Why isn’t the world
recognizing the Holodomor
as an act of genocide?
By Oleksandr Kramarenko
This article was prompted by Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasiuk’s recent appeal to the international community to recognize the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine as an act of genocide. As with his previous appeals, the world did not react to this one. I think that Mr. Tarasiuk, who is an experienced diplomat, was not counting on the success of that hopeless endeavor, just as he had not expected that last year’s appeals to step up Ukraine’s integration into NATO would have any positive effect.
Vivid proof of the unpreparednesss of the minister’s measures is the fact that our own Verkhovna Rada still has not recognized the Holodomor as an act of genocide. So, it was no surprise that in response to some Ukrainian parliamentarians’ appeal to the Israeli Knesset to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide, the Israeli parliament said it did not know anything about this genocide. This happened when Kyiv was marking the 65th anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy, so our MPs must have expected the Jews, moved as they were by the hospitality of the Ukrainian establishment during the ceremonies, to reciprocate.
I think that those gentlemen from the Verkhovna Rada not only have a rather vague idea about the Holodomor, they also failed to closely follow the events in Babyn Yar. They must have missed the speech delivered by Viacheslav Kantor, the leader of the Jewish communities in Russia, who angrily rejected all attempts to identify the Holodomor with the Holocaust because, in his opinion, the famine of 1932-1993 was not genocidal and that many peoples of the former USSR had also suffered.
We have heard statements like this before, haven’t we? Another possibility is that Kantor, as a representative of such a democratic country as Russia, simply had no choice. Yet his sharp condemnation of Ukrainians who had allegedly massacred Jews in Babyn Yar is evidence that he was voicing his own view.
Miracles do not happen in this world. The world will never recognize an act of genocide that is not perceived as such by the absolute majority of the people who suffered as a result of it. The question does not concern just the Verkhovna Rada’s procrastination (despite the fact that the parliamentarians are elected by those very people). Kantor’s speech in Kyiv must have been heard by our entire political leadership, including the president, by people who are supposed to be at the head of the movement to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide. Yet we have not heard a single response to the Moscow guest’s insolent statement. You must agree that against this background Ivan Dziuba’s speech during the ceremony (published in The Day) was like Don Quixote fighting windmills. [See below Невсипуща пересторога людству: Голодомор, Геноцид і Голокост]
At the same time, there is an essential methodological error in statements made by Tarasiuk and other politicians concerning the recognition of the Holodomor as an act of genocide. They all demand recognition of genocide with regard to Ukrainians in Ukraine, whereas this tragedy affected all Ukrainians who lived in the USSR at the time, Moreover, the consequences of that genocide were even more horrifying for Ukrainians who lived outside Ukraine.
When the Russian opponents of the Ukrainian genocide declare today that the famine took place not just in Ukraine but also in certain regions of Russia (the central Chernozem area, the North Caucasus, Central Volga region) and Kazakhstan, the Ukrainian side has no counterevidence. The impression is that our leaders either lack information about the Holodomor or are simply afraid to cross the Rubicon in their relations with the “elder brother” because he may react unfavorably.
Be that as it may, one could respond to the Russians in different ways, for example, by quoting Lenin’s right-hand man, Leon Trotsky, who can hardly be described as a Ukrainophile: “Nowhere else did repressions, purges, suppressions, and all other kinds of bureaucratic hooliganism in general acquire such a horrifying scope as in Ukraine, in the struggle against powerful forces concealed in the Ukrainian masses that desired more freedom and independence.”
True, this is an opinion voiced by a person who held a grudge against Stalin, but one can introduce more objective evidence of the Ukrainian genocide. Let us consider statistics-Soviet statistics, of course, but this very fact is what makes them more eloquent. The 1926 census points to 81,195,000 Ukrainians in the USSR, roughly the same number as the Russian population in this period. In 1939 the Soviet population showed an overall increment. There were considerably more Russians, but almost three times fewer Ukrainians: 28.1 million.
Even if we take the Holodomor death toll according to the maximum research figures (14 million victims), a big question remains. What happened to the other 39,095,000 Ukrainians? There were no world or civil wars in the Soviet empire between 1926 and 1939, and it was practically impossible to emigrate from the USSR.
It is impossible to answer this question immediately. No matter how you try, you have to begin looking for an answer from a distance. I will start by quoting Andrei Sakharov, the world-renowned Russian intellectual: “A large country was under communist control. Most of the population was hostile to the system. Representatives of the national culture and even a considerable part of the communists accepted Moscow’s rule only conditionally. From the party’s point of view, this was bad enough, but also because it represented a great danger for the regime in the future.” The great scientist said this precisely in regard to those 81,195,000 Ukrainians (as a humanist, Sakharov was hardly likely to regard Ukraine as only the territory determined by the Bolsheviks) of the 1920s, who, much to the chagrin of Comrade Stalin and his milieu, had no problems with national consciousness.
At the time the Russian Bolsheviks had to carry out Ukrainization in all ethnic Ukrainian lands. They were able to conquer Ukraine during the Civil War only on the third try. They succeeded only because none other than Ulyanov-Lenin, the evil genius of Bolshevism, realized in a timely fashion the mistakes of his chauvinistic policy and granted Ukrainians throughout the whole empire (not only the Ukrainian SSR) linguistic and cultural autonomy that would exist until the early 1930s.
Hence, there were more than 80 million people who were anything but Soviet, and on whom, strange as it may seem, the future of the Soviet empire depended, with its collectivization and industrialization campaigns, owing to the industrial and agricultural potential of the territories they inhabited. To understand this geopolitical discrepancy better, here is what V. Ovsiienko, a human rights champion from Kharkiv, has to say on the subject: “Ukrainians as an ethnos, with their profound religiosity, individualism, tradition of private property, and devotion to their plots of land, were not suited to the construction of communism, and this fact was noted by high-ranking Soviet officials. Ukraine had to be erased from the face of the earth, with the remainder of the Ukrainian people serving as material for a ‘new historical community,’ the Soviet people, the bulk of which were Russians and the Russian language and culture. Ukrainians as such could not enter communism in principle.”
But that is not all. Toward the end of the 1920s the Red Army did not have enough tanks, aircraft, and artillery for this materiel to play a decisive role in combat. In these conditions human resources and their combat experience counted for more, and cavalry was the main factor of success in battles.
All this was in the hands of the Ukrainians, who then occupied a large swathe of territory (300-400 km north of the Black Sea and over 1,500 km from the Zbruch River to the Terek. There were still Ukrainian veterans who had fought in elite tsarist units during the First World War. There were practically as many of them as the entire mobilization resource of the Red Army. During the New Economic Policy (NEP) almost every Ukrainian family had horses. There were also the Kuban and Terek Cossacks. At the time ethnic Ukrainians made up 83 percent of the Kuban population; 75 percent together with Stavropole; and 64 percent in the Russian part of Slobidska Ukraine (Kursk, Voronezh, and Belgorod oblasts). The Don area, part of this Ukrainian danger zone for the empire, would hardly have supported the Reds after the repressions against the White Cossacks.
Moreover, various kinds of otamans who terrorized Bolshevik grain delivery detachments would not lay down their arms until 1929, so in the event of an all-Ukraine uprising they would serve as battle-hardened field officers. All that such an uprising was missing was an organizer of the caliber of Symon Petliura. Such a personality could have emerged from among the nationally conscious Ukrainian communists or national intelligentsia, as some of these intellectuals had a classical military education.
That was why Stalin and his henchmen annihilated the Ukrainian intelligentsia and nationally conscious party members, dekulakized all potential leaders of a possible Ukrainian uprising under the guise of collectivization, and killed half the Ukrainian peasantry by famine. The other half suffered moral and psychological damage during the Holodomor, which has not healed to this day. This assumption is confirmed by the fact that there was no Holodomor in compact Ukrainian settlements in the Far East. They had the same mentality that was unacceptable to the regime, but they were safely isolated from the Ukrainian danger zone in the southwestern part of the empire by vast distances and means of communication of those days.
Of course, the Cossack population of the Kuban and Stavropole suffered the worst during that Bolshevik genocide. Those people were better organized in military terms and, naturally, fought the Red terror with all their might. Also, the Cossacks were forcefully Russified by a resolution of the CC AUCP (B) and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR of Dec. 14, 1932.
The level of national consciousness of the Kuban people is attested by the fact that, starving as they were, they rebelled against the campaign of Russification, but were crushed by GPU troops. The Bolsheviks shot and sent to concentration camps a total of 200,000 Ukrainians. All 17,000 residents of the Cossack village (stanytsia) of Poltavska were deported. The stanytsia was then renamed Krasnoarmeiskaia and resettled with Russians.
However, famine is one thing, but the Holodomor is another. The latter’s peak dates to the second half of 1933. After that even the proud Cossacks turned into miserable people without family or clan. Thus, when they and other Ukrainians living outside the Ukrainian SSR were invited to register themselves as Russians during the 1939 census, they did not object.
Moreover, after the Holodomor a number of Kuban Ukrainians and those in the Russian part of Slobidska Ukraine, after realizing why they had been killed, voluntarily Russified their surnames. That is how we now have Garbuzov instead of Harbuz, Matvienkov instead of Matviienko, Zozulin instead of Zozulia, Primakov instead of Pryimak, Chepurnov instead of Chepurny.
Ask some of your friends with such distorted surnames whether their grandparents and great-grandparents were Russian. In most cases they will reply in the negative. Ask them why they consider themselves Russian, and you will hear something like, Kakaia raznitsa? (What difference does it make?). So here are your answers to the questions of what happened to the majority of Ukrainians after the Holodomor in the USSR; why the population of the Kuban has a low percentage of Ukrainians, what was that famine in the North Caucasus and Central Chernozem region, and how this genocide, unprecedented in the history of mankind, destroyed national consciousness.
The Stalinist totalitarian regime tried hard to ensure that everyone kept silent about the Holodomor, even people who had survived it, as well as their children and grandchildren; so that no one knew about this genocide abroad, and if they found out about it, they would keep silent. This is precisely what the Nazi regime did to conceal its genocide of the Jews from the international community. Sad but true, the international community pretended not to notice what was happening in both cases. Nazi Germany was defeated by that community, and the bankrupt communist regime in the USSR was transformed into an oligarchic regime, as instructed by its leaders, doing so painlessly, primarily for those leaders.
That was why there was a Nuremberg for fascism but no Nuremberg for communism. That is what the whole world knows about the Holocaust, while even most of those whose relatives died a most horrible death by starvation know nothing about the Holodomor.
I have visited villages in Luhansk oblast alone and as a member of a group of representatives of the Association of Holodomor Researchers. This area is inhabited by Ukrainians and Russians (mostly Don Cossacks). In Russian villages old people were eager to talk about the famine of 1932-1933, and they mentioned fellow villagers who had not survived it. They were all buried in village cemeteries, in accordance with tradition, in separate graves. No one could remember a single case of cannibalism.
Ukrainian villages presented an altogether different picture. It was hard to find a person willing to talk about the famine, as most old men and women treated those who were asking questions with suspicion and distrust. Those who agreed to answer our questions talked about the Holodomor as a disaster and wept. None of them demanded justice for the murderers of their parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters.
There are also stories about cannibalism. The main difference between Ukrainian and Russian villages was that elderly Ukrainians pointed to a place, usually near a graveyard, where several hundred fellow villagers who had starved to death lay buried. Crosses had been erected in some of these places only recently.
In Luhansk oblast the distance between Ukrainian and Russian villages is sometimes only several kilometers. I consider this vivid proof of the Bolshevik genocide against the Ukrainians. However, to prove this to the international community, I think our state must open all these common graves in the presence of law enforcement officials, historians, ethnographers, forensic medical experts, and especially foreign journalists. Only then will the world learn that in Ukrainian villages and at Soviet railroad stations (and nowhere else) half the Ukrainian population died in 1933 alone (in some cases whole villages died). In fact, every Ukrainian village, except in western Ukraine, has its small Bykivnia.
The state must implement such measures on a daily basis and for many a year. Those who say that the famine encompassed all of the USSR at the time are right, of course. Yet, unlike the Holodomor, the peoples of the USSR survived that famine without such horrible losses. Only Ukrainians have such horrifying common graves that must be shown to the world. The presence of historians and ethnographers will be required in case Russia also wishes to show such graves in its “Russian” villages in the Chernozem region and in Cossack villages in the Kuban and Stavropole.
When all this happens, the international community will have no more arguments to refute the Bolshevik genocide of the Ukrainians. Of course, there will be no Nuremberg (there is no one left to stand trial), there will be no compensations from Russia — we don’t need them anyway.
But perhaps the most important thing will happen; its historical memory will finally be restored to the Ukrainian nation, and after that it will understand many things and will not allow outsiders to treat it the way they are doing now. This is now understood by a handful of Ukrainians who already know the truth about the Holodomor.