The letter of the President of the State to the President of Ukraine from Friday should perhaps be broken down into syllables, in order to emphasize the scope of his efforts to avoid taking some kind of moral position, not only towards the current crises, but also towards the experiences of the past.
Mr. Herzog wrote to Volodymyr Zelensky, to politely decline his invitation to participate in a virtual summit of “Grains from Ukraine”. The summit was to be held on Saturday.
Today, on Nov. 26, Ukraine commemorates the victims of Holodomor, the artificial famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932-1933.
At 4 p.m. today, we light candles to honor their memory. pic.twitter.com/oR28xuXqKK
– The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) November 26, 2022
The date of the summit was no accident. It is the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the great catastrophe, which Ukrainians call the Holodomor, death by starvation. Perhaps four million Ukrainians perished in that act, initiated by Stalin. The Soviet dictator Gamar told to burn any expression of Ukrainian uniqueness.
It was a defining disaster for the Ukrainian national identity, the most important basis of legitimacy of the Ukrainians’ aspiration for independence. We will immediately deal with the Holodomor.
Yitzhak Herzog, in a rather long letter, managed to compare natural disasters to both the Holodomor of 1932-1933 and the invasion of Russia in 2022. The Holodomor “is a stark reminder of the vital importance of fighting hunger and standing as one man to ensure food security,” the president wrote. This is a characterization that is hard to argue with. It is indeed important to fight hunger. But the Holodomor was not an accidental result of food shortages. It was a deliberate result of food shortages in a land that was once described as “the granary of Europe”, and blessed with one of the most fertile soils on earth.
The president signed his letter with a promise to “ease the suffering of the Ukrainian people”. “The suffering of the Ukrainian people” is a very neutral description of a massive attack by Russian ballistic missiles and Iranian drones on Ukraine’s energy and water infrastructure. From reading the president’s letter, it can be assumed that in 1932 and 2022 Ukraine was hit by an earthquake or an unprecedented tsunami predicted, requiring the establishment of a field hospital, or the dispatch of trained dogs to rummage through the ruins.
History and politics
Mr. Herzog’s language requires a historical context, the complete or partial lack of which, intentional or accidental, is evident in the letter.
History plays an absolutely vital role in understanding the crisis that produced the Russian invasion. Vladimir Putin began to prepare the ground for the invasion with a long historical essay (5,000 words), which was published eight months before the Russian army crossed the borders of Ukraine. In that mass, Putin denied the legitimacy of Ukraine, described it as the flesh of Russia, and attributed its borders and its very independent existence to a conspiracy of the first Soviet regime. The presidential pamphlet, interwoven with half-truths, continues to be the ideological and moral basis of Russia’s attempt to erase Ukraine from the map, or at least shrink it to miniature dimensions. It is the second largest country in Europe, after Russia.
Russian and Soviet history is full of exterminations, in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Siberia and the Far East. In the 1990s, immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was an attempt in Russia to review the sins of the past, study them, apologize for them and even atone for them. Boris Yeltsin’s government created a special category of people called “victims of oppression”, and were entitled to discounts on public transport. Post-Soviet Russia apologized to its Eastern European counterparts for their occupation and oppression. But Russia has never come close to admitting its responsibility for the Holodomor. She denied its very occurrence. In her eyes, the famine in Ukraine was part of a general famine in the Soviet Union in those days.
“every grain of wheat”
We do not have the space to discuss the Holodomor in detail here. But the president of the country and his advisors are invited to look in history books and find the text of the orders that Stalin issued in December 1932 and January 1933. He then ordered a general persecution against the peasants, against the educated and even against the communist elite in Ukraine. About the order of January 1933, the prominent Ukrainian historian Serhiy Plohi writes: “From then on, every grain of wheat that was discovered in a farmer’s house was considered theft from the collective farm and in any case also from the state. Party members from the big cities, along with policemen and local activists, were sent to the villages to collect the wheat and ‘fine’ the farmers by expropriating all the food they had. The expropriators left in their wake ruined villages and inevitable hunger.”
About four million starved to death, most of them between May and June 1933, at a rate of 27,000 a day. A million died in the Kyiv region, and a million died in the Kharkiv region. In central Ukraine, not even a symbolic effort was made to extend help, even when the extent of the death became clear; The dying were left to their own devices.
As we reflect on the horrors of the Holodomor and the innocent lives lost 90 years ago, we recommit ourselves to accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine and to the constant work of preventing and refusing to accept such horrors now or in the future. pic.twitter.com/M7yM8E3ysb
– Ambassador Bridget A. Brink (@USAmbKyiv) November 26, 2022
The campaign soon took on the character of what was later known in international law as ‘ethnocide’, meaning the destruction of a nation. The Ukrainian language was effectively banned, its teaching and writing stopped; Russian culture and language were imposed on Ukraine. In the words of the historian Plohi, “the largest national minority in Russia was eliminated, in the cultural sense.” The Russian invaders repeated the actions of their predecessors at the beginning of the year. In every Ukrainian settlement that fell into their hands, they rushed to protest the traces of Ukrainian culture.
Was the Holodomor the Ukrainian equivalent of the final solution to the Jewish question? No, at least in the sense that Stalin did not try to kill all Ukrainians. But he killed many millions of them, and caused enormous damage, certainly intentional, to the development of the Ukrainian nation. Waves of oppression continued many years later.
Ninety years after the Holodomor, explicit calls for mass extermination of Ukrainians are heard in Russia day after day. There is no difficulty in finding these readings on web sites, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and Telegram sites. One TV debate was about how many Ukrainians would have to be killed to rid Ukraine of “Nazis”. The answer was two million.
On Russian state TV, they discuss not only what it would take to destroy the United States, but also how many Ukrainians have to be massacred. One lawmaker came up with a figure: 2 million. No one in the studio blinked or objected-including the host, who is himself a Duma member. pic.twitter.com/dqywGStxax
– Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) May 30, 2022
One commentator called for Ukrainian children to be drowned in rivers. Another commentator called last week to destroy the city of Kyiv with nuclear weapons. These are crazy talks, reflecting a degree of murderous hatred, which is almost unthinkable in any other conflict; And they are doubly mad considering that Russia’s justification for its invasion was to protect the “Ukrainian brothers”.
Meanwhile on Russia’s state-funded RT, director of broadcasting Anton Krasovsky suggests drowning or burning Ukrainian children, makes hideous comments about the rapes by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, says Ukraine should not exist and Ukrainians who resist Russia should be shot. pic.twitter.com/BGIaBNok4v
– Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) October 23, 2022
The “cereal summit”, to which the president was invited, was an inspired idea to mark the anniversary of the Holodomor by sending Ukrainian food. Ukraine has enough grain to feed the world’s poor, provided that Russia does not harden the waterways.
The founders of the Soviet Union were interested in Ukrainian grain from the first days of the revolution. “In the name of God,” wrote the atheist Lenin to his subordinates in the Ukraine in January 1918, “with all the vigor and all the revolutionary measures, please send grain, grain, and more grain! Otherwise [פטרבורג] Starve to death…report to us daily, in God’s name!” By the way, God did not save Russia from starvation in those days. American capitalists did.
In the Russian history of the last hundred years, Ukraine is woven as the second thread as a source of life, not for the Ukrainians themselves but for Russia. To this very day, long after the communist revolution collapsed, Russia claims the right to “take all revolutionary measures” to secure Ukraine’s assets and resources. Just like in 1918 and 1932, the end justifies the means. all the means.