‘Stalin prepared the Holodomor the same way Hitler did the Holocaust,’ Hrynevych says

In 1930 the Soviets built the largest in Europe 41000-metric ton grain elevator at the Black Sea port of Mykolayiv, Ukraine. It was one of the facilities they used to export the grain forcibly confiscated from Ukrainian farmers to the West while Ukrainians were dying from starvation in 1932-1933. According to the latest research, 4.5 million Ukrainians died in the Holodomor.

In 1930 the Soviets built the largest in Europe 41000-metric ton grain elevator at the Black Sea port of Mykolayiv, Ukraine. It was one of the facilities they used to export the grain forcibly confiscated from Ukrainian farmers to the West while Ukrainians were dying from starvation in 1932-1933. According to the latest research, 4.5 million Ukrainians died in the Holodomor. 

History, Ukraine

Ukrainian historian Liudmyla Hrynevych says that “Stalin prepared the Holodomor with the very same methods which Hitler prepared the Holocaust,” thus making explicit that the terror famine in Ukraine was an act of genocide that merits being put alongside Hitler’s mass murder of European Jewry.

In an interview with Delovaya stolitsa on the occasion of Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holodomor, the director of the Holodomor Ukrainian Research Center and editor of the Holodomor Studies journal says that today the term genocide is used too freely but that it certainly applies to what happened in Ukraine in the 1930s.

Liudmyla Hrynevych (Photo: dsnews.ua)

What happened in Ukraine, Hrynevych says, “fully corresponds to the provisions” of the UN Convention on Genocide,” despite the arguments of some that it is not or is sufficiently different from other mass murders that the term shouldn’t be used.

In 1932-33, there was “a genocide of part of a national group, the citizens of the Ukrainian SSR without distinction as to nationality or religion,” she continues. “Ethnic Ukrainians, of course, “made up the core of this group. There was also the genocide of the Ukrainian ethnic group in the Kuban,” a region of the RSFSR.

In both these cases, Hrynevych says, “the criminal intentions were directly linked to the fear of the disloyalty of the population and an attempt to retain power. The Holodomor stopped the process of what we call in the language of today the Ukrainian political nation.”

She continues: “In the 1980s, an International Commission on Investigating the Famine of 1932-33” existed in the US, and at that time, there were suggestions that there must be a clear recognition that there were a series of genocides in the USSR at that time because there were famines in Kazakhstan and the Middle Volga, where “by the way, then lived many Germans.”

Speaking of a series of famines is one thing, the historian says; but “in the formula, ‘an all-union famine,’ I see a political trick. For decades, the Soviet Union denied the famine. When that became impossible, they … set up ‘a second line’ of defense: any famine was the common tragedy of Soviet peoples and the communists did everything to save people.

This was done, Hrynevych argues, so that Ukrainian and other non-Russian nationalists could not use the famine as a mobilizing tool for the separation of their republics from the USSR. “In substance, even today, this thesis plays the very same role, albeit of course with new realities being taken into account.”

Any honest historian can see that Stalin organized the famine in Ukraine and elsewhere not just to extract resources to build up the Soviet Union’s defense capabilities, as Russian propagandists and their supporters abroad today insist, but to punish and even exterminate particular nations, like the Ukrainians, whom he felt were a threat to his power.

Those who refuse to acknowledge this often fall back on the claim that Stalin never said he was going after the Ukrainians, but such people forget that “you will not find a single document where Hitler directly ordered the killing of Jews. There are no documents, but there is the fact of the crime, and there is direct evidence of its preparation.”

The Nazis launched a propaganda campaign to portray the Jews as the enemy of the German people and to dehumanize them, thus laying the groundwork for their “destruction,” Hrynevych says. Stalin did something along the same lines: his regime attacked not just economic enemies like the kulaks but specific ethnic groups like the Ukrainians.

In Soviet propaganda at that time, the historian points out, “there were symbolic markers of part of the national group which had been against the Bolsheviks and thus was subject to destruction,” even if some might argue that these “markers” did not necessarily define an entire religion or nationality.

“When at the end of the 1920s, the powers that be began military-industrial modernization at the expense of the peasantry,” she continues, “the peasants were deprived of economic legal status and this was a direct path to famine.” That was in fact true across the Soviet Union.

But the situation in Ukraine and “possibly also in Kazakhstan,” was “more complicated.” That is because it involved not just an attack on a social group but on a national one given the imperial nature of the Soviet state. This tradition had a long history, Hrynevych says, “and the replacement of the tricolor by the red flat changed little in that regard.

At the end of the 1920s, Moscow subordinated all grain facilities to itself and even disbanded the once powerful Ukrainian trust, Ukrkhleb. “During the Holodomor, there was grain in the elevators … but Ukraine did not have a right to it.” Such arrangements, are “a purely imperial practice.”

In 1930 the Soviets built the largest in Europe 41000-metric ton grain elevator at the Black Sea port of Mykolayiv, Ukraine. It was one of the facilities they used to export the grain forcibly confiscated from Ukrainian farmers to the West while Ukrainians were dying from starvation in 1932-1933. According to the latest research, 4.5 million Ukrainians died in the Holodomor.

In 1930 the Soviets built the largest in Europe 41000-metric ton grain elevator at the Black Sea port of Mykolayiv, Ukraine. It was one of the facilities they used to export the grain forcibly confiscated from Ukrainian farmers to the West while Ukrainians were dying from starvation in 1932-1933. According to the latest research, 4.5 million Ukrainians died in the Holodomor.

That allowed Moscow to export grain even as the Ukrainian peasants starved. In the first wave of this effort, the documents detailing this process were numerous and have been preserved. But in the horror years of 1932-1933, “the situation is different: Many documents have been destroyed.” Some were destroyed under Khrushchev. But a few have been preserved.

Those documents allow for rather precise figures about deaths.

“Specialists speak about human losses, having in mind death from hunger (direct losses) and those not born (indirect).” They conclude that some 3.9 million people died from the famine, and another 600,000 were not born.” That means total losses from the Holodomor were 4.5 million.

Some activists and politicians give much higher figures in order to emphasize how horrific what happened to Ukraine was. But there is no need for such exaggeration: the destruction of 4.5 million people simply because they were in the way of Stalin’s plans is horrific enough, Hrynevych says.

Another aspect of the Holodomor that some misconstrue, she says, has to do with the supposed repopulation of deserted Ukrainian villages by ethnic Russians. That did in fact happen, but most quickly turned back because the situation in these places was “far from being a Klondike. Later these territories were forcibly settled by Ukrainians.”

It is important to remember the genocide Stalin committed against the people of Ukraine, Hrynevych concludes. But the memory of those who died because of him is not served by exaggeration. Misrepresenting the past is what the enemies of Ukraine do; those who are Ukrainian patriots need to defend the truth.

Further Reading:

Edited by: A. N.

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