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5th AUGB Holodomor Essay Prize 2024

The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain(AUGB), in partnership with the Nadia Diuk Memorial Programme, is offering a prize worth up to £1000 for the best essay on the topic of the 1932 – 1933 Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine in which an estimated seven million Ukrainians died over a period of 18 months.

The Essay Prize Competition, now running for the fifth time, is open to Sixth Form students (Years 12/13) attending any school or college in the UK and studying any subject. Candidates are invited to submit an essay, of between 1500 and a maximum of 2000 words.

·      1st prize:£1000 to be split equally between the candidate and their school or college

·      2nd prize: £400 to be split equally between the candidate and their school or college

·      3rd prize: £200 to be split equally between the candidate and their school or college

For full details of the 5th AUGB Holodomor Essay Prize 2024, please click here


The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain is pleased to announce the winners of the 4th AUGB Holodomor Essay Prize Competition 2023 as follows:  

1st prize: David Ruston, Wilmington Grammar School for Boys, Dartford

2nd prize: Diya Kotecha, Loughborough High, Loughborough

3rd prize: Cameron McClure, Dunottar School, Reigate

Highly Commended: Teddy Childs, Northampton School for Boys, Northampton

Highly Commended: Alexander Carter, Stockport Grammar School, Stockport

The fourth and most successful competition to date, the essays were of a very high standard this year. The Lead Judge Professor Olga Onuch, Professor of Comparative and Ukrainian Politics at the University of Manchester said of the winning essay, which focused on the French Statesman Edouard Herriot and his denial of the Holodomor after touring Kharkiv in 1933 "This is an outstanding essay and benefits from truly excellent writing.  Overall, the essay and its main ideas are very well argued, organized, and researched. It was a pleasure to read it."

Winner David Ruston, of Wilmington Grammar School, who is now set to study History at Selwyn College, Cambridge University said “I very much enjoyed the process of research and attempting to put to paper what I wanted to say about such a momentous event in less than 2000 words…  I will be studying History…so just the penning of this essay was useful to me as a way of improving my historical skills and I am very glad for it.”

Dr Luke Harris, David’s teacher said “David is one of the finest historians we've had the opportunity to teach here at Wilmington Grammar School for Boys, this is further evidence of this. We're very proud that he's going to Cambridge to read history. Thank you for organising the competition and for the fantastic prize.”

Second prize winner Diya Kotecha, of Loughborough High, focused on the impact of Holodomor on Ukrainian women and children in particular. Professor Onuch commented “The essay does a very good job of identifying the different impacts of the Holodomor on Ukraine and Ukrainians’ lives - focusing in on the direct impacts of the policies and famine on social and economic peasant life, women’s lives specifically, psychological trauma in the population, and culture and identity in Ukraine.…the substance and ideas presented are very rich.”

Third Prize winner Cameron McClure, who attends Dunottar School in Reigate, took an interesting approach in assessing how accurately the film ‘Mr Jones’ represented the key aspects of the Holodomor. Professor Onuch said “It was an excellent idea to compare primary documentation and evidence with the information presented in the film [Mr Jones]…. a particularly good job at this exact thing in the case of instances of cannibalism.”

AUGB would like to thank Professor Onuch for giving up her time to participate in this important project as the Lead Judge. The Essay Prize Competition, now running for the fourth time, is open to Sixth Form students (Years 12/13) attending any school or college in the UK and studying any subject. Candidates were invited to submit an essay, of between 1500 and 2000 words. The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB), in partnership with the Nadia Diuk Memorial Programme, offers a prize worth up to £1000, split between the candidate and their school, for the best essay on the topic of the 1932 – 1933 Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine in which an estimated seven million Ukrainians died over a period of 18 months.


The full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia has caused tragic loss of life and devastation. Our members are putting all resources towards undertaking essential humanitarian aid work and helping Ukrainian refugees, and as a result the Board of Directors of the Association of Ukrainians has taken the decision to cancel the 2022 Holodomor Essay Prize.

The next Holodomor Essay Competition will be launched in March 2023


The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, in partnership with the Nadia Diuk Memorial Programme, is pleased to announce the results of the 2021 Holodomor Essay Prize Competition.

Launched in 2018, the Competition seeks to inspire academic investigation by sixth form school students in the UK into the little-known topic of the Holodomor - the barbaric and systematic starvation of millions of Ukrainians over a period of just 18 months in 1932-33.

Since the Holodomor is generally not covered in the UK school curriculum, the Essay Prize Competition has been developed to introduce the topic of the Holodomor to young people, teachers and schools and in doing so, to help raise awareness about an atrocity that receives all too little attention.

Thank you to all who took part in the 2021 Holodomor Essay Prize Competition and congratulations to the following winners:

First Prize: Lauren Williams, Anglo European School, Ingatestone

Second Prize: Daniel Piper, Godalming College, Godalming

Third Prize: Sophie Booth, Meden School, Mansfield

Highly Commended: Archie Mulhern, Lytchett Minster School, Dorset

Highly Commended: Magnus Cameron, St.Mary's Menston, Menston

The Essay Prize Competition is open to all sixth form students attending any school or college in the UK. Candidates are invited to submit a historical style essay of between 1500 and 2000 words on the topic of Holodomor. Dr. Olenka Pevny, Cambridge University lecturer and Director of the Cambridge Ukrainian Studies programme, headed the judging panel which also included AUGB Board member Hanya Dezyk.


To what extent can The Holodomor (1932-1933) be classed as Genocide?

by Lauren Williams, Anglo European School, Ingatestone

While the standard historical narrative in Ukraine concurs that the Holodomor constitutes genocide — the destruction or attempted destruction of a nation or ethnic group — this issue remains an area of contention in the international community. For one, the UN has not yet officially recognised this crisis as genocide, and there remain scholars and public figures who believe that the famine that took place under Soviet authority was non-genocidal. This school of thought posits that the Soviet measures were not taken with national or ethnic considerations specific to Ukraine, but that the action was economically motivated in order to fuel rapid industrialisation (Wheatcroft 2018, 476). However, proponents of the concept of the Ukrainian genocide argue that the famine was used as a means to eliminate the political threat of Ukrainian nationalism and diminish Ukrainian culture, thus providing adequate grounds for the classification of genocide (Graziosi 2015, 73, 2004, 11). Stalin was aware of the impending famine caused by the excessive grain quotas and later consciously exacerbated the crisis, suggesting that he had ulterior motives beyond economic obligations.

If one regards the sole motivation behind the policies enacted towards Ukraine as an economic necessity to drive industrialisation, the Holodomor perhaps cannot be seen as an act of genocide. High grain procurements were vital to boost the Soviet economy through exports and to fuel the growing urban population (Ellman 2007, 667). Wheatcroft posits that “The state showed no signs of a conscious attempt to kill lots of Ukrainians,” but that the crisis occurred as a result of the “mistakes carried out by a generally ill-informed, and excessively ambitious, government” (2018, 476). By attributing excessive Soviet policies to overambition and error, this perspective denies that Moscow had genocidal motivations. However, Wheatcroft has been

criticised for not being perceptive enough and having a “very narrow understanding of intent” (Ellman 2007, 681). Arguably, Wheatcroft’s perspective as a western economic historian prevents him from appreciating the more comprehensive concurrent attack on Ukrainian culture which is largely seen by Ukrainian historians as a crucial grounds for which the Holodomor constitutes genocide (Kulʹchytsʹkyi 2015, 115). Conversely, Ellman maintains that the simultaneous economic objective to export grain does not negate the fact that Stalin “intentionally starv(ed) the peasants” (2007, 681). This raises the idea that the motivations behind the action were multidimensional: Stalin aimed to both fuel industrialisation and to attack Ukraine through an insidious scheme. Conquest opposes the idea that the policies leading up to the Holodomor were motivated by mere economic incentives as the excessive grain targets were not imposed on the most grain-productive areas such as the rich Russian agricultural region (1986, 327). This suggests that the Soviet leadership had malicious ulterior motives but that the action was partially taken under the guise of economic policy.

Cultural and ethnic diversity naturally presented a threat to the USSR - a centralised state which strove for conformity and compliance among its subjects. Beyond the economic motivation to drive industrialisation, the long-standing political threat posed by Ukrainian nationalism suggests that the Soviet policies were intentionally directed at Ukraine as a nation. Ukraine saw the most vehement opposition to collectivisation in the USSR; one period of insurgency in 1930 involved nearly 1 million Ukrainians (Andriewsky 2015, 39). A series of Ukrainian revolts in early 1930 saw some participants chanting ‘Down with the Soviet power, long live the People’s Will’ (Patrilak 2014). Therefore, it may be inferred that the famine was deliberately used

as a tool to weaken Ukraine politically. As outlined in the 1932 Politburo meeting, the Soviet policy of blacklisting villages entailed the “Immediate cessation of delivery of goods, complete suspension of cooperative and state trade in the villages, and removal of all available goods from cooperative and state stores” (Library of Congress 1997). This absolute extraction of food, which coincided with many arrests and the blockade of the village, indicates a desire to impose death on those who were targeted, reflecting the term Holodomor, meaning murder by starvation (Kulʹchytsʹkyi 2015, 95). Andriewsky notes that “Villages with known supporters of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1919 and/or with a history of resistance to Bolshevik grain requisitioning” were particularly targeted by blacklisting (2015, 30). This demonstrates that the Soviet measures had political motivations and were taken with such brutal force so as to eliminate the threat of Ukrainian nationalism. It appears that this was achieved: in 1934, Politburo member Pavel Postyshev declared that 1933 was the “year of the defeat of Ukrainian nationalist counterrevolution” (Klid and Motyl 2012, 43). The Ukrainian peasants now had a “change in mentality” and entirely submitted to the scheme of collectivisation (Kul’chyts'kyi, Olynyk, and Wynnyckyj 2008, 6). Therefore, the intent to starve a significant proportion of the Ukrainian population, which suppressed Ukrainian nationalism and dissent, demonstrates the genocidal nature of the Soviet course of action.

The wider attack on Ukrainian nationalism and culture beyond the policies on food extraction further suggests that the Soviet approach was taken with genocidal intentions. Andriewsky writes: “The repeated attacks on Ukrainian intellectuals, the assault on religion and the Ukrainian churches, the dispersal and fragmentation of

the Ukrainian people—all of these were part of a larger pattern.” It could be argued that Andriewsky, a Ukrainian historian, is too speculative when attributing Soviet policies to a “larger pattern” towards Ukraine. The purging and suppression of religion and intellectuals were carried out throughout the USSR and may not have been specific to Ukraine but indicative of the regime’s totalitarian nature. Nonetheless, Ganna Zakharova, the descendent of a Holodomor survivor, writes that those “who survived the Holodomor became terrified of acknowledging their cultural identity” (2018). It is plausible to state that an erosion of cultural identity, an essential element of nationalism, reduces a group’s desire for political independence, as evident in Ukraine. Therefore, the combined and mutually reinforcing assault on Ukrainian culture and widespread persecution of Ukrainians, particularly those suspected of being politically subversive, suggests that these actions were indeed taken with the intent to, in part, destroy a national group.

The excessively brutal nature of the Soviet policies further demonstrates that Moscow acted with the intention of killing a significant proportion of the Ukrainian population. It was not that the famine was just caused by acts of omission — failing to provide relief — but purposeful acts of commission through the imposition of increasingly severe policies (Ellman 2007, 680). It is widely accepted that Stalin was aware of the famine by late 1932 (Mace 1988). Indeed, the experience of the previous 1918-1921 famines which had arisen as a result of high grain quotas demonstrates that Stalin was not oblivious to the foreseeable result of famine in the first place and is therefore highly culpable for the outcome (Conquest 1986, 326). Following the escalation of the famine, in January 1933, Stalin issued a secret decree to prevent the “mass flight of starving villagers in search of food” by “arresting peasants fleeing North from Ukraine” (Klid and Motyl 2012, 30–31). Serbyn regards this decree as “perhaps the best available proof of the dictator’s genocidal intent against the Ukrainian nation” (2007, 12). The very name of the decree instructs the prevention of “starving villagers” from obtaining food, of which there would have been enough to feed the entire population had grain exports not been so high (Ellman 2007, 679). This shows that Stalin was fully aware that Ukrainians were starving, yet took measures to further prevent them from acquiring food and thus intentionally condemned them to death. One famine testimony, which recounts cannibalism in their village, states that those who set off to Russia were “turned back at the border” and “all perished on the way” (Kuryliw 2018). This illustrates the magnitude of the actions against Ukraine: excessive grain quotas (arguably deliberately) caused the onset of the famine, which was later purposely exacerbated by subsequent Soviet policies. Therefore, it can be concluded that the Soviet leadership acted to diminish Ukraine as an entity, both in terms of the physical population and in weakening the fabric of the society in terms of culture and nationalism, and thus Stalin exhibited genocidal intent. In fact, the combination of the attack on Ukrainian culture and political subversion through and alongside the famine amplified the overall impact on Ukraine, indicating that the actions were taken to debilitate Ukraine in all respects.

In conclusion, it can be said that there were clear ‘non-genocidal’ economic considerations for the initial policies towards Ukraine. However, the coinciding political motivations and result of eroding Ukrainian dissent and culture provide adequate grounds for the claim that the Holodomor was an act of genocide. There is sufficient evidence that Stalin was not oblivious to the potentially catastrophic impact

of the initial high grain quotas and was aware of the situation in Ukraine throughout the crisis. Subsequent Soviet policies which consciously prevented Ukrainians from obtaining food further demonstrate the intent to, in part, destroy a national group.

One might question the necessity of classifying an event as genocide that took place almost 100 years ago, yet the magnitude of the Holodomor and how it has been dealt with remind us that history cannot be separated from present politics and conversations. The famine is seared into the memory of Ukraine, above all for having resulted in the death of around 13% of the population (Kiger 2019). Despite these abhorrent facts, the full extent of the crisis has only recently come to light, having been obscured for decades under the USSR. The aforementioned cultural suppression is another aspect that has altered the fabric of Ukraine as a nation and continues to affect later generations. It is only right that the event is duly recognised considering the immense impact of the crisis and the ruthlessness with which it was sanctioned. Of course, it must be conceded that there is a degree of difficulty in assigning the term genocide to an event that took place decades before the concept was officially established. The allegation of genocide largely relies on intent, a fundamentally abstract concept which is hence an issue of contention between historians, particularly concerning the Soviet leadership which was notorious for falsification. However, a controversial subject should not be avoided solely for this reason. Ultimately, to condemn genocidal acts in the past is to remain vigilant against current crimes against humanity and bring a degree of justice to those painfully wronged.


Andriewsky, Olga. 2015. “Towards a Decentred History: The Study of the Holodomor and Ukrainian Historiography.” East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies.

Conquest, Robert. 1986. The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. Oxford University Press.

Ellman, Michael. 2007. “Stalin and the Soviet Famine of 1932--33 Revisited.” Europe-Asia Studies 59 (4): 663–93.

Graziosi, Andrea. 2004. “The Soviet 1931-1933 Famines and the Ukrainian Holodomor: Is a New Interpretation Possible, and What Would Its Consequences Be?” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 27 (1/4): 97–115.

———. 2015. “The Impact of Holodomor Studies on the Understanding of the USSR.” East/West Journal of Ukrainian Studies 2 (1): 53.

Kiger, Patrick J. 2019. “How Joseph Stalin Starved Millions in the Ukrainian Famine.” April 16, 2019. Klid, Bohdan, and Alexander J. Motyl. 2012. The Holodomor Reader: A Sourcebook on the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine. Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.

Kulʹchytsʹkyi, Stanislav. 2015. “The Holodomor of 1932--33: How and Why?” East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies 2 (1): 93–116.

Kul’chyts'kyi, Stanislav, Marta D. Olynyk, and Andrij Wynnyckyj. 2008. “The Holodomor and Its Consequences in the Ukrainian Countryside.” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 30 (1/4): 1–13.

Kuryliw, Valentina. 2018. Holodomor in Ukraine: The Genocidal Famine, 1932-1933 : Learning Materials for Teachers and Students. Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.

Library of Congress. 1997. “Revelations from the Russian Archives: Documents in English Translation.” Library of Congress. .html?hl=&id=Csvcfm9o8OkC.

Mace, James E. 1988. Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine, 1932-1933: Report to Congress: Adopted by the Commission, April 19, 1988, Submitted to Congress, April 22, 1988. Washington: U.S. G.P.O. : For sale by Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O.

Patrilak, Bogdan. 2014. “How Stalin Crushed the Euromaidan of 1930.” November 19, 2014. a-and-stalinholodomor/.

Serbyn, Roman. 2007. “Is There a‘ Smoking Gun’ for the Holodomor." UNIAN.” November.

Wheatcroft, Stephen G. 2018. “The Turn Away from Economic Explanations for Soviet Famines.” Contemporary European History 27 (03): 465–69. Zakharova, Ganna. 2018. “Opinion: Does the UN Have the Courage to Recognize the Holodomor as Genocide?” Calgary Herald. November 24, 2018. age-to-recognize-the-holodomor-as-genocide.


Holodomor - A crime of Genocide, and a victim if ignorance

By Daniel Piper, Godalming College, Godalming

‘Holodomor’ refers to a systematic famine-cum-genocide perpetrated by the Soviet Regime of Joseph Stalin over a span of 18 months from 1932-33, resulting in a calculated death toll of at least three-and-a-half million Ukrainian nationals, with other estimates rising higher than seven million. It represented one prong of ‘a planned three-pronged attack on Ukraine’, comprising ‘dekulakisation, collectivisation, and systematically organised famine’ (Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, 2008) designed to force the submission of the Ukrainian people to Soviet will, under the guise of providing food for Russia’s industrial heartlands.

One of the most critical elements of establishing the context of Holodomor is to utilise the knowledge of those who lived through it, and to corroborate said knowledge with expert testimony. A common theme running through eyewitness accounts is an ever-present sense of pain and dread, stemming from a situation which is ‘hard […] to talk about’ because of how the victims ‘suffered greatly’ (Smereka, 2008). These accounts share, in abundance, recantations of ‘misery that is impossible to describe’, evoking imagery of ‘a cart [that] would come to collect the dead’ as ‘people began to fall ill from hunger’ – ‘it was as if we all had to die, as if we were marked out for death’ (Ostapiuk, 2008). New evidence demonstrates that Ostapiuk was indeed correct - this was indeed what had been planned. Liudmyla Hrynevych, a Ukrainian Historian, claims that ‘Stalin prepared the Holodomor with the very same methods which Hitler prepared the Holocaust’, attacking with propaganda both enemies to his economic ideology (Kulaks, who were ‘liquidated as a class’ (Gregorovich, 1974)) and specific ethnic groups (such as Ukrainians) in a similar vein to how Hitler used Propaganda ‘to portray the Jews as the enemy of the German people and to dehumanise them’ (Goble, 2018). Furthermore, the accounts themselves are both wide-ranging in scope and similar in substance, which indicates that the event had universal consequences, and lessens the likelihood that it had been fabricated by few with the aim of fooling the many. What this corroborated evidence demonstrates, in fact, is the intrinsic perceived reliability of these sources, and thereby allows us to analyse the sources further with relative confidence of their accuracy. While many of these accounts were gathered more than 75 years after the events in question but concerns about memory degradation can be assuaged by the similarity of the accounts themselves, and the unlikeliness of multiple people misremembering the same traumatic event in the same way.

Holodomor denial, much like denial of the Holocaust, is almost universally justified by specious or invalid evidence which exists only to obstruct what has been deemed to be an event of historical truth. Indeed, much of the denial of the Holodomor centres on the supposed complete lack of evidence of Stalin outright stating his plan to attack Ukraine and its inhabitants, but it should be noted that explicit statements of plans to attack are rarely made. Indeed, Adolf Hitler made no such comments before or during the near-universally recognised Holocaust (Goble, 2018), and therefore denial of the Holodomor on the grounds of a lack of Stalinist statements is a logical fallacy through the instigation of double-standards. However, there does appear to be some evidence of Stalin’s call to action against the Ukrainian peasants and the Kulaks (Ellman, 2007). Early in his rule, Stalin went to great lengths to specify two groups, the ‘class enemies’, who comprised, among others, the Kulaks and ‘Counter-revolutionaries’, and the ‘idlers’, who should be punished with ‘repression or starvation’ (Ellman, 2007). On 20th July 1932, Stalin proposed, as a rule, that ‘thieves’ who were ‘stealing’ the property of the state or of the Kolkhoz should be killed, which allowed officials locally to interpret that those currently dying of starvation as being in their position by their own volition (Rees, Khlevnyuk, Davies, Kosheleva, & Rogovaya, 2001). As a result, the starvation suffered by Ukrainians during Holodomor would have been interpreted as ‘justified’, because, according to Stalin’s own proposal, they would have deserved it. However, historical fact is often not enough to dispel those so entrenched in ideologies as to refuse empirical fact.

Such ideological groups include, overwhelmingly, those with neo-Communist and neo-Stalinist views, as the Holodomor acts as a direct criticism of both the Communist policy of Collectivisation and of Stalin’s ‘ignorance of agricultural and peasant matters’ (Ellman, 2007). One such organisation is the ‘Progressive Labour Party’ (PLP), who, in one article, cite the Soviet response to famine in the early 1930s as a plan to ‘redistribute it [grain] in a more egalitarian manner’, and blames the famine on ‘the peasants themselves, and attacks from kulak landowners’ (Progressive Labour Party, 2014), which are two provably false claims. Furthermore, in the same article, the PLP claims that there is ‘no evidence’ to support the claims that collectivisation, and subsequent ‘disruptions’, caused problems, and dismisses the ‘Holodomor’ as ‘bogus’. Aside from the colloquialisms lowering the reputation of the source, the former claim is contradicted one paragraph earlier, in which they claim that there were ‘errors in carrying out the plan’. The author has neglected to provide any sources for any of their claims, let alone those seen as the most outlandish with currently held evidence. Such an example is the claim that ‘Holodomor originated in the Ukrainian diaspora, particularly among those who had fought alongside the Nazis and fled with German troops […] as the Red Army advanced’, but it is claimed without evidence. Furthermore, this claim appears to make little sense, given that 4.5 million Ukrainian citizens were part of the Soviet Red Army, of whom nearly 11% were given awards for bravery by the USSR (Potichnyj, n.d.). Furthermore, the ‘Reichskommissariat Ukraine’ (RKU), the state set up during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, is deemed to be responsible for ‘Nazi extermination policies [which] reached an estimated 3,000,000 people’ (Magocsi, 1996), let alone the fact that the Ukrainians were, under Nazi ideology, Untermensch (Subhuman), and ‘original Nazi plans called for the extermination of 65 percent of the nation’s 23.2 million Ukrainians (Schmuhl, 2008), with the survivors to be treated as slaves’ (Gellately, 1996), rather than soldiers. The article may be referring to ‘an additional more than two million Ukrainians […] deported as slave labourers to Germany’ (Rud, 2014). As there is no available evidence to support the claims of widespread Ukrainian Nazism, and significant evidence to the contrary, we must assume that the unsubstantiated claims are false, which further weakens the cause of the source. Ending the article, the source claims that ‘many peasants who hated the kolkhozy […] worked hard on them’, and that ‘many other peasants worked willingly’ and ‘accepted collectivisation’. While this may have been true for Russian peasants, who had operated similarly under Tsardom’s Mir for centuries, Ukrainian peasants had worked individually throughout, causing much higher levels of resentment towards collectivisation in Ukraine, as evidenced by the eyewitness accounts gathered by the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB). The father of Kateryna Buriak, despite pleas from his wife, refused to join the Kolkhoz, and ‘said that he would rather die than work there’ (Buriak, 2008). Kulaks were forced to work on the Kolkhoz through threats of ‘torture’ and ‘for fear of being shot’ (Diachenko, n.d.). In direct contravention to the source is the claim that ‘People were forced to go and work in the kolkhoz, but nobody wanted to become a member of the collective’ (Smereka, 2008) and, given the previous establishment of the reliability of the primary sources, one is inclined to believe them over an unsourced, uncited, and provably false article by an ideologically driven organisation.

A similar pattern can be found in the PLP’s other works, given their status as a primary, direct denier of the Holodomor. Another article claims, using quotes by historian Mark Tauger, that the Holodomor is ‘political propaganda disguised as History’ (Progressive Labour Party, 2014), and claims, yet again, that the Soviet government delivered large amounts of aid to Ukraine, which remains at odds with eyewitness testimonies. Furthermore, data from a Ukrainian research paper highlights that populations in Ukrainian cities from 1926-37 did, for some, fall by more than 55%, indicating that this aid either did not come in time, or came for too few (Kulchytsky & Yifmenko, 2003). Indeed, it is that latter which appears to be the case, as cited by Kul’chyts’kyi [sic] again (Kul'chyts'kyi, Olynyk, & Wynnyckyj, 2008), in which he claims that ‘in Ukraine, the draconian food requisitions caused the same kind of famine as in other commodity farming regions’. What he proceeds to detail, however, is that ‘the situation changed qualitatively when Stalin's security service began confiscating all foodstuffs’, which was not standard practice. ‘The peasants ended up utterly dependent on food relief from the state’ and, ‘beginning on 8 February 1933, Stalin set about feeding the starving populace through the collective farms and Soviet state farms’ with grain that they had originally hoarded for reserves, despite the obvious argument that a famine would constitute an emergency. While this does, initially, appear to support those who deny the Holodomor, the authors note that ‘this assistance should not be mistaken for charity: the only people who were fed were those who were still capable of working on the sowing campaign’, thereby meaning that, while some were fed back from starvation, ‘those who could not work perished’. The denial alleges that ‘proponents misrepresent history by omitting evidence’ (Progressive Labour Party, 2014), when, in fact, it is they who have done so, which only serves to further weaken the cause for denial of the Holodomor.

One of the most often cited articles of Holodomor denial is that of Jeff Coplon in the Village Voice, published in 1988. However, much of the article focuses on semantics, and fails to address the core of the argument for the existence of the Holodomor – deliberate starvation. Coplon solely questions the reasons behind pushing awareness of the Holodomor, going so far as to claim that it supported ‘a denial of Hitler’s holocaust against the Jews’ (Coplon, 1988), rather than attacking its designation. It is articles such as this which cause Holodomor scepticism, even though the existence of one tragedy does not preclude the existence of the other. Indeed, one of the alleged ‘experts’, Moshe Lewin (University of Pennsylvania), belittles recognising the event as ‘adding horrors until it becomes a pathology’, indicating that they are more concerned with the image of the past than about recording people’s suffering, in complete contravention to the duty of the historian. One must ask the question, overall, of whether a source that ignores the crux of an issue can truly be considered useful for denialists, and, logically, the answer should be no. A source that does not address an issue can only be attacked for such and cannot be rebutted in the typical style – with evidence.

Denial by omission is the most common form of Holodomor Denial. As of writing, only sixteen countries recognise the event as a genocide, but steps have been taken to rectify this. By the autumn of 1988, the Holodomor had a distinct place on the curriculum in New York State, alongside the Holocaust, and attempts by the AUGB to raise awareness in 2008 prompted Edinburgh to commission, and subsequently unveil in 2017, a commemorative stone to mark the event’s 85th Anniversary. Despite the efforts of people attempting to raise awareness, however, ‘they say we are making it up’ (Dowhopiat, 2007)

The Holodomor must be concluded, therefore, to be a verifiable historical event, which is distinctly lacking in worldwide recognition. Efforts to deny this event are often unsourced or uncorroborated, and many stem either from neo-Communist or neo-Stalinist organisations, who mask atrocities committed by the Soviet regime, or have quarrel with semantics, rather than with the event itself. Arguably, the event is summarised by one eyewitness quote: ‘It was a terrible time for me – one that I will never forget’ (Semianiw, 2008)


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Did the world condone The Holodomor?

By Sophie Booth, Meden School, Mansfield

The horrors of the Holodomor remained a well-guarded secret until the late 1980’s [1], something which has been largely attributed to the Soviet government’s attempts to hide the Holodomor from the world and supress any survivors through intense fear of persecution. However, what if this isn’t the only reason why the Holodomor wasn’t stopped from 1932 onwards? Despite western journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones exposing the truth behind the famine in Ukraine, there is a lack of evidence to suggest that western countries made any serious, or successful attempt at intervention between 1932 and 1933. Could the ignorance of other countries have played a role in the Holodomor’s secrecy? Or were the suppression and fear associated with the Holodomor completely responsible for its clandestinity?

“Not everyone believes that it happened […]
They say we are making it up.” [2]

These are the words of Ivan Dowhopiat, a survivor of the Holodomor. His testimony is significant because it demonstrates how well-concealed the Holodomor was – the government of the USSR had brainwashed the population into blind submission so intensely that when Holodomor survivors told of their horrific experiences, people didn’t believe them. They were said to be liars. Whilst it is arguable that the disbelief of the general population was a choice, preventing them from accepting that approximately 7 million men, women, and children [3] had forcibly starved to death, it is perhaps more reliable to see this disbelief as a product of the Soviet government’s attempts to criminalise the victims of the Holodomor to conceal their own atrocities. This criminalisation of Ukrainians came in many forms, one notable example being the government’s circulation of the rhetoric that the population losses and imprisonment of ‘kulaks’ was the fault of the ‘kulaks’ themselves; They were accused of manipulating statistics in the government registry offices by registering deaths multiple times and not registering births to make the communist government seem incompetent. [4] In effect, this may have contributed to the denial of the Holodomor by presenting the real victims of the Holodomor as people who deserved punishment, discouraging others from both investigating the loss of life in Ukraine and Kuban, and excusing the brutality of the Soviet Government, consequently helping to hide the truths of the Holodomor from the world. Furthermore, when some Ukrainians managed to escape the USSR and migrate to Poland in the hopes of freedom [5], the USSR closed all borders between Ukraine and the rest of the USSR, as well as the Ukrainian-Polish border to prevent word spreading of the impending obscenities of the Holodomor. [5] Moreover, any village which didn’t meet the unrealistic grain quotas set out in the Law for The Five Ears of Grain was put on a Blacklist – this was essentially certain death for the village’s inhabitants as every morsel of food they had left was taken away, and they were condemned to martial law. This prevented anyone from entering or leaving the area. [5] Ultimately, these measures isolated Holodomor victims from the rest of the world, silencing them and preventing them from telling their story.

Despite these ruthless attempts by the USSR, it is undeniable that the West knew about the Holodomor. Various western journalists managed to enter, photograph and report on the realities of the Holodomor, but the issue didn’t appear to receive national attention. One of the first western journalists to report on the Holodomor was Malcolm Muggeridge, a journalist from the United Kingdom who investigated conditions in Ukraine and wrote about his first-hand experiences: [6]

“I mean starving in its absolute sense”
“The famine is an organized one." [6]

From this, it is unequivocal that the West not only knew about the Holodomor itself, but also how deliberate it was – the West was aware of an “organized” famine in Ukraine yet stood by and allowed more innocent Ukrainians to die. Also, Muggeridge’s articles are significant because he was forced to go to extreme lengths to prevent them from being censored by the Soviet Government; he sent his articles out of the country to ensure his reports provided a true depiction of the ongoing trauma in Ukraine. [6] This corroborates the drastic attempts made by the USSR to conceal the true brutalities of the Holodomor from both the citizens of the USSR, and the rest of the world. However, this also demonstrates how, despite the attempts of the USSR, it was in fact possible to uncover the true horrors of the famine in Ukraine - the reports of Gareth Jones further consolidate this. Gareth Jones published various articles about his experiences of the Holodomor, in which he described the swollen stomachs of children who hadn’t eaten a real meal in weeks [7], the desperate cries for help from villagers, saying: “There is no bread, we are dying!”, [8] but also the way in which the communist government seemed to deny the existence of any famine despite clear evidence to suggest otherwise, asking: “May I […] congratulate the Soviet Foreign Office on its skill in concealing the true situation in the U.S.S.R.?”.[9] Notably, despite these harrowing reports of the torture that Holodomor victims were forced to endure, there is no evidence of any real national reaction to the Holodomor in the West. People seemed to have read their morning paper, exposing the stark realities of the ongoing genocide in the USSR, and then sipped their coffee and went about their day as if nothing had changed - How is this possible?

“Almost single-handedly did Duranty aid and abet one of the world’s most prolific mass murderers, knowing all the while what was going on, but refraining from saying precisely what he knew to be true.” [10]

“Duranty loved to repeat […], ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.’ Those ‘eggs’ were the heads of men, women and children, and those ‘few’ were merely tens of millions” [10]

Walter Duranty, a soviet-sympathetic journalist, was instrumental in the lack of intervention from the West. Duranty published numerous articles denying the existence of any famine in the USSR, saying “There [was] no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there [was] widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.”. [11] Duranty claimed that rather than there being an “organized” [6] famine as Muggeridge and Jones had described, the loss of life within the USSR was simply an effect of the failed collectivisation system. Furthermore, having potentially agreed with the USSR to spread news of no famine in Russia in exchange for preferential treatment [13], Duranty went on to discredit the works of Gareth Jones. He stated that Jones had failed to survey an appropriate “cross-section” of the USSR so as to imply that his findings were unsubstantiated. [12] Yet, it was the public’s positive reaction towards these statements that caused them to be so significant – in 1932, Duranty received a Pulitzer Prize for his “profundity and intimate comprehension of conditions in Russia” [14]. Consequently, having been nationally celebrated for his authenticity, his depiction of the USSR as a country which was struggling with temporary poverty and food shortages was widely accepted, perhaps contextualising the West’s hesitancy to act; they believed that the USSR was struggling with collectivisation just as they were struggling with the Great Depression. However, it is possible that the acceptance of Duranty’s work was more a strategic choice than a result of disinformation. The consequence of accepting that there was a genocide in Ukraine meant intervention against a communist state in a time when the West feared another war, as well as the imposition of communism itself. In this sense, Duranty’s statement that he was “convinced [Bolshevism] [was] unsuitable for the United States and Western Europe”, and that it wouldn’t “spread westward unless a new war wreck[ed] the established system.", [14] may have epitomised the overwhelming fear of communism in the West hence discouraging them from acting against the USSR. Indisputably, the rich leaders of countries which relied on capitalism and democracy would have viewed the imposition of communism, a system which advocated the equal distribution of wealth and nationalisation, as a threat. Whilst Duranty’s Soviet links reiterate the USSR’s role in hiding the Holodomor, is it possible that the acceptance of Duranty’s work over that of Muggeridge and Jones was a conscious choice by the West? To avoid war and the expansion of communism into western territory, the West may have purposefully endorsed Duranty’s anti-famine perspective to justify their inaction against the Holodomor, corroborating the theory that the West knowingly condoned the Holodomor.

As a result of this western apathy towards the Holodomor, the genocide’s victims were forced to become their own salvation. Notably, the work of the International Alliance of Women (IAW), rallied by a group of Ukrainian refugees, was instrumental in gaining an unprecedented level of recognition for the Holodomor - after desperately fleeing Ukraine pre-border-closures, a group of Holodomor refugees reached Poland and began circulating recollections of their experiences under Stalin’s regime [5]. This is significant because, whilst the Polish press was restricted by the forced censorship enacted in the Polish-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty of July 1932 [5], these refugees succeeded in gaining the attention of the League of Nations through their communication with the IAW. [15] However, even when faced with a direct appeal from Holodomor victims themselves, the world refused to act – not just the West, the world.

““When the head of the Council explained the situation, no one […] denied the fact of the famine. However, representatives of the countries that saw their interests lying in political and economic cooperation with the Soviet Union indicated formal obstacles to an official reaction on the part of the League of Nations concerning the Famine.” [15]

Only 3 countries supported Norwegian Prime Minister Johan Ludwig Mowinckel’s requests for League members “to speak out boldly and act generously” [15] against the Holodomor: Germany, Ireland, and Spain. [15] Whilst on the surface this provides evidence to suggest that the West was mostly to blame for condoning the Holodomor, these seemingly accepting countries were in fact acting on behalf of their own political agendas more than their moral conscience. Germany in particular is thought to have supported action against the Holodomor because it would serve as a distraction from the anti-Semitic atrocities that they were implementing under their Nazi regime. [15] Other countries, who denied assistance against the famine, blamed their inaction on the fact that the USSR and Ukraine weren’t members of the League and hadn’t specifically requested assistance. [15] Arguably to avoid backlash as the ‘secret meeting’ was exposed to the public, the League chose to transfer the case to the Red Cross. [15] In theory this could have been successful if not for the repressive Soviet government, who of course denied the existence of any famine and refused to allow the Red Cross to enter the USSR to provide relief. [15] This left millions of Ukrainians helpless once again. In effect, the foreign reaction to the Holodomor was a series of excuses and empty promises which assisted Stalin in his massacre of millions.

The world must not be relieved of their responsibility in the Holodomor. Despite the USSR’s attempts to conceal the Holodomor, numerous reports were published globally which exposed the truly horrific acts of the Soviet government against innocent Ukrainians - the world hid their ignorance behind a thin veil of false justifications and denials. The world remained silent whilst 7 million men, women and children were murdered. [3] No amount of disinformation, political fears or foreign policy aims can excuse this blatant lack of intervention.

Nothing can excuse the role the world played in millions of lives lost; in the millions of stories untold; in the millions of families torn apart.

Even to this day, only 17 countries recognise the Holodomor as a genocide; [16] only 17 nations have swallowed their pride and admitted to their failure to act against a genocide they were fully aware of.

There is no doubt, the world did, and continues to, condone the Holodomor.


[1] Holodomor – The Ukrainian Genocide, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at:

[2] Survivor Testimony Ivan Dowhopiat, Association of Ukrainians Great Britain. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain - Survivor Testimony Ivan Dowhopiat (

[3] 3rd Annual Holodomor Essay Prize 2021, Association of Ukrainians Great Britain. Accessed: 13/07/2021. (13)Available at: Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain - Holodomor Essay Prize 2021 (

[4] What is the Holodomor? written by Valeria Didenko and Yaroslava Bukhta, Ukraïner. Written: 28/10/2020. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: What is the Holodomor? - Ukraїner (

[5] Lecture by an American historian Timothy Snyder on the Holodomor (“murder by starvation”) in Ukraine, Published: 12/11/2019. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: (19) Lecture by an American historian Timothy Snyder on the Holodomor (“murder by starvation”) in Ukraine - YouTube

[6] 1932-33 Soviet Famine, Spartacus Educational, written by John Simkin. Written: 09/1997, Updated: 01/2020. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: 1932-33 Soviet Famine (

[7] (2) Gareth Jones, The Evening Standard (31st March, 1933), Gareth Jones, Spartacus Educational, written by John Simkin. Written: 09/1997. Updated: 01/2020. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Gareth Jones (

[8] Famine grips Russia Millions Dying. Idle on Rise, Says Briton Gareth Jones, Lloyd George Aid, Reports Devastation TOURS FARM AREAS, FINDS FOOD GONE Asserts Reds Arrest British to Check Public Wrath-Peasants. “Wait for Death”, Evening Post Foreign Service New York, written by Gareth Jones. Published: 29/03/1933. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Why Britons were arrested in Moscow (

[9] (4) Gareth Jones, New York Times (13th May, 1933), Gareth Jones, Spartacus Educational, written by John Simkin. Written: 09/1997. Updated: 01/2020. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Gareth Jones (

[10] Useful Idiot, M.Y. Herring, Stalin's apologist: Walter Duranty, the New York Times man in Moscow, New York: Oxford University Press 1990, S.J. Taylor. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Stalin's apologist : Walter Duranty, the New York Times man in Moscow. ( and from Quotations - HREC Education (

[11] Gareth Jones, Spartacus Educational, written by John Simkin. Written: 09/1997. Updated: 01/2020. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Gareth Jones (

[12] (3) Walter Duranty, New York Times (30th March, 1933), Gareth Jones, Spartacus Educational, written by John Simkin. Written: 09/1997. Updated: 01/2020. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Gareth Jones (

[13] Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, written by Michael Widlanski. Publisher: Threshold Editions, Published: 31/03/2012. Pg.51-52

[14] Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, Walter Duranty, Spartacus Educational, written by John Simkin. Written: 09/1997. Updated: 01/2020. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Walter Duranty (

[15] Milena Rudnytska, “Borot'ba za pravdu pro velykyi holod” (The Struggle for Truth about the Great Famine), in idem, Statti, lysty, dokumenty (Articles, Letters, Documents) (Lviv:59 [Misioner], 1998). Excerpts, pp. 421–30. Originally published in Svoboda (Jersey City), 5–8 August 1958. Translated by Bohdan Klid. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: Microsoft Word - 4. Eyewitnesses and memoirs-MY.doc ( (Pages 58-62)

[16] “I Will Remember Them”, the documentary about the Holodomor-genocide of 1932–33, The Holodomor Museum. Published: 30/04/2020. Accessed: 13/07/2021. Available at: (19) “I Will Remember Them”, the documentary about the Holodomor-genocide of 1932–33 - YouTube


How has The Holodomor been represented, addressed and studied in modern Western cinema?

By Magnus Cameron, St Mary’s Menston

In the modern day, the lessons of history are being adapted in order to be passed down through new media. Now, no child will complete their GCSE history without the aid of a film or two and should any person wish to explore a historical topic their first instinct may be to search for it one’s streaming platform of choice. With the Holodomor this is no exception.

Mr Jones (2019) is the most prominent of three western films which have portrayed the Holodomor. It focuses on Gareth Jones’ attempts to uncover the famine and uses journalism to explore how propaganda and corruption allowed for the famine to go unchecked. The romantic-drama Bitter Harvest (2017) centres around the plight of Cossack kulaks during the famine period, but was not well received by audiences or critics upon its release. And in the cinematic adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s thriller, Child 44 (2015), the Holodomor is briefly portrayed and used as the backstory for two of the characters.

Mr Jones is perhaps most successful in presenting the Holodomor as it explores the famine through the eyes of an outsider. As is often the case with Western audiences, they may fail to properly connect with the tragedy or reality of something when it is foreign and distant, when the characters speak in a different language or dress differently. In Mr Jones, the central figure of Jones allows an excellent access point for the audience, as we in the west can better relate and empathise with the horrors of the famine when seeing it through his eyes. Furthermore, Chalupa expressed in a 2021 interview that she had intentionally written the Gareth Jones of the film to be more naïve than his historical counterpart in order to allow the audience to discover the truth of the Holodomor with him and make the film an educative experience.[1]

Interestingly, one of Mr Jones most prominent academic critics has been Phillip Colley, the great nephew of Gareth Jones, who panned the film for its apparent inaccuracies. Writing on his family website[2] he rebuked the scenes shown in the film which he asserts never happened to Jones. Colley makes an interesting point, for when considering the tagline of the film, “The most important true story you will ever watch”, it would seem that this in itself is untrue if it is believed that prominent scenes in the film are fictional. Colley asserts that “When a film creates a fake public perception of history, surely this cannot be a good thing”, however, I would contest him on that matter as what he perceives as fictional are the scenes in which Jones is present before instances of grain requisition, body carts and cannibalism. Whilst Jones may never have witnessed such scenes, these are all well documented atrocities which occurred during the famine period and therefore I believe they have a place in the film as it is important that audience see as much of the full extent of the genocide as possible, so that their understanding of it is broadened. Colley stated that in doing this Chalupa “invented multiple fictions”, however, we see here his own ignorance as Chalupa revealed that a scene in which a crying baby is pulled from the arms of its dead mother and then dumped on a body cart with her comes directly from the memoirs of her grandfather and survivor of the Holodomor, Olexji Keis.[3] By allowing the film to be based not just on Jones’ diaries but on the memoirs of a survivor means that a better perspective of the famine is gained. Whilst an outsider, western view is beneficial for an outsider, western audience to help them comprehend and learn about the famine, it would be irresponsible of the writer not to consider the experience and accounts of the actual victims. Colley overlooks this as he spuriously claims that Jones’ diaries “are considered the only reliable eye-witness accounts of a famine that killed millions”.

Another part to which Colley objects most strenuously is the links which Mr Jones makes between the Holodomor and George Orwell's novella Animal Farm (1945). The film opens with Orwell writing the preface to his book and then the opening line "Mr Jones of Manor Farm had locked the hen-houses for the night".[4] With this link established, the film returns to Orwell and excerpts from his novella a number of times, each of which serve to contextualise the situation of the Soviet Union through Orwell's satire, this means that Stalin and the Soviet government can be alluded to whilst remaining almost entirely unseen. Following this Orwell then appears in the narrative, meeting Jones in person and advises him "To speak the truth, regardless of consequence, is your duty, and it our right to hear you". Whilst this meeting never occurred, and is therefore much to Colley's chagrin, it aids the narrative and allows for a number of references which firmly set film in an Orwellian landscape, such as the character Ada Brook's reference to the man who follows her around as her "big brother". With these ideas in place, the restricted situation of the journalists in Moscow and the authoritarian control of the government can be far better appreciated and the audience can understand how the famine, which also has an allegory in Animal Farm, was able to take place unchallenged.

The film’s director, Agnieszka Holland, has been praised for the way in which she explored the famine and placed emphasis on it cinematically. A review from Sonny Bunch points to how Holland “drains the land of colour” in order to accentuate the bleak and harsh atmosphere during the famine, but then goes on to contrast such when, on a train, Jones produces an orange, the colour of which stands out against everything else.[5] Such filmography emphasises and encapsulates the starvation of the Ukrainian people and is a perfect way to re-enact Jones’ famous anecdote:

“In the train a Communist denied to me that there was a famine... I threw an orange peel into the spittoon and the peasant again grabbed it and devoured it. The Communist subsided.”[6]

I would also praise Chapula for her use of Walter Duranty as the film’s antagonist. Whilst the obvious villain in the narrative of the Holodomor is Josef Stalin it is exceptionally hard to create an engaging narrative about the personal suffering when its instigator was so immensely distant from it. The use of Duranty as an engaging and nuanced antagonist recontextualises the danger of the genocide by placing emphasis on the neglect of the west in addressing the famine and on the use of misinformation and propaganda. Duranty is shown very much in the role of a ‘useful idiot’ as he reports to the west the officially authorised and socialistically idealised version of the Soviet Union and is rewarded with his hedonistic lifestyle. While not discussed in the film, we know that the real Duranty reported the famine and the possibility that 10 million had perished to the British Embassy in Moscow,[7] which is an even worse indictment of the duplicity and self-serving nature of both Duranty and the western governments, both of whom wished to ingratiate themselves with Russia and were willing to turn a blind eye to genocide to facilitate such.

Whilst I would say that Bitter Harvest is not unjustly criticised for its poor filmmaking, I do believe it holds merit in the way in which it portrays life during the Holodomor. Unlike Mr Jones, the protagonists of Bitter Harvest are Cossack kulaks and therefore the film far better explores the local and personal effects of the famine, showing the forced collectivisation and the violence enacted on those who resisted. It also focuses on the attacks on Eastern Orthodoxy and Ukrainian identity by the state during the period. All of these aspects offer a far more poignant look into the culture which the Holodomor targeted than the other films. Where the film falls short is the narrative which interconnects these themes. Badly written, it plays out like an action film with occasional romance and Stalin-cameos interspersed. The precedence the narrative diminishes the importance of the famine, making it more akin to background imagery. Furthermore, the film favours the violence of the Holodomor as opposed to the starvation, meaning that at times it feels more like a film just about oppressive regime as opposed to one about a famine and for that reason it sometimes comes across like the film aims to commemorate the victims but instead uses the Holodomor as a setting for a Tarantino homage.

Child 44 is particularly interesting in its use of the Holodomor. The film opens by showing the suffering of an orphaned child during the famine and how it leads him to run away and join the Red Army, becoming a decorated war hero. This protagonist now finds himself pursuing a prolific child-murderer and the second Holodomor-related plot point comes when he finally confronts the murderer who explains how the horrors of the famine drove him to become a killer. I began feeling that this element was somewhat sensationalist, however, the inspiration for the novel on which the film is based was the Soviet murderer, Andrei Chikatilo who had grown up during the famine and was told by his mother that his brother had been murdered and cannibalised by neighbours.[8] It has been suggested that the trauma of his youth lead to his warped actions in later life, legitimising this portrayal. Whilst the film is certainly not devoted whole cloth to the Holodomor, its importance in narrative normalises knowledge of the famine. Additionally, the way in which the films opens with an explanation of the forced collectivisation and subsequent starvation and directly names is as ‘Holodomor’ is especially beneficial as an instance of mainstream Holodomor education.

In the Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan writes that the Holodomor "could have made for a tale of great, stirring tragedy on the silver screen. Bitter Harvest is alas, not that movie".[9] Following that criticism and many more like it, Ukrainians expressed upset and leapt to the defence of the film as, at the time, it was the only western film to base its narrative entirely around the Holodomor. Now, we may assume that Mr Jones will take its place as a far more watchable film about the famine. However, I would still argue there is long to go and concur with Godfrey Cheshire who writes that "Holodomor deserves examination, interrogation and commemoration. But it strikes me that the best place to start, cinema-wise, might be with a documentary that has the scope and power of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah."[10]

Angela Chalupa stated that she was inspired by Schindler's List (1993) in creating Mr Jones,[11] and I do think it is beneficial to look to Holocaust films when thinking about the same for the Holodomor. Whilst there are as many issues with denial regarding the Holocaust as with the Holodomor, I would argue that films like The Pianist (2002) or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) have encouraged a far more widespread understanding of the events of that genocide. The Holocaust has been recognised for a very long time whereas the Holodomor has only really come to public recognition since the 1980s, therefore I would argue that the medium of film may similarly be the way forward to solidifying the Holodomor in the international conscience.

A step in the right direction would be to make more Ukrainian language films such as Famine-33 (1991) or The Guide (2014) easily available for international audiences. It cannot be understated that only three films are not nearly enough representation for one of the largest genocides in history, but for now, the three films which we do have each offer a slightly different view of the Holodomor. Irrespective of the quality of their filmmaking, on the whole they each respect the tragedy and loss of life, are not misguided or sensationalist and offer an excellent educative insight into this most important part of history.


Bunch, Sonny (2020) Opinion: ‘Mr Jones’ and the deadly consequences of shoddy journalism,

Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (2021) A Zoom Conversation with Andrea Chalupa, Scriptwriter of the film Mr. Jones,

Cheshire, Godfrey (2017) Bitter Harvest,

Colley, Phillip (2020) The True Story behind the ‘True Story’ of Mr Jones,

Gray, John (2017) Fellow-travellers and useful idiots,

Jones, Gareth (1933) Famine grips Russia,

Laffly, Tomris (2020) Mr Jones,

New Straits Times (1992) Russian serial killer ‘had a disturbed past’,,3916322

Orwell, George (1945) Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, Secker and Warburg, London

O’Sullivan, Michael (2017) ‘Bitter Harvest’: Ukrainian famine is rendered as heavy-handed melodrama,

[1] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[2] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[3] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[4] Orwell 1945:1

[5] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[6] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[7] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[8],3916322 [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[9] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[10] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]

[11] [Retrieved 22.7.2021]


The Holodomor; Hell on Earth

By Archie Mulhern, Lytchett Minster School, Dorset

As the tranquil winter sun rose on January 1 1932, its serenity revealed the harsh, benighted Soviet landscape which harboured, inter alia, the civilians of then-Soviet Ukraine. The new year would bring unprecedented suffering for the Ukrainian people, of which 1/8th of the population would not see the summer of 1933. These severe lands accommodated a heinous ruler-Joseph Stalin, the man whose actions are attributed to the largest ‘man-made’ famine ever known: the Holodomor. But for over 50 years, the grim truth was virtually unknown. It’s said in much of the world that lies spread twice as fast as the truth; but in Soviet Russia, the truth didn’t spread at all. Terror and propaganda ensured the howling reality of the Holodomor was stifled and ignored like an irritating sibling. For example, on June 17 1932, with the famine underway, Stalin furiously accused a bold official named Terekhov of lying and ‘fabricating such a fairy-tale about famine’. This conveys the immense effort of Soviet leaders to publicly obscure that the Holodomor was even occurring. Privately however, Stalin sent Kaganovich a letter detailing how he watched the ‘glaring absurdities’ of ‘famine’ from his luxury train. Evidently, the severity of the situation was conspicuous to the Soviet leadership, but they did nothing to help. And such is the great paradox of ‘communist’ Russia: its leaders led lavish lives, while areas such as Ukraine were brought to their knees by grain requisitioning, and driven to their graves by starvation.

From 1932-33, the people of Soviet Ukraine were starving. In an ostensibly egalitarian, cohesive federal union, aid was absent, armed rebellions were quashed mercilessly, and so, with the people too weak to fight back by Spring 1933, the number of deaths accelerated into the millions. Death toll estimates vary anywhere between 3-14 million, and the reason for such divergence comes from the sheer scale of deaths, and the magnitude of the cover-up operation. Robert Conquest, one of the first to comment on the death toll, estimates it being approximately 5 million. Naturally, this has since been contended with the introduction of new archival documents. Although, there is greater consensus on a figure of 600,000 ‘indirect deaths’, whereby 0.6 million pregnant mothers died in the Holodomor, taking their unborn children with them. But it’s not just the blood of pregnant mothers on Stalin’s hands. Desperate men stealing inconsequential amounts of grain to save their dying women and children; Ukrainians attempting to flee to neighbouring areas for survival; and anyone blaming the authorities for their suffering, were all shot. The habitual reaction from Soviet leadership was savage, callous.

Yet, the most contentious issue remains, was the famine man-made? In late 1931, Stalin became concerned by the mounting desire among the Ukrainian people for self-autonomy. A feverish sense of nationalism was growing concomitantly with the emergence of anti-communist parties. And reasons for the increase in opposition are obvious: the people of Ukraine had previously favoured private farming. Stalin’s collectivisation policy introduced in 1928 imposed a reverse lifestyle, whereby farming would be done collectively on a Kolkhoz, a policy predictably detested in Ukraine. Stalin’s own wife Nadezhda opposed collectivisation, and the horrific famine it caused undoubtedly contributed to her suicide in November 1932, so it’s clear the policy was widely loathed. Coupled with Stalin’s treacherous history of maltreatment, principally his brutal handling of the 1922 Georgian affair, a recipe for the intended destruction of the Ukraine materializes. And so, consensus remains amongst historians-past and present-that the Holodomor was a man-made famine, engineered by Stalin. Bolstering this argument is the knowledge that Ukraine opposed the Red Army, led by Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky, in the Russian Civil War some ten years previous. Stalin would never forget this.

The harvest of 1932 was 60% below the unattainable quota Stalin had set; this grain ‘shortage’ gave him the perfect opportunity to oppress Ukraine’s people through forceful crop collections. The OGPU and the 25,000-ers, a group of ‘activists’ and communist enthusiasts were told that ‘anti-Soviet’ peasants were deliberately underperforming to restrict progress. Then, sent in to ‘restore order’, they would snatch food, grain and any glimmer of survival from Ukrainian hearts. Stalin would then shut Ukraine’s borders in January 1933, at the Holodomor’s peak, preventing people’s only hope of survival. The inhabitants, too weak to fight back and with no method of escape, were obliged to acquiesce their fate. Ukraine’s civilians were confronted with an unassailable maze; every outcome ensured certain death. By February 1933’s end, 190,000 peasants had been returned to Ukraine, having desperately attempted to flee. Stalin’s Ukrainian hatred transcended the ordinary citizen though, as the mass starvation was accompanied by an assault on the elite, an assault on the Ukrainian intellectual and political class. The Holodomor became an attempt to suppress any hint of desire for self-determination. No longer restricting violence to those who failed to meet quotas, Joseph Stalin was punishing people for as little as their nationality.

Yet, scepticism remains about the ‘man-made’ element of the Holodomor. Mark Tauger blames the famine on ‘poor harvests’, outlandishly claiming great aid was brought to the dying people of Ukraine. Tauger writes ‘in 1932 the Soviet government developed a food distribution system for 40 million people to provide food to the population…Why did Moscow send tractors to Ukrainian farmers in 1932 if it was going…to organise for them a famine genocide?’ Superficially, Tauger seems to make a valid point. However, it should be considered that Stalin’s aim wasn’t to wipe out Ukraine, as he’d be in a position of undeniable wrongdoing. A place with people meant a place for production-which to Stalin meant a place for profit. The tractors weren’t wasted, they would be put to good use in summer 1933, when civilians from other areas of the Soviet Union were sent to work on the devastated fields of Ukraine, replacing the dead. Unsurprisingly, similar measures weren’t necessary in the Volga region which Tauger quotes was ‘harder hit’ according to Stalin, suggesting Tauger’s attempt to downplay Ukraine’s suffering is unsubstantiated.

Although Stalin was purportedly willing to lower the grain production quotas across the republic, there’s no evidence of a ‘food distribution system’ to mitigate the famine. Almost all actions reveal Stalin accentuating the disaster, such as by shutting Ukraine’s borders. Furthermore, Holodomor survivor Vasyl Tsyba debunks Tauger’s suggestion that ‘the yield in 1932 in the USSR was 20-30% lower.’ Tsyba says ‘I understand it was a genocide. Because the harvest that year was good…Children were whipped, adults were sent to the Gulag if they resisted.’ And the opinion of a man who personally endured the Holodomor subverts that of a historian from decades later, insinuating the famine was Stalin-orchestrated. Certainly, Stalin feared the truth because he executed the administrators of the 1937 census, as it would clearly reveal the monumental, artificial decline in Ukraine’s population. When mass grain requisitioning was halted in summer 1933, the famine quickly subsided-an obvious indicator of Stalin’s control over the lives of so many. Ultimately, he had the capacity to begin and end the genocidal famine whenever he pleased-and that’s what he did.  

The incessant denial of a famine even existing defies logic. Any country would, albeit reluctantly, admit this to ensure global aid that could save millions. Unless the lives of those dying were not intended to be saved. During the suffering, the Soviet Union continued exporting grain en masse, when reducing the export drive could’ve saved an untold number of lives. However, this potential provision of aid didn’t align with Stalin’s industrialisation effort. Tauger claims ‘export of Soviet grain abroad was reduced to 1% (in 1932), the remaining 99% went to feed the population.’ If this were true, then the Soviet Union could’ve never afforded the forthcoming Five-Year Plan’s which saw the country fully industrialised by the eve of WW2. Tauger’s claims are subsequently implausible. Throughout his reign, Stalin repeatedly prioritised Soviet supremacy over human life, and the Holodomor is a stark representation of this philosophy. To him, industrialising the Soviet Union was worth 3,000,0o0 Ukrainian lives-and probably a lot more.

Nowadays, most historians side with the overwhelming evidence that Stalin caused the Holodomor. Gareth Jones, a Welsh freelance journalist of the time was the forerunner in this domain. His actions in reporting the Holodomor to the world, having witnessed the anguish first-hand when touring there during the famine, saw him banned from the Soviet Union in 1935. Returning home, Mr Jones published articles in British and American newspapers, vividly detailing the harrowing Holodomor. He wrote, ‘I passed many villages…Everywhere I heard crying: We have no bread. We are dying! Tell England that we are swelling from hunger’. Jones proposed ‘the main reason (for the famine) is the Soviet policy of collectivisation.’ Clearly, procurement of grain was killing the people; this was the work of more than ‘poor harvest’. Meanwhile reporters like Walter Duranty helped cover up the Holodomor, stating ‘there is no famine or actual starvation’. Jones valiantly went where no one had, risking his life revealing to the world the Soviet Union’s best kept secret.

Much of Jones’ information came from consuls who were ‘not allowed to express their views in the press…But (are) not so reticent in private conversation.’ Having spoken to ‘twenty to thirty’ consuls who divulged the reality of the Holodomor, Mr Jones’ information is invaluable; it unequivocally confirms Stalin caused the famine. During one train ride, Jones spoke to a ‘communist who denied there was even a famine’, while a peasant ‘fished orange peels out the spittoon and devoured them’, providing an understanding of how desperate the people had become. While millions died in Ukraine, the rest of the world woke to the truth: the horrendous suffering was Stalin’s doing. On August 12 1935, having been kidnapped in Mongolia, Jones would die under dubious circumstances. Suspicion persists that it was the NKVD who murdered Jones. And that’s hard to contest, given the damning revelations he made.

Even when presented with all the tools to ease the famine’s effects, Stalin continued the great exportation drive at the expense of Soviet lives in the millions. ‘I believe it was genocide’, proposes reputable historian Anne Applebaum, while Conquest, Service and Montefiore advocate the same position. The Soviet Union prohibited any mention of the event until their Glasnost policy of the 1980s, insisting historians report the event as an ‘unavoidable natural disaster’.

Consequently, despite the best efforts of individuals such as Mr Jones, for many years most people didn’t know the truth, let alone believe it. To this day, people like Tauger remain intransigent, seeing the famine simply as a shortage of food, the culpability lying with the weather; it was neither man-made nor genocide. Importantly however, the most reliable information available is the accounts of those from the time-such as Jones and Holodomor survivors-and these priceless pieces of evidence have been brought to light. The world now knows the truth.

The introduction of collectivisation and dekulakisation signed the death warrant of anywhere from 3-14million Ukrainians. There was nothing distinctly treacherous about the weather of 1932-33 to cause upwards of 3 million deaths. Yet, people were starving, Kulaks were persecuted, Ukraine was infused with lifeless corpses, cannibalism was widespread, mothers were burying their children, children were eating their pets, and a country was on its knees, weeping. Fervently trying to cover-up the famine that convulsed the Soviet Union, Stalin’s totalitarian regime ensured any mention of the Holodomor was criminalised, punishable with a five-year term in the Gulag labour camps; blaming the authorities was punishable by death.  All efforts were driven into ceaseless denial of suffering, of famine, and of any wrongdoing. This recurring theme of concealment and cover-up is a valuable indicator of how Stalin’s ruthless sanctions caused the deaths of millions of Ukrainians. But it’s also a valuable indicator of something else: the strength of unity. The regime had become an enemy to its own people, while togetherness had prevailed against the iron fist of one ruthless man-the man who made the Holodomor.


Quotes taken from:

Stalin-the court of the Red Tsar, written by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Denial of the Holodomor-Wikipedia

Stalin, a biography-written by Robert Service

The Ukrainian Famine "Holodomor": Natural Disaster or Genocide?

Western Historians (Mark Tauger) Debunk The Ideology Of Holodomor.

“Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933, Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 1506”, by Mark Tauger - an associate professor at the University of West Virginia

‘Holodomor survivor tells his story’- youtube video by KyivPost


Due to the outbreak of the coronavirus and its consequences, which includes the closure of all schools throughout the country, the Board of Directors of the Association of Ukrainians has taken the decision to cancel the 2020 Holodomor Essay Prize.

The next Holodomor essay competition will be launched in March/April 2021.


The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain is pleased to announce the results of the Second Holodomor Essay Prize Competition.

Launched in 2018, the Competition seeks to inspire academic investigation by sixth form school students in the UK into the little known topic of the Holodomor - the barbaric and systematic starvation of millions of Ukrainians over a period of just 18 months in 1932-33.

Since the Holodomor is generally not covered in the UK school curriculum, the Essay Prize Competition has been developed to introduce the topic of the Holodomor to young people, teachers and schools and in doing so, to help raise awareness about an atrocity that receives all too little attention.

The winners of the 2019 Holodomor Essay Prize Competition are:

First Prize: Rachael Ward, The John Henry Newman Catholic School, Stevenage

Second Prize: Tobias Whelton, Greenshaw High School, Sutton

Third Prize: Anastasia Ougrin, Brighton College, Brighton

Highly Commended: Leah Dorotiak, Greenhead College, Huddersfield

Highly Commended: Sarah Shah, Wakefield Girls’ High School, Wakefield

The Essay Prize Competition is open to all sixth form students attending any school or college in the UK. Candidates are invited to submit a historical style essay of between 1500 and 2000 words on the topic of Holodomor. Dr. Olenka Pevny, Cambridge University lecturer and Director of the Cambridge Ukrainian Studies programme, headed the judging panel which also included AUGB Board member Hanya Dezyk.

Commenting on Rachael Ward’s winning entry, one of the judges noted that “this essay was well written and well argued, with an original use of different materials including current contemporary discussion of materials from Ukraine. The student was clearly engaged in the topic. It was also well argued to the title."

On other essays, the judges praised different students in various ways:  

“Excellent discussion of the involvement and culpability of western governments and media in the covering up the Holodomor. Excellent argument, reflecting interesting insights, well and fluently argued and well organised to build a solid conclusion…” or "…an excellent essay assessing the views of many different historians, with an analytical approach of compare and contrast. The student was very engaged in terms of looking at different sources, witness statements and historian views...".

Sadly, it was not possible for all entrants to share the winning spots and it is therefore all the more  commendable that many students who took part in the competition and finished outside of the top three sent some delightful messages of thanks:

  • “I really enjoyed writing the essay and it was an eye-opening experience to learn and write about the Holodomor. I’ am now doing my A Level History coursework on a similar topic! Thank you very much for the experience and your consideration.”
  • “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this essay prize competition. I really appreciate it and have come out with lots of skills and have learnt a lot about the researching process.”
  • “It was such an amazing opportunity to write this essay. I feel greatly privileged to be put in the top ten and I am greatly thankful for your comment - it made me very grateful for having the opportunity to write such a meaningful essay. Thank you again, for this wonderful opportunity.”
  • “Thanks so much for the opportunity, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and learnt so much about a fascinating topic.”

The Competition will be repeated in 2020.


Was Marxism the cause for the Holodomor or its excuse?

By Rachael Ward

The Holodomor was the ‘manmade famine’ in the USSR, whereby around seven million innocent Soviets were starved out of existence, or had their identity purged until motivation to live or a sense of belonging had been utterly destroyed. This is suspected widely to have been a genocide on the Ukrainians; consciously formed policies, by Stalin, as a means of getting vengeance and tightening control over the ‘Greens’ of the Red Army. On prima facie, this makes perfect sense, Stalin was evidently an intensely paranoid and undeniably power-hungry figure, so of course he would provoke a manmade famine on a potential threat to his power. However, some questions can be raised as to whether this really was Stalin’s aim. Perhaps the urgent times meant that collectivisation was necessary to tighten control of the peasants and force productivity, to modernise the USSR so it could protect itself from the dangerous and undoubtedly powerful force of Conservative Europe.  

We are led to believe that in his rise to power, Stalin adopted Lenin’s legacy as a pure and dedicated Marxist, intent on diverting his undivided attention to the Cominterm. With this in mind, policies like collectivisation and dekulakisation, that led to the Holodomor were ideologically seen as the perfect step towards this paradise on earth that a holistic Marxist longed to create. However, beneath the surface lies a more complicated and devious plan, devised by an even more complex, calculating and power-hungry figure. On the 27th December 1929, Stalin voiced his opinion at a Marxist Agrarian Conference on the future of Soviet policy towards the Kulaks: ‘That is why we have recently passed from the policy of restricting the exploiting tendencies of the Kulaks to the policy of eliminating the Kulaks as a class’[1]. This is significant, as ‘the definition of a Kulak was flexible enough to fit anyone who dare oppose party policy’.[2] The elimination of Kulaks tied in perfectly with ‘Socialism in one country’, as Stalin claimed this rich breed of peasants prevented modernisation by hoarding grain. However, while Stalin used the word ‘Kulak’ to define who he wanted to eliminate, in reality, a Kulak was quite literally any opponents to Stalin’s insufferable regime. The way Stalin used this word; ‘Kulak’ reflects how he used Marxism to excuse the Holodomor, to the Soviets and wider Cominterm. The word Kulak acted as a mask to cover up his true intentions of eliminating opposition to make his power absolute, similarly to how Marxism was a mask placed over Stalin’s true politically driven aims.

Stalin and the party leadership vigorously denied that the Holodomor was a genocide on the Ukrainians. They insisted that harshness was justified and necessary, to protect the USSR from Conservative Europe. However, this cruelty was far from justified and Stalin’s methods of modernisation made little sense. In order to rally support from the Soviets and wider Cominterm, that Stalin’s power depended on, he had to present his industrialisation and collectivisation ideas as if they were in line with Marxism, to build loyalty to his absurd plans. Consequently, Marxism was used as the excuse for the Holodomor, as without it, it would have been devastatingly difficult for Stalin to claim the power he did and justify his actions.

Was Stalin’s sole aim to create an authoritarian state and make his power absolute? If this is true, then perhaps Stalin, under the misleading propaganda and layers of lies, was not the Marxist he claimed, rather a power-hungry dictator, who would assert his dominance and gradually abandon the principles of an ideology he doesn’t truly care for. Marxism had allowed Lenin to gradually overthrow the Russian government and substitute himself for the party, in a one-party state. It had already been evidenced to Stalin that Marxism was the perfect power tool to make him answerable to no one. So, this was Stalin’s aim, and his method was Marxism, which he used to cloud over his true intentions. Conquest reveals that ‘In July 1932, targets of grain delivery from the Ukraine were set’, grain requisitioning was clearly a mechanism for purging the Ukrainians, whom posed a threat during the Civil War and contained the highest peasant population. ‘Stalin insisted on targets that could only lead to famine’[3]. Famine would inevitably demotivate peasants, reduce incentive to work and morale, contradicting the sense that the Holodomor was ideologically driven to advance Communism, this would slow modernisation down. Stalin was unconcerned about modernisation, and certainly unconcerned about Marxism, his ‘targets’ were focused on solidifying his own power, Marxism was merely the convenient excuse he could use to disguise his intentions from the Soviets and the Cominterm.

Deportation was a key element of collectivisation, Sheila Fitzpatrick argues ‘tens of millions of peasants moved to towns and became workers in the 1930’s’ and the ‘…general trend of mobility in the Stalin period was upward’[4]. Increasing mobility supports the sense that the Holodomor was the cause of Marxism and an ideologically driven leader, influenced by ‘Socialism in one country’, to fulfil his urgent desire to modernise the state he claimed to be ‘100 years behind’. However, the idea that mobility increased is a major distortion of reality. Censorship and freedom had never been tighter. Stalin’s Draconian policies strongly portray the inhumane and unjust treatment by the authorities, during the Holodomor. A Ukrainian villager and observer of this insane brutality recalls the effect of these policies; “A woman went to collect wheat stalks. She collected some stalks and put them in her apron... She was walking and chewing the grains. A brigadier saw her, and she got ten years [in the prison camps] for collecting and eating wheat stalks.”[5].Persecution was not a penalty for criminals, but a daily occurrence that invaded innocence and put the population under direct control of dictatorship.

Robert Conquest accurately stated, ‘Stalinism is one way of attaining industrialisation as cannibalism is one way of attaining a high protein diet’. Stalin’s methods of modernisation were somewhat understandable, as the USSR were ipso facto in urgent need of reform. However, the methods were unnecessarily harsh and unlikely to work. Stalin was motivated by power, resent and paranoia, all inflated wider by his ‘gross personality disorder’[6]. Therefore, Marxism became the instrument to fulfil his endless power aims, and the excuse for the Holodomor, rather than the cause.

The international situation at the time was a potent threat. It was enough to trigger an extreme response, from even a sane leader. The USSR was the only country thriving with Communism, and after years of oppressive tsarist tyranny, Stalin perhaps didn’t want to see the success of his ideology crumble, after the Marxists had come so far. If it did not modernise, Communism in the USSR had no hope of defending itself against Capitalist Europe, who could try to squeeze the Communism out of the USSR, if it was weak enough. Stalin’s desperation to modernise, and protect his ideology was exhibited by his extreme methods. Collectivisation would allow Stalin to gain the authority he needed to lead Marxism to victory, and he couldn’t afford to approach the situation lightly. Hiroaki Kuromiya of Indiana University expresses this in Stalin’s Great Terror and Espionage[7]: ‘True, threat was ever present. Stalin and his followers believed, based on their ideological convictions, that the capitalist system was inherently inimical to the Soviet Communist system. Ignoring this would have been tantamount to political suicide’. Stalin’s methods were somewhat understandable, if he hadn’t acted with such urgency, then he would have to painfully watch Marxism collapse, when he’d worked so hard to implement it. With this in mind, Marxism could be seen as the reason for the Holodomor, as extreme pressure demanded extreme methods and response.

However, rather than being logical, Stalin’s methods were unreasonable and caused unnecessary suffering, conveying that his central focus was on strengthening his own power at the expense of the population and the ideology he cared little about. The US Senate Findings in 1988[8] express that Stalin’s predominant focus was elimination of his opponents, at all and any costs; ‘Stalin further stated that the collective farms should not accept any kulaks; that kulaks only need to be dekulakised and banished’. Stalin’s viscous methods could be somewhat justified by his urgency to modernise, as it was the only realistic way to protect communism in the USSR. However, it is explicit that the nucleus of Stalin’s thoughts and actions was dekulakisation, and making his power as stable and unquestionable as possible. Modernisation was not at the forefront of Stalin’s mind, nor was Marxism, so it became the excuse he would use to the supporters of the Cominterm and the Soviet population, to allow him to persist with his evil intentions.

It is overwhelmingly clear that the Holodomor, was most certainly a politically driven genocide. Of course, the Soviet Union were facing a time of severe pressure and terror. Stalin was undoubtedly paranoid, threat of an invasion was certainly realistic, and coming from more than one direction. Japan were posing a serious concern, while the USSR were definitely not spolit for choice in terms of allies. However, the pure motivations of Stalin’s master plan were unwaveringly concentrated on eliminating the kulaks and Ukrainians. The Director of the Ukrainian Institute for National Remembrance reveals this[9]; ‘They (the Ukrainians) were killed as individuals, as they became people without a sense of dignity and turned into cogs in the totalitarian machine. The Result of the Holodomor was millions of dead…but also the empty souls of those who survived 1933’. Stalin, without an ounce compassion, treated the Ukrainians with utter disregard, they became submissive robots under his regime. Stalin effectively killed the entirety of the Ukraine. Everything that made them who they were was stolen, if it wasn’t their life, it was their identity. If the Ukrainians weren’t left dead, their lives were no longer worth living. Stalin’s impact is emphasised by the notion that he controlled who died, the living and also the future, as he purged the Ukrainians of their identity and made their lives a soulless existence. It is not a coincidence that his plans to protect communism allowed him to take absolute control, Marxism was clearly not the driving force behind modernisation, it was his greed for power. He used Marxism to excuse the Holodomor to the population, so he could claim the power he so desperately wanted.

In conclusion, while the international situation was a threat to Communism in the USSR, Stalin’s crucial intentions were to liquidate opposition and substitute himself for the whole state, to make his power absolute. The ‘Greens’ and profiting peasants were deemed a threat to Stalin’s ruthless regime. Ukrainians had cultural identity, strength and independence, all things that Stalin wanted to see diminished. It is by no means a coincidence that Stalin’s methods to protect the USSR from invasion, led to power falling into Stalin’s hands, certifying his dominance as his policies proceeded. Stalin used the Holodomor to achieve revenge and solidify his own power, and Marxism was the excuse that allowed him to do so.

[1] Stalin speech 27th December 1929 cf. Edward Acton & Tom Stableford, A Soviet Union: A Documentary History Volume 1, Liverpool, 2005 p.275-276.

[2] Brovkin’s presentation of Robert Conquests argument cf. Vladimir N. Brovkin, Review Articles; Robert Conquest’s Harvest of sorrow: A challenge to the Revisionists, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University, 2008, p.237

[3] cf. Vladimir N. Brovkin, Review Articles; Robert Conquest’s Harvest of sorrow: A challenge to the Revisionists, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University, 2008, p.241

[4] cf. Sheila Fitzpatrick, “New Perspectives on Stalinism”, The Russian Review, vol. 45, 1986 p.365

[5]Evhenia Bozhenko, villager in the Mykolaiv oblast, 2009

[6] Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography, Harvard University Press, 2004

[7] Cf. Hiroaki Kuromiya. Stalin’s Great Terror and Espionage, University of Washington, 2009, p.7

[8] US Senate Findings, 1988, Oral Testimony of Fedir Pavlovych Kapusta

[9], cf.Volodymyr Viatrovych- Historian, Director of the Ukrainian Institute for National Remembrance, HOLODOMOR DID NOT BREAK THEM,


The cover-up by The West

Bu Tobias Whelton

Holodomor is one of the greatest acts of mass murder of the 20th century. Latest estimates have put the death toll at 7 million from 1931-34 and this does not include incomprehensible physical and psychological damage to survivors. Yet despite the destruction, contemporary recognition of the famine was near non-existent, and even today the famine is criminally unknown. This is disastrous since only with knowledge of the famine can the West begin to recognise and eventually reconcile with Ukraine the atrocities of the famine. The cover-up was the result of the Kremlin’s extraordinary effort to wipe out all knowledge of the famine through means of violence, repression and the falsification of statistics. However, what enabled the cover-up was the inaction of the West and at times an active repression of its own. The cover-up of the West is what the essay will explore, by focusing on the role of journalists and the actions of Western nations, a conclusion on the accountability of the West will be reached.

James Mace, renowned historian of Ukraine, defined the coverage of the famine as ‘A Tale of Two Journalists’1. Mace was referring to Walter Durante and Gareth Jones and their opposing actions.

Walter Durante was a Moscow correspondent between 1922 and 1936, and quickly became admired by the general public. He soon became the most renowned reporter of the USSR working for the New York Times - the largest U.S newspaper - and was seen as giving the objective truth, admitting failures and successes of the USSR, winning the prestigious Pulitzer prize for his work. However most importantly, Durante was happy to play Stalin’s game writing favourable reports in exchange for a mansion, caviar and the position of Commissariat. Consequently, Durante was a key tool for Stalin’s coverup of the famine. Stalin had the ability to control Western coverage of the famine by having the most respected, wide-reaching reporter under his control. Some historians go as far to suggest that Durante played an active role in misleading the West, such as threatening other journalists. Robert Fulford coining him ‘Stalin’s spin Doctor’2 and Ukrainian Weekly ‘more of a propagandist than a correspondent’3 suggesting Durante as a perpetrator, actively giving misleading reports to attract more readers. Conversely, Applebaum and Mark von Hagen4 portray Durante as not malicious, but rather an incompetent reporter, constrained by censorship and conforming to the vast majority of other contemporary journalists.

Here it is important to mention the historiographical debate that has taken place in recent years over Durante, regarding his Pulitzer Prize. In 2003, the UCCLA (Ukrainian Canada Civil Liberties Committee) sparked the debate, leading an international campaign for Durante’s Pulitzer Prize to be revoked, supported by 45,000 postcards sent by ethnic Ukrainians to the Pulitzer committee. This was done on the grounds Durante used the prestige of his Pulitzer Prize to keep knowledge of Holodomor relatively unknown using his award to mute journalist who dare expose the regime having an effect that arguably accounts for the lack of recognition today. However, while the campaign successfully raised awareness, it failed in getting the prestigious award revoked. The other side of the debate maintains that his shameful journalism does not justify writing Durante out of history. That instead, Durante should exemplify the dangers of betraying the core principles of journalism, while also giving an insight into how socialist ideas were fashionable for the time.

However, while Durante’s mendacity is up for debate, it is undeniable Gareth Jones was an extraordinary man. Jones’s former job as private secretary of Prime Minister Lloyd George gave him the ability to travel Russia as a freelancer, giving him more freedom than correspondents who needed constant Russian approval on residential permits. In the spring, Jones bravely snuck off his train into rural Ukraine where he trekked for three days without an official minder or escort. This allowed for a true perspective of the impact of the famine; instead of trips tightly choreographed by Soviet officials which other journalist embarked on, Jones received an unfiltered account speaking to those directly affected. From here he travelled through villages and collectives at the height of the famine noting down thoughts as well as conversations with locals in his notebook. The horrors of the famine were plainly revealed to him hearing many stories of people dying, witnessing bread queues that spanned the whole night in ‘many degrees of frost’ and going to the theatre in Kharkiv where ‘the audience had plenty of lipstick but no bread’5. Once Jones had quietly escaped the USSR he was determined to make known the horrors he had seen.

In the coverage of the famine Jones and Durante came head to head. After escaping the USSR, Jones spoke at a press conference in Berlin where he revealed what he had witnessed, reaching many British publications as well as some American newspapers. Just a day after, Durante responded with an article titled ‘Russians Hungry But Not Starving’ that mocked Jones stating Jones’s evidence was ‘a forty-mile walk through villages’ where he ‘found conditions sad’6. Durante went on to refute Jones’s claim of a famine infamously stating, ‘you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs’, concluding that ‘conditions are bad, but there is no famine’. However, what makes this piece so disturbing is that, before publication, Durante had told an English diplomat he believed up to 10 million Ukrainians had died in the famine therefore suggesting Durante had full knowledge of the famine, yet deliberately lied and silenced Jones. Despite Jones articulately responding with his sources to the New York Times, Jones was silenced by the press. The Kremlin had shown outrage at Jones consequently introducing even harsher rules on journalist travelling outside Moscow. The press of the West, who were reliant on the goodwill of Moscow, went against Jones, and even when other papers, such as the Manchester Guardian, picked up the story it was overshadowed by bigger stories of Hitler. There were even reports of journalists in Moscow holding a meeting where they jointly worked out a ‘formula for denial.’7 True or not, it serves as a metaphor to show the conspiracy-like atmosphere silencing Jones.

However, while Durante and other journalists played their part in covering up the famine and silencing Jones, they cannot entirely shoulder the blame. The West had received countless sources of the famine: some Ukrainians had escaped enabling them to recount their experience; some got letters though censors to relatives of other countries such as Germany, U.S, Canada; and some sent letters to religious leaders. These sources were partially recognised at the time, such as ethnic Ukrainians in Poland and Canada protesting the famine as well as raising political awareness bringing it up in Polish parliament. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian National Council of Canada sent letters to president Roosevelt and other cities enclosed with sources of the famine. News also filtered out via the Catholic Church. In Poland, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priests took collections for victims, held a day of mourning and hung black flags on churches. The Church hierarchy was also alerted with the Vatican received two letters of written description of the famine, and Pope Pius XI ensured both were published in the Vatican newspaper.

Many European ministers were convinced of the famine, with ample amounts of information; however, European politics meant that nothing meaningful was to be done. One factor was the increasingly polarized climate of Communists and Nazis creating a political trap. This is exemplified in the Vatican that kept mostly silent despite a constant stream of information, due to the fear that denunciation of the USSR would be interpreted as support for Nazi Germany. This political trap was translated in many other places. In 1932, the Poles signed a non-aggression pact with the USSR and increasing fear of Hitler meant a Franco-Soviet and an Anglo-Soviet alliance necessary, which limited the ability to share information. The British foreign office even wrote ‘We do not want to make [information about the Holodomor] public...because the Soviet Government would resent it and our relationship with them would be prejudiced’8. Meanwhile, Former French Prime Minister Potemkin ridiculed the notion of a ‘terror-famine’ after a tightly choreographed tour of Ukraine.

Not only were the allies deterred, but the fascist states of Germany and Italy had little incentive. Italy and Germany were some of the best informed with Italian consul, Gradenigo, reporting there is no doubt that ‘the hunger is principally the result of a famine organized in order to teach a lesson to the peasants’9 and German consul, Gustav Hilgar stating the famine was ‘deliberate’ and ‘organized’10. However, Mussolini not wanting to be seen showing pity did not mention the famine and perhaps prioritised a potential trade pact with the USSR, evidenced by the non-aggression treaty of September 1933. Germany, with a ruler who saw the Slavic people as sub-human, also took no action.

In the background of all this were soviet sympathies amongst Western intellectuals that still saw the USSR as a beacon of hope to the blatant evils of capitalism evidenced by the Wall Street Crash. This can explain Roosevelt administration seeing the USSR as an economic success, always looking for a reason to ignore the bad. This is evidenced by Roosevelt using the USSR as a source of inspiration for his interests in central planning, despite the immense suffering the Five-Year Plans caused. In combination with a need to contain Japan and affirmed by Durante’s reports, Roosevelt looked to a commercial relationship with the USSR. To consolidate, Soviet Foreign Minister, Litvinov, was invited to a banquet in America with 1,500 people to confirm the alliance and Durante was the star of the show. Applebaum goes on to call this cover-up complete in the West11. The two factors that caused the cover-up in the West were united here: journalism and Western politics. Arguably both factors working in tandem is what made the cover-up possible. Journalists were incentivised to report what the West wanted to hear, with their career dependant on it (the fall of Jones for example), while biased reports reinforced western prejudices and gave evidence to ignore the sources that stated the truth.

In conclusion, the famine had been successfully silenced in the West; however, the question of culpability remains. It is clear that the USSR were the orchestrators of the cover-up, evident with the sheer energy and resources they invested into preventing information disseminating into the West. However, ultimately the USSR had limited power over foreign coverage thus the West must shoulder a degree of responsibility. Moreover, the responsibility should be directed at Western nations and their leader, not so much the journalists. This is because, in a sense, individual journalists were powerless, with their career dependent on both the Kremlin and Western nations. In the case of Durante and Jones, the only reason one was celebrated and the other shunned was because only one of their reports corresponded with pre-existing Western beliefs showing what journalists reported was subject to what the West desired. Furthermore, the motivation of Western nations can’t simply be pinned on the polarized political climate, even if it did play an important role for countries such as England and France. America, who played the biggest role in an active repression of the famine, seems to have been primarily influenced by economics and to a lesser degree ideology, not so much the fear of Hitler and Japan. Thus, in conclusion, while the cover-up was orchestrated by the USSR it was primarily the actions of foreign nations that enabled the Kremlin to be successful. Given this conclusion, it is clear that now, more than ever, the Western nations have a responsibility to officially recognise the atrocities of Holodomor in honour of the victim’s family as well as the hope of eventually reconciling their shameful compliance in the cover-up.  



Applebaum, Anne, 2017, Red Famine, Penguin

Reid, Anna, 2015, Borderlands: A Journey Through The History of Ukraine, 2nd edition, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Luciuk, Lubomyr, 2003, Not Worthy: Walter Durante Pulitzer Prize and the New York Times, National Library of Canada

Conquest, Robert, 1986, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-famine, Oxford University Press


Hunter, Ian, The liar who won a Pulitzer Prize

Editorial, 1999, A Pulitzer-winning offence, Ukrainian Weekly

Editorial, 2003, Undoing history, or Righting a wrong?, Ukrainian Weekly

Marlarik, Viktor, 2003, Ukrainians demand Pulitzer be revoked, The Globe and Mail

Mace, James, 2003, A Tale of Two Journalists: Walter Durante and Gareth Jones, The Day (Kyiv)

Von Hagen, Mark, 2003, A Report to the New York Times

Editorial, 2003, Duranty’s award: Pulitzer Board should not revoke the award, The Globe and Mail

Siriol Colley, Margaret, 2003, Gareth Jones - A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Fulford, Robert, 2003, Duranty was Stalin’s Spin Doctor, The National Post

Chalupa, Irena, 2008, Holodomor is Ukraine’s Never-Ending Trauma, RadioFreeEurope Radio Liberty

Brown, Mark, 2009, 1930s journalist Gareth Jones to have story retold, Guardian

UCCLA, 2011, “Stay out of the Debate”, UCCLA (Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association)

Emmerson, Charles, 2014, Ukraine and Russia’s History Wars, History Today

Rud, Victor, 2016, Holodomor Remembrance Day: Why the Past Matters for the Future, Atlantic Council

Lipscomb, Suzannah, 2017, Remembrance of Things of things Past, History Today

Kuzio, Taras, 2018,The Holodomor: Why the West must push back against Stalin’s version of history, The Globe and Mail


1. James Mace, A Tale of Two Journalists: Walter Durante and Gareth Jones (2003)

2. Robert Fulfort, Duranty was Stalin’s Spin Doctor, The National Post (2003)

3. Editorial, A Pulitzer-winning offence, Ukrainian Weekly,18 April 1999

4. Mark Von Hagen, A Report to the New York Times (2003)

5. UCCLA, 2011, “Stay out of the Debate” (2003)

6  Luciuk, Tell Them We Are Starving, pp.171

7.  Walter Durante, The New York Times, 31 March 1933.

8. Margaret Siriol Colley, Gareth Jones - A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, (2003)

9. Carynnyk et al., eds, The Foreign Office and The Famine, pp. 403

10.   Graziosi, ‘Letters de Kharkov’, 57-61

11. Gustav Hilger and Alfred G. Meyer, ‘The Incompatible Allies: A Memoir-History of German-Soviet Relations’, 1918-1941, pp.256

12. Anne Applebaum, Red Famine, pp.325


Ukraine's silent Genocide

An assessment of the international responses to the man-made famine of 1932-1933

By Anastasia Ougrin

Father Stalin, look at this

Collective famine is just bliss

No cows left, no pigs at all

Just your picture on the wall[1]

(A Ukrainian children’s song from the 1930s)

In 1933, there was a smell of death in Ukraine. While children sang about famine, corpses littered streets and cannibalism was rife. The Soviet Union denied that there was any starvation and Ukrainians were told to ‘sew up their mouths’[2]; the mere utterance of the word, ‘famine’ would result in a three to five-year prison sentence[3]. Nevertheless, international governing bodies knew about the famine, but, whether due to misreported information or a decision not to aggravate a potential ally, the rest of the world stayed silent whilst millions starved to death.

To better understand the global response, the famine itself must first be examined. Centuries of regional rule by Cossacks in Ukraine had led to an entrenched system of individual, small-scale farming in sharp contrast to Russian traditions of collective ownership of land. Consequently, in 1929, Russian peasants adjusted better than their Ukrainian counterparts to the re-introduction of collective farming.

Ukraine’s quotas of grain requisition were also much harsher than those of the other Soviet Republics. On the surface, these quotas appeared to be imposed solely as a means of maximally exploiting the fertile, black soil in Ukraine. This would enable the Soviet Union to rapidly industrialise as well as ensuring that there were sufficient supplies for large-scale mobilisation in the event of an invasion from the growing threats of Poland and Japan[4]. However, when Stalin began responding coldly to pleas from local officials in Ukraine with, ‘Those who do not work deserve to starve’[5], the primary reason behind his indifference to starvation became clear. Stalin was exercising a famine to suffocate Ukraine’s fiercely nationalistic spirit and prevent a pro-independence uprising. Following this, he would be able to repopulate the area with Russian peasants, ending the Ukrainian Question.

The 1932-33 famine is now widely known as the ‘Holodomor’, translating roughly as ‘Hunger-Plague’. Casualties of the Holodomor range from 3.9 million to 7 million[6] and today, it is accepted by 24 countries as a genocide[7]. At the time, however, there was a stout denial of any famine in Ukraine by the Soviet Union both internally and externally which significantly contributed to the lack of global awareness about it. Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian and British journalist, lived in Kharkiv, the Ukrainian capital at the time of the famine. He observed that in his local paper, Kommunist, photographs showed people ‘always laughing’, but ‘not one word of dying out of whole villages’[8].

Externally, Stalin was looking to inspire communism in the West. Following the Wall Street Crash in 1929, capitalist countries began to question their economic and political structure and explore alternative forms of governance. Stalin saw the following decade of economic depression as the perfect opportunity to prove to the capitalist world that the communist ideology was superior. It was, therefore, essential for Stalin to ensure that as little information as possible about the famine escaped outside of the walls of the USSR.

Prior to the visit of a politician or journalist to Ukraine, preparations would be made to ensure that any trace of a starving nation was buried. In August 1933, Edouard Herriot, a former Prime Minister of France, arrived in Ukraine. The day before he was due in Kyiv, the city was transformed. Streets were cleaned, houses decorated and shop windows were filled with food. The purchase of this food was, however, forbidden and anyone who came too close to the shops was arrested[9]. Herriot’s schedule was divided between official receptions and an intricately planned tour, bypassing any evidence of the famine. Herriot left Ukraine in September, convinced that there was no famine. Using this method of close surveillance and limited exposure, Stalin ensured that when visitors arrived home, they would share their account of witnessing no trace of a famine. This diluted any genuine accounts of the Holodomor.

Nevertheless, the secret of the famine crept its way out of the USSR. ‘Few of us were so completely isolated that we did not meet Russians whose work took them into devastated areas’ stated the United Press correspondent Eugene Lyons[10]. Reports of the famine could be found in a wide array of newspapers; from the Gazette de Lausanne in Switzerland to the Christian Science Monitor in the United States[11]. However, reporting the truth about the famine often came to journalists at the price of having their Russian visas revoked. This resulted in journalists attempting to find a ‘middle-ground’ by publishing information that emphasised the achievements of Soviet industrialisation while sporadically acknowledging food shortages. Honest accounts were scarce and found primarily by reporters who accepted that they would never be able to return to the USSR. Even these reports dwindled as the Soviet government gradually tightened regulations on the areas that reporters were allowed access to within Ukraine.

Among the last of the Western reporters able to capture the truth in the countryside was Gareth Jones. Fluent in Russian and a former secretary to the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, Jones wandered, unescorted, through twelve collective farms and, on the 30th of March 1933, reported in the Manchester Guardian, “Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread; we are dying.’ ”[12]. The following day came a condescending response in the New York Times from the more respected, pro-Soviet journalist, Walter Duranty. Duranty’s article: ‘Russians hungry but not starving’ mockingly referred to Jones as ‘a man of a keen and active mind’. Duranty added that, although ‘there is a serious food shortage throughout the country…there is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation’. He justified the food shortages with, ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking any eggs’[13], a remarkably insensitive way of referring to the millions of deaths caused by the famine which he was fully aware of[14]. Duranty was not the only journalist to defend the USSR against famine allegations, but his reputation allowed him to reach the greatest audience. Therefore, despite a plethora of truthful articles concerning the famine, their facts were polluted through articles by the likes of Duranty, causing the West to doubt the extent of the famine and adjust their response accordingly.

With a population of nearly five million ethnic Ukrainians and a lack of contamination by false accounts of the famine, Poland was one of the few countries that had both the information and incentive to aid Ukrainian peasants. However, from 1931, Poland’s diplomatic relationship with the USSR started to progress, leading to a discussion about a potential non-aggression pact. Poland was reluctant to jeopardise this diplomatic warming by intervening in the impending famine that Ukraine was edging ever closer to.

Newspapers such as Kurier Warzawski, Kurier Pozński and Przegla̧d Powszechny, all with relatively high readerships, contained articles about the famine in Ukraine. Bunt Mlodych, another popular newspaper, stated unequivocally that, in Poland, the Ukrainian famine was common knowledge. Despite this claim, the most widely circulated newspapers mentioned little of the famine. This included Gazeta Polska, the unofficial Polish government newspaper, which followed the government policy of very limited discussion regarding the famine. The Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny, another widely-read newspaper, actively criticised the Ukrainian communities within Poland for drawing attention to the famine, arguing that this was straining the Poland- USSR relationship at a crucial time. Following the signing of the Polish-Soviet non-aggression pact on July the 25th 1932, the already somewhat controlled information about the famine in main-stream media was reduced to only the occasional allusion to it[15]. The decision of the Polish government to sacrifice its voice in return for a dubious non-aggression treaty with the USSR is even more striking considering that over twenty thousand ethnic Poles were victims of the famine in Ukraine.

The co-occurrence of the Holodomor with the rise of fascism in Germany played a key role in the international reaction to the Holodomor. Dealing with the threat of fascism was the paramount foreign policy priority for the West. In the Vatican, both famine relief and a public denunciation of the events in Ukraine were discussed, but decided against for fear that criticising the USSR would make the Pope appear in favour of Nazi Germany[16]. Furthermore, as the threat of the German military renaissance increased, France and Britain began to explore an alliance with the USSR and were prepared to overlook even the worst of the reports about Ukraine. Laurence Collier, head of the Foreign Office Northern Department, replied to an enquiry about the famine, stating, ‘The truth of the matter is, of course, that we have a certain amount of information about the famine conditions…We do not want to make it public, however, because the Soviet government would resent it and our relations with them would be prejudiced’[17].

During the famine, the State Department of the US was also attempting to establish diplomatic relations with the USSR to help address the fast-growing threat from both Germany and Japan. The aforementioned journalist, Walter Duranty, helped to persuade Franklin Roosevelt that the USSR was experiencing great success economically and that a good relationship may result in a beneficiary trade deal[18]. Diplomatic relations between the US and the USSR were established in November 1933, aided by the US policy of silence regarding reports of the famine[19].

As the beginnings of fascism lay in its cradle, international priorities lay with forming alliances with the USSR. Despite Stalin’s best efforts, truthful information regarding the famine was available internationally. However, it was heavily muddied with false accounts to the extent that no major political power was willing to risk destabilising diplomatic relations with the USSR in favour of providing aid to a famine that the USSR itself denied. Stalin succeeded in silencing a nation and the rest of the world to his genocide. In May of 1936, the German Consulate in Kyiv wrote: ‘Ukrainian Ukraine has been destroyed’[20].

Eighty-six years on from the Holodomor, over 20,000 books have been published about it[21].

Eight-six years on from the Holodomor, Ukrainian Ukraine survived.

Eighty-six years on from the Holodomor, it is at last receiving the international recognition that it deserved in 1933.


Primary Works:

Duranty, Walter, ‘Russian’s Hungry but Not Starving’, The New York Times (March 31st 1933)

Available at: <>, [accessed 8th July 2019]

German Consulate, ‘A Report Based on Personal Impressions from a Multi-Week Trip throughout Ukraine: Ukrainian Ukraine?’ (Kyiv, May 1936), in Klid, Bohdan and Alexander J. Motyl (eds), The Holodomor Reader: A sourcebook on the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine (Toronto: Canadian Institutes of Ukrainian Studies Press, 2012) p.277

Jones, Gareth, ‘Famine in Russia’, Manchester Guardian (March 30th 1933)

Available at: <>, [accessed 6h July 2019]

Pavlivna, Iryna, ‘Ukraïns’kyi holokost’ vol. 1 p. 98 in Applebaum, Anne Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, (Milton Keynes: Penguin Books, 2018) p. 303

Secondary Works:

Applebaum, Anne, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe (London: Penguin Books, 2013)

Applebaum, Anne, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, (Milton Keynes: Penguin Books, 2018)

Conquest, Robert, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine, (London: Pimlico, 2002)

Graziosi, Andrea, Lubomyr A. Hajda and Halyna Hryn (eds), After the Holodomor: The Enduring Impact of the Great Famine on Ukraine (Cambridge, Massachusettes: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 2013)

Hosking, Geoffrey, Russia and the Russians, second edition (London: Penguin Books, 2012)

Klid, Bohdan and Alexander J. Motyl (eds), The Holodomor Reader: A sourcebook on the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine (Toronto: Canadian Institutes of Ukrainian Studies Press, 2012)

Makuch, Andrij and Frank E. Sysyn (eds), Contextualising the Holodomor: The Impact of Thirty Years of Ukrainian Famine Studies (Toronto: Canadian Institutes of Ukrainian Studies Press, 2012)

Naimark, Norman A., Stalin’s Genocides, paperback edition (Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press, 2010)

Reid, Anna, Borderland, paperback edition (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2015)

Snyder, Timothy, Blood Lands, second edition (London: Vintage, 2015)

Electronic Sources

<>, [accessed 23rd July 2019]

[1] Kovalenko, Holod p. 110 in Timothy Snyder, Blood Lands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, second edition(London: Vintage, 2015), p. 36

[2] Testimony of Iryna Pavlivna, ‘Ukraïns’kyi holokost’ vol. 1 p. 98 in Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, (Milton Keynes: Penguin Books, 2018) p. 303

[3] Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine, (London: Pimlico, 2002), p.312

[4] Snyder, Blood Lands, p. 30

[5] Ellman, ‘Stalin and the Soviet Famine’ p.689 in Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides p. 73

[6] Applebaum, Red Famine p. 285

[7] <>, [accessed 23rd July 2019]

[8] Koestler, Arthur, ‘The Yogi and the Commissar and other essays’ p. 128 in Anna Reid, Borderland, paperback edition (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2015) p. 133

[9] Pidhainy, v.1, p. 270 in Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow p.314

[10] Lyons, Eugene, ‘Assignment in Utopia’ p. 574. in Anna Reid, Borderland p.133

[11] Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow p. 309

[12] Gareth Jones, ‘Famine in Russia’, Manchester Guardian (March 30th 1933)

Available at: <>, [accessed 6h July 2019]

[13] Walter Duranty ‘Russian’s Hungry but Not Starving’, The New York Times (March 31st 1933)

Available at: <>, [accessed 8th July 2019]

[14] Snyder, Blood Lands p.56

[15] Graziosi et al., After the Holodomor, p. 52-4

[16] McVay and Luciuk, ‘The Holy See and the Holodomor’ p. viii-xiv in Applebaum, Red Famine p. 310

[17] Carynnyk et al., eds., ‘The Foreign Office and the Famine, p. 329, 397 in Applebaum, Red Famine p. 324

[18] Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe (London: Penguin Books, 2013) p. 44

[19]Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow p. 311

[20] German Consulate, ‘A Report Based on Personal Impressions from a Multi-Week Trip throughout Ukraine: Ukrainian Ukraine?’ (Kyiv, May 1936), in Klid and Motyl (eds), The Holodomor Reader p. 277

[21] Makuch, Andrij and Frank E. Sysyn (eds), Contextualising the Holodomor: The Impact of Thirty Years of Ukrainian Famine Studies (Toronto: Canadian Institutes of Ukrainian Studies Press, 2012) p. 88


Uncovering the Holodomor: The other side of the Iron Curtain

By Leah Dorotiak

“A bad harvest is from God, but famine is from people.”

Longstanding folk saying. [1]

Holodomor. A term that is virtually unknown amongst the majority of the world’s population, yet a term that represents a painful period in Ukrainian history. Between 1932-33, mass starvation and terror engulfed the Ukrainian nation in one of the most atrocious genocides in world history. The man-made famine, known as Holodomor, was irrefutably manufactured by Soviet Russia with the intent to starve the Ukrainian population into submission, whilst simultaneously liquidating the Ukrainian intelligentsia and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church to further weaken opposition to Russian domination over the country.

Ukraine’s place in history as the ‘breadbasket’ of Europe is well established, once even supplying ancient Greece with her abundance of wheat. With such fertile lands, it seems almost implausible that famine could have mercilessly ravaged the countryside, killing one in every eight Ukrainians. [2]Indeed, in the years preceding Holodomor, provisions such as extra grain stores were in place, to protect against such an eventuality. For example, in 1921 a severe drought in the Steppe regions of Ukraine destroyed the harvests, but peasants living in drought-affected regions of Ukraine always maintained stores of grain in their pantries. [3] However, stores of grain were of no use in Holodomor. Brigades, organised by Moscow, searched for food, the ground was probed with iron rods, walls broken, holes dug, and ovens destroyed [4] as Stalin forced his policy of collectivisation upon the peasantry. The 1932 harvest yielded enough grain to feed the Ukrainian population for two years,[5]yet the people of Ukraine starved. Anything edible held by the peasantry was confiscated. Harrowingly, thousands of acres of wheat were never harvested, and instead were simply left to rot in the fields[6].

Out of 195 countries in the world, only 16 UN countries and the Vatican City recognise the Holodomor as an act of genocide on the state level. [7] Russia is not one of them. On the 9th December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Genocide Convention. ‘Article II’ states that the term genocide is defined as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group.” [8] Raphael Lemkin, the author of the word ‘genocide’ and initiator of the Genocide Convention, called the “destruction of the Ukrainian nation” a “classic example of the genocide.” [9]Moreover, in accordance with the UN Convention, Lemkin considers the following items as an integral part of the genocide against Ukrainians: the hunger of the Ukrainian peasantry; the extermination of the Ukrainian intelligentsia and the elimination of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

In order to fully comprehend the motivation behind Soviet Russia’s determination to ruthlessly crush the Ukrainian national spirit, it is necessary to examine Russia’s long-standing imperialistic desires. It was not until the 18th century that Ukraine came under Russian domination. Prior to this, in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Ukraine was an extremely popular name in Western Europe. Maps published in several countries during this period always bore the designation “Ukraine”, with one of the oldest to do so being the map of Ukraine dated 1572, which was commissioned by Charles IX for his brother Henry of Anjou. [10] Once dominated by Russia, Moscow was not prepared to lose its wealthiest colony and would go to extreme lengths in order to retain Ukraine. Russian desire to supress the Ukrainian nation can be evidenced as early from 1863, as a Russian Minister of the Interior, Count Valuyev, declared “there never has been and never will be a Ukrainian language or nationality.” [11]

Thus, whilst Ukrainians retain their feelings of national identity, Ukraine will continually pose a threat to Russian domination. Russian aggression became increasingly heightened during the period of the Ukrainian National Liberation Struggle, 1918-21, with a resurgence of the Ukrainian national spirit. It was expressed in a slogan by the Ukrainian communist writer Mykola Khvylovy “away from Moscow!”[12] Even the leader of Ukraine’s communist party at the time, Mykola Skrypnyk, perceived the USSR as a form of League of Nations and argued for greater cultural and political autonomy to win Ukrainians over to Communism. [13] According to James E. Mace, Skrypnyk saw himself as an independent national ruler, as an equal to Stalin. When he visited Moscow, he took a translator, despite speaking perfect Russian. [14] As the national movement in Ukraine expanded, Soviet Russia reverted to the policies of mass terror; deportations, forced collectivisation and systematic starvation to subdue the country.

Numerous attempts have been made to dismiss Holodomor as simply disastrous economic policy, caused by Stalin’s ‘Great Turn’ towards industrialisation and collectivisation. This could not be further from the truth. Holodomor was more than just a famine. It was the intention of Soviet Russia to subdue and diminish the national Ukrainian spirit. In the book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World, Mike Davis explored famines in which millions perished, establishing a key connection between colonialism and the introduction of capitalism. Davis attributed the causes of famines to two key factors. Firstly, in natural terms, a change in how certain ocean currents interact with the atmosphere (known as  ‘ENSO’), can lead to conditions called ‘El Niño’ and ‘La Niña’, which can then, in turn, lead to famine, with either drought or excessive rainfall. Secondly, Davis argues that these affected countries have come under the Western ‘Laissez Faire’ economic system, in which the market comes first, leaving no provision for insuring against food shortages through stockpiling foodstuffs.[15] As a direct consequence, populations starve. However, the Soviet system in place during the period 1932-33 was the antithesis to that of the Liberal one. It was a system in which everyone had supposedly equal entitlement to things, including food. [16] This was not the case within the USSR. Whilst Ukrainian collective farmers starved on just 1072 calories a day in 1933, those in Leningrad consumed double this amount, at 2251kcal/day. [17] Additionally, between 1926 and 1939, the percentage of Ukrainians within the USSR declined by 10%, whilst the percentage of Russians increased by 27.2%. [18] Therefore, these demographic statistics strongly support the fact that Holodomor was not the result of disastrous agricultural planning, but rather an organised plan to liquidate the Ukrainian people. [19]

In what Lemkin described as “systematic pattern” of attack, Soviet Russia began paralysing the “national brain” [20] of Ukraine, the intelligentsia. The liquidation of such a large proportion of the Ukrainian intelligentsia and religious leadership halted the separate development of Ukraine, in cultural, religious and political fields. As the government of the Soviet Union became increasingly centralised, independent actions of Ukraine became limited. On 5th January 1932, the Supreme Councils of Economy of the USSR and of the Ukrainian SSR were abolished and replaced by the Union Commissariat of Heavy Industry. [21] Such changes brought about a significant reduction in Ukraine’s control over its industry and removed the little independence the Ukrainian SSR had. Simultaneously, Soviet Russia began an attack on the heart of the nation in 1929 – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

In accordance with ‘Article II’ in the Genocide Convention, “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” [22] is classed as an act of genocide. Indeed, the artificial famine had an unimaginably appalling mental and physical impact upon the Ukrainian population. The average daily consumption of 1070 kcal (which was recorded in the Odessa region, in early 1933) allowed life sustaining activity of a human being for just three months. [23] During this time frame, the physical effects are inconceivably inhumane. Professor M. Mishchenko described the impact as ageing human beings from hour to hour. “To carry out the most necessary functions of life – breathing and heart beat – the organism uses up its own substance, albumen, that is, it consumes itself.” [24] The mental impact, however, is far more reaching. The food instinct gains absolute domination over the personality, dictating new laws of behaviour and loosening family ties. [25] This culminated in reports of cannibalism in several regions.

On December 8th, 1932, Moscow ordered a blockade of all raions in Ukraine [26] that had failed to carry out the grain delivery plan. All deliveries of consumer goods were banned, as trading and credits in those regions were halted.[27] The benefit of this was twofold for Soviet Russia. Primarily, it intensified the famine, but also prevented the spreading of information. These conditions, again, echo those set out in the Genocide Convention, which states that “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” [28] is an act of genocide.

Soviet Russia succeeded in their aim of weakening the demographic structure of the Ukrainian nation. The destruction of such a large part of the population stifled the biological growth.[29]According to S. Sosnovy, the statistical and economic yearbook on agriculture in Ukraine, printed in Kharkiv in 1939, stated that the normal yearly increase of population in Ukraine was 2.36%. As the census of 1926 showed that Ukraine had a population of 29,042,900, with this information, the Ukrainian population should have reached 33,406,100 people in 1933. In January 1934, it should have reached 34,258,000 people. In 1939, it should have totalled at 38,426,000. The last census of 1939 showed that the population of Ukraine amounted only to 30,960,200.[30] This proves that as a direct result of the manufactured famine, the Ukrainian population was cut down by 7.5 million persons. [31]

As parents helplessly starved, Soviet Russia began the attack on the future generation of Ukraine. As a direct result of the systematic starvation, children were severely impacted. Russian determination to eradicate the Ukrainian national feeling amongst the younger generations was evident long before Holodomor. After 1930, the practice of teaching Ukrainian history in schools was ceased and only Russian history was taught. [32] As parents died, orphaned children became homeless, and often fled to cities. Toward the end of the famine, the NKVD organised an extensive concentration camp for these children, where tens of thousands of farm children picked up in Kharkiv were gathered. These camps were appropriately nicknamed “the death barracks”, as the death rate there reached 40%.[33]During Holodomor, the mortality rate among Ukrainian children reached 50%.[34] This was no coincidence. As the increase of children in 1933 was so insignificant that there were no children to start school. Consequently, the number of Ukrainian schools was reduced and only the net of Russian schools remained unchanged.[35] Moreover, the proportion of pupils in schools where the language of instruction was Ukrainian declined from 88.5% in 1932-33 down to 85.5% in 1934-5.[36]

Some eighty-six years have passed since the end of Holodomor, but Russia’s silent aggression towards Ukraine continues today. In June 1933, at the height of the famine, people in Ukraine were dying at the rate of 30,000 a day. Nearly 1/3 of them were children. [37] Yet, less than 10% of the world explicitly recognise Holodomor as an act of genocide at state level.[38] Holodomor was a horrifying landmark in the ongoing pattern of Russian aggression towards, and interference in, Ukraine. But Holodomor is also an indicator of how the strong Ukrainian spirit cannot be broken. Presently, as Ukrainians are still dying due to Russian aggression, Voltaire’s famous dictum that “Ukraine has always aspired to freedom” remains strongly prevalent. [39]


Chmyr, J., 1953. Speak Russian or Starve. In: The Black Deeds of the Kremlin. A White Book. Toronto: The Basilian Press, pp. 271-274.

Euromaidan Press, 2018. See which countries recognize Ukraine’s Holodomor famine as genocide on an interactive map. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 17 July 2019].

Euromaidan Press, 2018. Was Holodomor a Genocide? Examining the arguments. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 July 2019].

Figes, O., 2014. Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991. London: Pelican Books.

Harvest of Despair - The 1932-33 Man-made Famine in Ukraine. 1984. [Film] Directed by Slavko Nowytski. Toronto: The Ukrainian Famine Research Committee.

Hayit, D. B., 1967. The Origin and Development of Russian Imperialism. In: V. Bohdaniuk, B.A. & B. Litt, eds. The Real Face of Russia. Essays and Articles . London: Ukrainian Information Service, pp. 149-170.

Holodomor 1932-33. Famine Genocide in Ukraine, n.d. Holodomor Facts and History. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 14 July 2019].

Holodomor Victims Memorial, n.d. Holodomor - Is a Genocide. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 16 July 2019].

Holodomor Victims Memorial, n.d. The History of the Holodomor. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 16 July 2019].

Kardash, P., 2007. Genocide in Ukraine. Melbourne: Fortuna Publishing.

Konoval, O., 2007. We Accuse Moscow. In: Genocide in Ukraine. Melbourne: Fortuna Publishing, pp. 93-94.

Lemkin, R., 2009. Soviet Genocide in Ukraine, Kyiv: "Maisternia Knyhy".

Levene, M. D., n.d. Russia: The Ukrainian Famine, 1932-33. Massolit.

Mace, E. J. D., 1982. Why Did the Famine Happen?. The Ukrainian Review, Volume XXX, p. 47.

Mishchenko, M. P., 1953. Mental and Physical Effects of Famine. In: The Black Deeds of the Kremlin. A White Book. Toronto: The Basilian Press, pp. 302-305.

Nefedov, S., 2014. Consumption Level During The Period Of Holodomor. Economics and Sociology, Volume 7, pp. 139-147.

Oleskiw, S., 1983. The Agony of a Nation - The Great Man-made Famine in Ukraine, 1932-33. London: The National Committee to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Artificial Famine in Ukraine, 1932-33.

Radio Free Europe, 2019. Holodomor: The Real Number of its Victims and Evidence of its Man-Made Nature. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 22 June 2019].

Shankowsky, P. L., 1967. Ukrainian Liberation Struggle. In: The Real Face of Russia. Essays and Articles. London: Ukrainian Information Service, pp. 211-232.

Sosnovy, S., 1953. The Truth About the Famine. In: The Black Deeds of the Kremlin. A White Book. Toronto: The Basilian Press, pp. 222-225.

Stetzko, J., 1959. The Kremlin On A Volcano. Coexistence or Liberation Policy?. New York: Information Bureau of the American Friends of ABN, Inc.

The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain Limited, 2018. Grains of Truth. A collection of UK materials on the Holodomor in Ukraine, 1932-33. London: The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain Limited.

United Nations, n.d. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 18 July 2019].

United Nations, n.d. Genocide. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 23 June 2019].

Zelensky, O., 2007. Famine As A Political Tool. In: Genocide in Ukraine. Melbourne: Fortuna Publishing, pp. 147-149.

[1] (Zelensky, 2007, p. 224)

[2] (Radio Free Europe, 2019)

[3] (Zelensky, 2007, p. 147)

[4] (Konoval, 2007, p. 27)

[5] (Harvest of Despair - The 1932-33 Man-made Famine in Ukraine, 1984)

[6] (Lemkin, 2009, p. 34)

[7] (Euromaidan Press, 2018)

[8] (United Nations, n.d., p. 174)

[9] (Holodomor Victims Memorial, n.d.)

[10] (Shankowsky, 1967, p. 214)

[11] (Shankowsky, 1967, p. 213)

[12] (Konoval, 2007, p. 93)

[13] (Harvest of Despair - The 1932-33 Man-made Famine in Ukraine, 1984)

[14] (Harvest of Despair - The 1932-33 Man-made Famine in Ukraine, 1984)

[15] (Levene, n.d.)

[16] (Levene, n.d.)

[17] (Nefedov, 2014, p. 144)

[18] (Konoval, 2007, p. 94)

[19] (Konoval, 2007, p. 94)

[20] (Lemkin, 2009, p. 32)

[21] (Oleskiw, 1983, p. 48)

[22] (United Nations, n.d., p. 174)

[23] (Nefedov, 2014, p. 139)

[24] (Mishchenko, 1953, p. 302)

[25] (Mishchenko, 1953, p. 302)

[26] (Konoval, 2007, p. 94)

[27] (Konoval, 2007, p. 94)

[28] (United Nations, n.d., p. 174)

[29] (Oleskiw, 1983, p. 55)

[30] (Sosnovy, 1953, pp. 224-225)

[31] (Sosnovy, 1953, pp. 224-225)

[32] (Oleskiw, 1983, pp. 53-54)

[33] (Mishchenko, 1953, p. 304)


Remembering the Crimes of the Holodomor

By Sarah Shah

Referred to as a ‘bloodless war’[1], the Holodomor (1932-1933) was an incomprehensible tragedy which led to countless avoidable Ukrainian deaths. The nature of such an appalling famine becomes increasingly eerie when considering how Ukraine is the third largest grain exporter[2] and points to this event being deliberately man-made by Stalin’s policy of collectivisation, imposed as a genocide to weaken Ukrainian nationalism. Furthermore, the outrageous cover-up is still in full force: the Russian Federation considers it part of the wider Soviet Famine[3], downplaying the suffering of individual nations. Failing to recognise the specific devastation in Ukraine appears flippant, especially considering current tensions. As Conquest writes, ‘the silence must surely be seen as the silence of complicity, or justification’[4]. Regardless of this debate, the unjust hardship is undeniable. It is necessary to break the silence to remember an event which should have never been forgotten.

The Holodomor was undoubtedly significant on an individual basis, leading to as many as over 7 million deaths. Those who did live did not do so in luxury, as survivor Vera Smereka recounts ‘borscht… consisted of just water and herbs’[5] and later attributes this to their swollen stomachs. This was very common, as many sources describe similar swelling due to use of water to combat hunger, and illustrates the extent of desperation to survive while also conveying an upsetting futility. Survivors were faced with difficult decisions which no doubt would later traumatise them in the long term, for example in Galina Smyrna’s account ‘my aunt went crazy – she ate her own child’[6]. Many historians and testimonies mention cannibalism, however this one depicts the struggle to survive as tragic and not only showcases physical starvation, but also the mental toll such an event would take. Living itself appears to have been a form of torture.

Reading these accounts, it is difficult not to sympathise; when reading accounts of how these people were treated by officials, it becomes clear why these deaths appear deliberate. Many accounts refer to how the living were taken away with corpses, as officials knew they would die and wanted to save themselves the journey. This complacent reaction also appears malicious, with Stephen Horlatch’s account of how his mother was beaten until she fainted due to officials suspecting they had hidden food because they ‘weren’t dead’[7]. The officials were expecting, or even wanted, them to die. Conquest writes how, in July 1932, the Ukrainian Central Committee ordered food to be given to those working in the fields, however when given to anyone else starving, it was ‘described in an official report as ‘a waste of bread and fish’’[8]. Such a disrespectful report in comparison to the harrowing survivor testimonies seems to indicate a resentment towards the Ukrainians, almost as if they were viewed as unworthy of life, which may coincide with what many historians view as one of Stalin’s aims of collectivisation – as Figes writes, ‘Stalin had a special distrust of the Ukrainian peasantry’[9].

Moreover, the account of Kopelev, member of the Komsomol as cited by Figes, states how he and many others believed they ‘were realising historical necessity’[10].  This idea of ‘necessity’ furthers the acceptance of Ukrainian deaths and conforms with Montefiore’s interpretation of Stalinism in how people would ‘die and kill for their faith’[11] . Along with Stalin’s paranoia regarding power, this interpretation makes genocide seem like a viable option. Earlier purges on intelligentsia were used to weaken Ukrainian identity, making this aim obvious. Due to this, the notion that collectivisation was introduced as a similar attack on the peasantry doesn’t seem absurd. Furthermore, one of the aims had been officially stated as ‘the destruction of Ukrainian nationalism’s social base’[12]. Dekulakisation, which also led to reduced harvests as a result of having fewer skilled peasants, may have been used to start this attack on the peasantry, as Figes argues, to eliminate ‘the defenders of the peasant way of life’[13]. Conquest’s interpretation that the Holodomor was inflicted ‘wholly on the collectivised ordinary peasant’[14] (as all kulaks should have already been removed) interestingly exposes that there was no such thing in the first place – rather, this imaginary class had been demonised to hide the true intentions to weaken Ukrainian peasantry. Deception has always been used and, unfortunately, still occurs today.

Some historians argue the economic aims. Lynch refers to the ‘land crisis in Russia that predated Communism’[15] (also seen in Figes’ citation ‘[old Russia] suffered because of her backwardness’[16]), therefore collectivisation’s enforced migration would allow the necessary shift to urban industries. However, during the Holodomor, peasants were unable to escape the famine due to a system of internal passports and the closing of the Ukrainian border. Fitzpatrick interestingly points out how Moscow had the habit to set ‘targets for economic output that were wildly unrealistic’[17]during the Five-Year Plan, suggesting that high procurement quotas were applied with little consideration. However, in the 1928 Party Congress, Bukharin argued that these would be counter-productive, showing that there was some consideration but it was ignored. Fitzpatrick’s nuanced idea that ‘peasants habitually exaggerated local difficulties’[18] and that many of the thefts were actually carried out by kolkhozniks ‘evidently motivated purely by spite’[19], not kulaks, implies peasant resistance led to the law of the 7th of August, 1932, forbidding anything to be stolen from the kolkhoz. This is interesting because this interpretation makes the process leading to the Holodomor appear far less calculated. That being said, Fitzpatrick writes regarding all Soviet peasants, which may not always apply to Ukraine, making this less convincing. The enforcement of this law, however, displays cruelty (as seen in earlier eyewitness accounts) and Fitzpatrick recognises this harshness and cites how kolkhozniks were re-educated like teaching circus animals ‘to obey by starving them’.[20]

Despite Stalin’s intentions, it is obvious that the famine was man-made, whether for socio-political or economic reasons. If the Holodomor had not been planned, the failure to respond and purposeful repression portrays the genocide as a result of Stalin’s opportunism. It seems he was prolonging the effects by ‘continuing to employ the policies which had produced the famine’[21].  Even the policy to ‘liquidate the Kulaks as a class’[22] appears to have been a conspiracy. The lack of transparency creates suspicion and the fact that much of the suffering was avoidable clearly paints the Holodomor as an atrocity, if not a crime against humanity. As cited by Montefiore, Stalin repeatedly denied the existence of the famine, reportedly having said ‘fabricating such a fairy tale about a famine!’[23]. This denial alone was detrimental, as it prevented the USSR from public action and appeals (as were used during the famine of 1921), leading to unnecessary torment. Conquest’s citations regarding wasted grain makes this denial increasingly deplorable: gleaners were killed, leaving grain in railway stations to rot[24]. Moreover, Conquest writes how Ukrainian peasants faced ‘deprivation and exploitation’[25], making it appear as though they were being mocked for the hunger imposed upon them. Representation of the famine in Soviet media was limited and instead depicted famines abroad, as cited by Fitzpatrick, with sensational headlines such as ‘hunger despite a good harvest’[26]. Perhaps this was typical propaganda to distract, however news reports of victims ‘trying to stage a famine’[27]not only ignored the Holodomor, but actively denied it. In this way, it could be argued that the media was attempting to belittle victims by depicting them as kulaks, potentially leading Ukraine to be viewed with further animosity. This negligence alone indicates the deliberate intent needed to classify the Holodomor as a genocide. Regardless of Stalin’s initial aims, he took this convenient opportunity to make Ukraine submit.

This repression was not limited to Soviet newspapers. Shockingly, even victims were denied the truth, such as in Aleksandra Brazhnyk’s testimony: ‘Nobody could say that it was an artificial famine. They always said that everything was great’[28]. This was also prevalent in the presentation of the famine to the rest of the world with the creation of the Potemkin village, as described by Fitzpatrick as having ‘all the amenities and culture lacking in the real Russian village’[29]. These were used to hide the truth from western journalists and politicians, and evidently worked due to French politician Herriot’s description of Soviet Ukraine ‘like a garden in full bloom’[30], which not only prevented foreign aid, but was also used as fuel for propaganda by the Pravda. Furthermore, official photographs depicted positive imagery of abundant grain and girls in fine clothes while the hidden ones show more stark images of dying children, starving animals and brutal guards[31]. Although evidence shows that the West was aware, the USSR’s distortion of information made it impossible for them to intervene: the Washington Soviet Embassy claimed that Ukraine’s population had increased by 2% per annum and had the lowest death rate in the USSR[32]. Seeing this blatant cover-up seems more sinister than just portraying Soviet glory: it seems to indicate guilt. These statistics appear so insanely unrealistic that they expose a desperate attempt to maintain a lie, but if this was just a regular famine there would be no need to try so hard. Even today, following Khrushchev’s de-Stalinisation, it seems odd to avoid the topic if there is nothing to hide. However, the longer they wait to address it, the greater the guilt becomes as it is no longer only Stalin’s crime. This genocide extends past the destruction of Ukrainians; it now includes the destruction of the memory of the Holodomor.

In conclusion, considering all interpretations, it may be unimportant whether the Holodomor was planned or not: the damage has been done and has yet to be fixed. Perhaps the focus should shift away from politics and towards the human cost. Following the genocide, the impacts were still felt, such as psychological trauma and physical disability, as reported by Conquest in how ‘peasants being given bread in the late spring of 1933’ would sometimes lead to ‘fatal results’[33]. The management of this famine was so poor that it appears deliberate, and even today the effects of the propaganda are still at large. These repeated denials are certainly the biggest crime. The Holodomor must be acknowledged, not only to prevent repeating the past, but to allow the wound in Ukrainian hearts to finally heal.


Conquest, Robert. 2002. The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine. Pimlico.

Figes, Orlando. 2014. Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991. Pelican

Montefiore, Simon Sebag. 2004. Stalin 1878-1939. Phoenix.

Lynch, Michael. 2008. From Autocracy to Communism: Russia 1894-1941. Hodder Education.

Fitzpatrick, S., 1996. Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivisation. Oxford University Press.

Courtois, Stéphane; Werth, Nicolas; Panné, Jean-Louis; Paczkowski, Andrzej; Bartošek, Karel; Margolin, Jean-Louis. 1999. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press.

[1] Doroshenko, Hanna.



[4] Conquest, R. (2002). The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine. Pimlico. p.330


[6] Smyrna, Galina.


[8] Cited in: Conquest, R. (2002). The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine. Pimlico. p.223

[9] Figes, O. (2014). Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991. Pelican. p.215

[10] Cited in: Ibid. p.213

[11] Montefiore, S. (2004). Stalin 1878-1939. Phoenix. P.88

[12] Cited in: Conquest, R. (2002). The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine. Pimlico. p.219

[13] Figes, O. (2014). Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991. Pelican. p.214

[14] Conquest, R. (2002). The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine. Pimlico. p.220

[15] Lynch, M. (2008). From Autocracy to Communism: Russia 1894-1941. Hodder Education. P.209

[16] Cited in: Figes, O. (2014). Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991. Pelican. p.218

[17] Fitzpatrick, S. (1996). Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivisation. Oxford University Press. P.71

[18] Ibid. P.70

[19] Cited in: Ibid. p.72

[20] Cited in: Ibid. P.76

[21] Conquest, R. (2002). The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine. Pimlico. P.326

[22] Montefiore, S. (2004). Stalin 1878-1939. Phoenix. P.46

[23] Cited in: Ibid. P.87

[24] Cited in: Conquest, R. (2002). The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine. Pimlico. p.266

[25] Cited in: Ibid.

[26] Cited in: Fitzpatrick, S. (1996). Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivisation. Oxford University Press. P.74

[27] Ibid. P.75


[29] Fitzpatrick, S. (1996). Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivisation. Oxford University Press. P.16

[30] Cited in: Courtois, S. Werth, N. Panné, J. Paczkowski, A. Bartošek, K. Margolin, J. (1999). The Black Book of Communism. Harvard University Press. P.159-160


[32] Cited in: Conquest, R. (2002). The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine. Pimlico. p.313

[33] Ibid. p.262


AUGB is pleased to announce the results of the 2018 Holodomor Essay Prize Competition. The essay prize was launched with the vision to inspire academic investigation by sixth form school students in the UK into the little known topic of the Holodomor, the barbaric and systematic starvation of millions of Ukrainians over a period of just 18 months in 1932-33, on the most fertile lands in Europe. The Holodomor is generally not covered in the UK school curriculum and the essay prize was devised as a means of raising awareness and introducing the topic of Holodomor to young people, teachers and schools.

The winners of the 2018 Holodomor Essay Prize are:

First Prize: Aisha Taylor Duran, Highgate Wood Secondary School, London

Second Prize: Parys Miah, St. Dominic’s Sixth Form College, Harrow

Third Prize: Rosa Georgiou, Highgate Wood Secondary School, London

Highly Commended: Kathryn Harrison, Scarborough Sixth Form College, Scarborough

Highly Commended: Amira Nandhla, The King’s School, Gloucester

The judging panel for the competition included Dr. Olenka Pevny, Cambridge University lecturer and Director of the Cambridge Ukrainian Studies programme, Larysa Kurylas, architect and designer of the Holodomor Memorial in Washington DC and Dr. Ludmila Pekarska, Curator of the Shevchenko Library & Archive, London.

The judges were delighted with the academic calibre demonstrated by the essays and the intellectual engagement of participants with the topic of Holodomor.

One judge commented on the prize winning essay: “I am convinced that the student learned about and understood the causes of Holodomor and how information on the famine was repressed and is now being disseminated.  The list of sources is substantial.“

Judges also noted that many candidates showed an earnest primary engagement with an unfamiliar topic. “It reveals that the student read and thought about the sources she/he consulted and actually became interested in the topic.  It shows genuine effort to come to a balanced view on the topic and to understand the magnitude of the horror and the extent of the repression of knowledge regarding Holodomor.”

One of the entrants also commented: “I very much enjoyed researching the Holodomor, particularly as it was a subject I previously knew very little about. I hope to read history at university and found the researching experience very helpful.”

The 2018 Essay Prize Competition was open to sixth form students attending any school or college in the UK and candidates were invited to submit a historical style essay of between 1500 and 2000 words on the topic of Holodomor.