Another reason why we need an independent Ukraine: Anne Applebaum’s grim new book on the Holodomor


The starving on the streets of Kharkiv, 1933.

Everyone knows the crimes of Hitler. Why is it that the crimes of Stalin, with an even bigger body count (should that be the measure) are still too little known? In particular, the Holodomor, the state-sanctioned murder by starvation of millions of Ukrainians, still draws blank stares from otherwise informed people.

That’s why we have the excellent, Pulitzer prizewinning Anne Applebaum, who is among the cognoscenti of this too little known chapter in the Annals of Atrocity.

The warning signs were ample. By the early spring of 1932 the peasants of Ukraine were beginning to starve. Secret police reports and letters from the grain-growing districts all across the Soviet Union spoke of children swollen with hunger, of families eating grass and acorns and of peasants fleeing home in search of food. In March a medical commission found corpses lying on the street in a village near Odessa. No one was strong enough to bury them.

It was avoidable. The Soviet government could have called for international relief, for example, as it had in 1921 (we wrote about that here). As she writes in “Stalin’s starved millions: Anne Applebaum uncovers full horror of Ukraine famine,” in today’s Sunday Times of London:

Instead, in the autumn of 1932, the Soviet politburo, the elite leadership of the Communist Party, decided to use the famine to crush Ukraine’s sovereignty and block any future peasant rebellion. They took a series of decisions that deepened the famine in the Ukrainian countryside, blacklisting villages and blocking escape. At the height of the crisis, organised teams of policemen and local party activists, motivated by hunger, fear and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, farm animals and even pets. Immediately afterwards, they banned anyone from leaving Ukraine and set up cordons around the cities so that peasants could not get help.

The result was a catastrophe: at least 5m people perished of hunger between 1931 and 1934 all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4m Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure but from collectivisation and being deliberately deprived of food.

First they were hungry, then they went mad, then they resorted to murder, infanticide, and cannibalism.

Hanna Tsivka knew of a woman who killed her niece for stealing a loaf of bread. Mykola Basha’s older brother was caught looking for spoilt potatoes in the kitchen garden of a neighbour, who then grabbed him and put him in a cellar filled with waist-high water.

The horror, the exhaustion and the anger eventually produced, in the Ukrainian countryside, a very rare form of madness: by the late spring and summer cannibalism was widespread. Larysa Venzhyk, from Kyiv province, remembered that at first there were just rumours, stories “that children disappear somewhere, that degenerate parents eat their children. It turned out not to be rumours but horrible truth.”

Tell it.

On her street two girls, the daughters of neighbours, disappeared. Their brother Misha, aged six, ran away from home. He roamed the village, begging and stealing. When asked why he had left home he said he was afraid: “Father will cut me up.” The police searched the house, found the evidence and arrested the parents. As for their remaining son, “Misha was left to his fate.”

Police also arrested a man in Mariia Davydenko’s village in Sumy province. After his wife died, he had gone mad from hunger and eaten first his daughter and then his son. A neighbour noticed that the father was less swollen from hunger than others and asked him why. “I have eaten my children,” he replied, “and if you talk too much, I will eat you.” Backing away, shouting that he was a monster, the neighbour went to the police, who arrested and sentenced the father.

And then people wonder why the Ukrainians resist Russian incursions on their land.

If you have a strong stomach, read the rest of her article today in the Times of London. Be warned: this story makes Dante‘s Ugolino sound like a Boy Scout. Curiously, the Times article doesn’t include the title of  the new book, or show the cover. So go here.


One Response to “Another reason why we need an independent Ukraine: Anne Applebaum’s grim new book on the Holodomor”

  1. Rebecca Nelson Says:

    I was ignorant of this of course. So recent & so medieval. It transends horror & wickedness. I righteously pray the instigators burn for eternity.