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UKRAINE: HOLODOMOR, Stalin’s artificial famine in Ukraine 90 years ago today

UKRAINE: HOLODOMOR, Stalin’s artificial famine in Ukraine 90 years ago today (1)

Millions of Ukrainians died

By Dr Ievgeniia Gidulianova for Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (25.11.2023) – In Ukraine, it is not customary to throw away bread. Never.

“Bread is the head of everything” is one of the main Ukrainian proverbs.

And this is not only in gratitude to the fertile plant, which is supposedly born to give the best harvests. This is also a tribute to the difficult times that Ukraine was forced to go through.

This testament is passed down from generation to generation, because the grief through which Ukrainians have been preserved in them almost at the genetic level. The memory of the famine was preserved in the families of those who were able to survive it.

This year, on November 25, Ukraine celebrates Holodomor Remembrance Day. It is a day to commemorate those dark times and the 90th anniversary of our mourning for all the innocent victims of those times.

Available data on the number of victims of the Holodomor give us figures of at least 4.6 million dead. Some researchers point to much higher figures – up to 10.5 million.

This is another sorrowful page of Ukrainian history, when millions of human lives were lost for their struggle on the way to independence and self-reliance.

After the overthrow of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in November 1920, the Bolshevik regime began active actions on its territory to prevent the restoration of an independent Ukrainian state through a brutal repressive policy aimed at establishing a communist system and suppressing any parties and movements that defended the idea of Ukrainian independence.

Stalin Y.V., Molotov V.V., Kaganovich L.M., Postyshev P.P., Kosior S.V., Chubar V.Y. and Khatayevich M.M. used the repressive apparatus of the communist totalitarian regime on the territory of Ukraine in peacetime. A complete forced collectivization of agriculture and the deportation of Ukrainian peasant families, illegal confiscation of their property, repression and physical destruction of Ukrainians were initiated.

All this destroyed the traditional forms of agricultural production and deprived the Ukrainian peasants of the grain reserves necessary for normal life, which caused famine among the Ukrainian population in 1928-1929, after which mass anti-Soviet uprisings began on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR, which were suppressed with particular cruelty by punitive measures.

In order to suppress  the resistance of the Ukrainian people in 1932-1933 in Ukraine, the  communist totalitarian regime of the USSR planned and implemented the crime of exterminating millions of Ukrainians by creating an artificial famine. To denote this tragedy, Ukrainians use the word “Holodomor”, which comes from the Ukrainian words “famine” and “pestilence”. It was the premeditated murder of millions of Ukrainians in order to destroy the social foundations of the Ukrainian people, its age-old traditions, spiritual culture and ethnic identity.

The regime managed to hide its crime behind a wall of propaganda and lies within the USSR and abroad.

“Dead of starvation and people dying near the fence of the Ozeryanskaya Church in Kharkiv.”
Photo from 1933 by Austrian chemical engineer Alexander Wienerberger.

In 1932-33 there was neither a significant drought nor other weather conditions that could lead to crop failure and eventually to mass starvation. Historian Viktor Brekhunenko wrote in his book “ Myths about the Holodomor” that the harvest of 1932 was smaller than the harvest of  1931 (12.8 million tons versus 17.7 million tons). The reason for the decrease in the harvest was the state policy on collectivization but even such a harvest was enough to feed people.

However, famine occurred in Ukraine and in those regions of the USSR where Ukrainians constituted the majority of the population: the Kuban (more than 50% of the population was Ukrainians, according to the 1926 census), some regions of the North Caucasus and the Middle and Lower Volga regions. During these times, there was no famine or crop failure in Ukraine’s neighboring territories, such as Poland and Belarus. But it was impossible for Ukrainians dying of hunger to get there,  as the USSR closed the borders to Ukrainian peasants.

Victims of famine. Kharkiv region, 1933. Photo courtesy of Alexander Wienerberge

As a first step, the Communist leaders planned unrealistic grain procurement figures, as they planned to take 53% from the 1932 harvest, although in 1931 this figure was 39%. And this was in conditions when it was quite clear that such actions would cause hunger.

The unrealistic grain procurement plan of 1932 was not fulfilled. Consequently, on 1 December 1932, it was decided to seize grain and other products from the peasants. Later, in January 1933, in order to implement the plan, the Kyiv Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine demanded “all available grain, including the so-called seed funds,” that is, the grain that should be sown in the spring.

Peasants stopped paying “workdays”, a payment in kind in the form of farm products for work on the collective farm. As a result, all the food was taken away from the peasants. At the same time, Stalin considered the impossibility of reaching the grain norm to be a “war against Soviet power” and the peasants were persecuted as enemies of the state.

From January-February 1932, grain began to be taken away in Ukraine and, accordingly, entire villages began to starve.*

On 15 January 1932, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine adopted a resolution titled “The Question of Grain Procurement”, according to which control over the activities of the regional leadership during the seizure of grain was strengthened.

Methods of grain requisition became more and more cruel. Collective farms, which were thus left without grain, were officially denied seed assistance. At the same time, a method of repression called “Black Boards” was actively used. Some villages (collective farms) for non-fulfillment of plans for the transfer of grain to the state ended up on the “black board” (they were published in newspapers and documents).

At that time, they stopped importing food and goods and the existing goods were exported. The exits from the villages were guarded by domestic troops, not letting the inhabitants out and hereby condemning them to starvation. At the same time, the search for enemies of the authorities continued. The repression was harsh. People were expelled from their homes, all their property was taken away and they were sent into exile or shot.

Analysis of 20,000 cases, conducted by N.A. Ivnitsky in his work “The Repressive Policy of the Soviet Government in the Countryside (1928-1933) (The University of Toronto (Canada) shows that 83 percent of the prisoners were people from collective farms and individual peasants, and only 15 percent were “kulak-wealthy elements.”

Places of mass starvation were guarded by military border guards. It was impossible to buy railway tickets and people were not allowed into the cities.

On 29 March 1932, the decree “On Polissya” increased repression of peasants in the Ukrainian SSR.  A first group of 5000 families from the districts of Polissya were deported to especially created settlements for the development of stone and clay quarries. In addition, the deportation of another 5,000 families from Ukraine was also decided and implemented.

On 7 August 1932, Stalin and Kaganovich organized the adoption by the Central Executive Committee (CEC) and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR of the resolution “On the Protection of the Property of State Enterprises, Collective Farms, and Cooperatives and the Strengthening of Public (Socialist) Property,” which introduced executions, confiscation of property, and prohibited the use of amnesty.

This law was popularly called the “Law of Five Ears of Grain“. It even covered cases when starving peasants tried to collect grains in the field that were accidentally left after harvesting. Even children were punished. As early as 14 September, the People’s Commissariat of Justice of the Ukrainian SSR testified about 250 death sentences in a memorandum.

On 25 October, the Plenum of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U adopted the Resolution of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U “On the Need to Overcome the Country’s Lag in the Fulfillment of the Grain Requisition Plan.”

It ordered the party organizations to achieve an immediate change in grain procurements and operational management of grain procurements, to organize a “struggle for bread”, to make November and the last days of October decisive for the implementation of the grain requisition plan, to implement the annual plan ten times faster by the 15th anniversary of the October Revolution.

It advised “ruthlessly suppressing all attempts of the class enemy and its agents aimed at disrupting grain procurements.” As early as November 1932, the Molotov Commission introduced a system of special brigades for grain requisition.

The tragedy of the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine was officially denied by the Soviet authorities for many decades, and those who raised this issue were severely punished.

(*) At the same time, it should be noted that while Ukrainian peasants were starving, as of May 1933,  2.7 million tons of grain from the 1932 harvest had been exported through seaports. As a result, Ukraine fulfilled the plan for the supply of grain for export by 97%.


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UKRAINE: The Azov Battalion: Is it really a “Nazi” regiment? Answer to Putin

The Azov Battalion: Is it really a “Nazi” regiment?


By Massimo Introvigne for Human Rights Without Frontiers


HRWF (21.03.2022) – Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has used the words “Nazis” and “denazification” in his official speeches more than 30 times, claiming Ukraine is in the grip of neo-Nazi bands. An elite corps still commonly referred to as the “Azov Battalion,” even if it is now the Azov Regiment, is offered as evidence that “Nazis” play an important role among those who fight the Russians.

Who was Bandera?

When referring to the Azov Battalion, Russians often use “Banderist” as synonym of “Nazi,” referring to nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. The fact that Bandera is honored through dozens of monuments and streets are named after him is offered as evidence that Ukrainians are still not free from their Nazi past. To understand Bandera, one needs to start with the ferocious war the Ukrainians fought – unsuccessfully –  with the Bolsheviks for their independence between 1917 and 1920, and the Soviet repression of any possible independence movement after 1920. This culminated in the Holodomor, the artificial famine created by Stalin to exterminate Ukrainian small landowners, regarded as the backbone of the pro-independence movement, in which at least three and a half million Ukrainians died of starvation in 1932 and 1933.


The hatred against Stalin following the Holodomor, which Ukrainians (and several Western scholars) consider a genocide, explains why many were prepared to ally with anybody who would fight the Soviets and promise to restore independence. Nationalist Ukrainian leaders in exile, of whom the most prominent was Bandera, accepted the German proposal to raise within the Ukrainian diaspora two regiments that invaded the Soviet Union together with the Wehrmacht in 1941. Once in Ukraine, Bandera unilaterally proclaimed the independence of his country. But the Germans never had any intention to keep their promises. As Bandera insisted on independence, he was arrested and deported to Sachsenhausen. His two brothers were taken to Auschwitz, where they died.


Only in 1944, when defeat appeared probable, did the Germans liberate Bandera and send him back to Ukraine, hoping his partisans will slow down the progress of the Soviets. After Germany lost, Bandera escaped to the West. “Banderist” partisans took to the forests and continued to harass the Soviets and promote other forms of opposition well into the 1950s, until in 1959 KGB agents assassinated Bandera in Munich.

Anti-Semitism and Bandera

The ugliest part of Ukrainian nationalism was antisemitism. Between 1917 and 1920 some 40,000 Jews died in Ukrainian pogroms. More were exterminated during World War II, and “Banderists” collaborated with the Nazis in the killings even in the period when Bandera was himself in a Nazi concentration camp.


Not all Banderists were Nazis. Although Bandera made despicable antisemitic statements, one of the charges the Nazis brought against him was that he saved Jews who were members of his party by delivering them false passports. Yet, there is no denying that a sizable number of Banderists collaborated in the Nazi extermination of the Ukrainian Jews, and Bandera’s own antisemitic rhetoric contributed to their criminal attitude.


After 1991, Bandera was honored in independent Ukraine for his anti-Soviet fight, glossing over his alliance with the Nazis. When Ukraine started seeking membership in the European Union, the European Parliament expressed some reproaches about honors granted to Bandera. Several Ukrainian leaders took their criticisms seriously. By 2021, a poll showed that only one third of the Ukrainians had a favorable view of Bandera, and a majority was not against a revision of the official honors bestowed to him.

Neo-Nazism in Ukraine

After independence a small neo-Nazi movement developed in Ukraine. It did not consist of veterans of World War II “Banderism,” few of whom were still alive. As in other countries with neo-Nazi movements, a good percentage of the new, young Nazis came from the violent fringes of football fans. Extreme right-wing parties were founded, including the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU). Their electoral success was minimal, remaining under 1%, but they managed to establish para-military wings that targeted and sometimes killed immigrants, Jews, and citizens from the Roma minority.


These parties did not play any significant role in the Orange Revolution of 2004, but the situation was different in the second anti-Russian revolution, Euromaidan, in 2013–2014. When it started, several leaders of the extreme right were in jail. A law was passed to set them free, as it was believed their paramilitary experience would help in the war with Russia many saw coming.

Neo-Nazis did participate in the Euromaidan, but were far from being the majority or even an important minority of the protesters. They also organized to fight the pro-Russian separatists of Eastern Ukraine, under the main leadership of Andriy Bilets’kyy, the 35-year-old leader of a group called the Patriots of Ukraine. Bilets’kyy has claimed that some of his pre-Euromaidan Nazi statements actually come from false documents fabricated by the Russians. Most scholars of right-wing extremism in Ukraine, however, believe that most statements are genuine, although when at the end of 2014 Bilets’kyy became a jacket-and-tie politician and was elected to the Parliament he tried to hide or repudiate them.


Before this, however, Bilets’kyy had become famous for different reasons. In the Spring of 2014, he gathered followers in Kiev and went to fight against the Donbass separatists. Since their organization was founded in Berdyansk, on the Azov Sea, they called it the Azov Battalion. Unlike the early Christian Banderists, many of the Azov fighters were neo-Pagan who dreamed of restoring the ancient Ukrainian religion. This was reflected in the choice of their logo, with a letter I partially covered by a letter N, meaning “Idea of a Nation.” The logo is a mirror image of the Wolfsangel (wolf’s hook), an old German symbol that existed before Nazism but was adopted both by two divisions of the SS and by later neo-Nazi and neo-Pagan movements across Europe.


The Azov Battalion had only some 400 members, but fought bravely, particularly in the recovery of Mariupol from the separatists. It was later incorporated into the National Guard, and became the Azov Regiment, with some 2,500 soldiers. By that time, Bilets’kyy had left to enter politics, and most of the new recruits just wanted to join an elite corps and did not come from the extreme right-wing milieu of the early founders.


As Andreas Umland, the main Western scholar of the Azov Battalion, has put it, the Battalion, now Regiment, “is not Nazi,” but it did include Nazis among its founders and still has some Nazis among both its Ukrainian soldiers and the foreign fighters who enrolled to help them. Umland believes the Nazis are now a small minority in the Azov, yet are the only one who get interviewed by international media.


There are Nazis in the other camp, too, fighting with the Russians, particularly among the members of the Russian National Unity (RNU), a neo-Nazi party theoretically banned in Russia in 1999 but still active and used by the Russian intelligence, and very much present in Donbass. After a scandal erupted when the first “People’s Governor” of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” Pabel Gubarev, a RNU member who was photographed with a swastika on his sleeve, the Donbass branch of the RNU quickly replaced the swastika in its logo with a cross.


In an ideal world, the Azov Regiment should also change its Wolfsangel-connected logo and clearly disassociate itself from the neo-Nazis among its founders. It is reluctant to do so, however, because it was under that symbol and commanders that it achieved its mythologized but not imaginary successes of 2014. And rarely are symbols changed in the middle of a war.



Massimo Introvigne is an Italian sociologist, the managing director of CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, in Torino, Italy, and the editor of the international human rights magazine Bitter Winter. In 2011, he served as the Representative of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) for combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance and discrimination against Christians and member of other religions. From 2012 to 2015, he was the president of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, established by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 peer-reviewed articles in the fields of religious pluralism, religious liberty issues, and new religious movements, including The Plymouth Brethren (2018) and Inside The Church of Almighty God: The Most Persecuted Religious Movement in China (2020), both published by Oxford University Press.


Photo credits: Rob Severein

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