Ukraine’s great famine remembered: was it genocide?

Ceremonies are being held in Ukraine to remember the victims of Josef Stalin's collectivisation drive. Seventy-five years ago the resulting famine claimed 10 million lives in the country. Ukraine demands that the campaign be internationally recognised as

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushenko has proclaimed 2008 a year of commemoration of the victims of the great famine.

Monument to the famine victims in Ukraine
Monument to the famine victims in Ukraine

In 1929 Stalin launched his collectivisation programme. No private farmer was safe. The government confiscated crops and in doing so effectively engineering the famine. Ukrainian villages that failed to fulfill the bread-delivery quota were listed on ‘black boards’, and all food supplies were cut off.

The famine, known in Russian and Ukrainian as the 'Holodomor', had a devastating effect.

Hundreds of thousands starved. The exact number still not known and some resortred to cannibalism. More than 2,000 village rebellions took place in Ukraine. The number shows that there was some resistance against Communist authorities  in almost every village .

Ukraine has battled for years to have the famine recognised as genocide. President Yushchenko calls for denial of this point of view to be criminalised, equating it to the holocaust.

Ukrainian political nationalists are demanding compensation from Russia.

Russia accepts Stalin was behind it, but denies ethnic motives. People starved all over the Soviet Union. Why, it asks, should Ukraine be different?

For Ukraine, though, the famine is a symbol of oppression.

In Moscow, Ukrainians laid flowers at the Solovetsky Stone – a memorial to all victims of totalitarian regimes, and a testament to a refusal to forget.