NBM Artists & Authors

By Michael Cherkas, Red Harvest author

The following material is adapted from information from the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) website:


The term Holodomor (“death by hunger” or “death by starvation” in Ukrainian) refers to the deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians in 1932–33 as a result of Soviet policies.

The Holodomor was an assault by the Soviet state on the Ukrainian peasantry, who resisted Soviet policies. This attack occurred at the same time as a campaign of intimidation and arrests of Ukrainian intellectuals, writers, artists, religious leaders, and political cadres—including Communist Party functionaries who supported Ukrainian distinctiveness. They were all seen as a threat to Soviet ideological and state-building aspirations.

Towards the end of the 1920s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the collectivization of agriculture. The majority of Ukrainians peasants who were independent, small-scale farmers, resisted.


The more prosperous farmers (owning a few head of livestock, for example) and those who resisted collectivization were branded kulaks (rich peasants) and declared enemies of the state who deserved to be eliminated as a class. These “kulaks” were evicted from their homes, their property confiscated by the state, and deported. Many were sent to work as slave-labour on Stalin's White Sea Canal project; others were sent to Siberian gulag. 


In 1932, the Communist Party set impossibly high quotas for the amount of grain Ukrainian villages were required to contribute to the Soviet state. When the villages were not able to meet the quotas, authorities intensified the requisition campaign, confiscating even the seed set aside for planting and levying fines in meat and potatoes for failure to fulfill the quotas.

Special teams were sent to search homes and even seized other foodstuffs. Starving farmers attempted to leave their villages in search of food, but Soviet authorities issued a decree forbidding Ukraine’s peasants from leaving the country.

As a result, many thousands of farmers who had managed to leave their villages were apprehended and sent back, virtually a death sentence.


In August of 1932, the decree of “Five Stalks of Grain,” stated that anyone, even a child, caught taking any produce from a collective field, could be shot or imprisoned for stealing “socialist property.” 


In November 1932, the Soviet government formally introduced the “blacklisting” of settlements, villages and collective farms that had failed to meet the impossibly high grain quotas imposed from above. Settlements, villages and collective farms that were unable to meet quotas were punished by the seizing of all food and the “blacklisting” (blockading) of the village, leaving its residents to starve. Over one-third of Ukrainian villages were blacklisted.

The USSR vigorously denied that the Holodomor had occurred. Russia still refuses to recognize the Holodomor as an attack against Ukraine, claiming the famine killed more than just Ukrainians. This may be true up to a point, but the fact remains that the highest death rates during the bleak years of 1932 and 1933 were in Ukraine, and Ukrainian-populated areas like the Kuban.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party, secret police, and government archives that have become accessible to researchers support the conclusion that the famine was caused by Soviet state policies and was indeed intentionally intensified by Soviet authorities.

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