Holodomor 1932-33

Holodomor is based on two Ukrainian words: holod – ‘hunger, starvation, famine’, and moryty – ‘to induce suffering, to kill’.

The Holodomor was the barbaric and systematic starvation of more than 7 million Ukrainians over a period of just 18 months in 1932-33, on the most fertile lands in Europe. This included a third of all children in Ukraine who perished as a result.

The number of those who died during those 18 months is almost unimaginable, but it’s the equivalent of the number of students in the UK, or Wembley stadium filled almost 80 times over.

The famine was the largest and most secret of Stalin’s purges. It was covered up and denied at the time and for many decades afterwards. Only since the fall of the Soviet Union have documents become available which tell the full story of this most tragic page in 20th century history. Survivors of the famine are now able to talk openly about the Holodomor. Many of these survivors have had to live with the trauma of seeing their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers die a cruel and needless death from starvation and for some, the memories are still too painful to recall.

Although everything possible was done to cover up the true horror of the famine in Ukraine, there are many eyewitness accounts, from journalists and others, which describe, often in harrowing terms, the widespread misery of starvation and death in a land of plenty.

Relatively few photographs of the period are available, but there is a body of authenticated photographs, taken by an Austrian, Otto Wienerberger, who stayed in Kharkiv during the summer of 1933 and by Dr Fritz Dittloff, former Director of the German Government’s Agricultural Concession ‘Drusag’ in the North Caucasus, which the Soviet government shut down in 1933. Most of their photographs, many of which are reproduced here were originally published in books in 1935 and 1936 by Dr Ewald Ammende, a Baltic German politician who, amongst other things, was Secretary-General of the European Nationalities Congress.

In the last few years, international bodies, faith leaders and countries around the world have begun to acknowledge the full horror of the Holodomor. Ukraine passed legislation in 2006 declaring the Holodomor an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. President Yushchenko made international recognition of the Holodomor a personal campaign, and called on Ukrainians all over the world to work towards raising awareness of the Holodomor, particularly in 2008 which was the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor.

The call to action has been taken up in every country where Ukrainians and those of Ukrainian descent live, through commemorative events and awareness-raising initiatives. The Ukrainian community in Great Britain is also playing its part with a range of events to raise awareness. During 2008, the community across the country participated in the International Torch of Remembrance rally and a major national commemoration was held in Westminster Central Hall and Westminster Abbey on 22 November 2008.

Our ultimate aim is to persuade the UK government to follow the lead of Australia, Canada, the USA and others, and acknowledge the Holodomor as genocide. This is not about politics, reparations or blame, but about basic human morality and respect for life. We urge everyone to join the campaign for recognition to honour the memory of the millions who died so needlessly and to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.

Streets of Kharkiv

Victim in field