I want to talk a little about how the scars of century-year old national tragedies reopen during modern-day acts of aggression. Ukraine has for over a hundred years fought for her autonomy, and the most devastating event in her history was the Holodomor (literally “death by starvation”) that occurred under Joseph Stalin in 1931-1933.
In his First Five Year Plan Stalin’s goal was to rapidly industrialize the Soviet Union to catch up with the West. A part of this plan was to integrate privately owned land into collectively-owned, state-controlled farms called kolkhozes (collectivization), to requester grain to support urban factory workers, and to deport/murder those who Stalin and his cronies considered to be “wealthy” peasants. They were called “kulaks,” and the deportation/murder of them was called dekulakization-close to 2 million people. The grain quotas placed upon the remaining farmers were unrealistic and the resulting removal of grain from the countryside let to the mass starvation of millions. Ukraine was hit the hardest, since Ukraine was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union and of Imperial Russia before it. Around 5 million Ukrainians died of starvation.
This is the official position of the Russian Federation and of some bad historians. While it’s partially accurate, it’s not even close to a complete description of the Holodomor. This description makes it seem as if the death of millions was the result of the Soviet Union’s economic policies taking precedence over individual human life. Certainly it was to some extent a result of this, but it is also the result of Stalin’s intentional strategy of crushing Ukrainian national aspirations, of consolidating his power, and of ushering in the socialist revolution. The famine was closely tied to the murder of Ukrainian nationalists, who just a couple decades prior had achieved a short lived independence. Correctly labeling the Holodomor has been a point of conjecture amongst governments and historians, and lots of this has to do with the limitations of the UN’s definition of “genocide” (guess why it’s so limited–Stalin petitioned the UN in the 1948 to limit it) but there is no question that the events that took place in 1931-33 Ukraine constitute genocide.
We see a lot of the same rhetoric in Russian state media involving the invasion of Ukraine today as we did in Soviet publications in 1931. Just as Putin calls Ukrainians “fascists and neo-Nazis” to justify his war, Stalin called Ukrainians “fascists and bourgeois nationalists” in 1933. Just as Putin is suppressing journalists today who tell the truth, Stalin suppressed knowledge of the famine within the wider Soviet Union and prevented outside journalists from coming in. Just as Putin is opposed to schools teaching Ukrainian and not Russian, Stalin engaged in a linguistic Russification campaign in the late 1920s. It’s a lot of the same thing.
In September 2020 when Azerbaijan invaded Nargono-Karabakh, majority occupied by Armenians for millennia, we feared that once they took the territory there would be an ethnic cleansing. That’s exactly what’s happening in the region: ancient churches and cemeteries have been destroyed and ethnic Armenians are being murdered and forced out of their homes. It reopened the historic scars of the genocide Armenians experienced in 1915. I believe that the Ukrainians are experiencing something similar. We both have genocides in our history that are not widely recognized and we are both the subject of aggression by tyrants. In fact I originally started studying history because of the Armenian Genocide. I later realized that there are other genocides in history that aren’t widely recognized, which ultimately led me to writing my undergraduate thesis on the Holodomor and Ukrainian history. What’s going on today hits home.
There are many ways to help Ukraine. Here are some links to donate :
Ukrainian National Women’s League https://unwla.org/top-news/call-for-humanitarian-aid/
United Help Ukraine: https://unitedhelpukraine.org/donate
The Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center at 700 N Cedar Rd is accepting donations of non perishables Mon-Fri 9am-7pm which they ship over to Ukraine. Check out their website to see what they are in need of.
Please support Ukraine in any way that you can, and please keep them in your prays.
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