The Ukrainians call the famine the “Holodomor,” a name that means “murder through starvation.”
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People line up for food. Ukraine, USSR. 1932Wikimedia Commons
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“The sympathy shrinks,” the photographer of this picture notes in his original caption. Kharkov, Ukraine. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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Children struggle to dig through the frozen earth for potatoes. Udachny, Ukraine. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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A starving family is photographed as part of an investigation into the famine in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. USSR. Circa 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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A starving mother holds her child at the height of Holodomor. USSR. Circa 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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Soviet guards take crops from Ukranian farmers. The food they grew will be redistributed to others parts of the Soviet Union. Odessa, Ukraine. November 1932.Wikimedia Commons
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A crowd gathers around a man who has fallen, dead on the streets. Ukraine, USSR. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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Refugees try to escape the Ukraine flood by hopping onto a train. Some cling to the roof to get out. Ukraine, USSR. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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A woman walks by two starving peasants, dying on the streets. At this point, the sight of dying men has become so commonplace that it no longer warrants a second glance. Kharkiv, Ukraine. 1932.Wikimedia Commons
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Farmers donate bread to help feed the people starving throughout the country. Kyiv, Ukraine. 1930.Wikimedia Commons
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A cart full of dead bodies is dragged off to be burned. Ukraine. Circa 1932-1933.Wikimedia Commons
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An armed guard stands in front of the grain warehouse, ready to shoot anyone who tries to steal the food inside. USSR. Circa 1934.Wikimedia Commons
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A family starves in their own yard. Ukraine. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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A woman harvests crops at the government-controlled “Red Star” farm. Poltava, Ukraine. 1932.Wikimedia Commons
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The violence of Holodomor spills over to the other side of the world. Here, a group of protesting Ukrainians in America are attacked by Communist sympathizers who want to silence their message. Chicago, USA. Dec. 17, 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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A “Red Train” of carts is sent out by the Soviet government to take food away from the Ukrainian people. Oleksiyivka, Ukraine. 1932.Wikimedia Commons
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A mother and her child are forcibly evicted from their home in the winter, in the middle of the famine. Donetsk, Ukraine. Circa 1932-1933.Wikimedia Commons
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A young girl holds a blanket around herself for warmth. Ukraine, USSR. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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A woman collapses of hunger as she tries to make her way up the steps. Ukraine, USSR. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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Activists show off a cart full of confiscated contraband ears of corn. Donetsk, Ukraine. 1932.Wikimedia Commons
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Early on in the Ukrainian famine, a dying man on the side of the road attracts a crowd of worried people. Kharkov, Ukraine. 1933. Wikimedia Commons
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A crowd lines up to get the few rations doled out to the people of the Ukraine. Ukraine, USSR. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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A sign above a flowerbed warns, “The burial of corpses is categorically forbidden here.” Karkov, Ukraine. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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Guards pack up farmer’s food, load them on to carts, and carry them away. Donetsk, Ukraine. Circa 1932-1933.Wikimedia Commons
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Scant rations are doled out to workers on a farm. Donetsk, Ukraine. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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People line up for rations. Ukraine, USSR. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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Children walk by a man dying of starvation, lying on the side of the road. Ukraine, USSR. 1933.Wikimedia Commons
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In 1932 and 1933, millions died in the Ukraine. The country was hit by the Holodomor, a famine so terrible that, for the people caught in the middle of it, seeing an emaciated body collapsed on the side of the road had become an everyday sight.
The country became a living nightmare; a place where thousands of starving people had turned to cannibalism to survive. And yet, in the news outside of the Ukraine, newspapers denied it was even happening.
The Ukrainians call the famine the “Holodomor,” a name that means “murder through starvation.” The Holodomor, they believe, wasn’t just a natural disaster, it was deliberately planned to starve them out.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had been warned that the country would be hit with a famine two years before the Holodomor started, but he did little to stop it from happening. He was bent on industrializing the Soviet Union. Even with a famine coming, he kept moving workers into the city and out of the farms of the countryside.
When the Ukraine famine started, Stalin actively made things worse. He exported almost two million tons of food out of the Ukraine, pulling away the little food the people had to survive. Then he barred the people there from moving to any other part of the country. They had no food; they had no way to escape – nothing to do but wait and die.
People did what they had to do to survive. Men became thieves, women became prostitutes, and countless people did things far, far worse. Some turned to cannibalism.
Life, during the Holodomor, was so harsh that 2,500 people were arrested and convicted for eating their neighbors’ flesh. The problem was so widespread that the Soviet government put up signs reminding the survivors: “To eat your own children is a barbarian act.”
It seems impossible to throw a blind eye to these horrors but Stalin barely acknowledged that there anyone in the Soviet Union was hungry at all. He denied that the Ukraine famine was happening for years.
The cover-up didn’t just happen in the USSR. The New York Times published long articles calling the Ukraine famine “mostly bunk,” once quipping, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” The man writing them, Walter Duranty, had seen the horrors of the Holodomor first-hand – but he’d been pressured into silence and lies. For an article that covered up a genocide, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
Today, there’s no question the Ukraine famine really happened – the only thing in question in the specifics. Nobody knows for sure how many people died. The lowest guesses put the number at two million, while others rise well over 10 million dead.
For Holodomor deniers, the exact number has become a fierce question of debate – but when millions of people die, does the number of millions really change whether it was a tragedy?
Whatever petty details we can debate, there is no question that the Ukraine went through a horror unlike any we can imagine. Over two years, millions of people died in the worst way possible – by slowing starving to death and watching their neighbors turn to cannibalism. It’s also a fact that the people in power actively went out of their way not to help.
These things happened. The Holodomor happened. And it could have been prevented.