Some trivia about Ukraine by George V.Pinchuk. History of Ukraine: The genocide of Ukrainians by Stalin. Part 10. For the part of Ukraine now taken by the Soviets, the 1930s and 40s were, overall, a dark time.
In his polemics with Trotsky in the 1920s, Stalin won the public ear by dismissing the idea of the “world revolution” and campaigning, instead, for the idea of “building Socialism in one separate country.” However, in his heart of hearts, the Kremlin dictator saw himself as something of an emperor who rules the whole world. He has always thought about expanding his realm by invading other countries, and, therefore, about expanding and strengthening the Red Army at any and all cost. So, with Trotsky disgraced and gone to exile in 1928, Stalin took some of the ideas of his arch-rival and, through relentless propaganda, made them sound like his own. Particularly, the main objective of the Soviet state was now declared to be an accelerated industrialization accompanied by a total “collectivization” of agriculture. The latter meant elimination of any right of an agricultural worker to own the agricultural produce. Individual farms were joined into enormous “collective farms” where the local people worked, essentially, like slaves. Formally, the produce of the collective farm was its collective property, but actually it was the property of the state, because the collective farms had to sell the produce to the state for ridiculously low prices established by the state organs reporting to the Soviet government and the Communist high-positioned functionaries. The food “bought” (or, in reality, simply taken) by the state was distributed among the Red Army soldiers and industrial workers in the cities, and also sold abroad, with the proceeds going to the ever-increasing militarization of the USSR.
The “collective farmers” were left with very little. In most cases, the monetary revenue after “selling” their produce to the state was so tiny that a farmer’s family could afford to buy something like a pair of boots and a set of rough garb-looking clothes per year or two, and little else. The collective farmers were paid for their back-breaking work in kind, like with some grain or potatoes. They were allowed to keep tiny plots of land around their dwellings, and used them for growing vegetables; also, they were allowed to keep lifestock, like one cow and one pig etc.; however, they often had too little time and energy left to take good care of their plots because the work at their collective farm was not legally limited by any hours, and they had to pay taxes for the right to keep lifestock. Thus, the life of peasants was turned into one endless nightmare, with hunger, cold, and disease becoming everyday realities.
In many parts of Russia, this “collectivization” of agriculture went relatively smoothly because the peasants were already accustomed to collectivized forms of land ownership. In a harsh climate and having poor soil, like in central and northern parts of Russia, villagers had merged their land plots into large pool of land (“община,” “мир”) since the days of old. In Ukraine, however, with its milder climate and exquisitely rich soils, that was unheard of. Not only wealthy, but middle-income level Ukrainian peasants became extremely hostile to the idea of communal land and agricultural produce ownership. In 1929-1930, hundreds of peasant uprisings were documented in Ukraine and brutally suppressed by the Red Army and special police force units. At one point, the government backed up and announced that the collective farming should be voluntary. Immediately, the number of Ukrainian peasants who had joined the collective farms plummeted, so the government had to resume repressions and harassment of individual landowners. By the end of 1930, a campaign of mass deportation of wealthy individual landowners (“kulaks” in Russian or “kurkuli” in Ukraine) resulted in forceful re-settlement of hundreds of thousands of rural families from Ukraine to remote areas of Siberia and Middle Asia. Over there, those who managed to survive the most brutal conditions of transportation were organized into “special settlements” not actually differing from concentration camps.
The events began to unroll leading to one of the worst genocides in the entire history of the humankind. As Professor Roman Serbyn writes in his brilliant series of works on this subject, Stalin and the narrow inner circle of his henchmen embarked on a task to completely remove Ukraine out of their way, to eliminate it as a nation, a culture, and a political subject. The task consisted of four parts: (1) to destroy the intellectual core of Ukraine, its “brain” – the writers, artists, scientists, engineers, managers, doctors, teachers; (2) to rip off Ukraine’s “heart” – the clergy, the spiritual, religious leaders who remained outside of the control from Moscow; (3) to wipe out the Ukrainian peasantry with its traditions of individual ownership and responsibility, with its resilience against the dictatorship of the state; and (4) to kill off all the islets of the Ukrainian language and culture outside the borders of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, i.e. in Russia, including the Kuban, the North Caucasus, certain areas in the Far East etc. Stalin wanted to see Ukraine merely as a territory with rich farmland that could be exploited for his main pragmatic plan: to strengthen the army that, eventually, the sooner the better, will subjugate the whole world, molding it into his personal empire. Any other kind of Ukraine did not suit him.
Between 1930 and 1934, the GPU (secret police) of the Ukrainian SSR, under the leadership of S. Redens and then V. Balitsky, forged the stories of several fictional “counter-revolutionary organizations” that, allegedly, existed in Ukraine and worked to bring Ukraine under the control of Capitalist countries, particularly Poland. One of them, the so-called SVU (from Ukrainian Спілка визволення України, “The Ukrainian Liberation Union”), allegedly included the former leaders of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, including such luminaries as Serhiy Efremov, V. Chekhivsky (see Parts 6 and 7 of this series), L. Starytska-Chernyakhivska, Y. Hermaize and others. Almost 500 people were indicted and 45 were tried in Kharkiv in March-April 1930. Many of the tried did not even confirm the existence of any SVU; others did testify that the organization had existed, but their testimony was extremely conflicting and obviously given under duress. All of the tried were found guilty and 15 of them were sentenced to death by firing squad; others were sent to concentration camps. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. All over Ukraine, local Stalinist henchmen arrested, tortured, executed, or deported thousands and thousands of intellectuals. Many of the victims, like the writer Hryhoriy Kosynka, were kidnapped from their homes or on the street and executed within weeks without any trial.
In January 1930, the so-called Ukrainian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church allegedly issued a statement calling for the Extraordinary Convention of the Ukrainian Orthodox clergy. In fact, this document was a sham composed by the secret police. The “Convention,” which was subsequently staged, declared that the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was a schismatic group founded by agents of Petlyura to harm the Russian Orthodoxy in Ukraine. Following this pseudo- “convention,” all Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox parishes were forcefully closed and the head of the UOAC, Metropolitan Vasyl Lypkivsky, was arrested (he was shot in 1937 and later canonized as a martyr). The remaining Orthodox parishes in Ukraine were strictly forbidden to use the Ukrainian language in their services. By the late 1930s, almost all clergy that had any connection with the UOAC were physically eliminated – executed or worked to death in GULAG camps.
But the most horrific genocide was committed in rural areas. In June 1932, Ulas Chubar, then the head of the government of the Ukrainian SSR, wrote to Stalin that after the forced collectivization and the numerous requisitions of grain, Ukraine urgently needs help or, otherwise, there will be mass starvation. In response, the quotas of grain that the Ukraine farmers “owed” to the government were only increased. By June 30, 1932, the entire stock of seed grain was taken away from Ukraine. On August 7, 1932, Stalin’s government issued a decree that made it a crime for a farmer to take home even a tiny amount of grain from the collective farm fields. Those who were caught gleaning grain were ordered to be executed on the spot. Only if the weight of the “stolen” grain was equal to, or less than, the weight of approximately 5 kernels of wheat, the execution could be replaced by at least 10 years of hard labor with confiscation of all belongings. Children were not exempt from this barbaric law. In that same month of August, employees of all railroads in Ukraine were ordered not to let peasants board the trains going from the rural areas to big cities, unless they had a special permit from their collective farm and local Communist Party authorities. All highways and country roads were patroled by armed special police units. So, millions of impoverished, exhausted, hungry, sick, barely moving people were herded to the collective farm fields for back-breaking labor every day, without being even minimally compensated and without any chance to escape. To make things even deadlier, a number of regions in Ukraine (especially areas in the east and southeast where the soil was the richest) were demanded to pay absolutely fantastic fines for not reaching the grain quotas; for example, an area could receive orders to pay its “debt” in grain, and then, as punishment, also 15 times this weight paid with meat of the livestock (which was not there because it had been slaughtered due to hunger and the lack of fodder). In the many areas that were announced to be “malicious debtors,” all food stores were closed down and farmers’ markets were outlawed. Meanwhile, special armed bands of the military and civilian “activists” continued to raid villages, taking away all food. Beginning from fall 1932, they received orders not to leave anything edible to the peasants; if they could not carry more food after loading their trucks or carriages, they had to physically destroy any food they would find in the villagers’ dwellings. So, they poured soup or stew on the ground, stomped potatoes to mesh with their boots etc. They also took away clothes and pottery. Their activities became openly genocidal.
Over the fall 1932 and winter 1932-33, the rural dwellers in several major grain-producing areas of Ukraine were dying by thousands over thousands. However, the peak of the genocide was in spring and early summer of 1933, when the villagers had already eaten all dogs, cats, rats, crows, tree bark etc. When the new grass appeared, many people avidly ate it until they died of bowel obstruction. Cannibalism became rampant, people hunting and eating other people (especially children), and then, eventually, eating their own children. Because of an extremely low amount of albumin in their blood, people looked swollen and lost the capacity to use their muscles. The dead were everywhere: in the houses, in the yards, on the road from villages to the collective farm fields, and on the fields. Some desperate men and women who still could move traveled illegally to cities with the hope to get food there by begging. Most of them, however, died during the travel or soon after arrival to a city. The urban dwellers who had small rations of food were told that these new arrivals from villages are the enemies of the people who refuse to work. The police did not help the dying people and did not allow the city dwellers to help them.
To this day, it remains unknown how many people were executed by the lethal hunger (the Holodomor) in Ukraine in 1932-1933. In the decision made by the Supreme Court of Ukraine on January 13, 2010, the number of documented direct deaths by starvation during the 1932-33 Holodomor was announced to be 3,941,000. Of course, this is merely the tip of an iceberg because millions of deaths were not documented and millions of deaths were not directly caused by starvation but, rather, by the diseases that accompanied it. Also, any number must be supplemented by the number of unborn human beings that could have been born and lived if not for the Holodomor. Based on demographic studies, most investigators agree that in Ukraine, the man-made hunger and its consequences took lives of approximately 7 million people. About 3 million people were murdered at the same time outside of Ukraine, most of them in the Kuban region of Russia (ethnically, predominantly Ukrainian), and in Kazakhstan.
Beginning from July 1933, the Soviet government finally began to take measures against this unprecedented loss of people. However, in most cases it was too late for those who had lived there. Huge areas in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Poltava and other regions of Ukraine died off completely. The villages where all inhabitants were killed by hunger stretched over thousands of kilometers. Millions of corpses remained unburied and rot inside houses, causing an unbearable stench. In fall 1933, the Soviet government began the program of mass migration of the demobilized Red Army soldiers and peasants from Russia and Belarus to the areas of Ukraine depopulated by the Holodomor. Many of the migrants were so shocked by what they saw (and smelled) that they immediately moved back to where they had come from. However, many others stayed, being bribed by special treats of free grain from the state granaries. This, of course, had terrible cultural consequences that are felt in eastern Ukraine even today. The migration was followed by a complete or almost complete de-Ukrainization of large parts of the country. The children and the grandchildren of the migrants often never learned to identify themselves with Ukraine and things Ukrainian. This sad fact was used by Russia during the invasion of the Donbas in spring 2014.
The Holodomor also wiped out some good genes. Most of its victims were from healthy, industrious, enterprising land-working and land-owning stock. Many witnesses agree that generally in Ukraine and especially in the areas struck by the Holodomor such qualities as industriousness, entrepreneurship, and dignity of a private owner became conspicuously rare after the genocide. Over vast agricultural areas, what used to be the character of a “farmer” all but disappeared and became replaced by the character of a lazy, thievish, furtive ill-paid daysman, a peon servant of the state. This and some other features of a post-genocidal nation are hurting Ukraine to this very day, and there is no way of knowing how many more generations these features will affect.
The Holodomor memorial in Kyiv