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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Ukraine under the Soviets
by Clarence Manning

published by
Bookman Associates
New York,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 12

 p103  Chapter Eleven

The Famine,​a the Soviets and the World

It is impossible to over­estimate the significance of this artificially induced famine in what had been one of the richest portions of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Taken in connection with the collectivization of agriculture which had served already to uproot and exile or liquidate many of the most industrious and successful parts of the population of Ukraine, it was distinctly noted that the history of the Soviet Union had entered a new phase which might be glossed over for public consumption but still represented a formidable menace to the general development of the entire area.

During the years of the New Economic Policy and the period of Ukrainization, much had been accomplished, not only to repair the damages of the Civil War and the period of Militant Communism, but great strides had been made in the development of Ukrainian culture. The collectivization of 1929‑31 had, in a sense, menaced some of the economic gains but while the menace of Moscow was being felt in the material field, it had not hitherto been regarded in the same way culturally. It is true that there had been going on a great debate between Khvylovy and his rivals but it is doubtful if either Khvylovy or Skrypnyk had fully appreciated the forces that were now unleashed.

There had never been any question that every few decades Ukraine had undergone severe droughts which had produced local famines, especially in the Ukrainian steppes. The disorders of Militant Communism had coincided with one of these periods and had produced the situation in 1921‑2. Still, at that time, for his own purposes, Lenin had allowed relief to be sent from abroad to the victims. The agricultural situation in 1931‑3 was not so serious and  p104 the country might have escaped, had it not been for the methods of the government in draining off from the population the last possible reserves of food.

There can be no doubt that this was done deliberately, for every measure taken by the government was intended to increase the difficulties of the population and to prepare for the final crushing of the Ukrainian renaissance that had been proceeding with ever increasing force. Every measure, too, was intended to render it more difficult for the outside world to secure any actual knowledge of the conditions in the country until it was too late for the world to do more than register vain protests, for it was very definitely at this period that the censor­ship methods of the government and its apprehensions of what knowledge might bring to the world actively commenced to draw an iron curtain around Ukraine. Foreign correspondents were forbidden to visit Ukraine on one pretext or another and they were forced to send out such news as the government wished or to leave the Soviet Union.

The collectivization and the famine had coincided with the beginning of the attack on Ukrainian scholar­ship and the arts, as we shall see, but these attacks by their very choice of victims had been directed against those men who had not been closely connected with the Communist Party in the past, even though they had not been entirely hostile. Along with the famine the tide turned, and soon the victims were those persons who had dared to hope for an equality of treatment (with the Great Russians) in the Soviet Union.

The famine was obviously intended not only to crush the population already impoverished by the collectivization but to administer a sound chastisement to all classes who were interested in the preservation and development of local and republic interests.

The famine was at its height in the winter and spring of 1933 and was only somewhat alleviated after the harvest of that year was brought in. It was only natural that, despite the efforts of the authorities, word of it would gradually seep out, in spite of the censor­ship. The news was most accessible to the Western Ukrainians, for as yet all communications had not been satisfactorily broken, and early in the summer they began to seek permission to organize relief  p105 abroad for the benefit of the sufferers. On July 14, 1933, such a body was already formed in Lviv and soon in the other sections of Western Ukraine, while their appeals were heard by the Ukrainian emigrés abroad.

In August, Theodore Cardinal Innitzer of Vienna had been convinced of the truth of the famine and he appealed for aid for the starving. In the same month the General Secretary of the Congress of European Minorities published his summary of the conditions, as gleaned from all available sources, and the League took action at its meeting in September. In the same month the matter was brought up before the League of Nations in Geneva and relief was referred to the International Red Cross.

The movement spread to the Ukrainians in North America and on November 3, 1933, the sixth convention of the United Ukrainian Organizations of the United States appealed to the government of the United States, urging that an impartial commission be sent to Ukraine to report on the truth of these reports.

This growing wave of protests among the Ukrainians and the emigrants from Ukraine was met by a stony silence on the part of the Soviet authorities, by absolute denial or by charges of unfriendly propaganda. The Soviet government refused to lift its barrier on any visits to Ukraine by foreign journalists or by any foreign visitors until after the harvest of 1933 was brought in and then they induced such journalists as Walter Duranty to recant previous statements as to the extent of the famine and report on September 18, 1933, that the harvest of that year was excellent "and all talk of famine now is ridiculous."

Almost the first detailed account of an American journalist was given by William Henry Chamberlin on May 29, 1934, on his return from the Soviet Union, when he estimated that between four and five million peasants were starving and he also quoted the speech of President Kalinin of the Soviet Union, made the year before, "The collective farmers have passed through a good school. For some, this school was quite ruthless."

This was a polite hint that it had been the policy of the government to allow the famine to run its course in the hope of  p106 breaking any possible opposition on the part of the collective farms and the individual peasants.

The famine then on the domestic scene marked a definite turning point, a definite shift of emphasis in the relations between the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Soviet Union, and that shift was extended to the individual Ukrainian. Yet, the very reports that emanated from the stricken country were not without their significance for the world.

1933 was a fateful year for Europe. The order to apply the maximum pressure on the Ukrainians came on January 24th. On January 28th, just four days later and before the news could have leaked out, Kurt von Schleicher resigned as Chancellor of Germany and was succeeded by Adolf Hitler. Within a month came the Reichstag fire and all the turmoil connected with the advent of the Nazis to power.

A world that had still not been fully convinced of the dangers of the Communist regime was only too ready to magnify its benefits and its possibilities for good as compared with the apparently more pressing menace of Hitler. The period of the popular fronts began in all the European countries and it coincided with the coming into power of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the American bank crisis.

Under such circumstances, the rumors of the Ukrainian famine were heavily discounted by all except the most bitter anti-Communists and they obtained short hearing before world public opinion. No one wanted to believe these reports, and the troubled conditions when the reaction to the right seemed the menace to a world desirous of peace made it seem logical that the democratic world could secure some aid in its struggle from the Communist regime. All the old talk of the artificiality of the Ukrainian struggle that had circulated in 1918 was now reburnished and repropagandized.

The result might have been expect but it showed Stalin and the Soviet leaders that they had played their course well. They secured recognition by the United States in November of the same year, just as the real news of the extent of the tragedy was beginning  p107 to leak out. Anger and disgust at Hitler was the dominant mood and behind that veil, the Soviet leaders were able to plan their further actions.

It is hard to tell what might have been the result, had the world awakened in that year to a realization of the dangers from the two totalitarian leaders, who were later to unite and start World War II. Yet already the evidence was there, if men would only understand.

In the period of Militant Communism the victims had been chosen more or less at random and the world was largely aghast at the results, even though they did not understand. Now, by deliberate action the same thing was being done on a larger scale and under the guise of law and order. This method proved successful and advanced the Soviet Union to a place of preeminence among nations, while it enabled the authorities to dupe many idealists in other countries.

From this point of view the deportation of the kurkuls in 1930‑1 and the famine of 1932‑3 represented the use of new methods of terror as an instrument of national policy. That policy was continued in the massacre of the Polish officers in Katyn and the Ukrainian peasants in Vinnytsya. It was continued in the purges that marked the thirties and in the show political trials that have marked the history of Communist rule in the satellite countries. They were the inauguration of a new policy that was not to meet with failure until its extremes began again by their ruthlessness to disturb an uneasy world in the days of the new cold war.

Thayer's Note:

a The consensus term (outside Russia, of course) for this intentional famine in Ukraine perpetrated by the Soviet authorities is Holodomor, a Ukrainian portmanteau word meaning "murder by hunger". It is recognized as a genocide against Ukraine and its people by the Soviet state.

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