Four million Ukrainians were starved to death by Stalin across 1932 and 1933. Some left-leaning figures past and present have sympathised with his regime. But a new book by Anne Applebaum leaves no doubt about his responsibility.
One day in the summer of 1933, in a village in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, a little boy woke on top of the family stove. He was starving — not just hungry but genuinely starving.
‘Dad, I want to eat! Dad!’ he cried. But the house was cold and from his father there came no answer.
The boy went over to his father, who was apparently still asleep. There was ‘foam under his nose’, he remembered. ‘I touched his head. Cold.’
A little later, a cart arrived laden with bodies ‘lying like sheaves’. Two men came into the house, lifted his father’s body into a sack and threw it onto the cart. Then they were gone.
The boy left home after that. He wandered the empty fields, sleeping in stables, scrabbling for grains, ‘swollen and ragged’. But somehow he survived. Some four million of his fellow Ukrainians were not so lucky.
The famine that struck Ukraine in late 1932 and 1933 was one of the most lethal catastrophes in European history.
In the West, it is nowhere near as well-known as it should be.
In Ukraine itself, however, the Holodmor — literally, ‘hunger extermination’ — is often seen as the equivalent of the Holocaust, a gigantic, man-made operation to murder millions of people.