|Soviet Policy and
the Ukrainian Genocide of 1932-33
Ukraine was formally incorporated into the USSR as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkSSR) in 1922.
The Communists were aware that resistance to their regime was deep and widespread. To pacify the Ukrainian
people and to gain control, Moscow initially permitted a great deal of local autonomy to exist in the UkSSR. The
newly established Ukrainian Autocephalous (self-ruling) Orthodox Church and the new All-Ukrainian Academy of
Sciences, non-Communist national institutions of great importance, were both permitted to continue their work
until the end of the 1920's.
All of this changed once Joseph Stalin came to power. Stalin wanted to consolidate the new Communist empire
and to strengthen its industrial base. Ukrainian national aspirations were a barrier to those ends because even
Ukrainian Communists opposed exploitation by Moscow. In Stalin's eyes, Ukraine, the largest of the
non-Russian republics, would have to be subdued. Thus, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was
placed under the jurisdiction of the Communist-controlled Russian Orthodox Church. Ukrainian bishops, priests
and thousands of Christian lay leaders were sent to Siberian labor camps, the so-called "Gulag." Hundreds of
thousands, possibly over a million, of Ukraine's intellectual leaders - writers, university professors, scientists,
and journalists - were liquidated in purges ordered by Stalin. Not even loyal Ukrainian Communists were exempt
from Stalin's terror. By 1939, practically the entire (98%) of Ukraine's Communist leadership had been
Hardest hit by Stalin's policies were Ukraine's independent landowners, the so-called "kulaks" (kurkuly in
Ukrainian). Never precisely defined, a kulak was a member of the alleged "upper stratum" of landowners but in
reality anyone who owned a little land, even as little as 25 acres, came to be labeled as a kulak. Stalin ordered
that all private farms would have to be collectivized. During the process, according to Soviet sources, which are
no doubt on the conservative side, some 200,000 Ukrainian families were "de-kulakized" or dispossessed of all
land. By the summer of 1932, 69.5% of all Ukrainian farm families and 80% of all farm land had been forcibly
Stalin decided to eliminate Ukraine's independent farmers for three reasons:
(1) they represented the last bulwark of resistance to totalitarian Russian control;
(2) the USSR was in desperate need of foreign capital to build more factories and the best way to obtain
that capital was to increase agricultural exports from Ukraine once known as "the breadbasket of
(3) the fastest way to increase agricultural exports was to expropriate land through a process of farm
collectivization and to assign procurement quotas to each Soviet republic.
During the collectivization process, Ukrainian farmers resisted vigorously, often violently, especially when the
GPU (Soviet secret police) and militia forced them to turn their land over to the government. Thousands of
farmers were killed and millions more were deported to Siberia to be replaced by more trustworthy workers.
To increase exports and to break the back of remaining resistance, Moscow imposed grain procurement quotas
on Ukraine that were 2.3 times the amount of grain marketed during the best year prior to collectivization. Laws
were passed declaring all collective farm property "sacred and inviolate." Anyone who was caught hoarding
food was subject to execution as an "enemy of the people" or, in extenuating circumstances, imprisonment for
not less than 10 years. To make sure the new laws were strictly enforced, special "commissions" and "brigades"
were dispatched to the countryside. In the words of one Sovietologist:
Stalin succeeded in achieving his goals. The grain harvest of 1932 was greater than in 1931, providing more
monies for industrial expansion. The cost to Ukraine, however, was catastrophic. Grain procurements continued
even though it was clear to Soviet officials that more and more people were going hungry in the Ukrainian
countryside. The result was inevitable. A famine, the magnitude of which staggers the imagination, struck
Ukraine the still the Soviet government failed to provide relief. Detailed and documented descriptions of the
horrors which prevailed in the rural areas of Soviet Ukraine have been presented by Ukrainian eye-witnesses,
Congressional reports, and various newspaper accounts. Thomas Walker, and American journalist who
traveled in Ukraine during the famine, left us an especially graphic account of the situation in one rural area:
The Soviet government has preserved the greatest secrecy concerning the exact number of persons who
perished in Ukraine during the Genocide Famine, but analysis of recently revealed Soviet census data
comparing 1939 with 1926 figures suggest that no fewer than ten million men, women , and children perished.
According to American Sovietologists and other experts on the Stalin era, the fa in need never have occurred.
1. Myron B. Kuropas, The Ukrainians in America (Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1972) pp.32-36. Also see James
E. Mace, Communism and the Dilemmas of National Liberation: National Communism in Soviet Ukraine. 1918-1933
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983). Hryhory Kostiuk, Stalinist Rule in the Ukraine: A Study of the Decade of Mass Terror
(London: Atlantic Books, 1960) p. 129.
2. James Mace, "The Man-Made Famine of 1932-1933; What Happened and Why," The Great Famine in Ukraine: The Unknown
Holocaust (Jersey City: Ukrainian National Association, 1983) p. 29.
3. Clarence Manning, Ukraine Under the Soviets (New York: Bookman Associates, 1953) p. 97.
4. The Chicago American (March 6, 1935).
5. Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, The Time of Stalin: A Portrait of Tyranny (New York?: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981) p. 65.
6. William Henry Chamberlin, The Ukraine: A Submerged Nation (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1944) pp. 59-60.
7. Robert Conquest, et. al., The Man-Made Famine in Ukraine (Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public policy
Research, 1984) p. 4.
Our thanks to Dr. Myron B. Kuropas for contributing this article.
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The work of these special "commissions" and "brigades" was marked with the utmost severity. They entered
the villages and made the most thorough searches of the houses and barns of every peasant. They dug up
the earth and broke into the walls of buildings and stoves in which the peasants tried to hide their last
handfuls of food. They even in places took specimens of fecal matter from the toilets in an effort to learn by
analysis whether the peasants had stolen government property and were eating grain.
About twenty miles south of Kiev (Kyiv), I came upon a village that was practically extinct by starvation. There
had been fifteen houses in this village and a population of forty-odd persons. Every dog and cat had been
eaten. The horses and oxen had all been appropriated by the Bolsheviks to stock the collective farms. In
one hut they were cooking a mess that defied analysis. There were bones, pig-weed, skin, and what looked
like a boot top in this pot. They way the remaining half dozen inhabitants eagerly watched this slimy mess
showed the state of their hunger. One boy of about 15 years, whose face and arms and legs were simply
tightly drawn skin over bones, had a stomach that was swollen to twice its normal size. He was an orphan;
his father had died of starvation a month before and he showed me the body. The boy had covered the body
with straw, there being no shovels in the village since the last raid of the GPU. He stated his mother had
gone away one day searching for food and had not returned. This boy wanted to die - he suffered intensely
with his swollen stomach and was the only one of the group who showed no interest in the pot that was being
Despite the meager harvest, the peasants could have pulled though without starvation if there had been
substantial abatement of the requisition of grain and foodstuffs. But he requisitions were intensified rather
than relaxed; the government was determined to "teach the peasants a lesson" by the grim method of
By the beginning of the winter all the grain, including the seed grain of the farms in Ukraine, had been
seized by the government. The last peasants lived on the last remaining potatoes, killed their last remaining
livestock, they slaughtered cats and dogs, ate nettles and linden leaves. The acorns were all gone by
January, the people began to starve. By March no food at all remained, and they died. The children died
first, mostly the younger children, followed by the older people, then usually men before the women, and
finally everyone else.