Simon Whistler has made an excellent video essay about the Holodomor in Ukraine.

Content warning: graphic depictions of human suffering.

The Czech language has a similarily sounding word “hladomor” which means simply famine. I always understood it to be a combination of the words for hunger (“hlad”) and plague (“mor”). That might be a case of folk etymology though, the expert opinion one for the Czech word I could not find online. The Ukrainian term came according to Wikipedia from “морити голодом” i.e. torture by hunger. Whether the two words are false friends stemming from different roots or if they share common ancestry is however secondary to one fact that I have learned only recently – the Ukrainian language does sound a bit like in between Russian and Slovak/Czech, which should not be surprising, so I am in fact able to understand spoken Ukrainian a bit better than Russian (still not very well without subtitles though). One such similarity to Czech is that Г in Ukrainian is pronounced as “H” in Czech (in English like the H in  “have”) and not as Czech “G” like in Russian (in English like the g in “grave”).

A linguistic interlude aside, whilst I knew from school about a number of famines throughout history, The Holodomor was completely unknown to me until well after the fall of the Iron Curtain. During my education, the collectivization in the USSR in the 1930s and in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s was always taught as a quick and glowing success of the regime. The demonization of the Kulaks, as mentioned in the video, continued well right until the end of the regime. We were taught that some farmers refused to join колхо́з and were punished as the dastardly criminals they were, but the sheer scale was never mentioned, nor was the fact that this was done along national borders. And that there ever was a famine in the USSR was not denied just because it was never mentioned at all. Maybe it would be mentioned later on with some west-blaming if the regime did not fall, but I doubt it. I have checked the most comprehensive world history book from that era that I own, an official textbook for high-school curriculum and it portrays the era s as I have just described – blaming only the kulaks and mentioning it all as just some isolated setbacks by some rebels who received some non-specified punishment. No mention of famine at all. Only a very brief mention of Stalin’s cult of personality and his “heavy-handed” dealing with problems (an understatement if I ever saw one).

And thus a genocidal act of a paranoid power-hungry maniac fell from history books for three generations. Not the first one, not the last one either.



  1. moarscienceplz says

    An excellent post!
    If I may be permitted a tiny correction of English usage, in “this was done along national borders”, I would have used ‘across’. ‘Along’ generally means ‘beside of’, and so I would interpret ‘along national borders’ as parallel to the borders, not crossing them.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    Irony can be both bitter and heartbreaking. The Soviets put up signs during the famine saying “To eat your own children is a barbarian act”.

    And of course, the West had its useful (to Stalin) idiots back then as well; prominent ‘journalists’ who wrote that reports of famine were just propaganda.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    moarscienceplz @1:

    I would have used ‘across’

    And I think you’d have been wrong. The point was that the starvation didn’t cross borders. It was defined by borders. A little to the north of Kharkiv, across the border, there was no starvation.

  4. says

    My grandma’s family was victim of that particular atrocity. Her birthplace now lies under an artificial Ukrainian lake. She was born in 21 in a rural German Ukrainian village. The way she described her childhood before Stalin was kind of idyllic, but nowhere near “rich”. She’d talk about how, as children, they’d always get milk to drink, but never butter to eat, because that would be one of the few sources of actual income for the family.
    Of course they lost the farm in the Holodomor. My great grandpa and his oldest son died in the Gulag, his middle son died in the Red Army fighting the Germans, the youngest in a traffic accident. The reason the women of the family survived was mostly because my grandma’s sister had married a Ukrainian who could offer them some protection, and the kindness of individuals who would still do the right thing, damned be orders.
    I often joke that Hitler and Stalin could agree on two things:
    1. Poland should not exist.
    2. Neither should my family (the other side was almost wiped out as antifascists).
    Here’s to you, motherfuckers, we’re still here.

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