How to Explain What’s Happening in Ukraine

The conflict that we are seeing today stems from a deadly famine that Stalin engineered back in 1932.

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Marko Djurica / Reuters

A Pro-European integration protester waves a Ukrainian national flag as she stands on a statue during a mass rally at Independence Square in Kiev, Dec. 15, 2013.

In Ukraine, the nationalistic West is Ukrainian-speaking and welcomes the E.U., while the Russian-speaking East, where current President Victor Yanukovcyh rose to power, sees the Kremlin as an indispensable ally and wants to remain outside the E.U. This has given rise to massive demonstrations vowing to overthrow the government, police brutality, and the President’s urgent meetings with the Kremlin. A civil war or an official breakup of the country is a very real possibility. To better understand the origins of this conflict, one must realize that this divide is not natural but rather stems from murderous work by Joseph Stalin and one of the largest Western media cover-ups in history.

(MORE: Western Diplomats Are Going to Disappoint Ukraine Protesters)

East Ukraine was once as nationalistic and Ukrainian-speaking as Western Ukraine is today. The dramatic transformation of the area was a result of ethnic cleansing. In 1932 a famine engineered by Stalin killed up to an estimated 10 million people, mostly in East Ukraine. Beginning in 1933, the Soviets replaced them with millions of deported Russians. Western Ukraine was then part of Poland and spared. Raphael Lemkin, who first coined the word genocide, used the Ukrainian famine as an example.

Despite scholarly evidence and public protests, Yanukovych toes the Kremlin line that the famine was not genocide. Coincidentally, this year marks the 80th anniversary of the famine, known as the Holodomor — Ukrainian for “death by hunger.” The toppling and beheading of the statue of Lenin in Kiev was more than sending a message to Putin; it was an act of retribution for Soviet atrocities. Ukraine suffered far worse under Stalin than Russia, according to Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University and author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

Stalin engineered the famine to rid himself of a stubborn enemy. Ukrainians had fought for their independence during the Russian Revolution, and for a short time, they had beaten back the Reds. What’s more, Ukraine, being the “bread basket of Europe,” had a rich and ancient culture of farmers, who wanted to hold on to their language, their land and their identity. As a civilization, Ukraine is a thousand years older than Moscow. For Stalin, as for Putin today, this would be a very hard back to break.

Beginning in 1932, Stalin sent in soldiers from Russia to seize the agriculture industry in Ukraine. Impossible production quotas were set, and the overzealous soldiers made sure every single ounce of grain went to meeting those quotas. Homes were searched, soldiers used spikes to stab the earth looking for buried grain, kulaks — rich landowning farmers — were rounded up and deported to Siberia, and the poorer, less established farmers who stayed behind were forced to join the newly built collective farms.

The Orwellian tactics accelerated. Soviet soldiers destroyed cooking utensils, ovens and killed pets — anything that could provide nourishment. With the borders of Ukraine sealed by the military, starving Ukrainians, wandering blind and delirious from hunger, were trapped to die a slow, excruciating death.

In Moscow, Western journalists knew what was going on. Lucky refugees, who had managed to escape, fled to the city to beg for food, to trade wedding rings for bread. “They gathered faster than the police could clear them away,” wrote UPI reporter Eugene Lyons in his confessional memoir Assignment in Utopia. Meanwhile, the West continued to believe that the Soviet Union was the workers’ paradise. Leading intellectuals, most notably George Bernard Shaw, willfully ignorant, flocked to Moscow and declared the Soviet Union a utopia. As Lyons wrote, “Every correspondent, each in his own measure, was guilty of collaborating in this monstrous hoax on the world.”

A naive 27-year-old Welsh journalist named Gareth Jones entered Ukraine, where he witnessed the ravaged countryside and interviewed survivors. His eyewitness account shocked the world. Much like the Kremlin controls the media in Moscow today, it pressured American and British journalists to publish articles condemning Jones as a liar. “There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition,” Walter Duranty wrote in the New York Times. Ever a social ringmaster, Duranty lived in a luxurious apartment inside the Kremlin, was beloved internationally as “Our Man in Moscow” and had just won the Pulitzer Prize. Who would the world believe? Jones was silenced, and two years later was murdered, research suggests, by the KGB.

(MORE: Can Vitaly Klitschko, Ukraine’s Revolutionary Heavyweight, Be Its Next President?)

For Ukrainians, E.U. membership means more than economic opportunities and mobility. It is about distancing themselves from Putin, who is said to revere Stalin, the very dictator who tried to erase Ukraine and managed to partition it, at least politically. If that weren’t enough, just this past week, Putin tightened his control of the press by shutting down Russia’s leading news agency, RIA Novosti. This is just another chilling reminder of the Holodomor to the Ukrainian people and a reason they continue to protest in arctic temperatures to get away from his grasp.

Chalupa is a Brooklyn, New York–based writer and columnist for Big Think. She studied at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and is the author of Orwell and The Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm. She is helping build Uncoverage, a crowd-funding platform for investigative journalists launching in January in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity. The views expressed are solely her own. You can follow her on Twitter @andreachalupa.

66 comments
SparrowLeaf
SparrowLeaf

In my opinion the violence is a waste of time. But if you watch the news in Russia they blame USA, and if you watch American news they blame Russia! So nobody really knows who's fault this is, outside of Ukraine!

JackShadows
JackShadows

The article is complete and utter nonsense.. if you want to know history of those areas get it from serious academic research articles and books and not from this kind of paid propaganda.

VictoriaColflesh
VictoriaColflesh

I read your paper with great interest. Thank you for passion! 


But to attribute the current "divided" state of Ukraine to Holodomor is a huge oversimplification. It is very important to talk about Holodomor, but the conflict has much deeper roots. Try 14th century, when the current territory of Ukraine was distributed between the Golden Horde, Lithuania and Poland. Russification of Ukraine started in 1804 when they banned Ukrainian from schools. The Soviet Union simply continued Russification as a part of its Federation building, in much the same way as English is a part of USA's Federal agenda, for better or for worse. There are pro- and contra- language-wise. The current conflict is not between Ukraine's "Russian" half and "Ukrainian" half. Under different circumstances, Russian and Ukrainian languages would have, and might still come to a kind of peaceful coexistence, much like English and Spanish in USA. By the way, this is not about EU membership either. Crimea by the way was not in any way part of Ukraine until 1954. 


By the way, I am an enthusiastic supporter of Ukrainian independence, Ukraine's European choice and her struggle for democracy. But history is history. Someone wise made a joke, he called one of the post-Soviet-sphere countries, "a country with an unpredictable past". It definitely applies to Ukraine. The amount of sheer rogue revisionism in the post-Soviet scholarship is simply astounding. They like to pretend that Pereyaslav never happened. 

VaniaLaptev
VaniaLaptev

You absolutely do not own the information. So you make such statements. 

In Ukraine, my friend scared, his eyes Apazitsionery (National Faschisty) kill people who are against joining the EC, and kill police only for what they police. 

Tell me is it democratic. 

Appazitsiya it is not the people of Ukraine, are criminals coming to power.

AntiMaidanRus
AntiMaidanRus

Ukraine police forces against Nazi in Ukraine, but all Medias show it like the police forces agains the opposition and peaceful people! IT IS A BIG LIE!!! PROVOCATION of the West!  

MashaMyshyna
MashaMyshyna

@AntiMaidanRus Serbia, a cancer tumor of a nation inside Europe, the population that knowns nothing better  to do than entertaining themselves with mass massacres of their neighbors and is now fighting on the Russian side in the East of Ukraine. An ugly population of mass killers, helped and sponsored by KGB.  I see these Serbian trolls in every Russia-Ukraine conflict related media comments.  

keithcassinger
keithcassinger

@AntiMaidanRus Oh no.  you did NOT just post an article from RT (Russian state owned propaganda media) and call it the "truth"  did you? OMG. Their own reporters quit because they lie so much.

sinnerbenedict
sinnerbenedict

True. But at the same time we are tired of the new laws that do nothing but benefit the government only! We are tired that the police forces and more importantly, the outbranches, will be financed like hell, much more than medicine, science, education or firefighting forces! We are tired that those politicians have gigantic mantions while having no business relations in the past. That suddenly their family members have become really big businessmen, that they cooperate with FOREIGN BANKS, that they all put people they can order anyhow they want in the top ranks!

ukiserg
ukiserg

I am Ukrainian and whats written in this article is truth and I agree with every bit of it. I got to know the whole story from my parents and older Ukrainians who survived the famines.

Soviets used all kinds of devilish tactics to kill the best hardworking Ukrainians and not only Ukrainians. Communists brought death and destruction to Ukraine. Many older Ukrainians say that ungodly communists from Russia brought into Ukraine nothing but death, brutality, bad culture, profanity all the worst things that could've ever happened to the nation. Ukrainians were shocked by barbarian and wild behavior of occupants. Before nazis came into Ukraine, russian speaking soviets left jails full of shot and tortured to death Ukrainians the best sons of the nation. Thats why some of Ukrainians greeted nazis as deliverers though they never really supported them but fought against them same way as they fought against Reds.

 There was another famine 1946-1947 started by communists in Ukraine which is not mentioned in article. 

 If this time democratic world won't help Ukrainians to break free from Putin's influence the world will be in great danger for the new communist era will be rising and new demonic power will start taking over the world. Believe me,  Ukrainians are hard working, very good and peaceful people and they have deserved to live better life since they have good and rich land and gifted people but they are greatly suffering from its neighbor that is not interested in powerful Ukraine. I just want to beg Mr Putin and his supporters to leave Ukraine alone and we'll become one of the greatest states in the world. Please let Ukrainians live their own lives. Don't you have a lot of troubles on your own to solve in Russia? I don't even want to list all this problems for they are many. How can we be the brothers, with those who were killing us in the past and trying to put us in economical slavery by speculating on gas prices, selling gas to "Ukrainian brothers" for a doubled price and buying crooked politicians for this money. We are totally different from russians and we are brothers with those who are trying to help our state but not with those who had been killing our people and pretending that nothing happened. Please let us live our own life.

MishalKennedy
MishalKennedy

@ukiserg - With Russia's dangerous, and reckless moves of aggression towards the West, one wonders whether Putin can be considered a rational, or responsible man. But then again, he was the former head of the KGB, (A group which murdered thousands in the Soviet Union.) and he did say that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the "greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century." (Talk about spitting on the victims of WWI, WWII, the Holodomor, the Holocaust, numerous imperialistic wars, etc. etc!) 


If the West does not stand up against Putin (an obvious pro-Soviet), he may push for more, and more (and who knows what consequences the world will face, as a result.) After all, that is exactly what Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin did when the Western democracies allowed them to take massive pieces of European land.




scottb
scottb

Great article. It does a great job summing up the situation in Ukraine for those of us not very familiar with how the history underlies the current unrest. It really put everything into context for me.

JoeUreneck
JoeUreneck

"A civil war or an official breakup of the country is a very real possibility."

Aside from the facts on the ground this is the goal of the West just as it has done in Libya and Syria.  Much better for the Ukrainians to stick with the devil they know than the EU.

ZenonZawada
ZenonZawada

@JoeUreneck You are a bit misguided in geopolitics, Joe.

The West has no interest in breaking up countries.

Western governments are focused on creating stability in the world, which one can interpret as positive or negative (if achived through the creation of a surveillance state, for example).

Even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were attempts are expanding the Western order in the interest of stability (with corporate profits as an added incentive, admitedly).

Western-managed stability is needed in Ukraine's case to control the flow of arms, which can fall into the hands of dangerous, radical groups.

Western-managed stability is also needed in Ukraine to get Chornobyl under control, which could become a repeat accident at any moment.

Western-managed stability is also needed in Ukraine to prevent economic collapses, currency devaluations and loan defaults, all of which are consequences of local mismanagement and corruption.

The Eurasian model offers no regional stability. It only feeds the current corruption and disorder that threatens the stablity of the Western world.

Russia is more interested in breaking up Ukraine than the EU is.

Putin knows very well that Ukraine joining the Eurasian Union will provoke separatist movements, yet he's pursuing this anyway. The Party of Regions, fulfilling the Kremlin's policies in Ukraine, is doing more to split the country than the West, especially when exploiting the nation's linguistic and historical divides and pursuing repressions against ethnically conscious Ukrainians.

The EU -- for all of its faults -- is far better model than the Eurasian devil.

And if you're not convinced of that, I invite you to live on a salary of $300 a month as a doctor in a Ukrainian hospital. Then you'll get a new appreciation for Western civilization.



LubomirPyrih
LubomirPyrih

It's also a fact that the West missed an opportunity to support Ukrainian independence after World War I when Ukraine had declared her independent state. Now the West has a second chance , this time to help Ukrainians establish a democratic state with western values.  If the West now only pays lip service without significant pressure on Russia and the current pro-Moscov Ukrainian government then the West will miss another great opportunity to help the Ukrainian People.  We may not get a third such opportunity in our lifetime.  Let us not miss this one to support this nation that has been oppressed for over 300 years.

YervandKochar
YervandKochar

In fact, Raphael Lemkin, who first coined the term genocide, based the Genocide of Armenians in 1915 Ottoman Turkey as an example. Holodomor was undoubtedly a genocide as well.

ZenonZawada
ZenonZawada

Few people deny that the Holodomor transformed Ukraine.

My point is that the “chilling reminders of the Holodomor” are not a significant factor in the emergence of the EuroMaidan. I do not believe that most Ukrainians even view Putin’s shutting down of a news agency as a “chilling reminder of the Holodomor." It could be a reminder of the Stalinist purges or Soviet Communism, but not the Holodomor. There are many governments that are currently shutting down news sites and political commentary (even in the West!). Michael Savage has been banned from Great Britain, after all.

I reject the notion that Ukraine would have become a modern European-style nation-state if not for the Holodomor, which this article is implying. I reject making the Holodomor the source of most of Ukraine's current problems.

I also disagree that the origins of Ukraine’s current east-west divide is with the Holodomor. I agree that the Holodomor played a big factor in the transfer of non-ethnic Ukrainians (mostly from Russia) to Ukraine, but it’s not the origin. Ms. Chapula says this divide is “not natural,” but southeastern Ukraine has never been under European rule (as opposed to central Ukraine, which was under Polish rule for more than 250 years). 

On the other hand, I would agree that a rejection of Russian values, which are largely based on post-Soviet inertia and hostility to Western values, is a key factor in the EuroMaidan. Indeed Ukraine is divided equally between those who reject the Soviet experience, and those who see it as an important part of their history and identity.

Rachel says, “The Holodomor transformed Ukraine just like the brutal institution of slavery transformed America. The scars of history do not go away.” I disagree in that I believe the scars of history do go away after time. Jews suffered the Holocaust yet have gone onto achieve material success as a collective. 

Yushchenko played a valuable role in raising awareness of the Holodomor, which was I acknowledge was genocide against ethnic Ukrainians. Yet Yushchenko also manipulated these historical scars as part of identity politics without any matching policies that improved the socio-economic condition of people’s lives tangibly. An unfortunate side effect of a historical approach accentuating victimhood at the hands of a demonized "other" is the deflection of a nation’s own responsibility for its actions and current state of affairs.

Sarkivna cites as sources for the 10 million figure people who have never performed any serious demographic research on the Holodomor. Incredible research has been done just in the last five years by the Institute of Demography and Social Research in Kyiv that had never been done in the past, including analyzing firsthand sources such as birth registers from the 1930s. Jame Mace was never a demographer, neither was Robert Conquest and none of them had access to documents that researchers do now.

Sarkivna agrees with me in stating that “Ukraine’s history is complex.” Yet in my attempts to explain that complexity to many in the  Diaspora, I find a close-mindedness that is similar to the irrational Russian chauvinism that is quite prevalent in many regions of Ukraine. This is despite my having been a reporter in Ukraine and living and traveling here for eight years.

The most important point in Ms. Chalupa’s article is that Ukraine is a country that’s divided against itself. She has the courage to admit that, whereas many insist on grasping onto the myth of a “soborna Ukrayina,” insisting that there’s no east-west divide, as “mwrsmu” said in her post. Certainly, it's important to recognize the Holodomor as one of numerous factors that have brought Ukraine to this point, yet what's more relevant is how to deal with this problem now pragmatically.



RachelR
RachelR

I thought of this excellent article, again, when Zbig Brzezinski pointed out on “Morning Joe” this morning that without Ukraine - Russia cannot be an empire like it was under the former Soviet Union. Ukraine, by moving towards Europe will eventually influence Russia to move in the same direction, thereby bringing stability and peace in the region and the west. That is why what is happening today in EuroMaidan is so important to the U.S.

TurkishGirl
TurkishGirl

This article succeeds in providing context to the modern day events and protests in very short space.  It does so recognizing that the very short time span since Stalin and the Russians committed their dastardly deeds upon Ukraine cannot possibly in any sense be erased from the collective memory of their culture and society.  The horrible displacement caused by the Soviet's crimes against humanity should not be forgotten and today we in the West must recognize it would be a similar mistake to allow the Russians to have their way with Ukraine today.  Of course, there is much that can be done by the West but the question is will we have the moral strength to support those fighting for freedom and independence.  More importantly, are we going to allow the Russians to pound their chest so that the 21st Century can mirror the horror of the 20th Century.  No it is clear we need smart writers to publicize these world events so that we can shine the spotlight to prevent oppression of such freedom seekers.

MichaelSCP
MichaelSCP

This is a very insightful article - I wasn't aware of Stalin's famine in Ukraine, and don't think many American are.  But given this perspective, I stand even more strongly with the people of Ukraine in their passionate quest toward independence from Russia as they try to integrate more with the EU; though given yesterday's agreement between the two countries, its going to be a long battle ahead.  I hope Ukrainians don't give up the fight.  They have real spirit and determination. 

RachelR
RachelR

The Holodomor transformed Ukraine just like the brutal institution of slavery transformed America. The scars of history do not go away. Excellent article.

OksanaSarkivna
OksanaSarkivna

Zenon - some corrections to your post:  


1) Eastern Ukraine was indeed largely Ukrainian speaking in the countryside; the cities were a mix--Russian/Ukrainian. The Holodomor Reader is an excellent book for understanding how the famine transformed Ukraine.  The reasons you cite for Western Ukraine's strong national identity are hardly the only ones. History is more complex than that. And yes, this article is just one aspect of Ukraine's complex history.  

2)   As for 10 million, those numbers have also been cited by the UN, James Mace, Walter Duranty, Joseph Stalin the great statician, Hannah Arendt, the Congressional Famine Commission, Prime Minister Harper of Canada, Victor Yuschenko, and Robert Conquest put the figure higher--14 million. President Obama's proclamation honoring the Holodomor also cited 10 million.   

 3) Stalin and Soviet policy did establish the modern borders of Ukraine. Indeed. This article is discussing the cultural/political borders of the nation, which the Soviet's evil policy also created.

4) This article does not claim that the protesters are demonstrating because of the famine. I did not read it that way. It is an undeniable fact that the famine transformed Ukraine. The Globe and Mail also covered the Holodomor and protesters at Euromaidan:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/behind-ukraines-protest-are-memories-of-moscows-famine/article15868147/

"Oksana Zabuzhko, one of Ukraine's best-known writers, believes that today’s corrupt Ukrainian state is a direct consequence of the 1933 genocide, when the most ruthless prospered. “Those who stole the most during the Holodomor made out the best. And indeed, in independent Ukraine, those adept at stealing managed to take hold of the collective farm,” Ms. Zabuzhko told me. “That is, all of Ukraine, from which they’ve plundered, carrying the wealth back to ‘their own house.’ Our current leadership, the third generation, is not capable of having a different, state-centered ‘managerial’ mentality. And whether the house in question is a hut with a pigsty or an offshore account on the Cayman Islands is purely a quantitative, not a qualitative, difference.”  

5) Ukraine's last president, Victor Yushcheko, made exposing the truth about the famine a major part of his government's cultural work. Honoring the Holodomor and its significance to Ukraine is not the exclusive work of the diaspora. I am in the diaspora, and I blame the Ukrainian mafia government on the current problems. But this article does a great service explaining a little known tragedy to a mainstream audience and how it transformed Ukraine.

LadaB
LadaB

Fabulous article!   Thank you for reminding (and educating) your readers about the atrocities that occurred in Ukraine so many years ago, and which continue (albeit in different forms) today.   Very happy to see TIME finally address the issue!

MykH
MykH

.  

Some facts about Ukrainian history need to be cleared up.


Modern Ukrainian nationalism was "born" in Eastern Ukraine. 


1.The leaders of the first independent Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian Peoples Republic (UNR),  Symon Petlura, Mykhaylo Hrushevsky , Volodymyr Vynychenko ect... where all from Eastern Ukraine.  

2.The "Fathers" of Ukrainian nationalist ideology Mykola Mikhnovsky and Dmytro Dontsov were from the Kharkiv and the Donbas regions respectively. 

3.In the early 20th century most  of these people where exiled by the Russian Czar to Halychyna.  These Easterners are the ones who brought the idea of  an independent Ukrainian State to Western Ukraine and sparked a political and cultural revival there.

4 In 1918 Eastern Ukraine declared its independence 10 months before Western Ukraine.

5. NKVD and KGB archives show that armed resistance to Soviet rule in Eastern Ukraine lasted thru the 1920's


At a recent conference in NYC about the Holodomor a group of scholars from Harvard University showed through an inter active map that 4 million victims of the Holodomor died of starvation within a matter of several weeks in the spring of 1933. That is horrific.! To say that such a trauma does not have lasting effects to this day is not  being intellectually honest. 


As to who carried out the Holodomor- Documents from the KGB archives clearly show that by 1932 the Communist Party of Ukraine  was thoroughly purged and Communist Party functionaries were sent from Moscow to organize and carryout the grain requisitions which took most all the food from the population. 


The late Sashko Kryvenko, an opposition journalists from eastern Ukraine and a friend of mine commented to me that the Holdomor broke Eastern Ukrainians.

Giving credit to Stalin and Lenin for uniting Ukraine is as if someone gave credit to Hitler for the creation for an independent Jewish State in 1948.


Ukrainians are standing on the Maydan because they want a truly independent  Ukraine which is tied to its European roots. They want a Ukraine  where they can be free to be themselves.  They don't want to be a Russian vassal state. Past history shows that in Russia's embrace Ukrainians endure horrific suffering. 


Finally to underscore the point that "Russia loves Ukraine but without Ukrainians" one just needs to read Khrushchev 's memoirs to see that Stalin wanted to deport the whole population of Ukraine but there were just too many of them. 



MashaMyshyna
MashaMyshyna

@MykH I agree, the author's understanding of the divided East and West of Ukraine is very outdated. Modern Ukraine is extremely united with no ground for a civil war. Th division between Wet and East and civil war have been subjects of Russian propaganda speculations in the peat 11 years .

The brief story of the Ukrainian genocide by Russians, the famine of 1933 is pretty accurate.