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Legacy of famine: Ukraine as a Postgenocidal Society by James Mace


In 1981, as I embarked on studies of the Great Famine in Ukraine, there were still many unpublished communist party documents. After studying the Ukrainian history of the period, documents, speeches, and editorials in the official press of Soviet Ukraine, the main features of the Soviet official policy toward Ukraine became completely clear to me.

The perpetrators’ motive was simple, and all the documents and later research have not changed the overall picture of the events I first presented in 1982 International Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide in Tel Aviv. I remain convinced that Stalin wanted to have complete centralized power in his hands, and he found it necessary to physically destroy the second largest Soviet republic — and that meant the annihilation of the Ukrainian peasantry, Ukrainian intelligentsia, Ukrainian language, and history, and doing away with Ukraine and things Ukrainian as such. The calculation was very simple, very primitive: no people, therefore, no separate country, and thus no problem. Such a policy is GENOCIDE in the classic sense of the word.

The Bolsheviks cultivated an almost pathological hatred towards what they called “bourgeois nationalism.” The essence of Lenin’s formula, “rapprochement and merger of nations,” can itself be interpreted as progenocidal, since imposing a single national pattern was proclaimed “historically progressive.”

During the famine of 1921–23, in 1921, the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Federative Soviet Socialist Republic (RFSSR) asked for help only for the starving populace in the Volga Basin — but not in Ukraine. The New Economic Policy (NEP) that ended the forced seizure of foodstuffs, was delayed in Ukraine six months to prolong the prodrazverstka campaign of requisitioning farm produce. In the course of “Ukrainization”, proclaimed by the Twelfth Bolshevik Party Congress, communists in Ukraine in 1923–32 attempted to gain control of the Ukrainian national cultural process by directly participating in it.

Halting this policy during the Holodomor of 1932–33 had all the hallmarks of genocide. To enforce his direct rule in Ukraine, Stalin restored to terrible repression and, finally, to famine. In late October 1932, the grain procurements campaign was launched under the direct control of Viacheslav Molotov, Chairman of the USSR Council of People’s Commissars, who was appointed chairman of the grain procurements commission in the Ukrainian SSR. (Lazar Kaganovich headed an analogous commission in what was then the South Caucasus Territory, including the heavily Ukrainian Kuban.) On November 18 the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine, presided over by Molotov, instituted a system of fines payable in kind. This was actually a directive aimed at making collective farmers return to the state grain received as advance payments on crops, and confiscating other foodstuffs in the absence of grain. All this could only be interpreted as a policy meant to cause a famine.

The Central Communist Party Politburo resolution of December 14, 1932, signed by Stalin and Molotov, accused the Ukrainian SSR government of Ukrainian nationalism, this being allegedly the main reason for the unwillingness or inability of the local communists to comply with the procurements quotas for mythical grain. The mass terror unleashed against Ukrainian culture in 1933 was additional evidence that Moscow wanted to destroy Ukrainian national identity as the basis of any independent activity. In 1988, the US Commission on the Ukraine Famine, relying on such evidence, determined that the Holodomor was an act of genocide. In 1990, an international commission to study the 1932–33 Holodomor in Ukraine, set up by the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, failed to arrive at an unequivocal conclusion. The nature and scope of the Holodomor in Ukraine remain subject to dispute by foreign experts.

We investigated the issue as best we could. It seems to me that the documents we collected, including eyewitness accounts and our Report to Congress , have played their role. Stalin’s sociological scorched-earth policy maimed Ukraine to such an extent that it created a discontinuity in the normal development of the Ukrainian people, producing a unique situation. While in countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, etc., the collapse of communism could and did result in the restoration of independence lost by the previous states, in Ukraine, except for its western territories, the Ukrainian nation — as a community possessing a broad consensus regarding its identity, history, and cultural values — has remained in a sense a national minority in its own country. In other words, the people as such was so deformed that when Ukraine finally became independent there was no broad consensus concerning its future. All that remained was the surviving structures of Soviet Ukraine.

Now it is clear that in fact, after 1991, Ukraine merely became independent with the same people remaining in basically the same positions, doing basically the same things, and the course of events evolved from there.

Postcommunist Ukraine is no longer just an independent Ukrainian SSR, but it is also not a Ukrainian Ukraine, in the subjective sense — with people sharing the same national values and understanding of their identity — in the sense in which Poland is Polish and the Czech Republic is Czech.

All broad historical narratives are to some extent artificial, yet this is a natural process of self-understanding for any given people. In the case of the Soviet Union, there was the artificial incorporation of Ukrainian history and those of other peoples, imposing a different national identity, as seen fit by those in power at the time. For example, the Ukrainian war of national liberation, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, was viewed as “reunification” with the big brother, Russia.

Works in Russian by, say, Mikhail Bulgakov in the twentieth century were generally available in Ukraine, but a whole generation of Ukrainian literati known as the rozstriliane vidrodzhennia ( the renaissance that was executed, “erased”) — Mykola Khvyliovy, Yury Yanovsky, young Sosiura and Tychyna, along with Mykola Zerov’s neoclassicist poetry and translations from ancient literature — were not. The Soviet regime did its best to “root out and destroy nationalism”. What was left remained too little to make Ukraine an equal member of the world community of nations.

The tragedy of independent Ukraine is that the territorial, rather than the national elite became the dominant force, its members retaining all the hallmarks of the traditional communist party nomenklatura. So long as this situation remains, all talk about Ukraine’s European choice will remain just so much empty talk, for the European Union is above all an economic organization, and this post-Soviet economic model is incompatible with the European one, while all the fine phrases about zlahoda (harmony or accord) actually serve to conceal the absence of any national convictions in most of those who wield power in Ukraine.

The main thing is that Ukrainians will never become a full-fledged people and an equal member of European civilization until power flows from the state to a self-organized people able to force those in power to do what the people want. This is precisely what makes us often fail to understand the actual meaning of the concept of civil society. It is not an ideal system, not always completely democratic, but no one has discovered anything better thus far. No state will ever make Ukraine Ukrainian. Only self-organized Ukrainians can do this, and I am deeply convinced that they will.


Months of Starvation — Endurance, Swelling, Death.

Oleh Staikov, Yevhen Morozovsky, Oleksandr

Lekomtsev, Odesa, Ukraine. 1988, 70 x 100, photo,

tempera on board. From the collection Holodomor

through the Eyes of Ukrainian Artists.

Trustee: Morgan Williams.


James Mace. I Was Chosen by Your Dead.


Great Famine in Ukraine. Eyewitness Accounts for the

Commision of U.S. Congress. Executive director of the

Commission James Mace.


Secrets Revealed — an exhibition of documents and

photographs held by the Security Service of Ukraine

in November 2006.



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