Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, 1921-1933 by Anne Applebaum

Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, 1921-1933

From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag and the National Book Award finalist Iron Curtain, a revelatory history of one of Stalin's greatest crimesIn 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization—in effect a second Russian revolution—which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famin...

Title:Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, 1921-1933
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Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, 1921-1933 Reviews

  • Susan

    Although this book is about the ‘Holodomor’ (the word is derived from the Ukrainian words, ‘holod’ or ‘hunger’ and ‘mor’ or extermination) or famine of 1932-33, it is actually about much more than that. It is about the repression of the Ukrainian intellectual and political class, of the Sovietisation of Ukraine, the collectivisation of agriculture and the attempts to wipe out Ukrainian culture and language.

    Ironically, it was the fertile soil and relatively mild climate of Ukraine, which led to

    Although this book is about the ‘Holodomor’ (the word is derived from the Ukrainian words, ‘holod’ or ‘hunger’ and ‘mor’ or extermination) or famine of 1932-33, it is actually about much more than that. It is about the repression of the Ukrainian intellectual and political class, of the Sovietisation of Ukraine, the collectivisation of agriculture and the attempts to wipe out Ukrainian culture and language.

    Ironically, it was the fertile soil and relatively mild climate of Ukraine, which led to them becoming so valuable to the Soviet Union. The country had two harvests a year and was responsible for feeding far more than their own region. The author takes us back to the revolution of 1917 and traces how the period of upheaval saw optimism for Ukraine, but, by 1918, Lenin was making plans to occupy the area. In fact, the first half of this history looks at the various uprisings, uneasy periods of peace, discontent, crisis and rationing, which led up to the events of 1932/33.

    By 1930, collectivisation of farming led from what had been a loose organisation of farming, by the Soviet Union, to tight control and grain requisitioning demands which were impossible to fulfil. There was pressure on the agricultural peasants to send more and more grain outside Ukraine, but the farmers themselves lost control of their lives – and lost enthusiasm for working the land. However, Stalin’s policies led to famine across the grain-growing regions of the USSR and nowhere more than Ukraine. Not only was the country under pressure to keep producing – and yet not keeping - enough crops to keep them alive, but anyone caught stealing food faced many years in a labour camp, or death. By the end of 1932, over 100,000 people had been sent to camps and 4,500 were executed.

    The author then goes on to the actual famine period which is terrible to read about. All grain now was t be collected to fulfil Russian demands and no excuses were accepted. However, although activists swept through villages; taking not only grain, but fruit, seeds, vegetables, flour – indeed everything from crusts on the table to the family cow – there was no sympathy for the Ukrainian people. It is clear that Soviet newspapers presented the starving population as unpatriotic; arguing they did not care about the workers or the 5 year plan.

    Although this is a serious historical work, it is not dry or dull in any way. There can be nothing about this book which fails to move you – reading of children who die during lessons at school, of the distrust, suspicion and lack of empathy as witnesses became indifferent to the suffering around them, is both tragic and horribly real. Yet, this is as much about the attempts by the Ukrainian people to retain their culture and language, as it was to resist the government’s attempts to starve their nation. I must admit I knew little about Ukrainian history, but this was an eye opening read about a terrible period of history and of a people who survived against the odds.

  • Joseph

    Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum is the history of Russian-Ukranian relations from 1917- 1934 centering on Russian atrocities. Applebaum is an American journalist and Pulitzer Prize–winning author who has written extensively about communism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. She is a visiting Professor of Practice at the London School of Economics, where she runs Arena, a project on propaganda and disinformation. She has also been an editor a

    Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum is the history of Russian-Ukranian relations from 1917- 1934 centering on Russian atrocities. Applebaum is an American journalist and Pulitzer Prize–winning author who has written extensively about communism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. She is a visiting Professor of Practice at the London School of Economics, where she runs Arena, a project on propaganda and disinformation. She has also been an editor at The Economist and The Spectator, and a member of the editorial board of The Washington Post.

    The Ukraine is the birth place of the earliest Russian settlements. Kiev is called the mother of Russian Cities or a cradle of the Rus'. The historic flux of borders and conquered lands and peoples had created friction between the various nationalities that became apparent with the fall of the Romanov dynasty.  Ukraine saw it was time to break from Moscow's rule or rather St. Petersburg's rule.

    Instead, Ukraine found itself in the middle of a battle ground. The Bolsheviks wanted the territory. The White Russian Russian army defended but without much care for the Ukrainians. The people were pummelled by both sides. With the defeat of the White armies, The Bolsheviks systematically slaughtered tens of thousands of Cossacks. The Bolsheviks saw Ukraine as their bread basket. Quotas on wheat and forced collectivization created chaos and mass death. Peasants fought against losing their land, live stock, and possessions. Although there was resistance, it was far from organized and effective. Later, Stalin's paranoid mind saw any resistance real or imagined as a threat to the USSR. Many were executed for a variety of "crimes." Many simply just disappeared.

    The wheat taken from the Ukrainian farms was not just taken and sold back to the farmers as bread or even used to feed Russia.  It was exported for hard currency.  The five-year plans and quotas existed independently of reality.  When yields were lower than required Moscow took actions like limiting communal tractors forcing more manual and (disappearing) animal labor.  Instead of finding solutions more restrictions were added.  By the time of the 1933 famine, there was not enough healthy or living people to plant and harvest.  There was no carrot and stick only the stick.  The Springtime brought with it not the smell of flowers or new life but the decay of rotting bodies. 

    Famine is perhaps not the most accurate word for the human catastrophe in Ukraine.  There was food but it was for the consumption others outside the Ukraine and even Russia.  People were dying in front of rows of grain.  Stalin feared Ukrainian nationalism as a threat to Soviet power.  Lenin recruited Ukrainians under the guise of Soviet unity rather than Russian unity.  Stalin, however, simply wanted to crush any resistance from organized threats to women and children stealing a handful of wheat.  It is estimated that three million Ukrainians died, mostly of starvation,  in 1933.  Applebaum also describes the process of starvation on the body and the mind.  Using declassified records and documents along with first-hand hand experiences she captures the systematic terror and suffering that is one of the worlds mostly forgotten tragedies.  When the world was not looking, Stalin waged war on people in his own country killing millions with systematic starvation.  Red Famine details the atrocities, failures, and indifference that allowed the senseless slaughter of millions. 

  • Owlseyes
  • Yvonne

    This is a well laid out book that covers a very large and important piece of Russian and Ukranian history . It is very compelling reading and I think would be an invaluable book for those who want to know more regarding this area.

    I know very little about the Ukraine and the atrocities that were committed upon it and it’s people. I have vague memories from very generalised history lessons at school as a teenager. But now, after reading this account of events, I am aware of the depths people have

    This is a well laid out book that covers a very large and important piece of Russian and Ukranian history . It is very compelling reading and I think would be an invaluable book for those who want to know more regarding this area.

    I know very little about the Ukraine and the atrocities that were committed upon it and it’s people. I have vague memories from very generalised history lessons at school as a teenager. But now, after reading this account of events, I am aware of the depths people have gone to, to achieve power.

    For me, this book seems to be a very comprehensive account of the Ukraine between the years of 1917-1934. It discusses how the rich, fertile soil made for the ideal conditions of growing grain, it then follows through the history to tell how Ukraine wanted to become autonomous of the Imperial Russian Empire, this is something that Russia did not want to happen, due to it’s reliance on Ukraine being a valuable food provider. It is quite disturbing how the peasants from Ukraine are seen by Russia, they are viewed as worthless , their culture and language to be ignored under the overpowering Russian rule and how they were persecuted beyond belief. This book goes through the chronology of events that include a huge and and vast amount of bloodshed and atrocities.

    As I said this is comprehensive, there is a huge amount of information and it also includes sources. It discusses the politics, revolts and fighting for the power to rule a country, and what methods were employed to maintain the power for as long as possible during a time of huge unrest.

    This is a book I have found quite hard to review due to the vast amount of detail. There is so much detail I could include, but I have decided to limit myself. What I really want to say is “Just go and buy this book, you will not be disappointed”

    I would highly recommend this book to Historical and Factual readers, and especially for those with an interest in Europe, Russia and Ukraine.

    I would like to thank NetGalley and Penguin UK for allowing me a copy of this book. My opinion is honest, unbiased and is my own.

  • Paul

    Red Famine – Stalin’s War on Ukraine

    As someone from a Polish family who before the Second World War lived in the Kresy (East Poland now in Ukraine) it has always surprised me how little of this war against Ukraine and her people is not widely known in the West. My Grandfather often used it as an example of how evil Stalin was in the way he allowed policy, to kill people and relieve him of a troublesome part of the country of its affluence.

    As a child, he lived in Podwołoczyska, a border town on t

    Red Famine – Stalin’s War on Ukraine

    As someone from a Polish family who before the Second World War lived in the Kresy (East Poland now in Ukraine) it has always surprised me how little of this war against Ukraine and her people is not widely known in the West. My Grandfather often used it as an example of how evil Stalin was in the way he allowed policy, to kill people and relieve him of a troublesome part of the country of its affluence.

    As a child, he lived in Podwołoczyska, a border town on the river Zbruch, and when playing alongside the river he often heard the machine gun fire of the Soviet border guards killing Ukrainians trying to escape, in order to feed their families and themselves. He would often talk of his childhood and the knowledge that on the other side of the river Zbruch, evil things were happening to Ukrainians. After 17th September 1940, my family would also feel the wrath of Stalin.

    Following rural unrest in 1932, the harvest in the Soviet Union dropped by 40%, and between 1928 – 1932 the livestock fell by 50%. One of the reasons being the peasants would rather feed themselves and their families instead of handing the cattle to the Communists.

    All this from Stalin’s New Economic Plans which enforced collectivisation on the people, brought resistance, the liquidation of kulaks and a famine which would extend across the Soviet Union. Better known to Ukrainians and many East Europeans as the Holodomor, since independence has meant that this episode of cruelty and killing can become better known in the West.

    Stalin knew what was going on in Ukraine, and what some readers might find hard to understand is that the Holodomor was completely man- made. It was his decisions, and that of his ministers that led to the famine, through the collectivisation of land and the eviction of kulaks, identified as enemies of the Revolution.

    There are some historians who dispute the fact that the famine was man-made, I happen to agree with her assessment. Like Katyn, the Holodomor was the great unmentionable, Ukrainians could not talk about or acknowledge until 1991. Now is the time to tell the world and remind it what happened and not allow Stalin to be rehabilitated.

    Anne Applebaum is not afraid to investigate and write about controversial parts of history, and the world is a better place for the light being shined into the dark corners. This is an excellently researched, well written book, this is not a dry history, this is a book that draws you in, and the writing keeps you captivated. I hope this book gets a wider audience, as it is compelling and tackle the ignorance that exists.

  • Chrissie

    This book has two interrelated themes - Ukraine’s path toward independence and the famine that occurred there 1932-1933.The history of Ukraine and Russia must be viewed together, and so the Bolshevik Revolution, the Civil War that followed, first Lenin’s and then Stalin’s reign are discussed too. The book starts in 1917 and concludes in the present. The famine that occurred 1921-1922, and for which international aid

    given, came to be followed by the Great Famine of 1932-1933. The latter fami

    This book has two interrelated themes - Ukraine’s path toward independence and the famine that occurred there 1932-1933.The history of Ukraine and Russia must be viewed together, and so the Bolshevik Revolution, the Civil War that followed, first Lenin’s and then Stalin’s reign are discussed too. The book starts in 1917 and concludes in the present. The famine that occurred 1921-1922, and for which international aid

    given, came to be followed by the Great Famine of 1932-1933. The latter famine came to be known as the Holodomor. This word in translation means “to kill by starvation”, thus inferring that the famine was not simply due to natural causes but was instead purposefully instigated, an act of genocide led by Stalin. In an epilog, the author discusses if the latter famine should be classified as genocide. In any case, be that so or not, to understand the relations between Ukraine and Russia today, the past must be understood. It is this that is the purpose of the book. A clear and succinct introduction explains all of this. Knowing at the start that the genocide question will be discussed at the end, a reader reads with this question prominently at the fore.

    The book begins with the first Ukrainian War of Independence,1917 to 1921. The February Revolution of 1917 led ethnic groups in the Russian Empire to seek increased autonomy and self-determination. The Ukrainian National Movement was formed. In June 1917, in Kiev, the Ukrainian People's Republic was declared, a sovereign state to be governed by the socialist-dominated "Central Rada". But it was short-lived. Year by year we follow events - collectivization, blacklisting, deportations, the famine of 1920-1921, liquidation of the kulaks and then unrealistic grain, livestock and vegetable requisitions imposed on a people without food. Travel restrictions so people could not flee.

    The first half of the book, covering the years before the famine, were a struggle for me. I was seriously considering putting the book aside. The background information

    essential, but dry in its presentation. Too many examples to prove one point. Too repetitive. Not engaging.

    The famine is heartrendingly depicted. Physical and psychological effects of famine are documented. What was eaten when no “food” was available. What was done with the dead. Personal experiences are told. People who lived through the famine are quoted. There is however little reference to source material. We are told “a memoirist” or “multiple witnesses” or a “Polish diplomat” claim …… but why are we not give the names of those making these statements?! Yet I do not doubt the validity of the claims made or the horror of what occurred.

    Thereafter follow chapters devoted first to a discussion of death statistics and then the years after the famine. The absence of international aid, resettlement programs, Russification, purging of Ukrainian officials and destruction of evidence that the famine had occurred. Stalin claimed the 1937 census to be invalid! It showed all too clearly how many had died. These chapters were not dry. Finally, the epilog. It presents a straightforward analysis of whether the famine should or should not be considered a genocide. Well, it all depends on whose definition one goes by – Raphael Lemkin (1900 – 1959), who coined the word “genocide” and who initiated the Genocide Convention signed on December 9, 1948

    the United Nation’s Convention on the Crime of Genocide itself. Lemkin referred to the mass killing of Jews in the Second World War, the killing of Armenians by the Turks and the Great Famine of 1932-1933 as genocide, but the Convention, which today constitutes the basis for international law, states that genocide is a state sponsored assault on an entire group of people or on a whole nation. That not all Ukrainians were targeted means the famine should not be classified as genocide.

    To properly judge the events that took place in the Ukraine one must compare these events with what was happening elsewhere. I wish more had been spoken of the famine in the Volga region and Kazakhstan. There is some information, but not enough.

    I very much liked the narration by Suzanne Toren. The reading is clear and at a tempo that allows listeners time to think. Many Russian names are given in the book’s first half; these are too often hard to distinguish. This is no fault of the narrator, but it does make listening more difficult than reading. I do not like that her intonation and pauses emphasize which events are evil. I am perfectly capable of figuring this out myself! I have given the narration four stars.

  • Swimfan

    As a student of history, (my dissertation was on the factors behind the collapse of the USSR) I had not before come across a book that dealt specifically with not only the 1933 Famine in Ukraine, but also behind Stalin and the Bolshevik's obsession with destroying any lingering notion of Ukraine nationality and national identity. There have been books dedicated to the famine in Russia, and other parts of the Soviet Union, but not one that focuses explicitly on Ukraine. The trove of new informati

    As a student of history, (my dissertation was on the factors behind the collapse of the USSR) I had not before come across a book that dealt specifically with not only the 1933 Famine in Ukraine, but also behind Stalin and the Bolshevik's obsession with destroying any lingering notion of Ukraine nationality and national identity. There have been books dedicated to the famine in Russia, and other parts of the Soviet Union, but not one that focuses explicitly on Ukraine. The trove of new information that Applebaum has unearthed means that this a must read for any student of Eastern European or Soviet history. There is a great introduction which, to the uninitiated reader, explains the geographical physical terrain of the country, and just why it has been considered an important strategic country for both Russia, and Poland to the East. This history comes to the fore during the famine and it is important that the reader has a knowledge of this.

    If you have read "Iron Curtain" by Applebaum, you will know what to expect with regards to the way she writes and structures her books, but the content that she has unearthed and compiled is staggering. The way that she breaks down the lead up to the famine, the decisions that led to it, the attempt at a cover up and how disproportionately it affected Ukraine is nothing short of masterful.

    The descriptions of just how famine dehumanizes peoples are very moving and in some cases quite upsetting, however the need for these powerful images to be portrayed outweighs whatever shock you may get from reading about exactly how starvation and hunger destroys people from the inside out, literally. This is the only way to convey just how desperate people were during the famine. As with other instances of mass famine and hunger (the most comparable on occurred in China between 1958 - 61) the lengths humans go to in order to survive is nothing short of shocking. And it is in theses similarities that you really begin to get a fuller picture of just how dehumanizing famine is. And one of the thing all famines have in common: all famines are man made. That really comes out in this book, just how man made and as a result, avoidable the famine really was.

    For me, the most revealing part of this book was the chapters about the cover up that the Soviet government attempted, and how the use of foreign journalists to help portray an image of the Soviet Union abroad, even during the famine, played such a crucial role in convincing the world that there were "food shortages, but no famine" in the USSR. You would imagine it would be incredibly hard to cover up a famine where millions possibly lost their lives (the number is almost impossible to quantify due to the cover up, and the terrible record keeping of the Ukrainian Communist Party and the Soviet Government) however, the USSR did as good a job as any in keeping the true nature and scale of this disaster from the watching world.

    The book focuses on Ukraine and how Stalin sought what could now be called a campaign of genocide or ethnic cleansing. A must read book for anyone interested in Soviet history, or Eastern European history. The afterword helps the reader understand how the historic issues between Russia and Ukraine have re-emerged recently in the axing of Crimea and Putin's general stance towards the Ukraine. At just over 350 pages it isn't that long, but she manages to capture all the relevant information and the general mood in Ukraine at the time of the famine. Once again, I feel I must add that this book does not deal with the Russian aspect of the famine. It deals entirely with the affect it had on Ukraine.

    A brilliant book detailing one of the more darker periods in Soviet history. However, as a book on famine, it comes second only to Tombstone, by Yang Jisheng, detailing the great Chinese famine of 1958 - 62. Although the price for the hardback is a bit steep at £25, see if you can find it for cheaper, but if not, its well worth the investment

  • Dem

    Parking this one for the moment....... may come back to it but for now now really keeping my attention.

  • Hadrian

    "It is strictly forbidden to bury people here." -outskirts of Kharkiv, 1933

    This is not the first original volume in English on what is now called the Holodomor, also called the 'Terror-Famine'. That would be Robert Conquest's study, 'The Harvest of Sorrow', which saved it from sliding down the memory hole. While that first book was seminal in its time, this new study builds on it with archival research, new memoirs, further testimonies, (and the work of a small army of Ukrainian historians), now

    "It is strictly forbidden to bury people here." -outskirts of Kharkiv, 1933

    This is not the first original volume in English on what is now called the Holodomor, also called the 'Terror-Famine'. That would be Robert Conquest's study, 'The Harvest of Sorrow', which saved it from sliding down the memory hole. While that first book was seminal in its time, this new study builds on it with archival research, new memoirs, further testimonies, (and the work of a small army of Ukrainian historians), now the third book in Applebaum's series on Soviet atrocities.

    The deaths of approximately four million people from 1931 to 1934 were a targeted famine. They were an assault on Ukraine and Ukrainians. It was, in a twisted way, a continuation of the Tsarist policy of Russification towards the Ukrainian territories - forbidding the teaching of their native language, forced resettlement, book banning, etc. The area, while amenable to socialism around the time of the Russian Civil War, bristled at Bolshevism and the outside intervention.

    The famine proceeded in stages. The 1920s were a period of temporary relaxation of the Russification policies, and intellectuals were free to write in and teach Ukrainian to a new generation of students. But by 1929, volunteers from the Russian areas of the Soviet Union came to preach the virtues of agricultural collectivization - first by persuasion, then by coercion, or agitation against foreign elements or 'liberalism'.

    After this was a campaign against 'kulaks', a broadly defined group which might have implied rich peasants, but instead singled out those with two cows instead of one, or anyone who simply resisted too loudly the previous collectivization campaigns. The records of the secret police show that not everyone went along quietly. The regime would not move a step back, and then neither would the peasants - they hid their grain, or killed their livestock to prevent confiscation. Stalin, remembering the chaos of the Russian Civil War, implemented mass deportations.

    The final stage, and the one which was directly responsible for the greatest human suffering, was forced requisitions, often from the poorest segments of the peasantry. As part of a crash industrialization drive, Stalin felt compelled to raise grain exports. The only way to do this, he felt, was the use of terror. Search teams ravaged the fields and the barren shacks, searching for grain stores that never were gathered or sown. They shot at scavengers picking grain from the side of the road, and food theft was made punishable by death or exile to the gulag.

    The food was gone by 1933, and starvation followed. Here Applebaum's perspective moves from the political to the personal. I won't go into it too much. They ate grass and tree bark, and the cities were littered with the corpses of those who wandered in from the countryside in search of food. Kyiv and Kharkiv districts, which were the centers of rebellion during the Civil War, were especially targeted. By 1934, whole villages were depopulated, with wolves scavenging in the abandoned huts.

    Ukrainian farms were not the only places that experienced poor harvesting conditions - Kazakhstan under the 'anti-nomadic' campaigns and the Northern Caucasus were also heavily affected. But Applebaum demonstrates that Soviet policy was targeted towards exacerbating the food situation in Ukraine.

    Then, and now, it was denied. The dead were buried in mass graves under the cover of night. A few Western reporters were able to publish articles, but they were protested by useful idiots or paid agents. Applebaum makes hay of the case of Walter Duranty, a New York Times reporter who tried to seek out 'both sides' of the crisis and coveted access to the Soviet leadership for further articles - sound familiar? Reports filtered to what embassies were left, but other governments kept mum, and others needed allies against Hitler. The cover-up worked as propaganda often works - not in creating an entirely new narrative, but by sowing doubt. Those who spoke out against it were derided as conspiracy theorists or Cold Warriors pushing some agenda.

    Applebaum takes a technical approach in her conclusion. While the definition under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide may leave some ambiguity - after all, it was only ratified with Soviet approval - under the original definition of the word 'genocide' proposed by Raphael Lemkin, the result is an unequivocal yes. The Soviet Union, at multiple levels, carried out deliberate policies exacerbating the effects of the ongoing famine with the effect of depopulating Ukraine.

    Now, this history is a battlefield. In 2014, demonstrations overthrew the pro-Russian president, Yanukovych, and as a direct result, Putin invaded Crimea and the Donbass. Ukraine is still shorn of its territory, and caught up in an expensive and destabilizing war, and Putin decries all his enemies as fascists and weaves webs of pro-Western conspiracy. Attempts within the UN to publish a statement on the Holodomor were denounced as, incredibly, 'Russophobic'. In this way, the debate over history is a background for ongoing conflict.

    Applebaum's history is a powerful, even-handed study of a humanitarian catastrophe that is too often overlooked. It is superb. I recommend it not only as a study of history, but also one of disaster and malice.

  • Theresa

    Anne Applebaum's Red Famine is an important history of the Ukraine (and USSR by default). Applebaum provides meaningful context beginning with the 1917 Ukrainian Revolution, famine of the 1920s, Stalin's agricultural collectivation policies of the late 1920s and early 1930s, and Ukrainian nationalist sentiment and peasant resistance prior to focusing on the terror famine known as the Holodomor occurring between 1932 and 1934. Holodomor is a term derived from two Ukrainian words for hunger and ex

    Anne Applebaum's Red Famine is an important history of the Ukraine (and USSR by default). Applebaum provides meaningful context beginning with the 1917 Ukrainian Revolution, famine of the 1920s, Stalin's agricultural collectivation policies of the late 1920s and early 1930s, and Ukrainian nationalist sentiment and peasant resistance prior to focusing on the terror famine known as the Holodomor occurring between 1932 and 1934. Holodomor is a term derived from two Ukrainian words for hunger and extermination. This famine was not created by crop failure or poor weather, it was a man made famine created by Stalin's agricultural policies, grain quotas (and associated penalties, including food confiscation inside homes, for not meeting those policies), etc. Ukrainian peasants, especially the Kulaks, that exercised resistance, were treated especially harsh. At least five million died during this famine, the vast majority in the Ukraine. Despite this tragic history and subsequent struggles, the Ukraine stands today as an independent nation.

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