Throughout the tumultuous history of the Soviet Union, there was no event as devastating as Holodomor, the genocidal famine that Joseph Stalin created. Deriving from the Ukranian words “holod” and “mor,” meaning “hunger” and “death,” Holodomor was the terrifying brain-child of a dictator hungry for power, land, and money. But just how devastating was this genocide of the Ukranian people…and how did Stalin’s fight to attain power get so out of hand?

Stalin’s inhumane existence

There’s nothing about Joseph Stalin that exactly screams, “humane leader.” While he ruled over the Soviet Union, Stalin attempted to “improve” Russia’s industrial and economic status through communism, yet he failed to protect his citizens on nearly every level. He stripped away their rights, their liberties, and their peace of mind, unearthing their businesses and neglecting their physical needs. As a result, tens of millions of citizens died under his watch, the majority passing away during a terrifying, man-made famine that Stalin manufactured. You read that right: man-made. But why would a leader want to see his people suffer from severe starvation? Communism, of course, and a horrifying amount of apathy.

Ruining the lives of the Ukrainians

Back in the late 1920s, Ukraine, which was a part of the Soviet Union, was full of intellectual, skilled, thoughtful citizens. They were recognized for their ability to produce massive amounts of crops for several European nations. Ukraine was filled to the brim with small business owners and independent farmers, many of whom resided in the North Caucasus area on a series of food-producing farms. However, their authority over their land seemed to meet a quick end when Stalin rose to power. When Stalin took control of the Soviet Union, he also gained authority over the peaceful and productive people of Ukraine. Rather than leave them alone to produce their crops in peace (and make the country plenty of cash), Stalin wanted to push for what would become Ukraine’s worst nightmare: government-controlled farms. This measure would ease Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union into a totalitarian regime in which all citizens would only be cogs in the governmental machine, lacking rights to personal business and individuality. However, Ukrainian farmers were too proud of their work to give it up. Ukrainians from every walk of life, 80% of whom depended on the land for their income, came together to protest the changes that Stalin was making that would slaughter their independence. This controversy would prove to be deadly in the weeks that followed.

Stalin received immense backlash for his plans for Ukraine. As a result, he decided to take extreme measures to ensure that the Ukranian people would fall in line with his communist regime and abandon their desires for independence. In order to promote the collectivization that would give the government full power over the livelihood of the Ukrainians, he began to paint the rebelling farmers as government enemies. He deemed the farmers who wanted to keep their property “kulaks,” saying that they were traitors of the state. Then, Stalin began to ship away tens of thousands of farmers and food producers to other parts of Europe, taking away the farming experts that the communities within Ukraine relied on. The Ukrainians left behind in the wake of these deportations were suddenly facing the threat of a lack of food and a loss of means to financially support themselves for the first times in their lives. These measures to ship away successful Ukrainians putĀ all Ukranian citizens in harm’s way from the first day that the farmers were gone. But, as devastating as these deportations were alone, Stalin didn’t stop there.

A horrifying genocide of hunger

As the 1930s began, Stalin and his men began to steal livestock and farming equipment from the Ukrainians, ensuring that no one could be farming for their own benefit behind the Soviet Union’s back. While some Ukrainians who were left behind adapted to Stalin’s plans and tried to produce crops to be exported by the government, they struggled to meet their expected quota of produce. The Ukrainians would be punished by confiscating their food and denying them access to any other form of nourishment or pleasure. And, if this wasn’t terrible enough, Stalin had a crappy habit of kicking people when they were down…and he began to deport malnourished, unhealthy Ukrainians from their land. Unfortunately, they didn’t drop them in a place where they would be protected and able to recover. Instead, many ended up in the wilderness, scared and exhausted, without food, water, or shelter. Ukrainians began to drop like flies. By 1932, Stalin seemed to have one plan: starving the Ukrainians out.

To facilitate a full genocide in the form of famine, the ruthless leader began to implement policies that would ensure that the Ukrainians would have no access to proper nourishment in the Soviet Union. From bumping up production quotas to creating ridiculous laws to forbidding anyone from eating even the slightest bit of their crops without facing deportation or execution, Stalin crafted a horrifying society in which food was entirely inaccessible to the people who were continuing to produce it. In rural Ukraine, raids were done on farmers homes to ensure they weren’t storing any crops, and blockades were set up around their villages to prevent them from searching for or ordering in any food. As widespread panic and starvation set in, people began to die at unprecedented rates, with nearly 30,000 individuals dying each day in mid-1933. By the end of the famine, hundreds of thousands of bodies littered the streets and the countryside, where a heartbreaking four million people had died as a direct result of starvation. Holmodor wasn’t the only terrible scenario that Stalin created to keep his power, yet that devastating genocide was arguably the most destructive measure that the communist leader took to remain in charge.