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Taras Kuzio

Taras Kuzio

Taras Kuzio

The Holodomor: Why the West must push back against Putin’s version of history Add to ...

Taras Kuzio is a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta.

This month, as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his aggression against Ukraine, Ukrainians around the world commemorate the Holodomor, the terror-famine of 1932-1933. The murder of upwards of five million people in Ukraine by Stalin’s Communist regime came about from forced collectivization of agriculture, where starving peasants were denied the food that was exported for hard currency.

The Holodomor targeted Ukrainian national identity that had flowered during the 1920s and sought to crush widespread anti-Soviet feelings in Ukraine. Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recalled during his famous 1956 speech that Stalin had wanted to deport all Ukrainians after the Second World War but there were too many of them.

The Holodomor set the stage for mass repression, the Great Terror, the Katyn massacre and the world’s largest concentration-camp system, the Gulag. Entire regions of depopulated eastern and southern Ukraine were re-populated by Russians, changing the ethnic and linguistic identity of the region.

Over the last three decades, Ukrainians in Canada and Ukraine have honoured the millions of people murdered by Stalin. Beginning with the documentary Harvest of Despair, produced by Ukrainian-Canadians in 1983, and then historian Robert Conquest’s acclaimed book Harvest of Sorrow, there has been groundbreaking research, and a wide variety of publications about Stalinism and the evils of the Soviet Communism.

This month’s commemoration began with the annual Ukrainian Famine Lecture given by acclaimed Yale University professor Timothy Snyder, the author of award-winning books, including Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

The first chapter of Bloodlands is devoted to the Holodomor, where Mr. Snyder writes, “No European country was subject to such intense colonization as Ukraine, and no European country suffered more.”

In contrast to Ukraine, Mr. Putin has set in motion a process of re-Stalinization in Russia, where the murder of millions of innocent victims is ignored and Stalin is praised as an economic “modernizer,” and great wartime leader who transformed the USSR into a nuclear superpower.

In militarily attacking Ukraine to keep the country within Russia’s sphere of influence, Mr. Putin is seeking to impose his country’s vision of Stalin and the hiding of Stalin’s crimes. Little wonder that large portraits of Stalin hang in Donetsk, capital of Putin’s proxy separatist enclaves in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

The national histories that we choose to educate our children with, the leaders that we praise and whether we denounce or hide their crimes against humanity reflect our political principles.

Stalin and Hitler are the antithesis of Canadian, U.S. and European democracy that Ukraine is seeking to build, while Stalin is central to Putin’s authoritarian state, mythology of the “Great Patriotic War” and his vision of a resurgent Russian great power. The biggest collaborator in the Second World War was Stalin, who aligned with Hitler from 1939-1941.

Today, 16 Western countries recognize the Holodomor as a genocide against the Ukrainian people, while Russia continues its re-Stalinization and many Russians see Stalin as a positive historical figure. Canada, the U.S. and Europe will be in solidarity with Ukraine this month as it commemorates the Holodomor genocide.

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