The Holodomor (Ukrainian: Голодомо́р, romanized: Holodomór, IPA: [ɦolodoˈmor]; derived from морити голодом, moryty holodom, ‘to kill by starvation’), also known as the Terror-Famine and sometimes referred to as the Great Famine, was a famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. The term Holodomor emphasises the famine’s man-made and intentional aspects such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs and restriction of population movement. As part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–33 which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country, millions of inhabitants of Ukraine, the majority of whom were ethnic Ukrainians, died of starvation in a peacetime catastrophe unprecedented in the history of Ukraine. Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine and 15 other countries as a genocide of the Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet government.
Early estimates of the death toll by scholars and government officials varied greatly. According to higher estimates, up to 12 million ethnic Ukrainians were said to have perished as a result of the famine. A United Nations joint statement signed by 25 countries in 2003 declared that 7–10 million perished. Research has since narrowed the estimates to between 3.3 and 7.5 million. According to the findings of the Court of Appeal of Kyiv in 2010, the demographic losses due to the famine amounted to 10 million, with 3.9 million direct famine deaths, and a further 6.1 million birth deficits.
Whether the Holodomor was genocide is still the subject of academic debate, as are the causes of the famine and intentionality of the deaths. Some scholars believe that the famine was planned by Joseph Stalin to eliminate a Ukrainian independence movement. According to Natalya Naumenko, collectivization policies of the Soviet Union and lack of favored industries were primary contributors to famine mortality (52% of excess deaths), and some evidence shows there was discrimination against ethnic Ukrainians and Germans.
The word Holodomor literally translated from Ukrainian means “death by hunger”, “killing by hunger, killing by starvation”, or sometimes “murder by hunger or starvation”. It is a compound of the Ukrainian words holod, ‘hunger’; and mor, ‘plague’. The expression moryty holodom means “to inflict death by hunger”. The Ukrainian verb moryty (морити) means “to poison, to drive to exhaustion, or to torment”. The perfective form of moryty is zamoryty, ‘kill or drive to death by hunger, exhausting work’.
The word was used in print in the 1930s in Ukrainian diaspora publications in Czechoslovakia as Haladamor and by Ukrainian immigrant organisations in the United States and Canada by 1978. However, in the Soviet Union—of which Ukraine was a constituent republic—any references to the famine were dismissed as anti-Soviet propaganda, even after de-Stalinization in 1956, until the declassification and publication of historical documents in the late 1980s made continued denial of the catastrophe unsustainable.
Discussion of the Holodomor became possible as part of the glasnost policy of openness. In Ukraine, the first official use of the word was a December 1987 speech by Volodymyr Shcherbytskyi, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, on the occasion of the republic’s 17th anniversary. An early public usage in the Soviet Union was in a February 1988 speech by Oleksiy Musiyenko, Deputy Secretary for ideological matters of the party organisation of the Kyiv branch of the Union of Soviet Writers in Ukraine. The term may have first appeared in print in the Soviet Union on 18 July 1988, when his article on the topic was published. Holodomor is now an entry in the modern, two-volume dictionary of the Ukrainian language, published in 2004, described as “artificial hunger, organised on a vast scale by a criminal regime against a country’s population.”
According to Elazar Barkan, Elizabeth A. Cole and Kai Struve, there is a competition among victims in constructing an “Ukrainian Holocaust”. They note that since the 1990s the term Holodomor has been adopted by anti-Communists due to its similarity to Holocaust in an attempt to promote the narrative that the Communists killed 10 million Ukrainians while the Nazis only killed 6 million Jews. They further note that the term Holodomor was “introduced and popularized by the Ukrainian diaspora in North America before Ukraine became independent” and that “the term ‘Holocaust’ is not explained at all.” This has been used to create a “victimized national narrative” and “compete with the Jewish narrative in order to obscure the ‘dark sides’ of Ukraine’s national history and to counter accusations that their fathers collaborated with the Germans.”
In English, the Holodomor has also been referred to as the artificial famine, terror famine, and terror-genocide.