The Holodomor was a Soviet state-induced famine in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933. For nearly two years, Joseph Stalin starved Russia and displaced thousands of people in the name of feeding the Soviet Union. Literal tons of food went to waste, and millions of Ukrainians died as a result. The Holodomor was a little-known genocide that struck right before the Holocaust.
Yet, just like with the Holocaust, there is a disturbing amount of Holodomor denial, even in modern times. Only 14 countries worldwide have formally acknowledged that the tragedy was indeed a genocide, and the US is not one of them. President Barack Obama made a memorial speech in 2016, acknowledging "one of the most horrific man-made tragedies in modern history." But to this day, Russia denies that the government was behind the famine, and instead blames it on environmental causes. But as their tension with Ukraine shows, the relationship between the two countries has never been a peaceful one.
The Kulaks, which literally translates to “fists” in Russian, were successful farmers who resisted Stalin’s collectivization policies, which they considered to be a return to serfdom. The Soviet authorities branded them as enemies of the working class, and set out to destroy them. "Now we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production with the production of kolkhozes and sovkhozes,” Stalin said. Kolkhozes and sovkhozes were the collective communist government farms.
By the 1930s, Stalin implemented his dekulakization policy, where Soviet authorities forcibly took land and food away from the farmers, and sent many of them off to Siberia. The rest were left to die of starvation.
After the Soviet authorities came in and took away the land and every last scrap of food from the kulaks, millions of Ukrainians were left starving. Many tried to find refuge in other countries, but the Soviet Union sealed the borders, not letting anyone in or out. “The government did everything it could to prevent peasants from entering other regions and looking for bread,” said Oleksandra Monetova, a representative from the Holodomor Memorial Museum.
During the famine, many Ukrainians turned to cannibalism out of desperation; starvation drove people to lose their humanity and turn on each other. It was all too common for parents to forsake their children and eat them, only to later die of starvation themselves, wrote Yale Historian Timothy Snyder in his book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.
Human flesh even became a commodity on the black market. Despite the desperate times, cannibalism was still punishable by law. Some 2,505 people were arrested and charged with cannibalism during the Holodomor.
People resorted to all sorts of alternatives in finding food during Holodomor. They resorted to making “weed loafs,” composed of nettle leaves and other weeds, to sustain themselves as best they could. People also boiled horse hides, and even ate manure. Children were even reported eating their own excrement out of desperation. Even worse, eventually the starving peasants turned on each other.