Stalin’s Holodomor of Ukraine


“Vladimir Putin and others insist on our understanding the rape of Ukraine in a certain context. The context consists of components including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, and Putin’s high anxiety. If anyone has supplied the context from Ukraine’s perspective, I missed it. I doubt that it’s ancient history in Ukraine. Ukraine’s subjugation by the Soviet Union was an unhappy experience. Although he chides Stalin for being too generous with Ukraine, Putin thinks that Stalin was quite a guy. He has sought to rehabilitate his reputation. He seeks to restore the glory of Stalin and the Soviet Union under his rule. Ukrainians see Stalin in a somewhat different context. They recall that Stalin inflicted the so-called Holodomor (“hunger extermination”) on them in 1932-1933. Stalin of course did what he could to suppress the story. The terror famine is one of the horrors of the twentieth century. Robert Conquest was the first historian I know of to reconstruct the story, as he did in The Harvest of Sorrow (1987). Conquest implied that Stalin killed 5.5 million ethnic Ukrainians out of a population of 34.1 million at the beginning of the trouble, or 16 percent. Most recently, Anne Applebaum reconstructed the story in Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (2017). According to Applebaum, Stalin’s terror famine killed nearly 4 million Ukrainians. Applebaum explained that the numbers have been difficult to calculate because the Soviet system tried to cover up the famine immediately after it happened, even going to the extent of covering up and hiding a census that was taken in 1937 (because it showed the large numbers of deaths). Putin’s anxiety to the contrary notwithstanding, you can see why Ukrainians might not want to be colonized again by Russia or to become Putin’s subjects.”

Scott Johnson, “Ukrainian Contexts,”, Feb. 27, 2022