Timothy Snyder: The Making of Modern Ukraine. Class 15. Ukrainization, Famine, Terror: 1920s-1930s | Summary and Q&A

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November 2, 2022
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Timothy Snyder: The Making of Modern Ukraine. Class 15. Ukrainization, Famine, Terror: 1920s-1930s

TL;DR

The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933, one of the worst manmade famines in history, was a result of political decisions about food distribution. The Soviet Union, led by Stalin, prioritized political goals over the lives of millions of Ukrainians.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How did the Soviet Union justify the famine?

The Soviet Union justified the famine by blaming Ukrainian party members and Ukrainian nationalists, claiming they were deliberately sabotaging food production to break Ukraine off from the Soviet Union. They also accused them of being agents of Poland. These claims were used as a means to continue the policy of collectivization and maintain control over Ukraine.

Q: Were there any efforts to provide assistance or relief during the famine?

No, the Soviet Union did not provide assistance or relief during the famine. In fact, they exported food from Ukraine during this time. The policies and actions taken by the Soviet government exacerbated the famine and prevented outside aid from reaching the affected population.

Q: How did the famine impact Ukrainian culture and intellectuals?

The famine had a devastating impact on Ukrainian culture and intellectuals. Many prominent Ukrainian writers and artists were accused of being Ukrainian nationalists or Polish spies and were either executed or sent to concentration camps. The cultural renaissance of the 1920s was dismantled, and the Ukrainian intellectual class was heavily targeted during the Great Terror.

Q: How did Stalin and the Soviet leadership respond to criticism of the famine?

Rather than taking responsibility for the famine, the Soviet leadership doubled down on the policies that caused it. They accused individuals and groups of being saboteurs or enemies of the state, effectively deflecting blame from themselves. The famine became a subject of denial and secrecy for many years.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 resulted in the death of about 4 million people due to starvation, malnutrition, and hunger-related diseases.

  • The famine was a political decision by the Soviet Union, and famines are rarely caused by a physical lack of food but by political decisions about distribution.

  • Stalin and the Soviet leaders believed that everything should yield to politics, and individuals had no value compared to the overall goal of future communist harmony.

  • Historians have traced the famine to specific policies such as grain requisitioning, the banning of peasants from going to cities, and the national interpretation of the famine.

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