Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
This coming Saturday, people around the world will commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, the genocidal famine inflicted by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin on the people of Ukraine. Millions were killed in a man-made famine that had a dual purpose – force farmers into state-controlled collective farms and eliminate Ukraine as a nation.
It started with the August 1932 decree of “Five Stalks of Grain,” which stated that anyone, even a child, caught taking any produce from a collective field, could be shot or imprisoned for stealing “socialist property.” At the beginning of 1933, people were arrested, sentenced and executed.
As famine escalated, growing numbers of farmers left their villages in search of food outside of Ukraine. Directives sent by Stalin and his closest collaborator, Vyacheslav Molotov in January of 1933 sealed the borders of Ukraine to prevent them from leaving.
To further ensure that Ukrainian farmers could not leave their villages to seek food in the cities, the Soviet government started a system of internal passports, which were denied to farmers so they could not travel or obtain a train ticket without official permission. These same restrictions applied to the Kuban region of Russia, which borders Ukraine, and in which Ukrainians made up the largest portion of the population – 67 percent.
At the height of the Holodomor in June of 1933, Ukrainians were dying at a rate of 28,000 people per day. While Ukrainians were starving to death, the Soviet state extracted 4.27 million tons of grain from Ukraine in 1932, enough to feed at least 12 million people for an entire year. Soviet records show that in January of 1933, there were enough grain reserves in the USSR to feed well over 10 million people. The government could have organized famine relief and could have accepted help from outside of the USSR, but Moscow rejected foreign aid and denounced those who offered it, instead exporting Ukraine’s grain and other foodstuffs abroad for hard currency.
To date, 24 countries have recognized the Holodomor as a genocide. It has also been classified as such by Raphael Lemkin, the Polish legal expert of Jewish descent who first conceived and developed, and then formally authored, the United Nations definition of that term. He described the Famine as a four-pronged attack by the Communist regime against the Ukrainian nation with the intent to destroy: (1) the intelligentsia (“the national brain”); (2) the national churches (“the soul of Ukraine”); (3) the independent peasants (“the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit of Ukraine”); and (4) the cohesion of the Ukrainian people by forced in- and out-migration with the aim of changing the republic’s ethnic composition by reducing the number of ethnic Ukrainians and increasing the number of non-Ukrainians.
The reason it is of utmost importance to commemorate the Holodomor each year is to emphasize that never again should such crimes against humanity be repeated. Never again should genocide be allowed to take place, and never again should the world countenance or permit a criminal state to withhold food or employ starvation or famine as an instrument of state policy.
Yet, 90 years later, history is repeating itself. Moscow is once again engaging in a genocidal campaign. And once again Ukrainians are the designated victims. Russia has released a relentless barrage on civilian targets killing thousands. It has destroyed critical infrastructure like power plants hoping to freeze Ukrainians to death. It has kidnapped hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children in order to sever their connection to their homeland, strip them of their Ukrainian identity, deny them a Ukrainian upbringing, and compel them to be raised as Russians in the homes of adoptive parents forced upon them by Russian state authorities. It has tortured prisoners of war in unspeakably gruesome ways and committed almost every war crime imaginable.
And Moscow is once again using food as a weapon. It has blocked shipments of grain from Ukraine leaving millions to starve in some of the poorest countries. It has destroyed the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in the Kherson region flooding thousands of hectares of the world’s best agricultural land. Even more agricultural fields have been saturated with land mines preventing farmers from harvesting crops.
In 1933, the world turned its back on the starving Ukrainians. Much of this was due to a very successful Russian disinformation campaign which prevented the truth about the famine from reaching the outside world. Only a few courageous journalists like Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones dared to tell the truth about what was happening in Ukraine. Most people believed Walter Duranty of the New York Times, Stalin’s sycophant whose dispatches from Russia denied that such an atrocity was taking place. But Duranty knew the truth and wilfully chose to hide it. In 1934, he privately reported to the British embassy in Moscow that as many as 10 million people might have died, directly or indirectly, from famine in the Soviet Union in the previous year.
With the immense reach of today’s mass media Moscow can no longer prevent the world from witnessing the true nature of its brutal genocide in Ukraine, although the Kremlin has managed to keep its own citizens in the dark. Nevertheless, Russian disinformation still manages to proliferate globally through manipulation of social media and the efforts of a new generation of equally shameless mouthpieces and propagandists. Where Stalin had Walter Duranty, Putin has Tucker Carlson, the most egregious and fanatical purveyor of Russian propaganda on the North American continent. And yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, millions of people believe Carlson and others like him. Worse still, their lies are having a very negative effect on public opinion.
According to a recent CNN poll, 55% of Americans say the US Congress should not authorize additional funding to support Ukraine vs. 45% who say Congress should. And 51% say that the US has already done enough to help Ukraine while 48% say it should do more. Many Republicans, led by the current front-runner for the Presidential nomination, Donald Trump, agree and are already seeking to leverage their slim majority in the House of Representatives (which controls all government spending) to block all future military aid to Ukraine.
This not only demonstrates a profound ignorance of Russian history and geopolitical ambitions, but also an unconscionable display of moral bankruptcy. Sadly, those who oppose aid to Ukraine, have terribly underestimated the threat Russia represents to the free world. At the very same time that Ukraine is sacrificing everything in a life and death struggle against extinction at the hands of Putin’s brutal regime, it is simultaneously – and single-handedly — not only physically defending freedom, democracy, and the rule of law for the entire world, it is leading the global struggle against colonialism and naked imperialism by recidivist authoritarian regimes, at a huge cost in Ukrainian lives.
To stop aiding Ukraine fend off Russia’s current genocidal campaign will not only lead to a global catastrophe by emboldening further Russian aggression, it will also dishonor the memory of those millions of victims who were slowly starved to death by Stalin and his henchmen. If the world allows history to repeat itself, if Moscow is allowed to inflict yet another genocide upon the people of Ukraine, then all those millions will have died in vain. This we cannot allow to happen.