3. WHAT IS THE CRUX OF THE
Ukrainian and Russian
scholars interpretation of the 1932-1933 famine in the USSR
"It is not my goal to strive for a compromise. A scholar’s task is to
show the past the way it actually was."
Article by Stanislav Kulchytsky, noted Historian,
Professor, Scholar, Researcher of the Holodomor,
Institute of Ukrainian History at the National Academy of Science of
Part I - The Day Weekly Digest in English
#3, Kyiv, Ukraine, Tue, 03 Feb 2009
Part II - The Day Weekly Digest in English #4, Kyiv,
Ukraine, Tue, 10 Feb 2009
Part III - The Day Weekly Digest in English #5, Kyiv, Ukraine,
Tue, 17 Feb 2009
Part IV - The Day Weekly Digest in English #6, Kyiv, Ukraine,
Tue, 24 Feb 2009
PART I - The Day Weekly
Digest in English #3,
Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, 3 February 2009
The different approaches of Ukrainian and Russian scholars to the
interpretation of the 1932–33 famine in the USSR first manifested
themselves fifteen years ago. Practically from the very beginning this
essentially scholarly issue turned into a political one.
In 2008, the Year to Remember the Victims of the Holodomor, the dispute
between politicians and scholars in both countries over this tragic
page in our common history had become a quarrel, and the Ukrainian
citizens of the Russian Federation were not allowed to carry out the
memorial project “Inextinguishable Candle.”
Can both sides reach an understanding? What does it take? While
formulating my answers to these questions, it is not my goal to strive
for a compromise. A scholar’s task is to show the past the way it
SOME RESULTS OF 2008
The staggering amount of new information about the Holodomor is the
main result of 2008. The publication of the National Book of Memory
with information about the 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine was an
The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory succeeded in organizing this
publication, which consists of 19 large-format volumes, each with up to
1,000 pages of text, including analytical essays, documents, photos,
eyewitness accounts, and a martyrology.
Furthermore, other collections of documents were published, including
the four-volume collection of findings of the US Congress Commission on
the Ukraine Famine Velykyi holod v Ukraini 1932–1933 rr. (The Great
Famine in Ukraine, 1932–1933), monographs, collections of articles,
albums, memoirs, and popular books.
Scholarly conferences were held in a number of Ukrainian cities and
major European and North American universities. Exhibits of Holodomor
documents took place in Ukraine and abroad. An impressive monument to
the Holodomor victims was unveiled in Kyiv.
Nevertheless, we failed to convince the UN to recognize the Holodomor
as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people (primarily because
of Russia’s counteraction). Nor did we succeed in convincing a
considerable part of our fellow citizens that it was indeed so.
Moreover, on Dec. 17–24 the Razumkov Center’s sociological service
carried out a poll that revealed a large-scale social allergy to the
Holodomor subject. The findings indicated that a mere three percent of
the respondents believed that the Holodomor was an event of the
This kind of allergy has a logical explanation. Not doubting the fact
that millions died in the Holodomor, society, nevertheless, rejects
political confrontation over this issue, both inside the country and in
relations with Russia. What can be done in this situation? First, set
forth our arguments and hear the arguments of the other side. Second,
bring to the court of international public opinion the refusal of those
who lend a deaf ear to the arguments.
MAIN TOPIC OF THE DEBATE
One can single out the main topic in the Ukrainian-Russian debate on
the Holodomor: the presence or absence of fundamental distinctions
between the Holodomor in Ukraine and the famine elsewhere in the Soviet
Union. In blocking the recognition of the Holodomor as an act of
genocide against the Ukrainian people on an international level, Russia
chose to deny the regional distinctions in the all-Union famine of
Even a long newspaper article will not suffice to describe all aspects
of the Ukrainian-Russian debate. In order to formulate the stand taken
by each side and assess it from the scholarly point of view, it is
necessary to provide one’s own system of conclusions, along with the
most important underlying facts. Therefore, it is necessary to choose
the main topic of this debate. I will try to demonstrate how the
Ukrainian Holodomor was different from the all-Union famine.
SCOPE OF THE UKRAINIAN FAMINE
The Institute of History at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
(NANU) collectively published an 888-page-long book dedicated to the
70th anniversary of the Holodomor. We took copies to Moscow to discuss
this study with Russia’s leading experts on agrarian history. The
discussion took place on March 29, 2004, at the Institute of General
History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The Russian scholars’ response was that the famine in Ukraine was no
different from that all over the Soviet Union. Later, V. Danilov and I.
Zelenin published an article in the periodical Otechestvennaia istoria
(History of the Fatherland).
The closing paragraph reads: “If one were to characterize the Holodomor
of 1932–33 as a ‘deliberate act of genocide against the Ukrainian
peasantry,’ as certain Ukrainian historians insist, then it would be
necessary to bear in mind that this act of genocide was in equal
measure aimed against the Russian peasantry.”
The above quote has a dear price. Many instantly reject the possibility
of genocide against the Soviet people on the part of the functionaries
of the workers and peasants’ government. An answer to this could be as
follows: “Study the events that took place in Russia, while we will
focus on Stalin’s repressions in Ukraine.” But this answer would be
purely formal because the famine of 1932–33 is part of our common
On the face of it, the Ukrainian SSR and the Russian Federation appear
to have suffered from the famine in equal measure. Estimates published
in 2001 by the Australian demographer Stephen Wheatcroft indicate that
the famine-related excessive death rate in each of the two union
republics was approximately the same, totaling 3.5 million. (The
Tragedy of the Soviet Village, 1927-1939, vol. 3, pp. 866–887).
Calculations made in 2008 by the NANU’s Institute of Demography yielded
approximately the same figures that indicate direct losses. These
figures tally with my own estimates published in 1990. When analyzing
demographic data, which requires special training, I used the help of a
Harvard researcher who is known in the international scholarly quarters
under the pseudonym of Maksudov. (His real name is Aleksandr
Babionyshev. As a dissident, he was expelled from the USSR.)
However, this similarity between the death toll numbers in the two
republics is deceptive. At the time, the Russian Federation included
the Kuban district of the Northern Caucasus territory and the Kazakh
Autonomous Republic, which took the lion’s share of the losses.
If we regard the Ukrainian-speaking Kuban area as part of Ukraine
(abortive reunion attempts were made in the 1920s) and Kazakhstan as a
country outside the Russian Federation (it received the status of a
union republic in 1936, and the famine there had its own distinct
features), then the excessive death rate in the Russian regions would
be equal to hundreds of thousands of lives. In fact, this is enough to
speak of genocide, but millions of people starved to death in Ukraine
means that some other factor was at play.
After discussing our monograph on the Holodomor in Moscow, I left the
city with a firm resolution to find out why Ukraine’s losses were an
order of magnitude greater than Russia’s. I admit that I knew even then
that the difference in the losses was the result of a carefully
camouflaged NKVD operation, which was carried out only in the Ukrainian
SSR and Kuban. The only thing I was not sure of was whether this could
be proved with documentary evidence. When planning the most heinous act
of terrorism in his lifetime, Stalin made sure all tracks were covered.
The task I set myself took many years to fulfill. My research was like
a routine police investigation. At times documents I had long known
acquired an altogether new meaning when compared with the newly
discovered ones. I seldom worked in the archives, mostly using sources
that were put in scholarly circulation in sufficient quantities. After
all, hundreds of regional ethnographers, archivists, and scholars were
tackling the topic of the Holodomor.
Den’/The Day promptly published the first results of my work. These
articles would later serve as the basis of a book in the newspaper’s
Library Series. Other books were published in 2007-08.
Then I wrote the analytical essay “This is how it was,” which opens the
concluding volume of the National Book of Memory devoted to the 1932-33
Holodomor in Ukraine. However, the shortest way to the reader in and
outside Ukraine is through Den’/The Day, which combines quick access to
information, as a newspaper should, with an opportunity to buttress the
conclusions with sufficient evidence.
GENOCIDE OR NOT?
Both the Ukrainian and Russian sides agree that the famine of 1932-33
was caused by state-run grain procurement campaign. To arrive at this
conclusion, it is enough to browse through the literature on the
subject; its list keeps expanding, now also in Russia.
I am convinced that if the Ukrainian side continues to speak in unison
with the Russian side on the subject of grain procurement, it will not
be able to convince the opponent that it has a valid point about the
genocide. While it is true that the grain procurement policy caused
countless deaths, it is very difficult, actually impossible, to prove
that this policy was used by the government as a method of deliberate
annihilation of fellow citizens.
It is an established fact that initial cause behind the famines in the
1920s and 1940s was a natural disaster, a colossal drought. We also
know that in 1930-33 the weather conditions were favorable for the
crops. When the leadership of the Communist Party of Ukraine allowed
documents relating to the famine of 1932-33 to be published, it had to
offer an explanation for the tragedy.
A resolution of the CC CPU of Jan. 26, 1990 read: “Archival materials
show that the direct cause of the famine in the early 1930s in the
republic was the forced grain procurement policy that involved
large-scale repressions and proved to be disastrous for the peasantry.”
The state was procuring grain to feed the cities and the army. It also
sold grain abroad in order to receive hard currency and purchase the
equipment required for the new construction projects that were carried
out according to the five-year plan. Grain procurement quotas,
disastrous as they were for the peasants, were enforced in all
grain-producing regions. The result was a famine in these rural areas,
as well as in cities which experienced cuts in bread rations or were
denied centralized food supplies altogether.
Famine can undoubtedly serve as an instrument of genocide. However, the
Ukrainian politicians who are struggling to have the Holodomor
internationally recognized as an act of genocide are using only one
argument: considerably more people died of hunger in Ukraine than in
Russia. It does not take a stretch of imagination to predict the
reaction of the other side when this doubtlessly strong argument is
“enhanced” with concrete figures.
I say “enhanced” because they speak of the death toll of 10-million and
more, without any facts to prove it. For reasons best known to
themselves, some politicians push aside demographers and come up with
numbers spun out of thin air. This is a naive stand, considering that
demographic statistics have been in the public domain since 1989 and
that researchers in many countries in the West have spent years
assessing and analyzing these excessive death rates.
Our opponents in Russia recognize the difference in the excessive death
rates in the Ukrainian SSR and the neighboring regions, but they refer
to an outwardly convincing argument: “The Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban
region were the main producers of grain for export, so this is one and
only reason why grain procurements were especially damaging there.” One
is reminded of the lines from Ivan Krylov’s fable The Wolf and the
Lamb: “You are guilty if only because I’m hungry.”
Yet it works when it comes to determining whether or not it was an act
of genocide. If the state wanted to supply grain to the cities or
export it, this government can only be accused of criminal neglect of
the peasants’ pressing needs. This neglect resulted in starvation and
mass deaths, but in this context it is impossible to speak about death
by famine as the ultimate objective of the grain procurement policy. In
other words, the Russian side perceives no signs of genocide here.
In contrast to this, the Ukrainian side is only too well aware that
grain procurements can be used to step up industrialization (as was the
case in Ukraine) and suppress the national liberation struggle. “The
rawboned hand of famine” combined with grandiloquent declarations of
friendship among peoples was a good way to keep the Ukrainian republic
under the Kremlin’s control.
They tell us about Dniprohes (Dnipro Hydropower Plant) and Magnitka
[Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works], and we, in turn, quote from
Stalin’s confidential letter to Kaganovich dated Aug. 11, 1932: “If we
don’t set about correcting the situation in Ukraine now, we may lose
Ukraine… I repeat, we may lose Ukraine.” (Stalin and Kaganovich.
Correspondence, 1931–1936., Moscow, 2001, p. 274— in Russian.) Then
what? Each side holds to its view.
Will we succeed in convincing Russian politicians and scholars that
Stalin used the grain procurements policy as a form of terror by famine
aimed at keeping Ukraine within the boundaries of the Soviet Union?
Regrettably, we cannot find out what criteria the Kremlin was guided by
when setting grain delivery quotas for the regions. Stalin was not in
the habit of putting down motives behind actions.
There are only two cases when the impenetrable curtain behind which he
stayed was lifted: the letter to Kaganovich of Aug. 11, 1932 quoted
above and his well-known May 6, 1933 letter to Mikhail Sholokhov in
which he accused grain-growers in the Don region of sabotaging the
grain procurement campaign.
Therefore, we only have indirect evidence of the punitive role played
by the grain procurements. The personae of the drama that was played
out at the time, they could only wonder about the causes behind so
badly exaggerated quotas. Here is an example. On July 6, 1932, the GPU
commissioner of Novopskovsk raion (Donetsk oblast) submitted a secret
report to the head of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR. This document
enables us to see the train of thought of the raion party committee
Commenting on the exaggerated grain procurement quota for the 1931
harvest set for the Ukrainian SSR by Moscow, he noted: “They could have
been mistaken about ten to twenty raions, things like that happen, but
such mistakes in calculations for nearly all raions of Ukraine is
something else altogether. If only they wrote a brief memo explaining
the reasons. Now we have to rack our brains, trying to figure all this
out. Look at the CChO (Central Chernozem Oblast, then part of the RSFSR
and bordering on Ukraine — S.K.)— they have lots of grain, while here
people are starving.”
Without doubt, such ruthless procurement of the 1931 and 1932 harvest
crops killed hundreds of thousands of peasants in Ukraine and other
grain-producing regions of the USSR. It would serve everyone’s benefit
if together with Russian scholars we would search Russia’s presidential
archives, trying to find documentary evidence that such grain
procurements were used as a means of terror by famine at a certain time
and in certain regions. Meanwhile, until we can ascertain all
circumstances, we have to abandon efforts to characterize the famine of
1932–33 in the USSR as an act of genocide.
Does this mean that we must discard our legislatively fixed concept of
the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people? By no
means! We must learn to distinguish between the famine in Ukraine in
the first half of 1932, which in every way resembles the all-Union
famine of 1932, and the Holodomor that took place in the first half of
1933, against the background of the all-Union famine.
Using two years as the dates of the Holodomor is absolutely acceptable,
but only because Stalin’s regime took punitive measures, which were not
directly related to grain procurements, in the blacklisted Ukrainian
villages in November–December 1932. The same measures were applied in
January 1933 to all of Ukraine, leading to the Holodomor.
II - The Day Weekly Digest in English #4,
Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Holodomor, death by hunger, is also a famine except that it is the
worst of its kind. The famine in the USSR was caused by grain
procurements, while the Holodomor — by the confiscation of all
foodstuffs after the state took away all peasants’ grain. People died
of hunger both before all food was confiscated and during the
Holodomor. The circumstances in which they died meant nothing to them.
But to us, their descendants, they do. Otherwise it is impossible to
say that the government was saving the working class or itself from
default by exporting grain, because default threatened the loss of
property abroad. Another case is the use of famine in order to
massacre people. This is what we call genocide.
In the grain-stripped villages people who did not have private plots
and kitchen gardens — beggars and poor peasants — were dying of
hunger. Those who had could make it to the next harvest using produce
from their plots. After 1928 the food stores and shops turned into
distribution centers where foods were available only to people
with ration cards for foodstuffs or industrial goods. The only other
sources of supply was the village bazaar or a Torgsin state-run
hard-currency store (Torgsin is an acronym for torgovlia s
inostrantsami, trade with foreigners).
Here locals could also buy food, but only with hard currency or in
return for pieces of jewelry. Therefore, collective and individual
farmers’ food reserves acquired strategic importance for them.
Villages without such reserves were doomed to death by hunger.
Large-scale confiscation of foodstuffs automatically eliminated
bazaars, while the peasants had no hard currency.
It is necessary to ascertain whether the state resorted to the
confiscation of all foodstuffs before the Holodomor. So far this
question has not been raised for the simple reason that no one
distinguished between the all-union famine (Ukraine included) from
the Holodomor. It appears that confiscation of foods was used by the
government previously as a punitive measure, although not all
foodstuffs were taken away.
Here is what Pastushenko, secretary of the Komsomol cell in the village
of Polonyste (currently in Holovanivsk raion, Kirovohrad oblast),
wrote in a letter to Stalin on Feb. 10, 1932: “Now we have one setback
after the next; a team of 86 men has been out searching [for grain]
for three months with nothing to show for it. Day after they search
one [peasant] home after the next. Since the start of the campaign
they have ransacked every home sixty times over. They have taken away
every pound of produce, leaving each collective farmer two poods of
potatoes. The rest has been procured.”
On Oct. 22, 1932, the Politburo of the CC VKP(B) dispatched a grain
procurements commission to the Ukrainian SSR headed by Viacheslav
Molotov, Chairman of the Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars)
of the USSR. Another one, headed by CC VKP(b) Secretary Lazar
Kaganovich, was sent to the Northern Caucasus. The Kremlin organized ad
hoc central emergency authorities in these regions. Their resolutions
were signed by regional party functionaries.
In accordance with the instructions received from Stalin, Molotov wrote
the resolutions of the republican party and government institutions
and sent them to Stalin (Holodomor 1932-1933 rokiv v Ukraini.
Dokumenty i materially — 1932-1933 Holodomor in Ukraine. Documents
and Materials, Kyiv, 2007, p. 207).
Approved by the Kremlin, they were published as a resolution of the CC
CP(B)U of Nov. 18, and a resolution of the Radnarkom of the Ukrainian
SSR of Nov. 20, under the same title: “On Measures to Enhance Grain
Procurements.” Both resolutions demand confiscation of grain stolen in
the course of the harvest campaign, threshing, and transportation.
This sinister clause meant that the state was sanctioning searches of
peasant homes to confiscate what grain was found there.
In addition to the requirement to carry out searches, these resolutions
contained an equally vicious clause on in-kind fines — those who
failed to meet their grain quota had to compensate the deficit with
meat and potatoes. The Komsomol activist Pastushenko had complained to
the party general secretary about such in-kind fines, but now Stalin
was applying them and turned them into a law. They are the Holodomor’s
Our Russian colleagues say time and time again that the same happened
in Russia, and the most radical-minded of them add that if it was
genocide, then it affected the rural population in all grain-producing
regions. Therefore, I hasten to admit that in-kind fines were applied
as a means of stepping up grain procurements in the Volga region
(Povolzhie), Central Grain-Producing District, and districts in the
Northern Caucasus territory adjacent to the Kuban region.
One should not, however, mistake terror by famine for grain
procurements that could involve such methods as in-kind fines or
confiscation of homesteads and exile to the northern regions of the
USSR — these were applied in certain individual cases. There was no
other single region, except the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban, where
in-kind fines were imposed all over the countryside.
6. AIM OF THE “DEVASTATING BLOW”
In their declarations Stalin’s team of internationalists recognized
the supremacy of the class only in the area of their repressive policy.
Stalin could afford to declare collective responsibility on the basis
of ethnic origin only during the war of extermination against Nazi
Germany (slogans “Kill a German!”, deportation of ethnic Germans and
the so-called small peoples [ethnic minorities] to Kazakhstan’s
deserts). The ethnic component of repressions in the 1930s was
The deportation of tens of thousands of “German fascists” and
“Pilsudski’s Poles” from the Ukrainian territories along the Polish
border in 1934–35 was carried out as a top secret military operation.
The blow dealt to the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban region in 1932–33 was
disguised as a campaign against kulak sabotage, which was claimed to be
causing the cities and the army to starve. The only thing on record is
the censoring of statements indicative of repressions on an ethnic
basis in the articles published by the free press.
In the second half of 1932, the USSR was on the verge of an economic
catastrophe. Agriculture was degrading, the grain procurements campaign
had been bungled, and a large-scale famine was raising its ugly head. A
group of ranking party members headed by A. Smirnov declared that the
“general line” of the CC VKP(B) in Stalin’s interpretation was a threat
to the party and the entire country.
On Nov. 27, 1932, Stalin called a joint meeting of the highest bodies
of the party, whose members had already become puppets on his strings:
the Politburo of the Central Committee and the Presidium of the
Central Control Commission of the VKP(B). The general secretary raised
the matter of the Smirnov-led “counterrevolutionary” group. The
dissenters were punished and copies of the minutes were sent to party
activists as guidelines in combating dissidence.
In 2007 the Russian State Archives of Social and Political History and
the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace published the
edited minutes (sent to party activists) and the original document that
recorded what was actually said. By comparing these documents one can
understand what message Stalin sent to the activists and what he
thought was best to conceal from them.
The edited version sent to the party committees said that collective
and state farms had been infiltrated by anti-Soviet elements in order
to organize sabotage. “It would be foolish for the communists not to
respond to the blows dealt by these individual collective farmers and
collective farms with a devastating blow of their own only because the
collective farms are a socialist form of management,” declared Stalin.
And so the government wanted to deliver a “devastating blow” to
individual collective farmers and farms, but the target turned out to
be vague in all respects.
In his unedited speech Stalin was more forthcoming. He listed the
regions where the emergency grain procurements commissions were
operating (the Northern Caucasus, Ukraine, and the Lower Volga
region) and the enemy — the White Guards and the Petliurites.
The Northern Caucasus then consisted of 11 districts. A protocol of the
Politburo of the CC VKP(B), dated Nov. 1, 1932, formulated the tasks
set before Kaganovich’s emergency grain procurements commission as
“The whole group of comrades, jointly with the regional party
committee, is hereby instructed to step up grain procurements in the
Northern Caucasus, especially in the Kuban, and to unconditionally
carry out the plan for the winter sowing campaign.
“The main task of the said group of comrades is to work out and take
measures in the course of the sowing and grain procurement campaigns to
overcome sabotage organized by counterrevolutionary kulak elements in
If one analyzes the objectives set before this emergency commission by
comparing a part (the Kuban) to the whole (the Northern Caucasus),
the part is obviously predominant. Stalin’s envoys had to communicate
with the territorial party committee, so they seemed to target the
entire territory. However, the first paragraph stresses “especially
in the Kuban,” while the second paragraph clearly identified the
emergency commission’s field of action: the Kuban.
Addressing a meeting of the regional committee of the VKP(B) on Nov.
23, Kaganovich defined his commission’s geographical priorities in no
less clear terms, although he explained them as follows: “We do not
have to take the Northern Caucasus as a whole. After all, the northern
part has fulfilled the sowing plan and supplied more grain. The
emphasis must be on the Kuban.” Indeed, other [administrative]
districts did a better job of meeting their grain procurement quotas.
Kaganovich, however, did not say what considerations the Kremlin had in
mind when these quotas were set for different regions.
It is safe to assume that the especially high grain procurement
quotas for Ukraine and the “devastating blow” aimed at the Ukrainian
SSR and the Kuban were explained by Stalin’s desire to nip in the bud
any opportunity of reunification of the two Ukrainian regions or
Ukraine’s secession from the Soviet Union.
On the face of it the USSR was a federation of union republics, each
having the constitutional right to secede from the federation.
However, in a totalitarian country with maximum centralization of
political power this development seemed unthinkable. It is also true,
however, that in the early 1930s Stalin’s rule was shaken by the
economic and political crisis caused by the forced rate of
industrialization and reckless agrarian policy.
With the country in a grave crisis, the central government’s ability to
keep the situation in the peripheral regions under control was sharply
reduced. In these circumstances constitutional declarations could
become a reality (as they did decades later, in 1989–91).
The foregoing discussion helps understand Stalin’s motives. However,
my goal is not to study the motives, because it is hardly possible to
find documentary evidence to prove them, but to reconstruct the
malfeasance that triggered the Holodomor. Such reconstruction appears
to be possible.
III - The Day Weekly Digest in
Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, 17 February 2009
CHEKA’S ROLE IN PREPARING THE “DEVASTATING BLOW”
On the day Stalin announced he was going to deliver a devastating blow
to “individual collective farmers and farms,” he made two important
appointments within the OGPU system. Yevdokimov, OGPU’s polpred
(plenipotentiary representative; in this context, head of the regional
OGPU directorate — Ed.) for Central Asia, became polpred for the North
Caucasus, whereas OGPU deputy head Balytsky was posted as polpred to
the Ukrainian SSR.
Both had worked in these regions: Yevdokimov in 1924–29, and Balytsky
in 1919–31. On December 1, Balytsky was co-opted onto the Politburo of
the CC CP(B)U. These Cheka officers had to orchestrate an unprecedented
act of terrorism sired by the secretary general. We do not know how
Stalin conveyed his instructions to Balytsky , but they are easy to
construe from Directive No. 1 signed by the head of the GPU of the
Ukrainian SSR on Dec. 5, 1932.
After lumping together sabotage of grain procurements, mass theft of
grain in collective and state farms, penetration of Petliura’s
emissaries from abroad, and the distribution of Petliurite leaflets in
the countryside, Balytsky (Stalin, to be precise) arrived at the
conclusion that “there undoubtedly exists an organized
counterrevolutionary insurgent underground network in Ukraine that
maintains contacts with other countries and foreign intelligence
services, mostly with the Polish general headquarters.”
On the face of it, there was something strange about the directive: the
state security police were told to accept a version about the
activities of foreign secret agents and even their contacts with the
Polish general headquarters. All the OGPU had to do was “materialize”
counterrevolutionary organizations and fill them with arrested members.
However, there was nothing strange about the reverse order of these
The Chekists had to detect possible resistance hotbeds and destroy them
even before they could manifest themselves in any way. Having a
staggering number of stool pigeons and agents provocateurs at their
disposal, they were capable of a preemptive strike. In this case it was
important for Stalin to link the possible resistance to the
“devastating blow” on the part of the local party and Soviet apparat
with the activities of the Polish secret police. This linkage paralyzed
the local apparatchiks, making it impossible for them to resist a
planned massacre of millions of people.
The next step that made Stalin’s plan even more obvious was taken by
the Kremlin on Dec. 10, 1932, when a meeting of the Politburo of the CC
VKP(B) summoned the political leadership of the Ukrainian SSR.
Secretary General Stalin gave CC CP(B)U Secretary General Stanislav
Kosior a severe dressing down for his spineless stand in combating
saboteurs and accused Mykola Skrypnyk of having contacts with the
“nationalist elements.” This meeting resulted in the Dec. 14 resolution
“On Grain Procurements in Ukraine, Northern Caucasus, and Western
Region” of the CC VKP(B) and Sovnarkom of the USSR.
This act was not so much about grain procurement (now the Ukrainian
SSR’s procurements deadline was the end of January) as about
Ukrainization. As a kind of indigenization policy, i.e., implanting the
Soviet rule in the ethnic regions, the Ukrainization campaign was being
carried out consistently and energetically. It transpired, however,
that it was facilitating a rapid enhancement of national identity among
the populace in the Ukrainian SSR and the Kuban region.
And so, Ukrainization was divided into the Bolshevik kind and
Petliurite kind. Ukrainization in the Ukrainian SSR was as the former
by waging a struggle against “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism,” which
was proclaimed as the biggest threat. Outside the Ukrainian SSR,
Ukrainization was prohibited. The residents of the Kuban were ordered
to identify themselves as Russians. During the 1937 and 1939 censuses
only those who had settled in the Northern Caucasus after the 1926
census were registered as Ukrainians.
The devastating-blow program included what Kaganovich first formulated
on Nov. 1, 1932: a proposal to blacklist the villages lagging behind in
terms of grain procurements. Judging by the decrees published by the
press, such blacklisting did not seem a deadly threat. Officially, it
boiled down to the suspension of consumer goods supplies, denying
credits, demanding payments on previous loans ahead of schedule, and so
On December 8, reporting to Stalin on six large villages blacklisted by
the CC CP(B)U and the Radnarkom of the Ukrainian SSR, and that the
apparatchiks in charge of oblasts had blacklisted up to 400 villages,
Kosior was skeptical about the effectiveness of this punitive measure:
“In-kind fines and confiscation of the homestead land produce the best
results as compared to other repressive measures.”
I have no documented proof of whether Kosior’s remark was taken into
account by anyone. Perhaps such documents are stored in the secret
archives of Russia’s FSB. However, there are eyewitness accounts to the
effect that Kosior’s remark was taken into account in the simplest
possible way, by combining this punishment with in-kind fines. The
blacklisted villages were cordoned off by the Cheka troops and there
were constant searches for concealed grain, along with in-kind fines.
Deprived of all food, people were beginning to starve to death.
The devastating blow was dealt the Ukrainian peasantry under the guise
of a winter grain procurement campaign. The city, angered by the
spreading hunger, had to be shown the guilty party and the kulak
saboteurs who had penetrated the kolkhozes. The peasants’ unwillingness
to work without pay for the third year running could be portrayed as
Stalin, however, wanted this to be presented in terms of class
struggle, even more so as a struggle against the Petliurite underground
network in Ukraine that had contacts with the Polish general
headquarters. His mouthpiece Kaganovich wrote from Krasnodar on
November 5: “Here the main task is to overcome sabotage which is
undoubtedly organized and controlled by a single center.”
The city had to be shown the results of this struggle against sabotage,
including underground “grain towns” the reporters kept writing about.
True, peasants tried to conceal from the procurement teams the
miserable remainder of their crops, lest they die of hunger. The Cheka
[i.e., GPU: Cheka was reorganized as GPU in 1922 — Ed.] used the still
existing komnezams (committees of poor peasants), the rural militia,
and grain procurement officials — tens of thousands of them were herded
to the rural from the urban areas — and, of course, their own numerous
agents in order to search for grain buried underground.
Soviet newsreels showed scenes of unearthing pits with grain,
rather than scenes of starvation. Russia’s documentarians are now
gladly using this footage. Balytsky told a meeting of the Politburo of
the CC CP(B)U on December 20 (with Kaganovich in attendance) that since
the start of December the GPU men had discovered 7,000 such pits and
100 “dark pantries” containing a total of 700,000 poods of grain. In
other words, the large-scale search campaign had yielded miserable
results. The amount of grain thus obtained meant nothing on the level
of the state. Ukrainian peasants would later prove that there were no
“towns of grain” when they starved to death.
At the said Politburo meeting, head of the Ukrainian government Vlas
Chubar pointed out that the insufficient scope of in-kind fines was a
shortcoming of the grain procurement campaign. Kosior, for his part,
believed that comprehensive yet ineffective searches were the
shortcoming. By comparing their opinions, one can infer that in-kind
fines and searches were not a single repressive operation in
mid-December. One ought to date the beginning of the Holodomor as
November and December 1932, when searches and in-kind fines were taking
place in hundreds of blacklisted and cordoned-off villages.
STALIN’S TELEGRAM TO THE PEASANTS OF UKRAINE
On Jan. 1, 1933, Kharkiv received a telegram from Stalin. It is worth
quoting in full:
“Let the CC CP(b)U and the Radnarkom of the Ukrainian SSR widely inform
collective farmers and independent farmers through village councils and
collective farms that:
“(a) those who voluntarily hand over to the government previously
stolen and concealed grain will not be subject to repressions;
“(b) as for those collective farmers, collective farms, and independent
farmers who stubbornly continue to hide stolen and concealed grain,
they will be subject to the severest degrees of punishment.”
What is the import of this message? No one has answered this question
since 1990 when this document was published for the first time. Nor did
I pay sufficient attention to this telegram when preparing for
publication my first book on collectivization and the famine in 1991.
I remember asking myself how the head of state could have possibly
communicated with the peasants of one of the national republics through
the village Soviets. It was only after the skillfully scattered
fragments of Stalin’s actions in 1932 were pieced together did it
transpire that the beginning of the Holodomor in Ukraine can be dated
within an hour — when this telegram was received in Kharkiv.
Those of my readers who know about in-kind fines and searches for grain
will understand this telegram’s implicit message by simply comparing
points (a) and (b). Whereas the first one demands that grain be
supplied to the state, the second one threatens those who fail to
comply with severe punishment. How could one determine who was ignoring
Stalin’s requirement? By the good old method of searching. Stalin’s
telegram signaled the beginning of mass searches.
The general secretary knew from the Cheka that there were no grain
reserves of state importance in the Ukrainian countryside. Then what
was the need for a telegram that actually authorized searches for the
sake of searches? The answer to this question is obvious: to use the
law on in-kind fines and carry out a punitive operation under the guise
of a grain procurement campaign, something people in the villages and
cities had grown accustomed to, so as to take away all foodstuffs from
the peasants following the previous confiscation of grain.
The Russian side has time and again told me (including during a debate
with Prof. V. Kondrashin on the pages of Den’) that there are no
documents with instructions to confiscate all foodstuffs in the
Ukrainian rural areas, thus dooming the peasantry to death by famine. I
agree that Stalin’s telegram cannot be qualified as direct documented
evidence pointing to the Kremlin as the culprit in this case of food
It is evidence that
Stalin made threats to the Ukrainian peasantry in conjunction with
grain procurements. However, this telegram did signal the start of mass
searches in the Ukrainian countryside. Add to this the law on in-kind
Finally, we all know the consequences of Stalin’s telegram. Thousands
of surviving eyewitness testify that in the course of such searches all
food was confiscated from the “debtors.” In many cases a family’s cow
was left as the CC VKP(B)’s Resolution “On Forced Collectivization of
Cattle” of March 26, 1932, was still in effect.
There is no need to quote from eyewitness accounts. Some of them are
found in the National Book of Memory of Holodomor Victims and in
numerous other publications. Some are stored as manuscripts.
Eyewitnesses state that komnezam people, led by Chekists, went through
the motions of searching for concealed grain while in fact they took
away not only fatback, meat, and potatoes — as envisaged by the law on
in-kind fines — but also all the other foodstuffs. Is this not
Some people testify that there were no such confiscations in their
villages. One should not shrug off such testimonies. The Chekist
punitive operation covered a large territory, yet it did not reach as
far as the villages in the borderland and remote areas in Polissia; nor
did it affect the kolkhozes that had met the grain procurements quotas.
According to statistics, 1,403 out of 23,270 kolkhozes had met the
year’s quotas as of October 1932.
Confiscating all food under the guise of grain procurements was only a
part of the operation. Peasants starved to death only when this
campaign was combined with a ban on information about the famine and
when the starving people were blockaded. There is no documented proof
of this ban on information, but it is an established fact that the
Kremlin refused to acknowledge the 1932-33 famine until Dec. 25, 1987.
Even top secret files contain no wording related to the famine. It was
used only in a closed segment of office documents with the status
There is sufficient documented evidence of the blockade of villages
were all foodstuffs were confiscated. On Dec. 22, 1933, the CC VKP(B)
and the Sovnarkom of the USSR sent a coded message to the regions
bordering on Ukraine. It read: “It has become known to the CC VKP(B)
and the Sovnarkom of the USSR that peasants in the Kuban and Ukraine
have started leaving these territories en masse ‘in search of bread,’
head for CChO, Volga, Moscow oblast, Western region, and Belarus.
The CC VKP(B) and the Sovnarkom of the USSR have no doubt that this
exodus of peasants, like the one last year in Ukraine, has been
organized by the enemies of Soviet power, Socialist Revolutionaries,
and Polish agents in order to conduct propaganda, through peasants in
the northern territories of the USSR, aimed against the kolkhozes and
the Soviet authorities in general.”
I. Zelenin, the editor of
the third volume of the collection Tragediia sovetskogo sela (Tragedy
of the Soviet Village), included a comment saying that Stalin wrote it
himself (the signature has been preserved) and that Molotov’s signature
appeared only in a reprinted copy.
A few words about Stalin’s reference to the 1932 exodus of Ukrainian
peasants are in place. It is true that some three million peasants left
Ukraine and headed for neighboring regions in search of food after the
famine struck the Ukrainian SSR, caused by the 1931 grain procurement
campaign. Confiscation of all foodstuffs practically instantly
transformed peasants, who had long been starving and boiling with
anger, into an inert mass.
Stalindorf’s district party committee secretary Kiper informed the
Dnipropetrovsk oblast Communist Party committee on Feb. 25, 1933: “The
collective farmers’ despair has reached the limit; people have stopped
asking for help; they are lying around in their cold unheated homes,
awaiting death.” That is precisely the consequences Stalin had sought.
How long did the Cheka food confiscation operation last? It is
reasonable to assume that it ended with the start of a large-scale
campaign to aid the starving peasants. On February 7 the Politburo of
the CC VKP(B) adopted the first resolutions providing for food aid for
Dnipropetrovsk and Odesa oblast, 200,000 poods of rye in each case.
This aid, however, was meant for the “party and non-partisan activists
in the collective farms.” After the “devastating blow” rendered any
social outbursts impossible, Stalin’s wording changed; now the “kulak
saboteurs” were “non-partisan activists in the collective farms.”
IV - The Day Weekly Digest in
Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, 24 February 2009
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY’S INVASION OF THE INTERNET
Prior to the consideration of the Holodomor bill at the Verkhovna Rada
of Ukraine, the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian
Federation handed over to Vesti a number of declassified materials
from its archives.
On Nov. 24, 2006, these
documents appeared in print, along with a commentary by the journalist
Yelena Loria who scolded the Ukrainian politicians for demanding
recognition of the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the
Ukrainian people, while trying to avoid mentioning the fact that the
famine struck the Volga region, the Northern Caucasus, the Urals,
Kazakhstan, and the Far East.
Why? It would seem only
natural for Russian scholars and politicians to mention the famine in
the above-mentioned regions of the USSR. As though forestalling this
counterargument, Loria ended her brief commentary with a paragraph
worth being quoted in full: “There is one undeniable plus to this
attempt of the Ukrainian politicians to ‘privatize’ the tragedy and
rewrite history: an increasing number of people in Ukraine are
learning about the Holodomor and remember their history. In Russia’s
textbooks this topic receives only superficial treatment, as though
seven million people (one-third Russians) never died.” As they say, no
In 2008 the foreign ministries of Russia and Ukraine exchanged
undiplomatically harsh words after the latter tried to draw the
attention of international organizations to the Holodomor. In September
the Russian foreign ministry’s official website published 197
documents from the Central Archives of the FSB and three other central
Russian archives, concerning the 1932-33 famine. In a short foreword
the compilers did not comment on the contents, welcoming the readers to
figure out everything themselves.
Needless to say, people who compiled these documents had an idea in
mind. Sergei Lozunko voiced it in his article published by the
newspaper 2000 on October 17: “These documents refute the concept of an
‘engineered genocide against Ukrainians.’“ Following the topics
covered by the documents, the article consisted of two large sections:
“Famine gripped all of the USSR” and “Aid to starving Ukraine.”
There is no denying the fact that the famine gripped all of the Soviet
Union, and that aid was given to starving people in Ukraine. Without
this aid almost all of the 25 million people who lived in the rural
areas of the Ukrainian SSR would have died. Some time after
confiscating all their foodstuffs, the government started
“hand-feeding” those who were able to work and secure the 1933 harvest.
Every newspaper has its readership, so I prepared my own commentary on
the documents from the Russian foreign ministry’s website and sent it
to the weekly 2000. They published it in full, for which I am grateful.
The editors published Lozunko’s reply in that same issue. A gifted
polemicist, he built his article on misrepresentation, without ever
touching on my concept of the Holodomor. Oleg Kachmarsky took notice of
this in his commentary published on the website of the NGO “Edinoe
otechestvo” on Dec. 13, 2008 and took the field to refute the genocide
thesis. I agreed that the grain procurement campaign had a “cover-up”
in the form of the government’s obligations to feed the cities and the
army and pay on loans for imported equipment, which makes it hard to
prove that the confiscation of grain was an act of genocide.
In his opinion, it was
then reasonable to refuse to qualify the confiscation of non-grain
foodstuffs as genocide. He wrote: “Didn’t workers and soldiers eat
onions, cabbage, fatback, and beets? One can assume that precisely this
food was meant for them, whereas grain was mostly sold for hard
currency.” No comment needed here, either.
FOR WANT OF ARGUMENTS
I agree with Dr. Viktor Kondrashyn from Penza, who keeps insisting
that the famine of 1932-33 was our common tragedy, and that it must
unite rather than disunite us. However, the verb “unite” does not mean
“dissolve” or “merge” in our perception. The party center in the
Kremlin did not depend on the will of the population and manipulated
the destinies of all peoples of the USSR; it was guided by its own
interests in treating each one of them.
To avoid head-on
collision with the national liberation movement of the oppressed
peoples in the former Russian empire, the Bolsheviks built their
state-commune on an ethnocratic basis, as a federation of union and
autonomous republics, ethnic territories, oblasts, raions, and even
village councils. When the Soviet regime became firmly established
the ethnic raions and village councils were discarded, but the status
of union republics and their right to secession remained untouched.
Kondrashyn has to understand that the Kremlin was then faced with the
task of preventing Ukraine, a “titular nation” with a right to
secession and ethnic identity, from turning into a polity.
Regrettably, many people still do not realize the special character of
the Soviet Union’s national and political system or the meaning of the
artificial notion “titular nation” that emerged in conditions of the
totalitarian regime. This notion is still being used.
For the Kremlin, all nations were equal, except that some were “more
equal,” to quote from George Orwell. In the Soviet “parade of nations”
Russians came first as the “titular nation” of both the Russian
Federation and the rest of the country. Ukrainians and the other
nations that gave their names to the union republics came second.
Moldovans in the
Moldavian Autonomous SSR and the rest of the primary nations in the
autonomous republics did not have the status of status were on the
third rung of the hierarchical ladder. People who represented nations
outside the USSR were in the worst position. After the sharpening of
the international situation Stalin deported the “German fascists” from
Puliny ethnic raion and “Polish Pilsudkites” from Markhliovsk ethnic
There is no denying the fact that the Kremlin had its own national
policy, and that the Kremlin leadership could demonstrate its attitude
to some or other “titular nations” in a variety of ways. I realize
that many people simply refuse to accept such attitude in the form of
genocide. The Soviet rule did not change its nature after it built, by
means of terror and propaganda, a political system it called
However, it essentially
changed its attitude to citizens. There was no need for what Lenin
called mass-like terror after the citizens of the “world’s first
country of socialism” found themselves in the conditions of total
economical dependence on the state and after the first generation of
people raised in Soviet schools entered adult life.
It is impossible for the current generation to imagine the Soviet
regime the way it was in 1933 or 1937. One ought to realize, however,
that Soviet power had dual nature: it represented workers and peasants
but at the same time it was totalitarian to the maximum extent. By
rising to the top of the hierarchical ladder, the leader could do
whatever he wished to the ruling party and the peoples that inhabited
It follows from this that
not a single nation can be held responsible for the crimes committed by
the leader. All peoples, regardless of their status in the hierarchy of
“titular nations,” were victims of a perfidious political system
invented by Lenin.
After spending four and a half decades studying national history of the
interwar period, I have become convinced that there was a very narrow
circle of people involved in the Stalin-organized Holodomor: Lazar
Kaganovich, Viacheslav Molotov, Pavel Postyshev, Vsevolod Balytsky,
and Yefim Yevdokimov.
The rest of the personae
of this drama held minor posts in the pyramid of power built by
Stalin. The Russian side accuses Stanislav Kosior and Vlas Chubar of
organizing the Holodomor, but at the time the leaders of the Ukrainian
SSR had virtually no say, so they can only be blamed for complicity in
that act of genocide.
Stalin knew better than leave any traces on paper or in people’s
memories. Postyshev, Balytsky, and Yevdokimov perished in the next
purge, whereas Molotov and Kaganovich survived because Stalin trusted
them as much as he did himself. He was right. Both wrote memoirs after
Stalin’s death (Molotov’s are in the form of dialogues with F. Chuiev
who secretly recorded their conversations). However, these memoirs
never mention the Holodomor.
After many years of searching, I pieced together a puzzle that was
documented proof pointing to Stalin and several of his henchmen as the
architects of the Holodomor. I hastened to share these facts with
Russian TV journalists. On April 4, 2008, a film crew of the First
National Channel that was working on the documentary “Holodomor 1933:
The Unlearned Lessons of History” recorded a whole video cassette in
Yet there was no trace of
it in the film. I am grateful to Andrei Akara who defended me in his
commentary on the documentary against journalists who once again
accused me of changing my opinions and said that I could hardly be
trusted (Telekrytyka, Nov. 12, 2008). What I told them was, in fact,
the story about my long and winding road to the comprehension of the
Holodomor and, in connection with it, the political system and entire
history of the USSR.
When that same channel invited me to take part in the talk show Sudite
sami (Judge Yourself) scheduled for November 27 and dedicated to the
Holodomor, I agreed, expecting to have an opportunity to tell the
viewers live about what actually happened in 1933 and who was
responsible for the crimes of that government.
I was sure it was
necessary to counter the accusations of our marginal politicians that
were addressed to Russia and were happily picked up there to build a
negative image of Ukraine in the Russian public eye. I had enough
documented proof: two volumes of the National Book of Memory of Victims
of the Holodomor.
On board the jet I spotted an issue of the weekly Stolichnyie novosti,
which is published in Kyiv. There was a lead-in to the article
“Holodomor 2008” with this caption: “As advised by old Communist
Party lackeys, the current government continues to falsify history,
confusing the citizens, while many of them don’t give a hoot about
budget-financed pompous rituals — they are simply hungry.”
The article itself,
written by the well-known Vadim Dolganov, appeared on the centerfold
supplemented with a close-up photo of me and my bibliography and
biography. It boiled down to the same thing: previously I said that,
now I’m saying this. The author was especially outraged by my article
“Holodomor 1933. Stalin’s Plan and Its Fulfillment” and the fact that
it has been included in the Ukrainian grade school curriculum. Was the
publication of this article prior to the talk show “Judge Yourself” a
Iryna Herashchenko, who also took part in the talk show, later shared
her impressions with Den’ (Dec. 5, 2008). There is no use repeating
what she had to say in the article “Conversation between a Deaf and a
Mute.” I would like to stress that I was the mute.
The host, Maksim
Shevchenko, kept trying to find out more about a certain episode in my
biography, borrowed from Stolichnyie novosti, but never let me say
anything on the subject being discussed. It was a shame, but I realized
one thing: Russia doesn’t want to be drawn into a debate on the
Holodomor. Is this for want of arguments?
The organizers of the television project Imia Rossii (The Name of
Russia) that ended in late December 2008 succeeded in pushing Stalin
off the pedestal and placing him third. Russia would look too odious if
it identified itself with the name of Stalin.
I cannot understand people in today’s Russia who are scared stiff of
discussing Stalin’s role in starving to death millions of Ukrainian
peasants. Nor can I understand those of my fellow countrymen who refuse
to accept obvious facts simply because they adhere to a certain
political line. Quite a few among them lost close and dear ones during
the Holodomor. What political line can justify such attitude?
Mr. E. Morgan Williams, Director
Government Affairs, Washington Office
SigmaBleyzer Private Equity Investment Group
President/CEO, U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC)
Publisher & Editor, Action Ukraine Report (AUR)