Ukraine, Russia and Warfare via Food

Feb. 24, 2022
What we can learn from Russia's historical treatment of Ukraine.

I'm going to get a little political, but I don't think I'll offend 90% of the world. And give a little history lesson, one that isn't as well known as other atrocities. Admittedly it has only a slight connection to food, but that hook will become apparent.

Like most people, I'm terrified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and equally so by how the rest of the world will respond. Maybe worse: How the rest of the world may not respond at all.

I'll get quickly to food. The last time Russia took over Ukraine, an estimated 10 million Ukrainians died of a starvation inflicted on them by Mother Russia. 10 million! That makes it one of the biggest genocides in the history of the world.

Genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Myanmar are still fresh in many memories, and Jews rightly maintain a remembrance of the Holocaust. But the Ukrainian Famine, also called the Holodomor, seems to be remembered only by pre-World War II history buffs and Ukrainians. Holodomor translates into "killing by starvation."

Due to a series of Soviet governmental missteps and unkind acts of nature – droughts, poor harvests and collectivization of farms under the new Soviet system – grain harvests in much of Eastern Europe in 1932-33 were half of what they traditionally had been. Also, Russia was hellbent on industrializing the Soviet Union to catch up with the rest of the world and ignored investments in agriculture.

Some of the foundations of the Ukrainian Famine were from nature. But when it came down to everyone in the new Soviet Union sharing a little pain, being just a little hungry, or using his power to feed only Russians, Josef Stalin chose the latter. Russian troops seized all crops and all available food that was in Ukraine, ransacking people's homes, taking away farm animals.

Equally at work was the opportunity to punish proud Ukrainians, to crush any Ukrainian independence movements and to impress upon that country that they were now solidly under Russian control.

In the unrest that followed, Ukrainian citizens were executed, thousands sent to gulags and others to work in Siberia. Entire areas were depopulated, then repopulated with Russians, which explains why there are pockets of Russians in Ukraine today.

But the main murder weapon was starvation. I don't know if that's better or worse than a quick bullet in the head or burning an entire village. Russia refused outside aid and actively denied the famine's existence.
Sixteen countries, including the U.S. and Canada, have labeled the Holodomor a genocide of the Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet government. A United Nations joint statement signed by 25 countries in 2003 declared that 7-10 million Ukrainians perished.

There are horrible stories of children dying, families being separated, pets being eaten, even cannibalization – there were thousands of convictions for cannibalism by Soviet jurists. That's how severe this famine was. Ukraine was both under the heel of Russia yet receiving no help from its supposed "partner."

I don't know what the U.S. and the world responses will be to the current situation. I can't think of suggestions nor solutions. Just this history lesson that most have never heard of.

Of course, everyone wants peace at any price – just ask Neville Chamberlain.

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