Russian oppression of Ukraine is nothing new. Back in the days of Stalin, there was an attempt to wipe out all Ukrainian resistance to his policy via the genocide route. A book that documents this attempt, The Harvest of Sorrow by historian Robert Conquest and published in the 1980s, spells out clearly what Stalin sought to do and what he actually accomplished with respect to widespread death and destruction in Ukraine, especially in the state-sponsored famine of 1932-1933, known as the Holodomor.
Conquest, in his introduction, begins with this chilling description:
“Fifty years ago as I write these words, the Ukraine—a great stretch of territory with some forty million inhabitants—was like one vast Belsen.” The reference is to one of the Nazi death camps during WWII. Why the comparison?
“A quarter of the rural population, men, women, and children, lay dead or dying, the rest in various stages of debilitation with no strength to bury their families or neighbours. At the same time (as at Belsen), well-fed squads of police or party officials supervised the victims.”
The result? In the one winter of 1932-1933, a conservative estimate of the number of Ukrainians who died of starvation is approximately 7 million. Hitler executed 12 million in his death camps over the years 1940-1945; Stalin achieved his wanton slaughter in only 10 months.
Why did Stalin focus on Ukraine? Conquest continues his narrative:
The Soviet Communist Party under Stalin’s leadership … struck a double blow at the peasantry of the USSR as a whole: dekulakization and collectivization. Dekulakization meant the killing, or deportation to the Arctic with their families, of millions of peasants, in principle the better-off, in practice the most influential and the most recalcitrant to the Party’s plans.
Collectivization meant the effective abolition of private property in land, and the concentration of the remaining peasantry in “collective” farms under Party control. These two measures resulted in millions of deaths.
That was the overall policy: ridding the nation of private farmers and putting the State in control of all agriculture in collective farms. But then came the specific “terror-famine” of 1932-1933, hitting Ukraine specifically. The method? Conquest explains it was by “setting for them grain quotas far above the possible, removing every handful of food, and preventing help from outside … from reaching the starving.” He continues:
This action, even more destructive of life than those of 1929-1932, was accompanied by a wide-ranging attack on all Ukrainian cultural and intellectual centres and leaders, and on the Ukrainian churches. The supposed contumaciousness of the Ukrainian peasants in not surrendering grain they did not have was explicitly blamed on nationalism: all of which was in accord with Stalin’s dictum that the national problem was in essence a peasant problem. The Ukrainian peasant thus suffered in double guise—as a peasant and as a Ukrainian.
An added horror is that what was occurring in Ukraine that winter was not being reported to the world. “One of the most important obstacles to an understanding,” Conquest writes, “was the ability of Stalin and the Soviet authorities to conceal or confuse the facts. Moreover, they were abetted by many Westerners who for one reason or another wished to deceive or be deceived.”
One of the most egregious abettors was New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, the newspaper’s special correspondent stationed in Moscow. In his reports, he wrote things such as these:
“There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.”
“Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.”
“You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
“There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.”
Yet Duranty admitted privately that he knew that the genocide was happening. He acknowledged that the Ukraine “had been bled white.” His reason for hiding the facts? He was taken care of lavishly by Stalin, provided with whatever pleasure or luxury he desired. Just basic human greed and selfishness. Unbelievably, Duranty was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, and even more unbelievably, despite the controversy and absolute knowledge that he was lying, that prize still has not been revoked.
Back in 1983, I was tasked with the job of contacting journalists to encourage them to write about the Holodomor. That year was the 50th anniversary to commemorate the evil that had occurred. What I learned in the process of contacting journalists, both for print and for television networks, was that they weren’t all that interested in the story, not even the conservative journalists and opinion writers who should have been the most focused. It was a severe disappointment, one I remember well today as we watch another Russian oligarch and despot attempt to destroy Ukraine.
The most galling aspect of this current attempted tyranny—for me as a conservative, at least—is that many who continue to call themselves conservatives—despite their seeming unconcern over lies about a stolen election and an attack on our constitutional order on January 6, 2021—seem to have more of an attachment to Vladimir Putin than they do to a nation struggling heroically to maintain their national sovereignty.
I pray for Ukraine and I pray for misguided Americans who are blind to what they are abetting.