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The Holodomor and the Soviet Famines, 1931–33


CIUS seminar audio.

The great Ukrainian-Kuban famine of 1932–33—the Holodomor—was one of the determinative events of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, it was largely ignored by scholars until the last few years of the existence of the Soviet Union. One of the scholars who began studying the famine in the late 1980s was Andrea Graziosi, now an internationally recognized specialist on the Soviet state and its policies toward the peasantry and one of the world’s leading authorities on the Holodomor. From 14 to 21 November 2009 he visited Toronto and Edmonton to lecture on “The Holodomor and the Soviet Famines, 1931–33”

The title of the lecture is indicative of Dr. Graziosi s comprehensive approach to the study of the Holodomor in Soviet Ukraine and the Kuban within the context of Soviet state policy toward the peasantry from 1917 to 1933 and, more particularly, the pan- Soviet famines of 1931–33, including the Kazakhstan famine-cum-epidemics of 1931–33. In the lecture, he analyzed the common causes of these famines and posited that the Ukrainian famine was the culminating act in a great war of the Soviet state and the Communist Party against the peasantry that began in 1917. Outlining the policies of the Soviet leaders and their consequences for the Soviet peasantry as a whole, Dr. Graziosi also took account of specific conditions in the non-Russian regions of the USSR that led the Stalin regime to treat them differently.

Focusing on the Holodomor, he identified some of its special features and national characteristics. Particularly telling, in his view, were Moscow’s exclusive policies taken against the peasantry in Ukraine and the Kuban region in the North Caucasus, which led to an exceptionally large number of deaths there. If the mortality rate in the countryside in 1926 can be assigned the number 100 per 1,000 rural inhabitants, in 1933 it was almost 400 per 1,000 in Soviet Ukraine, while in the Russian SFSR it was about 140 per 1,000. Excluding Kazakhstan, then part of Russia, and the North Caucasus, where there was a large Ukrainian population, the death rate in the Russian republic in 1933 was about 110 per 1,000 rural inhabitants. An important factor in the high death rate was the decree forbidding and preventing peasants from Ukraine and the Kuban to leave for other areas of the USSR in search of food.

Dr. Graziosi also noted other measures taken against Ukrainians in this period or immediately afterward. These included the mass purge of the Bolshevik Party in Soviet Ukraine, the persecution and physical destruction of the republic’s nationally conscious intelligentsia and middle-level national cadres, and the reversal of Ukrainization policies in Ukraine and their total abolition in the Russian SFSR. All these factors, as well as other special measures taken against Ukraine’s peasantry and its political and cultural elites, have prompted scholars and legal experts to raise the question of whether the Holodomor is a case of or an integral part of a genocide.

Dr. Graziosi has concluded that the Holodomor was a genocide and that the Ukrainian-Kuban famine of 1932–33 fits the definition of genocide specified in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, especially Article 2, Section C, which states that among genocidal acts are those “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” He noted that his own views on this question have evolved, for during the initial years of his study of the Holodomor he was not convinced of its genocidal nature. Dr. Graziosi believes that in time more and more scholars will come to the same conclusion as he did. While the prospect of a scholarly consensus promotes optimism with regard to general recognition of the Holodomor as genocide, Dr. Graziosi also believes that the Russian government will never acknowledge it as such, since this might provoke demands for monetary reparations to survivors and their descendants.

Dr. Graziosi delivered his two lectures on the famine at the universities of Toronto and Alberta. The Toronto lecture, which took place on 17 November, was co-sponsored by the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine at the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, University of Toronto; the Toronto Office of CIUS; the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (Toronto Branch); and the Canadian Foundation for Ukrainian Studies. The Edmonton lecture, which took place on 20 November, was sponsored by CIUS. Dr. Graziosi also lectured at both universities on “Stalin’s Foreign and Domestic Policies: Dealing with the National Question in an Imperial Context, 1901–1926.”

Andrea Graziosi is currently professor of history at the University of Naples “Federico II” and president (2007–11) of the Italian Society for the Study of Contemporary History ( He also serves on the editorial boards of a number of French, English, Italian, Ukrainian, and American specialized journals. Since 1992 he has been a co-editor of the Moscowbased series Dokumenty sovetskoi istorii (Documents of Soviet History 15 volumes in print) and is a member of the editorial board of the series Istoriia stalinizma (History of Stalinism). His research interests have been largely in Soviet history, with a focus on the period leading up to the establishment of the Soviet state, its consolidation, and the triumph of Stalinism. Some of the topics he has researched in depth include the industrialization policies of the Soviet state, the Soviet state and the peasantry, the famine of 1932–33 in Ukraine and the Kuban region, other famines that took place in the Soviet Union, Stalinism, and Soviet nationality policies.

Dr. Graziosi has worked in the archives of the Italian Foreign Ministry, which resulted in the book Lettere da Kharkov. La carestia in Ucraina e nel Caucaso del Nord nei rapporti dei diplomatici italiani, 1932–33 (Letters from Kharkiv: Famine in Ukraine and the North Caucasus in the Dispatches of Italian Diplomats, 1932–33; Turin, 1991 and Kharkiv, 2007), and in the Russian State Archives and former Communist Party Archives in Moscow. The results of this research, combined with data from previously available sources and new archival discoveries made by colleagues in Russia and other countries formerly under Soviet rule, have found their way into many of his publications, including The Great Soviet Peasant War: Bolsheviks and Peasants, 1917–1933 (Cambridge, Mass., 1996 and Moscow, 2001); Bol'sheviki I krest'iane na Ukraine, 1918–1919 gody (Bolsheviks and Peasants in Ukraine, 1918–1919; Moscow, 1997); A New, Peculiar State: Explorations in Soviet History (Westport, Conn., 2000); Guerra e rivoluzione in Europa 1905-1956 (War and Revolution in Europe, 1905–1956; Bologna, 2002; Kyiv and Moscow, 2005); LVRSS di Lenin e Stalin, 1914–1945 (The USSR of Lenin and Stalin, 1914–1945; Bologna, 2007); LVRSS dal trionfo al degrado, 1945–1991 (The USSR from Triumph to Degeneration, 1945–1991; Bologna, 2008); and Stalinism, Collectivization and the Great Famine (Cambridge, Mass., 2009).

Andrea Graziosi’s lecture on the Holodomor represents a milestone in its study. He noted that over the past twenty years most of the important official documents concerning the Holodomor have been brought to light. His lecture combined an account of general scholarly accomplishments in researching the subject with his own analysis, which delineated the overall policy of the Soviet state toward the peasantry and specified the critical national factors that made the Holodomor so devastating in Ukraine and the Kuban. The lecture was recorded in both video and audio formats at the University of Alberta.

Found in CIUS Newsletter 2010

Author: CIUS
Publisher: CIUS
Date: November 20, 2009
Contributor: Andrea Graziosi
Language: English, Ukrainian
Original Format: Digital audio recording





CIUS, “The Holodomor and the Soviet Famines, 1931–33,” CIUS-Archives, accessed May 28, 2024,
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