The Ukrainian Famine "Holodomor": Natural Disaster or Genocide?

The 1932–1933 famine in Ukraine is known as Holodomor, which literally means hunger extermination. The Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin strategically used the famine to repress Ukrainian nationalists and peasants who opposed collectivization. Furthermore, Stalin’s policies made hunger a weapon against what he perceived was an emerging independence movement in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Soviet officials seized food from starving peasants and prevented them from fleeing to teach them subservience to the Soviet Union. Despite crop yields higher than those during the 1921–1922 Soviet Famine, the Holodomor caused four times as many deaths. Although some Russian scholars and politicians disagree, many historians refer to Holodomor as a genocide. However, Soviet propaganda attempted to deny that Stalin’s policies were intentionally meant to decimate Ukrainians. Instead, they asserted that the large number of deaths were related to natural processes and unforeseen economic consequences. The Soviet government banned any discussions relating to the famine until the late 1980s, and ordered historians to depict the famine as an unavoidable natural disaster. The Holodomor caused the death of an estimated 3.5 million people, although some estimates claim a higher death total, and some scholars have compared the devastating event to the Holocaust. 

Contributed by Tommy Smith
Course: Global Environmental History
Instructor: Andrew Stuhl, Ph.D.
Bucknell University, Lewisburg, US

Further Readings: 
  • Graziosi, Andrea. “The Soviet 1931-1933 Famines and the Ukrainian Holodomor: Is a New Interpretation Possible, and What Would Its Consequences Be?” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 27, no. 1/4 (2004-2005): 97-115.
  • Kul’chyts’kyi, Stanislav, Olynyk, Marta and Wynnyckyj, Andrij. “The Holodomor and Its Consequences in the Ukrainian Countryside.” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 30, no. 1/4 (2008): 1-13.