Holodomor genocide question

This article is about the question of whether the Holodomor constituted genocide. For the question of whether it occurred and/or minimization of its impact, see Denial of the Holodomor.

The Holodomor genocide question consists of the attempts to determine whether the Holodomor, the catastrophic man-made[1] famine of 1933 that claimed millions of lives in Ukraine,[2] was an ethnic genocide or an unintended result of the "Soviet regime's [re-direction of already drought-reduced[3] grain supplies to attain] economic and political goals."[4] The event is recognized as a crime against humanity by the European Parliament,[5] and a genocide in Ukraine,[6] while the Russian Federation considers it part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–33 and corresponding famine relief effort.[4] The debate among historians is ongoing and there is no international consensus among scholars or governments on whether the Soviet policies that caused the famine fall under the legal definition of genocide.[7][8]


The Ukrainian famine (1932–1933), or Holodomor (Ukrainian: Голодомор) (literally in Ukrainian, "death by starvation"), was one of the largest national catastrophes in the modern history of the Ukrainian nation. The word comes from the Ukrainian words holod, 'hunger', and mor, 'plague',[9] possibly from the expression moryty holodom, 'to inflict death by hunger'. The Ukrainian verb "moryty" (морити) means "to poison somebody, drive to exhaustion or to torment somebody". The perfect form of the verb "moryty" is "zamoryty""kill or drive to death by hunger, exhausting work". The neologism "Holodomor" is given in the modern, two-volume dictionary of the Ukrainian language as "artificial hunger, organised in vast scale by the criminal regime against the country's population".[10] Sometimes the expression is translated into English as "murder by hunger."[11]

Ukrainian government position

On November 28, 2006, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a law recognizing the 19321933 Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The voting figures were as follows: supporting the bill were BYuT—118 deputies, NSNU—79 deputies, Socialists—30 deputies, 4 independent deputies, and the Party of Regions—2 deputies (200 deputies did not cast a vote). The Communist Party of Ukraine voted against the bill. In all, 233 deputies supported the bill—more than the minimum of 226 votes required to pass it into law.[12][13] Another bill was sought by Yushchenko's administration to criminalize those disputing that the Holodomor was genocide, but such a law has never been adopted by the Ukrainian parliament[14]

In a ruling of January 13, 2010, Kyiv's Court of Appeal recognized the leaders of the totalitarian Bolshevik regime as those guilty of 'genocide against the Ukrainian national group in 1932-33 through the artificial creation of living conditions intended for its partial physical destruction.'"[15]

Russian government position

The Russian Federation accepts historic information about the Holodomor but rejects the argument that it was ethnic genocide by pointing out the fact that millions of non-Ukrainian Soviet citizens also died because of the famine. On 2 April 2008, a statement was voted by the Russian parliament stating there was no evidence that the 1933 famine was an act of genocide specifically against the Ukrainian people. This was in response to the 2006 Ukrainian parliament declaration that the Holodomor was an act of genocide by the Soviet authorities against the Ukrainian people. The resolution adopted by Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, condemned the Soviet regime's "disregard for the lives of people in the attainment of economic and political goals", along with "any attempts to revive totalitarian regimes that disregard the rights and lives of citizens in former Soviet states." yet stated that "there is no historic evidence that the famine was organized on ethnic grounds."[4]

According to a Moscow Times article: "The Kremlin argues that genocide is the killing of a population based on their ethnicity, whereas Stalin's regime annihilated all kinds of people indiscriminately, regardless of their ethnicity. But if the Kremlin really believed in this argument, it would officially acknowledge that Stalin's actions constituted mass genocide against all the people of the Soviet Union."[16]

In November 2010 a leaked confidential U.S. diplomatic cable revealed that Russia had allegedly pressured its neighbors not to support the designation of Holodomor as a genocide at the United Nations.[17]

Other countries and international organizations

Countries which officially recognise the Holodomor as an act of genocide

Several countries and international organizations made public statements addressing the Holodomor and recognizing it as a tragedy. Some went further to recognize it as genocide, or a crime against humanity.

In the framework of international organizations, resolution recognizing Holodomor as genocide was adopted by the Baltic Assembly.[18][19]

A number of international organizations adopted resolutions recognizing Holodomor as tragedy or crime against humanity but did not use the word "genocide":

The following countries have recognized the Holodomor as an act of genocide:[31]

Countries that have recognized the Holodomor as a criminal act of the Stalinist regime:

Scholarly debate

Raphael Lemkin

Raphael Lemkin in his work "Soviet Genocide in the Ukraine", the last chapter of a monumental History of Genocide, written in the 1950s, applies the concept of genocide to the destruction of the Ukrainian nation and not just Ukrainian peasants during the Holodomor. In his work he speaks of: a) the decimation of the Ukrainian national elites, b) destruction of the Orthodox Church, c) the starvation of the Ukrainian farming population, and d) its replacement with non-Ukrainian population from the RSFSR as integral components of the same genocidal process. The only dimension not included in Lemkin's analysis was the destruction of the 8,000,000 ethnic Ukrainians living on the eve of the genocide in the Russian Republic (RSFSR).[52][53]

Yaroslav Bilinsky

Yaroslav Bilinsky, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware, writes in the Journal of Genocide Research (1999) in a review of Holodomor literature—he concludes:

Political usage should not override scholarly logic, especially political usage which is just being established in independent Ukraine, arguably seven years late. My argument, however, is that both logic and political usage in Ukraine point in one direction, that of the terror-famine being genocidal. Stalin hated the Ukrainians, as accepted as a fact by Sakharov, revealed in the telegram to Zatonsky and inferred from his polemics with the Yugoslav communist Semich. Stalin decided to collectivize Soviet agriculture and under the cover of collectivization teach the Ukrainians a bloody lesson. Had it not been for Stalinist hubris and the incorporation of the more nationalistically minded and less physically decimated Western Ukrainians after 1939, the Ukrainian nation might have never recovered from the Stalinist offensive against the main army of the Ukrainian national movement, the peasants.[54]

James Mace

American historian James E. Mace wrote:

For the Ukrainians the famine must be understood as the most terrible part of a consistent policy carried out against them: the destruction of their cultural and spiritual elite which began with the trial of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine, the destruction of the official Ukrainian wing of the Communist Party, and the destruction of their social basis in the countryside. Against them the famine seems to have been designed as part of a campaign to destroy them as a political factor and as a social organism.[55]

Stanislav Kulchytsky

Ukrainian historian Stanislav Kulchytsky has contended that:

[T]he way Stalin dealt with the Ukrainian countryside lifted the events out of the category of merely a famine and into the realm of genocide. In the fall of 1932, on orders from Moscow, government troops came to villages requisitioning grain to meet Stalin’s unrealistic quotas. At gunpoint they took away grain, even when peasants did not have enough for themselves. Those peasants who had no grain were deprived of other food stocks. Those who resisted were shot. Then a Jan. 22nd, 1933 directive from Stalin and Molotov sealed off Ukrainian borders to prevent famished peasants from escaping.[56]

Norman Naimark

According to Norman Naimark, Professor of East European Studies at Stanford University, the Ukrainian killer famine should be considered an act of genocide.[57] He writes:

There is enough evidence - if not overwhelming evidence - to indicate that Stalin and his lieutenants knew that the widespread famine in the USSR in 1932-33 hit Ukraine particularly hard, and that they were ready to see millions of Ukrainian peasants die as a result. They made no efforts to provide relief; they prevented the peasants from seeking food themselves in the cities or elsewhere in the USSR; and they refused to relax restrictions on grain deliveries until it was too late. Stalin's hostility to the Ukrainians and their attempts to maintain their form of "home rule" as well as his anger that Ukrainian peasants resisted collectivization fueled the killer famine.[58]

Mark Tauger and opponents

West Virginia University professor Mark Tauger argued that the 1932 harvest was smaller than the official estimate, and smaller than the harvest of 1933, which would suggest the famine was not "man-made."[59] Tauger's evidence, methodologies and conclusions in regard to the famine were criticized by Robert Davies and Stephen Wheatcroft in their book The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931–33, published in 2004.[60][61] Tauger, however, maintains that his harvest estimates are supported by evidence, and his conclusions are shared by a number of other scholars.[60] Historian James Mace wrote that Mark Tauger's argument "is not taken seriously by either Russians or Ukrainians who have studied the topic."[62] David Marples, professor of history at the University of Alberta, was critical of Tauger's claims, stating "Dr. Tauger and other scholars fail to distinguish between shortages, droughts and outright famine. There is no such thing as a "natural" famine, no matter the size of the harvest. A famine requires some form of state or human input."[63]

Steven Rosefielde

Professor Steven Rosefielde argues in his 2009 book Red Holocaust that "Grain supplies were sufficient enough to sustain everyone if properly distributed. People died mostly from terror-starvation (excess grain exports, seizure of edibles from the starving, state refusal to provide emergency relief, bans on outmigration, and forced deportation to food-deficit locales), not poor harvests and routine administrative bungling."[64]

Timothy Snyder

Yale historian Timothy Snyder asserts that the starvation was "deliberate"[65] as several of the most lethal policies applied only, or mostly, to Ukraine.[66] He argues the Soviets themselves "made sure that the term genocide, contrary to Lemkin's intentions, excluded political and economic groups." Thus the Ukrainian famine can be presented as "somehow less genocidal because it targeted a class, kulaks, as well as a nation, Ukraine."[67]

Michael Ellman

Professor Michael Ellman of the University of Amsterdam concludes that "Team-Stalin’s behaviour in 1930–34 clearly constitutes a crime against humanity (or a series of crimes against humanity) as that is defined in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (...)".[note 1]:681 These include not only policies that exacerbated the starvation (exporting 1.8 million tonnes of grain during the height of the famine, banning migration from famine-stricken areas and refusing to secure humanitarian aid from abroad), but also mass shootings and deportations of alleged "kulaks", "counter-revolutionaries" and other "Anti-Soviet elements" around the same time.[68]:684, 681, 689

However, as to whether "Team-Stalin [was, further,] guilty of genocide",[68]:681 Ellman asserts that if so, "Many other events of the 1917–53 era (e.g. the deportation of whole nationalities, and the 'national operations' of 1937–38) would also qualify as genocide, as would the acts of [many Western countries]."[68]:690–691 Citing three physical elements susceptible also of "non-genocidal interpretations" and two mental elements lacking proof of specific intent that he contends are, taken together, "not unambiguous evidence of genocide", Ellman concludes as to genocide, that were he a juror, he would support a not guilty or "not proven" verdict.[note 2]:686

Ellman asserts that the "national operations" of the NKVD, particularly the "Polish operation", which occurred during the late 1930s during the great purges may qualify as genocide even under the strictest definition, but there has been no ruling on the matter.[68]:663–693

Nicolas Werth

Nicolas Werth, historian and co-author of The Black Book of Communism accepted a line of interpretation developed by Andrea Graziosi, and now believes that the Ukrainian famine of 1932–33 can be defined as a genocide according to the 1948 United Nations Convention:

This specifically anti-Ukrainian assault makes it possible to define the totality of intentional political actions taken from late summer 1932 by the Stalinist regime against the Ukrainian peasantry as genocide. With hunger as its deadly arm, the regime sought to punish and terrorize the peasants, resulting in fatalities exceeding four million people in Ukraine and the northern Caucasus.[69]

Other modern academics

A number of modern academics lean toward the definition of the Holodomor as genocide, echoing Dr Raphael Lemkin's views. Their work is presented in the collection of essays Holodomor: Reflections on the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine, printed in 2008.[70]


  1. "Team-Stalin's behaviour in 1930 – 34 clearly constitutes a crime against humanity (or a series of crimes against humanity) as that is defined in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court article 7, subsection 1 (d) and (h) and, if the argument of the previous section of this article on national criminal law is accepted, then also subsection 1 (a) of the Statute would apply."[68]
  2. "If the present author were a member of the jury trying this case he would support a verdict of not guilty (or possibly the Scottish verdict of not proven). The reasons for this are as follows. First, the three physical elements in the alleged crime can all be given non-genocidal interpretations. Secondly, the two mental elements are not unambiguous evidence of genocide. Suspicion of an ethnic group may lead to genocide, but by itself is not evidence of genocide. Hence it would seem that the necessary proof of specific intent is lacking"[68]


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