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Mikhail Metzel/AP
The head of the Russian Federal State Archives agency Vladimir Kozlov holds up a copy of
"Famine in the USSR: 1930-1934."

Russia Refutes Ukraine’s “Genocide” Accusation

February 27, 2009 07:29 AM
by Denis Cummings
Russia has issued a book refuting claims by Ukraine that the man-made Ukrainian famine of 1932–1933 was an act of genocide by the Soviet government.

Russia Releases Book, DVD Disputing Genocide Claims

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Russia released a 500-page book and DVD Wednesday that disputes accusations made by the Ukrainian government that the 1932–1933 Ukrainian famine was part of a genocidal campaign against the Ukrainian people. At least 3 million Ukrainians died during the Holodomor, meaning “famine plague,” which was caused by Josef Stalin’s collectivization program.

Vladimir Kozlov, head of Russia’s Federal Archive Agency, told journalists that Stalin’s policies affected farmers across the entire Soviet Union and did not target the Ukrainian people. “Not a single document exists that even indirectly shows that the strategy and tactics chosen for Ukraine differed from those applied to other regions, not to mention tactics or strategy with the aim of genocide,” he said.

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko has led an international campaign to have the Holodomor recognized as genocide. In 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill officially declaring the famine as an act of genocide. Yushchenko has appealed to the European Union and United Nations to do the same, but both organizations have stopped short of calling it genocide.

Yushchenko’s campaign has angered the Russian government, and further strained the relationship between the neighboring countries. “It is aimed, among other things, at inciting ethnic hate, at tearing Ukraine away from Russia,” declared Alexander Dyukov, director of the Moscow-based Historical Memory, on Wednesday.

Many observers worry that the increasing tensions between Russia and the pro-Western Yushchenko, who wants to move his country away from Russia and into NATO and the EU, may lead to conflict similar to Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia.

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Background: The Ukrainian famine of 1932–33

The root cause of the Ukrainian famine was Stalin’s policy of collectivization, under which private farms were put under government control and required to provide the government with quotas of crops and livestock. The policy had a disastrous effect for the majority of Russian peasant farmers, some of whom resorted to burning their crops and slaughtering their animals rather than handing them over to the government.

In autumn 1932, Stalin increased the grain quota in the Soviet Union. In the Ukraine, where the majority of farms produced grain, the quota was raised 44 percent. Many Ukrainian peasants were unable to meet their government quotas and thus had no food left over for themselves. Soviet troops and officials were sent to the country to seize grain from peasants who refused to hand it over.
Many historians argue that the increase was implemented in order to break Ukrainian nationalism and peasant resistance to collectivization. “Stalin responded to their unyielding defiance by dictating a policy that would deliberately cause mass starvation and result in the deaths of millions,” says the United Human Rights Council.

As thousands of people died a day and city streets were littered with piles of bodies, people were buried in mass graves. “We didn’t have any funerals—whole families died,” said survivor Ekaterina Marchenko to the BBC. Starving Ukrainians ate whatever they could find and some resorted to cannibalism; there are many accounts of parents eating their own children to survive.

Over the course of a year, millions of Ukrainians died of starvation. Most estimates put the number of Ukrainian deaths between 3 million and 7 million, though some Ukrainians argue that the number is closer to 10 million.

Other parts of the Soviet Union where grain was a major crop, which includes parts of present-day Russia and Kazakhstan, suffered a similar death toll over the same period. This fact is at the center of Russian’s argument that the man-made famine wasn’t genocide against the Ukrainian people, but instead an unfortunate result of Stalin’s brutal policies toward all producers of grain. “There were no national or ethnic undertones,” said Kozlov Wednesday.

Ukrainian historian Stanislav Kulchytsky says that the Russian death toll is “deceptive,” writing that the majority of the deaths in Russia occurred in the now-independent Kazakh region and the Ukrainian-speaking Kuban area. If those two areas are removed from Russia’s death toll, then the “death rate in the Russian regions would be equal to hundreds of thousands of lives. In fact, this is enough to speak of genocide, but millions of people starved to death in Ukraine means that some other factor was at play.”

The famine was rarely spoken of while the Ukraine was under Soviet control. It was not until after it gained independence in 1990 that people began discussing the Holodomor openly. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the late Soviet dissident writer, argued that the decades of silence about the famine shows that its effect was not as great as it is now stated.

The provocative outcry about ‘genocide’ only began to be take shape decades later—at first quietly, inside spiteful, anti-Russian, chauvinistic minds—and now it has spun off into the government circles of modern-day Ukraine,” he wrote in April 2008.
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