The story of the Holodomor is the story of how an idea that seemed as full of potential as the fecund earth of Ukraine could result in genocide. Stalin was committed to the establishment of collective agriculture and the destruction of individual homesteads on the basis of Marx’s concept of “from each according to his capability to each according to his needs”. This ideal mesmerised many socialists in the West. One of them, George Bernard Shaw, visited the Soviet Union in 1933 and denied the existence of the Holodomor while carts went from house to house in Ukrainian villages collecting the dead. But why were the Ukrainian peasantry targeted by the Communist dictatorship? Stalin hated Ukraine because its existence threatened a distorted Marxism to which he dedicated his life -- humanity cannot be exterminated into perfection.
In a letter of 11th August  to Kaganovich Stalin wrote that he believed that Ukrainian nationalists working together with Polish spies were preparing to sever Ukraine from the Soviet Union and that the Ukrainian party was becoming a ‘caricature of a parliament’. He stated bluntly that ‘Unless we begin to straighten out the situation in Ukraine, we may lose Ukraine’The letter initiated the installation of Balyckyj to head up the Secret Police in Ukraine, and conduct a wave of executions and arrests which acted as a blanket under which the Holodomor was perpetrated.
It is however the secret central committee resolution of 14 December 1932 regarding grain requisitions in Ukraine, the North Caucasus and Western Oblasts which reveals the link between the requisitioning of food and the attack on Ukrainian nationalism. Under this resolution the campaign of food requisitioning was to be strengthened while the party in these regions would be purged of counter revolutionary elements and in particular the “bourgeois nationalists” in the Ukrainian communist party. The decree also required the Russification of education and publications in the Kuban.
The final round of searches were launched by the New Year Telegram sent by Stalin on 1 January 1933.. It was sent to the communist chiefs of Ukraine on 1st January 1933 and required them to make everyone in the collective farms aware that
- if people gave up bread that they had been hiding they would not be repressed.
- If they continued to hide bread they would face the severest methods of punishment detailed in the Law of 7th August 1932, the law of five ears, that is they would be shot.
This may be the most lethal telegram in history . The first point shows that all bread would be taken from Ukraine. However, the second point was addressed to those peasants who did not give up their bread, which in effect meant the vast majority. How would you find out if people were hiding grain/bread? The only way was to search. If bread was found during the course of a search you would be shot. But what would happen if nothing was found?
Most of the villagers in Ukraine knew that as of November 1932 if no bread was found during a search other food would be confiscated, the official term for this was natural fines, and the law talked of confiscating meat and potatoes. However, the evidence is that everything edible was stripped using this law in 1933. The telegram had initiated the mass theft from Ukrainian peasants of all their food. The vast number of eyewitness testimonies collected from Ukrainians who lived through the Holodomor prove that a policy of deliberate starvation by the confiscation of all food was inflicted on Ukraine early in 1933. Hanna Yermolenko, who was born in 1915, remembers that her village, Katerynka near Kirovograd ceased to exist after the Holodomor. She recollects the activists in early 1933 going from house to house and removing everything edible. She had hidden a few beans in a glove which she concealed in the ceiling. The activists found what can only have been a pathetic morsel and beat her up. They then beat her mother to death in front of her .
The directive of the communist party and the Soviet government prohibiting the departure of starving peasants from Ukraine and the Kuban, issued on January 22nd 1933 meant that Ukrainian peasants were sealed into ghettoes of starvation.
The operative order No.1 of 5th December 1932 which talked about the ‘organised sabotage of bread collection and theft’ in Ukraine and operative order No.2 from 13th February 1933 which talked about liquidating the nationalist underground in Ukraine are the pretext for the food requisitions and sealing of the borders. Operative orders Nos. 1 and 13 were intended to create the impression that there was a network of spies in Ukraine and indeed the OGPU under Balyckyj did conduct arrests, searches and executions. The blood of innocents was spilled to give credence to a lie but a lie that Stalin feared might become true. Ukraine might break away. A communist leader speaking in the Kharkiv region in 1934 said ‘Famine in Ukraine was brought on to decrease the number of Ukrainians, replace the dead with people from other parts of the USSR, and thereby to kill the slightest thought of any Ukrainian independence.’ Balyckyj, had given the game away when he said in front of an Italian Diplomat ‘the ethnographic material will be changed’ .
Wheatcroft and Davies, the two main researchers who oppose the Holodomor being recognised as a genocide base their view on the fact that some food was issued to peasants early in 1933. In fact the food was ‘loaned’ to peasants who were able to assist with the Spring sowing campaign and was simply to enable a limited number of peasants to live for long enough to maintain the continuity of the agricultural cycle. Postyshev made it clear that aid distributed in hospitals was to be targeted on those who could quickly return to work-- the rest were to be left to die.
We know that millions of Ukrainians were murdered to destroy the nation as an independent political entity but there is still room for debate over whether you believe the Soviet demographic statistics, which indicate that 3.8 million to 4.5 million people may have died, or the words of one of the architects of the famine who believed that upwards of 8 million people died. You can also argue that only counting deaths over and above the ordinary mortality rate is flawed -- anyone who died of enforced starvation in rural Ukraine in early 1933 is a victim even if they would have died of some other illness or old age. We also need to be aware that some other ethnic minorities were caught in the cordon of hunger which Stalin threw around Ukraine and ethnically Ukrainian territories. We need to know that there were sporadic instances of natural fines being applied elsewhere and that some oblasts in Russia also suffered as Stalin targeted resistance to collectivization. However the combination of enforced starvation targeted on an entire ethnic group combined with an assault on its national culture is unique. The vast scope and the criminal intent of the Holodomor are all now beyond doubt. There is a point at which debate becomes denial and disinformation.
By Steve Komarnyckyj