Once Empress Catherine II felt she was sitting firmly on the Russian throne, she immediately instructed Prince Viazemsky to take a number of certain steps to force Ukrainians “to get Russified in a delicate way” as soon as possible. Just a hundred years later Russia’s interior minister Valuyev considered it necessary to persuade the entire world that “there were not, are not and cannot be” any Ukrainians.
I recalled this when I read the book The 1932-1933 Famine: a Tragedy of the Russian Countryside by the Penza-based professor of history Viktor Kondrashin, which was recently published in Moscow. This author, who decided to study the 1932-1933 famine in the Volga, Don and Kuban regions, failed to see there the Ukrainians who were the main grain-growing trail-blazers at least in the two last areas: “The Russians, Mordvins, Tatars, Ingushes, and other peoples lived then and are living now in the above-mentioned regions of Russia. At the same time, this study puts emphasis on the Russian population of the Volga, Don and Kuban areas because, historically, it was they who were involved in grain production and, therefore, became the primary object of Stalin’s forced collectivization” (p. 51 in Russian).
Why Kondrashin wants to convince the readers that there were no Ukrainians in these regions from the very beginning of cultivation and farming and does not consider them “historically involved in grain production” becomes clear from the panegyric that the author dedicates to himself in his own book: “V. V. Kondrashin actively opposes in the media and scholarly publications, including foreign ones, the idea of Ukrainian historians and politicians about ‘genocide of the Ukrainian people by the 1932-1933 Holodomor.’ He concludes in his publication son this matter that the 1932-1933 famine is a common tragedy of all the USSR peoples and this tragedy should unite, not disunite, the peoples” (p. 29, Russ.).
Given this self-assessment of the author, it is small wonder why he did not consider it necessary to mention Ukrainians among the main agricultural ethnoses in the Volga, Don and Kuban regions. But they really lived there. According to the 1926 census, Ukrainians prevailed, for example, in all the 40 Kuban villages (stanitsas) founded by the first Zaporozhian Cossack resettlers in the late 18th century: Baturynska (5,034 Ukrainians out of the total 7,086 residents), Berezanska (9,297 and 10,443, respectively), Briukhovetska (9,698 and 12,466), Vasiurynska (9,142 and 10,443), Vyshestebliivska (2,400 and 3,251), Dinska (10, 316 and 12,525), Diadkivska (6,665 and 7,324), Ivanivska (12,983 and 14,209), Irkliivska (5,884 and 6,473), Kanivska (13,878 and 17,248), Kalnibolotska (8,606 and 10,998), Katerynynska (11,824 and 13,391), Kisliakivska (11, 416 and 13, 112), Konelivska (7,824 and 8,7121), Korenivska (9,313 and 15,548), Krylivska (8,146 and 9,427), Kushchivska (9,364 and 11,865), Medvedivska (15,222 and 18,146), Nezamaivska (10,150 and 12,133), Pashkivska (14,166 and 18,000), Pereyaslavska (7,552 and 8,781), Plastunivska (10,528 and 12,375), Platnyrivska (11,628 and 13,925), Poltavska (10,985 and 14,306), Popovychivska (7,762 and 10,715), Rogivska (10,806 and 12,475), Sergiivska (4,127 and 4,714), Starodereviankivska (6,529 and 7,230), Starodzhereliivska (5,158 and 5,413), Starokorsunska (10,477 and 12,273), Staroleushkivska (5,857 and 6,521), Staromenska (19,736 and 22,604), Staromyshastivska (8,171 and 9,826), Staronyzhchestebliivska (11,356 and 12,273), Starotytarivska (8,552 and 9,536), Staroshcherbynivska (14,453 and 17,001), Tymashevska (8,961 and 12,112), Umanska (17,008 and 20,727), and Shkurynska (8,864 and 9,749).
On the whole, there were 915,450 Ukrainians in Kuban and 3,106,852 in the Northern Caucasus. So we find it difficult to understand the famine in these villages as a tragedy of “the Russian countryside” alone. All the more so that Kondrashin names such Kuban districts as Yeysky, Kanovsky, Kjorenivskt, Krasnodarsky, Staromensky and Kursavsky in the Stavropol region as ones that make part of the “especially affected” areas of the Northern Caucasus.
Of course, this is also presented as a tragedy of the Russian countryside. However, the 1926 census recorded 74,037 Ukrainians and 23,568 Russians in Yesky district; 45,451 and 8,130, respectively, in Kanivsky; 76,422 and 36,939 in Korenivsky; 103,8312 and 18,086 in Kraskodarsky; 65,488 and 9,583 in Staromensky; and 57,665 and 8,767 in Kursavsky district. After all, we are also not indifferent to the destiny of the 35,115 Ukrainians in the Kondrashin-quoted Armavisrsky district and the 11,514 in Kurganinsky district, where the Russians numerically prevailed at the time.
Similar facts of ethnic Ukrainian enclaves during the 1932-1933 Holodomor can also be traced in the Don and Volga regions. In the latter, there were 49 percent of our ethnos in Kapustin Yar district, 51.9 in Yelansky, 69.3 in Kotovsky, 72.4 in Kranoyarsky, 74.9 in Pokrovsky, 79.3 in Samiylivsky, 81 in Mykolayivsky, and almost 90 in Vladirirsky district. According to the 1926 census, the Lower Volga region alone was populated by 600,000 people who continued to identify themselves as Ukrainians. Some of them did not even speak Russian, which is proved by the following fact: failure to meet the planned targets of grain harvest in 1929 in Dubynsky district was explained by the fact that “Ukrainian slogans on grain procurement were apprehended in the district executive committee, and Russian-language placards were sent to the Ukrainians.”
As for the Ukrainian population in the Don region, there was also a large number of areas, where our people made up the absolute majority. This was especially the case in some Taganrog districts. And the 1932-1933 Holodomor took a heavy toll of all these Ukrainians.
But we should admit that the Kuban Ukrainians were the first to suffer from this horror. And we cannot help recalling the village of Poltavska whose population favored the development of their native culture and where there was the first All-Russian Ukrainian Teacher-Training School. Its population was the first to be deported to the north, its houses were given to Red Army Cossack veterans, and it was renamed Krasnoarmeyska so that nothing betrayed its Ukrainian origin. The second Ukrainian village in Kuban that suffered the same tragedy was Umanska. After the deportation, it was renamed Leningradska.
Incidentally, we could not find similar Kremlin instructions with respect to Russia’s non-black-soil area which also failed to meet the grain procurement targets.
Indeed, this did not repeat on a mass scale in Soviet Ukraine because in many cases there was nobody to deport: entire villages had died out. There are documents that prove that a great number of Russians and Belarusians were brought to hundreds of the famine-ravaged Ukrainian villages.
As for the “black boards,” they were introduced not only in Kuban, Don, the Central Black Soil Region, the Volga basin and the Ukrainian SSR but also in Northern Kazakhstan on the republican leadership’s initiative. But if we look at the list of the villages that suffered this kind of punishment, we will see at once that they were predominantly populated with Ukrainian peasants. For example, such villages in Ust-Kamenogorsk or Fedorivsky districts were mostly Ukrainian because the Ukrainians were the principal grain producers in this region. For instance, the 1926 census showed that out of the 28,302 residents of the Fedorivsky district 25,408 were Ukrainians.
When you read the Penza historian Kondrashin’s book, you can see clearly that he tries, above all, to serve the current political interests of Russia, which consist in the refusal to recognize the 1932-1933 Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people: “We do not support the opinion of Ukrainian politicians and historians about the national genocide in Ukraine by means of the 1932-1933 famine. Nor do we agree with their definition of ‘holodonmor’ as an action organized by the Stalinist regime inn order to exterminate millions of Ukrainian residents... We do not share the Ukrainian side’s position because no documents have been found, which would say that Stalin’s regime intended to eliminate the Ukrainian people.”
This raises a question to Kondrashin: and what about the directive documents on stopping the Ukrainization in the areas densely populated by Ukrainians (nothing of the kind was done against other nations in 1932-1933)? Do they not prove that Stalin’s regime aimed to exterminate, at least spiritually, millions of Ukrainians? And the fact that the 1939 census showed that the Ukrainian population of what is now Krasnodar Territory had diminished by 1,437,151 people in comparison to 1926? Does it not make the historian Kondrashin think that there was a carefully-orchestrated strike against the Ukrainian nation?
And the VKP Central Committee and USSR Council of People’s Commissars resolution of January 22, 1933, on forbidding only Ukrainian and Kuban peasants to go to other regions in search of bread? Does this not prove that Ukrainians were deliberately left to starve to death? Then how should we interpret the following comment of Kondrashin: “What can be called direct organization of the famine are draconian directives of Stalin-Molotov on the prevention of spontaneous migration of peasants, which kept them locked in the starving villages and doomed them to death by starvation. It is for this reason that the 1932-1933 famine can be considered a manmade famine, and this famine is one of the gravest crimes of Stalin” (p. 376, Russ.).
In our opinion, only after reading a large number of documents that prove the genocide of Ukrainians could Kondrashin write, perhaps subconsciously, the following: “The famine helped Stalin liquidate what he considered a potential opposition to his regime in Ukraine, which could become political, rather than cultural, and rely on the peasantry. There are some facts that prove this, including those in the third volume of the documentary collection Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside devoted to the holodomor, which describes the activities of GPU organs in the Ukrainian countryside” (p. 242, Russ.).
Pressing the argument of the absence of concrete documents on pre-planned extermination of Ukrainians, Kondrashin refers us to the International Commission of Jurists which allegedly concluded that “it is not in a position to confirm the existence of a premeditated plan to organize famine in Ukraine in order to ensure the success of Moscow’s policies” (p. 18, Russ.).
Unfortunately, Kondrashin did not quote the next lines of this documents, which say: “However, most of the commission members believe that even if the Soviet authorities did not actually plan the famine, they apparently took advantage of this famine to force [the populace] to accept the policy they resisted.”
Besides, the International Commission of Jurists with the Swedish professor Jacob Sundberg at the head (and without a single Ukrainian, incidentally) also made this conclusion: “Although there is no direct evidence that the 1932-1933 famine was systemically masterminded to break the Ukrainian nation once and for all, most of the commission members believe that Soviet officials deliberately used this famine to pursue their policy of denationalizing Ukraine.”
It should be stressed that Prof. Kondrashin hushes up the fact that the Soviet government furnished no archival documents to this commission and refused altogether to cooperate with it, organizing protest letters against its activities on the part of communist historians. Nor does the monograph’s author cites the commission’s findings that show, on the basis of open censuses in 1926 and 1939, certain demographic changes in the USSR population.
The truth is that while the population increased by 16 percent in the USSR, by 28 percent in the Russian Federation, by 11.2 percent in Belarus over the aforesaid period, it dropped by 9.9 percent in the Ukrainian SSR. This provided ample grounds for well-known jurists in various countries to recognize the 1932-1933 Holodomor as a deliberate strike on Ukrainians.
We cannot bypass one more cardinal question that Kondrashin touched upon in his book. Admitting that “the mindless collectivization and excessive state procurement targets ruined Kazakh animal and land husbanders, caused a mass-scale migration to China and the famine-related death of hundreds of thousands of Kazakhstan residents,” this author claims: “at the same time, Kazakh academics did not follow in the footsteps of their Ukrainian colleagues and are treating the 1932-1933 tragedy in line with the approaches of Russian researchers” (p. 27, Russ.).
At the same time, Kondrashin himself points out that Kazakhs were allowed to settle and set up collective farms, say, in the Volga region during the Holodomor. For example, there were 81 economic entities with 391 people in Sorochinsky district, Middle Volga region (p. 188, Russ.).
In other words, Kazakhs were not forbidden to look for food outside their republic. This is proved, incidentally, by dozens of archival materials found in Kazakhstan. It is only with respect to the famine-stricken Ukrainian population that the regime would issue draconian, to quote Kondrashin, directives that deprived it of a possibility to flee from death to the neighboring regions.
Prof. Kondrashin tries to persuade us several times that no concrete documents have been found. But this is not a sound argument because Moscow also tried to persuade us 20 years ago that there were no secret supplements to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact on dividing the spheres of influence in Europe, signed in the Kremlin on August 23, 1939. Then these documents were found. It is quite obvious that Nikita Khrushchev’s announcement at the CPSU 20th Congress that Stalin intended to deport all Ukrainians to Siberia will also find documentary proof some day. After all, why do Kondrashin and other Russian historians not ascribe to this kind of documents Stalin’s telegram to CK KP(b)U Mendel Khatayevich, dated November 8, 1932, saying that “the Politburo is now considering the question of how to bring the Ukrainian peasant down to his knees?”
Russian authors keep saying that the Holodomor tragedy should unite, not disunite, peoples. But this will only occur when they abandon the hard ideological line and admit historical realities.
Volodymyr Serhiichuk is professor and Doctor of History