Mother with her starving children during Horodomor

A photo taken by Wienerberger in Kharkiv in the spring or summer of 1933. His handwritten caption on the picture simply states: “Mother with her starving children.

The Terror Famine

At the entrance to the memorial park in Kyiv, there is a sculpture of an extremely thin girl. She has a very sad look and holds a handful of wheat. Behind her back is the Candle of Remembrance. This monument commemorates the Holodomor.

What is the Holodomor?

Holodomor memorial, Kyiv, Ukraine.

The word derives from moryty holodom, “to kill by starvation”. After the First World War, Ukraine was an independent state. In 1919 the Soviet Union ‘sucked’ it into the community of Soviet states. The Ukrainians considered themselves a Central European country, like Poland, and not an Eastern European country like Russia. They tried to restore Ukraine’s independence.

In 1932, not wanting to lose control of Europe’s main source of wheat, Joseph Stalin took away the wheat lands from Ukrainian peasants and all the grain, creating an artificial famine. The goal was to “teach Ukrainians to be smart”, so that they would no longer oppose Moscow. The people who produced the most wheat in Europe were left without a crumb of bread.

The peak of the Holodomor was in the spring of 1933. Seventeen people died of hunger every minute, more than 1,000 every hour, and almost 24,500 every day. People were starving to death in the streets. Stalin settled Russians into the emptied Ukrainian villages.

The next census revealed that the population had been dramatically reduced. The Soviet government annulled the census, destroyed the documents and had the census takers shot or sent to the gulag, to hide the truth. Almost all evidence was destroyed until the discovery of mass graves. Estimates of the death toll range from 3.3 to 5 million.

Was Holodomor genocide?

Some 28 countries around the world consider the Holodomor as genocide against Ukrainians. It is still the subject of academic and legal discussion. According to international law, the crime of genocide requires explicit intent from a regime to eliminate members of an ethnic group.

There is no evidence that this was the intent of the Soviet Union, yet it was clearly human in origin. And many believe that Stalin planned it to eliminate a Ukrainian independence movement. The Holodomor at that time broke the Ukrainian resistance, but it made the desire for Ukraine’s independence from Russia eternal.

Books have been written. Movies have been made (see Bitter Harvest movie from 2017 starring Max Irons and Barry Pepper).

Ukrainian resistance today

Has Vladimir Putin not learned from history? That not even Holodomor doused the desire of Ukrainians to be a free, independent and democratic nation. Their valiant fight against war crimes against them during a “special military operation” can lead to victory due to attrition of the invading army. Putin may never come before the International Court of Justice; but the damage he has wreaked on his own nation will result in unofficial justice.