 861.48/2455.

    71. The writer of this letter summarized it and Mrs. Roosevelt's response. Dr. Lubow Margolena Hansen to Dr. Nellie Pelecovich, January 30, 1934, pp. 2-3; Archives of the Ukrainian National Women's League of America, New York, New York. The archives are uncataloged, and the Commission is indebted to the organization's president, Mrs. Iwanna Rozankowsky, for making available this and other documents available to the Commission.

    72. Felix Cole, Charge d'Affaires ad interim, Riga, Latvia, to Secretary of State, June 2, 1933; 861.6131/275; T1249; Records of the Department of State; NA.

    73. Vneshniaia torgovlia SSSR za 1918-1940 gg. (The Foreign Trade of the USSR in 1918-1940) (Moscow, Vneshtorgizdat, 1960), p. 144.

    74. "Famine in Russia, an Englishman's Story: What He Saw on a Walking Tour," Manchester Guardian, March 30, 1933, p. 12.

    75. Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York, Harcourt Brace, 1937), p. 572.

    76. Lyons recalled, "We were summoned to the Press department one by one and instructed not to venture out of Moscow without submitting a detailed itinerary and having it officially sanctioned. In effect, therefore, we were summarily deprived of the right of unhampered travel in the country to which we were accredited.

    " 'This is nothing new,' (press censor Konstantin) Umansky grimaced uncomfortably. 'Such a rule has been in existence since the beginning of the revolution. Now we have decided to enforce it.'

    "New or old, such a rule had not been invoked since the civil war days. It was forgotten again when the famine ended. Its undistinguished purpose was to keep us out of the stricken regions. The same department which daily issued denials of the famine now acted to prevent us from seeing it with our own eyes. Our brief cables about this desperate measure of concealment were published, if at all, in some obscure corner of the paper. The world press accepted with complete equanimity the virtual expulsion of all its representatives from all of Russia except Moscow. It agreed without protest to a partnership in the macabre hoax." Ibid., p. 576.

Material from "Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine 1932-1933, Report to Congress, Commission on The Ukraine Famine," Hon. Daniel A. Mica, M.C. (D-FL), Chairman, Dr. James E. Mace, Staff Director, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1988, Pages 151, 164-167, 184.