Holodomor - the history

The history of Ukraine during the 20th century is one of political turmoil, with multiple occupations by foreign countries, all of whom, to a greater or lesser degree, sought to suppress the Ukraine’s separate identity and national consciousness, using the most brutal means at their disposal.

From the early 1920s, Ukraine suffered a series of famines. The earliest, in 1921-22, was caused primarily by drought, but the Soviet government also used it as an opportunity to weaken nationalist sections of Ukrainian society. While the government was consolidating its position, Soviet policy had to concede to Ukrainian nationalist feeling, so that during the early part of the 1920s, Ukrainian culture was allowed to flourish and Ukrainians were given government posts. But by 1927, Stalin was ready both to take on the problem of Ukrainian nationalism, and to drive forward his policies of dekulakisation and collectivisation.

Kulaks (the better off farmers) were seen as a particular threat to collectivisation, and were therefore targeted for destruction as a class. Arrests, expropriation of property, deportations and executions spread to all peasants who resisted orders to join collective farms. By 1931, 75% of Ukrainian peasants were working in collective farms, where productivity fell and wastage increased, at the same time as grain quotas for state use were being increased. The draconian quotas led to starvation on an unimaginable scale.

The quotas demanded by the state could not be met, but in spite of protests by some Ukrainian officials, even harsher laws were passed: forbidding local use of grain until quotas had been met; depriving those collectives who could not meet their quotas of all rights to trade; internal passports to prevent peasants leaving in search of food; and execution for those caught hiding or stealing food.

Estimates of the number of dead vary, partly because records were falsified or destroyed, or simply stopped being kept and partly because of debate about how many deaths were directly attributable to starvation. But it is widely accepted that at the height of the famine, in the spring of 1933:

  • 17 people died each minute
  • 1041 people died each hour
  • 25,000 people died each day.

Body and grave


Dying horses