Great famine in Ukraine was downplayed by local Soviet authorities

While Ukraine claims the famine of the 1930s was actually a soviet genocide committed by the Kremlin, the authors of a new book by Russian historians reveal documents that show Moscow tried to help starving Ukrainians.

For five years from 1929 regions across the Soviet Union were hit by a famine which killed millions. The Soviet Union’s collectivization program is partly to blame. Peasants had grain taken away to build up stocks, but when the harvests were bad they were left with nothing and faced starvation. One of the worst-affected areas was Soviet Ukraine.

“More than 80 per cent of Soviet Union’s grain production was situated in Ukraine and the Kuban region. So these regions saw the most intensive repressions and harsh deprival measures. And that’s also where famine was felt the most,” Russian historian Viktor Kondrashin said.

Nowadays the issue of the 1930s famine has become a bone of contention between Russia and Ukraine.

Kiev regards it as genocide by Joseph Stalin, directed solely at Ukrainians, in an attempt to destroy the nation. Moscow is firm in its view: it was a common tragedy for the whole country. For instance, Kazakhstan lost almost a third of its population.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko has started an international campaign to have the famine acknowledged as a crime against humanity.

Historians cannot agree on the death toll even to this day.

“We have managed to establish a figure of 5.5 million people. But there could be more, if we look at other documents,” said Vasily Marochko, a historian from Kiev estimating the number of famine victims in Ukraine.


Monument to victims of the Great Famine in Kiev (AFP Photo /
Sergei Supinsky)

Moscow thinks it’s about half the figure claimed by Kiev.

To try and clear the air declassified documents from the Russian security service archives have been published for the first time.

“What this book reveals is the inability of the local authorities to inform the Kremlin of the unfolding tragedy. By the time Moscow realized the scale, it was too late and hundreds of thousands had died,” Russian historian Aleksandr Dukov says.

Indeed, in a letter dated October 1932 from the head of Ukraine’s communist party Stanislav Kossior to Joseph Stalin, he described the situation as stable. By that time the famine had already claimed millions.

In another declassified note, Stalin urged grain to be delivered to those suffering in Ukraine. It contradicts the allegations by Kiev the leader deliberately slashed all help to the starving regions.

According to the authors, they wanted to use declassified documents from all the former Soviet republics affected. Kazakhstan and Belarus agreed, but Ukraine demanded conditions. Kiev wanted a chapter reflecting what it called a genocide caused by the famine – something those who authored the book couldn’t agree with.