Amid the latest invasion of Ukraine, the European Parliament on Thursday declared the starvation of millions in Ukraine under Soviet Union a genocide.
In this connection, the European Parliament approved a resolution which read the EU legislature “recognises the Holodomor, the artificial famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine caused by a deliberate policy of the Soviet regime, as a genocide against the Ukrainian people”.
Holodomor was a plan executed by Joseph Stalin – the then Soviet leader who is known for tens of thousands of deaths and deportations during his harsh rule.
The step comes days after Ukraine marked 90 years since the famine and as Russian forces wage a devastating war against the country. Kyiv has urged the international community to officially declare the starvation “genocide” as Ukraine confronts Moscow’s modern-day aggression.
Meanwhile, the vote by the European parliament is likely to draw ire from Russia, where officials have increasingly sought to rehabilitate Stalin’s image under President Vladimir Putin. EU legislators urged “all the countries and international organisations which have not yet recognised the Holodomor as a genocide to do so”.
They also condemned “the current Russian regime’s manipulation of historical memory for the purpose of regime survival”. German lawmakers passed a resolution declaring the famine a genocide last month.
What Holodomor is
The 1932-33 “Holodomor” — Ukrainian for “death by starvation” — is regarded by Kyiv as a deliberate act of genocide by Stalin’s regime with the intention of wiping out the peasantry. Stalin’s campaign of forced “collectivisation” seized grain and other foodstuffs and left millions to starve. The Holodomor has long been a major sticking point in ties between Russia and Ukraine.
During this period, millions of Ukrainians were killed. The primary victims of the Holodomor) were rural farmers and villagers, who made up roughly 80 percent of Ukraine’s population in the 1930s. While it is impossible to determine the precise number of victims of the Ukrainian genocide, most estimates by scholars range from roughly 3.5 million to 7 million (with some estimates going higher).
The most detailed demographic studies estimate the death toll at 3.9 million. Historians agree that, as with other genocides, the precise number will never be known.
State of affairs before genocide
The Ukrainian territories were divided between the Austrian and Russian Empires in the beginning of the 18th century. In the aftermath of World War I and the overthrow of the Russian monarchy in February 1917, Ukraine set up a provisional government, declaring itself the independent Ukrainian People’s Republic in January 1918. The Ukrainian People’s Republic fought the Bolshevik Red Army for three years (1918-1921) but lost its fight for independence.
The bulk of Ukrainian territory was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, or USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), and by 1922 Ukraine became the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. At that time, the USSR sanctioned the requisition of all surplus agricultural products from the rural population, resulting in economic collapse.
Causes of Stalin’s actions
By the end of the 1920s, Stalin had consolidated his control over the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Feeling threatened by Ukraine’s strengthening cultural autonomy, Stalin took measures to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry and the Ukrainian intellectual and cultural elites to prevent them from seeking independence for Ukraine.
To prevent “Ukrainian national counterrevolution,” Stalin initiated mass-scale political repressions through widespread intimidation, arrests, and imprisonment. Thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals, church leaders, and Ukrainian Communist Party functionaries who had supported pro-Ukrainian policies were executed by the Soviet regime.
At the same time, Stalin decreed the First Five Year Plan, which included the collectivization of agriculture, effectively ending the NEP. Collectivization gave the Soviet state direct control over Ukraine’s rich agricultural resources and allowed the state to control the supply of grain for export. Grain exports would be used to fund the USSR’s transformation into an industrial power.
The majority of rural Ukrainians, who were independent small-scale or subsistence farmers, resisted collectivization. They were forced to surrender their land, livestock and farming tools, and work on government collective farms (kolhosps) as laborers. Historians have recorded about 4,000 local rebellions against collectivization, taxation, terror, and violence by Soviet authorities in the early 1930s. And the Soviet secret police (GPU) and the Red Army ruthlessly suppressed these protests. Tens of thousands of farmers were arrested for participating in anti-Soviet activities, shot, or deported to labor camps.
The wealthy and successful farmers who opposed collectivization were labeled “kulaks” by Soviet propaganda (“kulak” literally means “a fist”). They were declared enemies of the state, to be eliminated as a class. The elimination of the so-called “kulaks” was an integral part of collectivization. It served three purposes: as a warning to those who opposed collectivization, as a means to transfer confiscated land to the collective farms, and as a means to eliminate village leadership. Thus, the secret police and the militia brutally stripped “kulaks” not only of their lands but also their homes and personal belongings, systematically deporting them to the far regions of the USSR or executing them.
Collectively, these mass repressions, along with manipulation of state-controlled grain purchases and collectivization through the destruction of Ukrainian rural community life, set the stage for the total terror – a terror by hunger, the Holodomor.