NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 1, 2008

Among the past century's horrors, the Great Famine in Ukraine manages to stand out.  First, for the scale of the mass starvation inflicted by Stalin on millions of people in Europe's agricultural breadbasket, and second, for how little the world knows about this genocide.  A now-free Ukraine wants to change that and just marked the 75th anniversary of the 1932-33 "terror famine," or "Holodomor," says the Wall Street Journal.

Starting in the late 1920s, Stalin set out to collectivize and hobble the Soviet peasantry.  His aim was to crush "the peasantry of the U.S.S.R. as a whole, and the Ukrainian nation," wrote Robert Conquest in his groundbreaking book, "The Harvest of Sorrow."  The result: 

  • An estimated 14.5 million people starved to death in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus when farmland was collectivized and harvests requisitioned; yet, the submission of Ukraine to Moscow helped prolong the Soviet Union's life for another 60 years.
  • The Stalinist regime and its ideological soul mates denied the famine at the time and later.
  • Walter Duranty, the New York Times's longtime Moscow correspondent, was Stalin's chief apologist, sending false dispatches from Ukraine; he won a Pulitzer Prize.
  • The left-leaning academy condemned Conquest and the late James Mace, the leading researcher of the famine, when their work appeared in the 1980s, and the Berlin Wall's collapse shamed some of the denialists.

The exception is the current Russian leadership, says the Journal.  President Dmitry Medvedev accused Ukraine of seeking to achieve "opportunistic political goals" based on "manipulations and distortions, falsification of facts about the number of dead."  As in Stalin's day, Ukraine's independent identity and nationhood stands in the way of a resurgent Russian imperium.  By remembering the Holodomor, Ukrainians say: Never again.

Source: Editorial, "A European Genocide," Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2008; and Robert Conquest, "The Harvest of Sorrow," Oxford University Press, 1987.

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