Ukrainian President Wants Soviet-era Famine Declared Genocide

KIEV (AP)--President Viktor Yushchenko appealed to lawmakers Thursday to support legislation declaring the Soviet-era famine that killed up to 10 million people in Ukraine as genocide, a move Russia has strongly opposed.

Moscow has argued the 1932-33 famine was part of Communist repression that also targeted other ethnic groups in the former Soviet Union, and it is wrong to single out the Ukrainian people and call it a genocide against them.

The Great Famine, as the event is known by Ukrainians, was started by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin when he ordered the government to seize crops as part of a campaign to force Ukrainian peasants to join collective farms.

"We aren't accusing any people, any country or anyone in Ukraine of genocide," Yushchenko said in his letter to the 450-member parliament. "That is not the aim of this bill. The author of this evil act was Stalin's regime."

No vote has been scheduled on the bill currently before parliament.

The issue remains highly charged in the former Soviet republic because calling it genocide would amount to an indictment of Soviet policies - something some Communists and many pro-Russian politicians are loath to do. Russia, as the successor state of the Soviet Union, has also been reluctant to look too deeply into Communist-era crimes.

Ten countries have already recognized the famine as genocide, including the U.S., Canada and Austria.

Yushchenko noted all three presidents since Ukraine's 1991 independence from the Soviet Union have supported the effort, and he said opinion polls show most Ukrainians support such a pronouncement.

"Ukrainians have to find in themselves the courage to recognize this and convince others that our nation became the victim of a horrible evil - the evil of genocide that can never be allowed to happen again," Yushchenko said.