This poignant statue, at the entrance to the memorial park in Kyiv, Ukraine, is how I first learned about the Holodomor Genocide of 1932-33.
I first saw this photo just two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. I have to specify the year, because Russia (in one form or another) has been invading, annexing and generally mistreating Ukraine (in one form or another) since the 1700’s. (In case you’re feeling superior, remember that we Americans began committing genocide against Native Americans at about the same time. Our country, too, has much to answer for.)
The more I learn about the suppressed history of the world, the more horrified I become by man’s inhumanity to man. No one taught me about Holodomor in school. In fact, the United States only got around to recognizing Holodomor as a genocide perpetrated by the Russians in 2018, 86 years after this Russian-coordinated terror/famine occurred. (I am proud to say that my state, Washington, was the first US state to recognize Holodomor, nearly a year and a half earlier than the country did. But still, that’s a long period of silence.)
Ukraine’s history is complicated. Its pieces and parts have been under the purview of various tribes, kingdoms and countries since Neandertals first entered the area around 45,000 BC. This well-written article, including maps, can give you a better idea of the tug of war that has been happening in this region throughout history. What we now call Ukraine has been a geopolitical faultline between democracy and authoritarianism since its inception.
To understand the Holodomor Genocide, one must look at least as far back as the declaration of independence of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918, toward the end of World War I. Needless to say, the Russians were not amused. It is a grave oversimplification to say that Ukraine was swallowed back up by the soviets in 1919, and became an unwilling founding member of the USSR in 1922. This period was a long, exhausting one of fighting and resistance for the Ukrainian people.
1n 1932, Stalin decided he had had enough of the Ukrainian shenanigans. This area was too important for the Russians. It was, and still is, Europe’s breadbasket. This land produces five times more grain per hectare than can be produced on Russian soil. Stalin felt the need to bend these people to his will, and he did so in the most heinous way possible.
First, he took away all the farmland from the Ukrainian people, and forced them to work on collective farms for free. And then all the food produced by these farms was systematically removed from Ukraine, leaving the people to starve. By the spring of 1933, 17 Ukrainians died of starvation every minute, which is nearly 24,500 people every single day. Many would simply drop dead in the streets.
Most Ukrainian cities had buildings where orphaned children were housed. These places were effectively children’s concentration camps. The Russians did not allow them to have clothing or bedding, even in the dead of winter, and many were given only a teaspoon of milk a day. Most of these children were too weak to walk. They crawled. And the only reason they expended the energy to crawl was to find grass to eat. During their short, brutal lives, they were prohibited from speaking Ukrainian, and were subjected to political brainwashing to make them hate their own country.
Meanwhile, out in the countryside, many farms continued to resist collectivization. Those that did were confronted with what was called the Black Board Regime. If your village made the blacklist, it was surrounded by Russian troops. Its shops were emptied and closed. The food and livestock were confiscated. Village leaders were purged. If the people tried to steal grain from the fields, they were often shot on sight. They were deprived of the internal passports the Russians required you to have to travel anywhere. Some people resorted to cannibalism. Basically they were starved out. There was a 50 to 70 percent mortality rate in the 400 villages that were blacklisted.
The Russians denied (and still deny to this day) that this famine was happening. They refused all international aid. They made it illegal to even talk about this brutal reality that they themselves intentionally created, and as of this writing Russia has not been charged with war crimes for any of it.
Somewhere between 3.8 million and 10 million Ukrainians died during Holodomor.
Wherever villages were left deserted, Russians moved in to take up residence. About 17 percent of all Ukrainian citizens are now ethnically Russian. This is why much of Eastern Ukraine has a strong Russian Nationalist movement. Much like ours, this is a country bitterly divided.
Ukraine was not able to withdraw from the Soviet Union until 1991, and therefore they were not legally allowed to talk about Holodomor until that time. That’s nearly 60 years where an entire nation could not discuss or process its collective trauma. That’s got to leave a mark.
Since 2009, Ukrainians have observed a Holodomor remembrance day, and the National Museum of the Holodomor Genocide was opened in Kyiv at about that same time. I hope those efforts have helped the people move a little bit closer to healing…
…for a short while, anyway. Then Russia stole the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and nothing was done by the international community to stop it. In fact, after a brief burst of outrage, we have all apparently forgotten all about it. And then Russia invaded Ukraine as a whole starting this February, and the international community, while sympathetic and willing to provide aid and weaponry, refuses to get involved militarily for fear of sparking off WWIII and/or nuclear devastation.
And so, as has often been the case, Ukraine is left to battle Goliath on its own. Is it any wonder they’re fighting so hard? After all they’ve been through, they certainly have adequate motivation.
We must all stand with Ukraine. They are the front lines of a much bigger struggle. If they lose their freedom yet again, rest assured that ours will be under threat as well.
Now that you know about it, never forget Holodomor. To find out more, if your heart can take it, I highly recommend a documentary entitled “I Will Remember Them”, which was presented by the National Museum of the Holodomor Genocide, and is available to view on YouTube.
Wishing you peace, dear reader. Wishing us all peace.