Fighting for Historical Truth in Ukraine

The New York Times reports:

A quarter century ago, a Ukrainian historian named Stanislav Kulchytsky was told by his Soviet overlords to concoct an insidious cover-up. His orders: to depict the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s as unavoidable, like a natural disaster. Absolve the Communist Party of blame. Uphold the legacy of Stalin.

Professor Kulchytsky, though, would not go along.

The other day, as he stood before a new memorial to the victims of the famine, he recalled his decision as one turning point in a movement lasting decades to unearth the truth about that period. And the memorial itself, shaped like a towering candle with a golden eternal flame, seemed to him in some sense a culmination of this effort.

“It is a sign of our respect for the past,” Professor Kulchytsky said. “Because everyone was silent about the famine for many years. And when it became possible to talk about it, nothing was said. Three generations on.”

The concrete memorial was dedicated last November, the 75th anniversary of the famine, in a park in Kiev, on a hillside overlooking the Dnieper River in the shadow of the onion domes of a revered Orthodox Christian monastery. More than 100 feet tall, the memorial will eventually house a small museum that will offer testimony from survivors, as well as information about the Ukrainian villages that suffered.

In the Soviet Union, the authorities all but banned discussion of the famine, but by the 1980s the United States and other countries were pressing their own inquiries, often at the urging of Ukrainian immigrants.

In response, Communist officials embarked on a propaganda drive to play down the famine and show that the deaths were caused by unforeseen food shortages or drought. Professor Kulchytsky said he had been given the task of gathering research but concluded that the famine had been man-made.

“I became convinced that everything was not as I once thought,” he said.

He refused to falsify his findings and instead released them publicly, escaping punishment only because glasnost had begun under the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The famine is known in Ukrainian as the Holodomor — literally, death or killing by starvation — and the campaign to give it recognition has played a significant role in the Ukrainian quest to shape a national identity in the post-Soviet era. It has also further strained relations with the Kremlin, another of the festering disputes left by the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The pro-Western government in Kiev, which came to power after the Orange Revolution of 2004, calls the famine a genocide that Stalin ordered because he wanted to decimate the Ukrainian citizenry and snuff out aspirations for independence from Moscow.

The archives make plain that no other conclusion is possible, said Professor Kulchytsky, who is deputy director of the Institute of Ukrainian History in Kiev.

Professor Kulchytsky is 72, though he looks younger, as if he has somehow withstood the draining effect of so much research into the horrors of that time.

“It is difficult to bear,” he acknowledged. “The documents about cannibalism are especially difficult to read.”

Professor Kulchytsky said it was undeniable that people all over the Soviet Union died from hunger in 1932 and 1933 as the Communists waged war on the peasantry to create farming collectives. But he contended that in Ukraine the authorities went much further, essentially quarantining and starving many villages.

“If in other regions, people were hungry and died from famine, then here people were killed by hunger,” Professor Kulchytsky said. “That is the absolute difference.”

In recent years, Ukraine’s president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, has regularly spoken out about the famine, and has even sought to make denying it a crime. Ukraine has asked other countries to recognize the famine as genocide and to establish memorials. One is being built in Washington.

In Kiev, the memorial has started to become a pilgrimage site.

“Of course, it is needed,” said Hrigory Mikhailenko, 75, a construction executive from central Ukraine who stopped by during a business trip. “So many people died. Four members of my family. It’s very important to note what happened. That is why Russia is pressuring us.”

Russia has spurned the memorial. Instead of attending its dedication, Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, sent a letter to Mr. Yushchenko accusing him of using the famine to discredit Russia.

“We do not condone the repression carried out by the Stalinist regime against the entire Soviet people,” Mr. Medvedev wrote. “But to say that it was aimed at the destruction of Ukrainians means going against the facts and trying to give a nationalist subtext to a common tragedy.”

Last month, Russian historians and archivists sought to bolster the Kremlin’s case, issuing a DVD and a book of historical documents that they said demonstrated that the famine was not directed at Ukraine. Many of the documents were translated into English, underscoring how the two countries are waging their fight on an international stage.

Professor Kulchytsky said the Kremlin feared that if it conceded the truth, Russia, considered the successor to the Soviet Union, could face claims for reparations. Still, he said he would not ignore misstatements by the Ukrainian side, either.

For example, President Yushchenko has said that as many as 10 million Ukrainians died, while Professor Kulchytsky believes that the figure is 3.5 million.

Nor is the professor enamored with the design of the memorial, saying that he would have preferred some of the other proposals. But he said there was no doubt that the country had to be reminded of its history.

“I know many people, including famous people — smart, intellectual people — whose relatives, grandparents, died in the famine, and they speak out harshly against focusing on Holodomor,” Professor Kulchytsky said. “They consider it not a part of the present. But how can we be quiet about what occurred? Our people were the victims of a great crime.”

19 responses to “Fighting for Historical Truth in Ukraine


    Vadim Charushev is an outspoken online critic of the Kremlin’s position on what is known in Ukrainian as the Holodomor — the man-made famine in Ukraine in 1930s that led to millions of deaths. He also often criticizes Moscow policies in the Caucasus.

  2. I am always happy to see more publicity for the horrible genicide that was the Holodomor. But coming from the New York Times, without any mention of the fact that one of the reasons the crimes were covered up for so long was because a New York Times reporter actively conspired with the Kremlin to cover up the truth (even winning a Pulitser Prize for his reports from 1930s USSR , Walter Duranty) is disgusting.

  3. Not only was there the active removal of foodstuffs, but also searches with metal rods in the ground in case any grain was buried. My mother had to eat grass till she seen dark spots. One was not permitted to leave, and there were deportations to Siberia and Kazakhstan under some pretexts. Sometime later, children were removed from their homes because their parents spoke Ukrainian and were considered a bad influence. This was the fault of the Moscali whom I would not even call Russian. Russia is declined as an adjective, because it is not a real country or people. The name did not exist till Peter the first renamed Moscowy. NATO and an electric fence would suit me fine. They should empty American Prisons and send them all to RaSSiya. Let the Moscali work out a deal with the West to take all our “Animal Misfits” and process them as their business. We could ballance the budget and the convicted fellons should feel right at home and truly equal. This would be a good way to “reeducate” incourageble criminals and a fine civic lesson for all. That is until the people from the East realize Moscows uselessness and degeneration. Chinese human waves will come. They know how to build an economy. They will deal with the Kremlin once and for all.

  4. Gordon,
    disgusting is indeed the word. To put words like

    “They consider it not a part of the present. But how can we be quiet about what occurred? Our people were the victims of a great crime.”

    without any reflection on the role NY Times played in this crime is unconscionable.

  5. What irony! The NY Times honoring Professor Kulchytsky for his courage in standing up to attempts to whitewash Stalin’s brutal repression in Ukraine. And no mention of its reporter, Walter Duranty, who traded access to Stalin for the truth. The Pulitzer prize he and the Times won for his unethical conduct still is kept at the Times.

    Thanks Gordon and Felix for remembering.

  6. At the bootom is the definition of genocide according to the UN. Nobody doubts that many ukrainians died during the famine, however I cannot find any evidence suggesting it was anything other than terrible policy to push forward industrialisation. The Ukrainians where not the only people to suffer, the Caucasus and Moldovia etc. As far as I can see no evidence has been produced to show it was anything other than bad policy making or directed at any national gorup or race. Though of course we also must note the man responsible for the famine was infact Georgian not Russian.

    “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

  7. John Evans? You find that because the Kremlin killed it’s own, while taking the lives of others, it is not murder, or genocide, since Moscal’s own suffered while doing the killing. That logic is acceptable to you? Some defense.

    Tell it to the 28 nations already in NATO for the last 60 years whom would trust Moscow enough to let it join the group.

  8. “Though of course we also must note the man responsible for the famine was infact Georgian not Russian.”

    Wow, once again this idiocy.

  9. Просветленный

    Robert. Абсолютно согласен, всем знающим людям давно известно, что Джугашвили был по национальности марсианин.

  10. Просветленный

    Хочу добавить к Вашему великолепному посту ,от себя.
    Кровавый путинский режим, пытается всех убедить, что в то время, на територии СССР, умирали от голода претставители всех национальностей, проживающих в аграрных районах страны. Понятно, что это лож дискредетировшего себя режима. Все умершие от голода в Белорусии, Украине, Кавказе, Краснодарском крае, Урале, Казахстане, были только украинцы. Все цивилизованное человечество знает, что в тех нечеловеческих условиях, в которые поставил Сталин весь народ, от голода умирали исключительно украинцы, как самые цивилизованный и соответственно неприспособленный к таким условиям народ, из всех населяющих тогда СССР.Остальнае народы, в том числе москали которые,как правильно заметила George, недостойны называться русскими, были и остаются дикарями, которые выживут в любых условиях с помощью подножного корма.
    И поэтому поддерживаю предложение George, срочно поставить назад железный занавес и обязательно под электрическим напряжением. Напряжение должно быть мощным, а то знаю я этих варворов им 380 v как укус комора. Для этого предлогаю, незамедлительно, по периметру России, начать строительство ядерных реакторов!

  11. You all smart guys, my grandmother and her family died in Ukraine in 1935 from hunger and she was true Russian. Godless swines were mass killers like Hitler without any regard who the victims were. I was in Dachau myself. Don’t powder my brains. Putin is the best choice for Russia and the world as well as Medvedev . Trouble is that the world is ignorant to the absurdity. If you speak 5 lenguages and follow all happenings , but not from the biased press, you will see the truth. Who do you think started the war in Osetia? Russians-? if you think so, you are ininformed fools . Liberals and socialist are helping wrong leaders in Georgia and Ukraine, who are nothing but new dictators without any principles . We are creating new monsters. THINK ABOUT IT !!!!!!

  12. Просветленный

    George Sr // March 21, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Reply

    Вы считаете они умеют думать?

  13. “Who do you think started the war in Osetia? Russians-?”

    Actually it was Ingushes (at least regearding the large-scale fighting), but the Russian support enabled the Ossetians to “cleanse” the disputed territory.

  14. Просветленный


    Последние 500 лет на Кавказе были бесконечной чередой завоеваний и сменной границ, где основными игроками были: Персия, Оттоманская Империя и Россия. И я совсем не понимаю зачем копаться в прошлом? Как это может помочь настоящему? Эсли я скажу, что земля на которой Вы живете Вам не принадлежит, потому что ее несправедливо завоевали Ваши предки у индейцев, согласитесь это будет глупо с моей стороны?
    Про народы которые Вы упомянули: Ингуши Карачаевцы, Черкесы, Ингуши и другие, я скажу, что до 19 века это были племена которые не имели своих государственных образованний. И только с помощью России они сначала получили административные границы которые затем переросли в государственные.

  15. Georg Sr, New monsters? Old monsters were good enough for you and your ilk. Enjoy Putin and the killings of more Moscals, like in the apartment house blasts that started the second Chechen War.

  16. George,

    “John Evans? You find that because the Kremlin killed it’s own, while taking the lives of others, it is not murder, or genocide, since Moscal’s own suffered while doing the killing. That logic is acceptable to you? Some defense.”

    This is a typical response. I have clearly pointed out that many died during the famine in the early 30’s and I have in no way defended it or jumped on the mass murder bandwagon.

    My point is to say it was an act of genocide upon Ukrainians you have to show how it was specifically aimed at that ethnic group. Clearly the famine did not just affect Ukrainians but many other ethnic groupings including Russians etc. Infact it impacted in many grain producing regions some of which I listed. So if the famine was not exclusive to Ukrainians how can it be classed as genocide against Ukrainians under the accepted UN definition. Is it not more likely that the famine across the USSR was as a direct result of a fast tracked industrialisation policy and a power struggle between the rural peasant classes and Stalin.


    ““Though of course we also must note the man responsible for the famine was infact Georgian not Russian.”

    Wow, once again this idiocy.”

    Sorry Robert its a fact. Why is it important? the Caucasus was also heavily affected by the famine so are we also to believe that Stalin was ethnically cleansing his own ethnic grouping!

    • Yes, idiocy. He was not a Georgian. They were Georgians:

      Stalin – Georgia-born (Georgia being part of Russia) half-Ossetian (who are “Russians” according to Russia now), was at the time of Georgian indepencence a Russian-speaking RUSSIAN revolutionary (as in the RUSSIAN Revolution) and a leader in the subsequent RUSSIAN civil war, outside Georgia (in yes, Russia).

      He was a Russian then and he was a Russian later – when his Bolshevik RUSSIA conquered Georgia in 1921. He was only “Georgian” as in “Georgian national traitor” – a traitor to Russia.

      Which means he was not at all.

      Oh, and little Putin’s official nationality was “Georgian”. And Hitler was not German – by birth. So what?

  17. Actually Stalin was mentally sick. He didnt care about Georgians or Ukrainians. He himself said that he lost every last bit of humanity when his first wife died.
    Arguing about his nationality or trying to prove something just by saying he was georgian is plain stupid and shows your immaturity.
    He in fact was partially armenian – so what?

    Oh and to the guy thats writing stuff in russian (Просветленный):

    Stop being an ignorant prick and start writing in english. I assume that you can write in english as you actually respond to every english-written comment.
    This the false place to show wrong patriotism and love to the motherland. If you want to engage in a discussion here do it like everyone else – in english.

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