The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


By Caryle Murphy, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post, Washington, D.C.
Saturday, October 1, 1983

Hundreds of Ukrainian Americans are in Washington this week to commemorate a famine in their homeland 50 years ago in which millions died and to protest what they say is the Soviet Union's continued refusal to acknowledge the breadth of the famine on the part of Soviet policies played in causing it.

The gathering will be the first national commemoration of the so-called "Great Famine" of 50 years ago, a crisis that is now a rallying point for anti-Soviet Ukrainians.

"We believe it was a genocide," said Andrij Bilyk, one of the spokesman for the National Committee to Commemorate Genocide Victims in Ukraine 1932-33, a coalition of about 70 Ukrainian organizations that organized this week's events.

"It's a very important moment in Ukrainian history--an important as the Holocaust is in the history of the Jews," said Omeljan Pritsak, director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, the largest center for Ukrainian studies in the United States.

Last Sunday [September 25, 1983], Ukrainian churches across the country held services inaugurating the commemoration, which also has included nightly candlelight vigils outside the Soviet Embassy and a panel discussion of the famine at the American Enterprise Institute. Organizers say they expect up to 5,000 people Sunday for the final event--a march from the Washington Monument to the Soviet Embassy.

In literature, Ukrainians have called their fertile homeland, now one of the 15 republics in the Soviet Union, "the second-largest European country." There are hundreds of Ukrainian organizations among the estimated 1 million Ukrainian Americans and many of the younger ones still speak the language of their parents and grandparents.

Pritsak said that demographic studies have shown that between 5 and 6 million Ukrainians died in the famine that resulted from Stalin's drive to collectivize agriculture. In his determination to crush Ukrainian peasant resistance to the collectivization and to break their anti-Russian nationalistic spirit, he ordered harsh measures by government troops against farmers.

Despite a drop in food production, harvests continued to be exported, food was confiscated from granaries and homes, there was a physical "blockade" on food imports to the Ukraine and the death penalty for "hoarding" food, according to academicians taking part in this week's panel at the American Enterprise Institute. New internal controls on travel kept peasants from going to cities to search for food or from leaving the Ukraine. Resisting peasants were deported to Siberia. The result was widespread death by starvation.

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Although Stalin's policies affected all regions and were anti-peasant, not specifically anti-Ukrainian, they caused the most suffering in the Ukraine and were seen by its inhabitants as a policy of genocide to subjugate the Ukraine to communist rule. "There is no debate that this famine was manmade and encouraged by the authorities," said Vojtech Mastny, a specialist in Soviet and East European affairs at Boston University. "It was a major outrage and a major tragedy."

Soviet historical literature on the Ukrainian famine is almost nonexistent and there is nothing that approximates admission of government errors during that period according to James E. Mace and Robert Conquest, two experts on the famine who took part in the AEI panel.

The only admission they have found in any Soviet publication was in 1975 when V. I. Kozlov, writing on mortality rates in various parts of the Soviet Union in a book titled "Nationalities of the U.S.S.R.," noted that " a crop failure in 1932 in the Ukraine probably even led to a temporary increase in mortality."

It is this failure to speak about the famine that angers many Ukrainians and has brought many of them to this week's commemoration.

"It's completely hushed up, it's as if nothing happened." said Jaroslawa Francozenko of Rockville, a Kiev-born woman who was at the candlelight vigil outside the embassy Wednesday night. She said she wants the Soviets "just to make a mention of it."

Others, like Bilijk, however, demand more. Asked what he wants from the Soviets, Biljyk answered with one word: "Independence."

The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 1, 1983