Without the Holodomor, You Will Not Understand the War and Ukrainians in their struggle against Russian imperialism

When it comes to Ukrainian history, it is noticeable that many people in Western Europe are familiar with Ukrainian Nazis from World War II, like Bandera. However, the Holodomor (literally, the plague of hunger) is not as widely known. Without understanding the Holodomor, one simply cannot comprehend Ukraine’s actions in the current war with Russia, nor why Ukrainian opportunists collaborated with Nazi Germany from 1941. Last Saturday, Ukraine commemorated the Holodomor, a deliberate famine orchestrated by Stalin 90 years ago that claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians. Professor Timothy Snyder, an expert on the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, asserts that this famine in Ukraine in the 1930s was intentionally created by the Stalinist Soviet regime.

A Gap in Our Collective Memory

At the beginning of the current Russian war in Ukraine, there was widespread astonishment, or rather admiration in the West, for the resilience with which Ukrainians defended their country against the Russian aggressor. Even after a year and a half of war, almost ninety percent of Ukrainians oppose territorial concessions, including Crimea. In the West, Ukraine’s actions are sometimes not understood, likely because the Holodomor is not part of our collective memory. During this famine in the 1930s, which was more than just a famine, between 2.5 and 7.5 million Ukrainians died. In Ukraine, there is a similar sentiment of “never again,” akin to what is felt by Jews in Israel. It is not surprising that the Holodomor has been recognized as genocide by many countries. In the Netherlands, in early July 2023, everyone in the House of Representatives, except the FvD, voted to recognize this mass murder as genocide. In Eastern Europe, communism is equated with fascism because the communists also committed genocidal crimes. This is why several Eastern European countries have banned the communist flag alongside the Nazi flag.


The Holodomor was a famine that claimed the lives of several million Ukrainians. Some argue that this famine was a result of a series of unfortunate events. In the early 1930s, massive grain shortages arose in Ukraine due to the collectivization of agriculture. On top of that, there was also a crop failure. Opponents of the term genocide for the Holodomor use the argument of “unfortunate circumstances” to claim that there was no intent. However, Raphael Lemkin, the jurist who introduced the term genocide, already called it genocide in 1953. Lemkin studied the mass murder of Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I and thus came up with the term genocide. It was only after World War II and the Holocaust that his term was internationally recognized and applied. In 1953, Lemkin argued that the Holodomor was indeed genocide: it was a deliberate act, not merely a “famine.” It was not murder of individuals, but an attempt to destroy the entire Ukrainian population and culture, Lemkin argued.

The Holodomor as the Third Phase of Genocide

Lemkin based his argument on four characteristics that prove the genocidal intent of the Holodomor. First, intellectuals were targeted because they often spread nationalist ideas. Then, Ukrainian churches and monuments were plundered and destroyed, attacking the soul and identity of Ukraine. Only then did the Soviet plan to seize the property of the farmers unfold. Unlike other parts of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian farmers were increasingly independent. The collectivization of agriculture was aimed at making farmers work more efficiently in large agricultural factories. The independent farmer class in Ukraine undermined this idea, and thus Stalin wanted to deprive them of their property and independence. Ukrainian farmers had to hand over almost their entire harvest to the Soviet authorities, leading to extreme violence and hunger for many farmers in Ukraine. Thus, a famine was very deliberately created by Stalin. Finally, millions of Ukrainians were relocated across the Soviet Union and replaced by, for example, Russians to ‘de-Ukrainize’ Ukraine. This “four-step plan,” which Lemkin outlined in a 1953 speech, makes the Holodomor a genocide.

Famine or Genocide: An Incomplete Description

The Holodomor is at best referred to as a famine or starvation, and sometimes also recognized as genocide. But the terms ‘famine’ or ‘starvation’ are incomplete to describe this crime. The four steps described by Lemkin clearly show that the Holodomor was only one part of the cultural murder of Ukraine. Furthermore, food shortages were already known in 1931, yet the Soviet Union exported grain to Japan and the Netherlands. A crop failure or an unfortunate series of events cannot explain the death of millions of Ukrainians. No, the Holodomor was one of the four steps of the larger genocide plan. A genocide that, just like now, was aimed at suppressing and destroying Ukrainian culture.

They Steal Everything

Moreover, the whole argument of “an unfortunate series of events” falls apart when you look at personal stories. For example, in her book “Red Famine,” writer, historian, and journalist Anne Applebaum describes the suffering of a farmer in Sobolivka (then Western Ukraine). A Ukrainian farmer writes the following to his family in Poland: “They send so-called brigadiers, they come into your house and search everything. Then they take away every metal object and all the animals we still have to get by are confiscated. We are helpless. My dear brother, send us something to eat; we have nothing left, and they steal everything.” The farmers were left to fend for themselves. No compensation was given when the farmers were robbed of their properties by Soviet brigadiers, leaving entire farming communities without food. This, in other words, had nothing to do with crop failures.

The Order of Events

The letter from the Ukrainian farmer in Sobolivka shows how, house by house, Ukrainian farmers were robbed of all their possessions, resulting in a famine. However, the Soviet troops did this only after they had first eliminated the intellectuals and then the churches as power factors. After the famine, Russians were sent to Ukraine to live there, thus Russifying (part of) Ukraine. Starving millions of Ukrainians was therefore policy and certainly not an accident or crop failure, but a deliberate part of Stalin’s genocidal actions.


Precisely because of the Holodomor, Ukraine continues to fight against Russia today. Without the Holodomor, one cannot understand the Ukrainian nationalists who collaborated with Nazi Germany; due to the Holodomor, they sought allies against Stalin. Ideological motives played a lesser role. The prevailing feeling is that Russia will not stop here. The deeply rooted fear is that all Ukrainians who identify as Ukrainians and continue to uphold Ukrainian culture (in occupied Ukraine) will be subjected to extreme violence and deportations. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Putin due to the deportations of, among others, Ukrainian children to Russia. Ukrainians are all too aware that the deportation of Ukrainians is the beginning of a new attempt by Russia to bring Ukraine to (cultural) genocide. Therefore, it is important that Western Europeans realize what this genocide entailed. Ukrainians in currently occupied Ukraine, seem to be undergoing a process of Russification and genocide once again.

Hidde Bouwmeester

On my website, I post weekly articles about the history of Eastern Europe. If you appreciate my work, you can support independent journalism. With a donation, you directly contribute to my social and journalistic work. Especially in these times, where polarization, disinformation, and clickbait are ubiquitous, your support is greatly appreciated.


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