Seventy-seven years have passed since Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime ravaged the Ukrainian nation with an intentional famine, the Holodomor, in 1932-33. The Holodomor (which means “death by famine” in Ukrainian) was engineered by the Soviet regime to quell the rise of Ukrainian nationalism and tighten its control of Eastern Europe during this crucial time. This dark page in history saw the deliberate starvation and death of seven to 10 million Ukrainians. This tragedy was kept secret from the rest of the world at the time. Even now the Holodomor is still struggling for global awareness and recognition as an act of genocide.
The Holodomor occurred at a time when a resurgence of Ukrainian nationalism was sweeping across Ukraine. This phenomenon was a growing danger to Joseph Stalin. It signalled a decrease in the Soviet Union’s geopolitical grip on Ukraine, an area of extreme importance for the stability of the Soviet regime and a buffer between the Soviet empire and the west. Stalin knew that the only way to overcome this threat was to eliminate the Ukrainian people. As a direct result of forced collectivization policies implemented by the Soviet regime, seven to 10 million Ukrainians died. At the height of the famine Ukrainians were dying of starvation at a rate of 25,000 per day. At the same time the Soviet Union confiscated Ukraine’s grain and exported 1.7 million tons.
Raphael Lemkin, the primary author of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, used the Holodomor as a classic example of genocide. The UN defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” (CPPCG, Article 2). The convention then goes on to list the various methods by which this can be done, one of which is “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” The Soviet regime’s implementation of the Holodomor as an action specifically against the Ukrainian people clearly fits this description and therefore should be easily regarded as an act of genocide. Unfortunately this is not yet a globally accepted view.
In 2006, the Ukrainian government under President Viktor Yushchenko took a monumental step by officially recognizing the Holodomor as an act of genocide. Many other nations followed suit, including Canada in 2008. However, one important country which refuses to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide is the Soviet Union’s successor, Russia, which on the contrary, has been very adamant in its denial of this categorization.
In February 2010, when Viktor Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine, the struggle for genocide recognition became significantly harder. Under political pressure from Russia, Yanukovych has failed to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide. In April 2010, Yanukovych told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that the Holodomor could not be considered an act of genocide as it was a “common tragedy” of the Soviet people rather than a crime against the Ukrainian people specifically. However, many declassified documents retrieved from the KGB and Ukrainian Security Service show communications between Joseph Stalin and other high-ranking Soviet officials which clearly show their intent to target Ukrainians specifically.
It is disgraceful that Ukraine’s own president remains in the palm of the Kremlin’s hand in his stance on this issue. It will be extremely difficult to achieve global recognition of the Holodomor as genocide if Ukraine’s own leadership is not on board. Canada, however, remains strong in its recognition of this genocide atrocity. In his recent trip to Ukraine, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a point of addressing the issue of the Holodomor as genocide with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. As a nation which values historical accuracy, Canada remains one of the primary promoters of this issue.
It is extremely important that international pressure continue in order that the Holodomor be recognized as a genocide. It is time that the victims of this atrocity receive the recognition they deserve. The fourth Saturday in November is an international day of awareness for the Holodomor. We should all do our part in spreading the word about this awful atrocity. All nations must accept the truth and recognize the 1932-1933 Ukrainian Holodomor as an act of genocide.