By late 1933, the worst of the famine had run its course. There’s no definite estimate of how many people died. But most scholars agree that at least 2 million Ukrainians died of starvation between 1930 and 1933. However, during any famine, the number of people who die from starvation isn’t the best way to determine the total death toll. The stress of long-term hunger makes people more likely to develop deadly illnesses like typhus and cholera. These diseases were prevalent in Ukraine during the famine and killed millions of additional people.
Some have suggested that if you add the number of people who died from disease or were deported to Gulags by the Soviets, the total tally for the Holodomor is probably somewhere around 7 million. For comparison, it’s estimated that around 12-13 million people died during the Holocaust. It’s a staggering number, and if Stalin did plan the Holodomor, or at least let it happen, then it ranks among the worst crimes in human history. But is Stalin really to blame? It’s a question that scholars have debated for years, but no one knows for sure. However, there is a significant amount of evidence that he played at least some part in the deaths.
Stalin considered independent peasants, or “kulaks,” to be a serious threat to the success of Communism. These peasants were really only different from other peasants in that they might own a little bit of land. But Stalin created a set of policies designed to completely eliminate the entire class of people. Their farms were seized and the kulaks were either sent to gulags or moved to collective farms. These collective farms were under the strict control of the communist party, and production quotas were set by the state. This mass collectivization of farms produced food shortages across the Soviet Union.
During the period of the Holodomor, millions of people across the entire Union were starving to death, so the famine wasn’t isolated to Ukraine. But there’s evidence that Stalin went to special efforts to make the situation in Ukraine worse. Food quotas for Ukraine were set higher than the area could actually produce, which meant that the authorities were pulling more food out of Ukraine than the people who lived there could afford to give. And the Soviets passed laws that stated any theft of “Socialist Property” was punishable by death. Of course, “Socialist Property” included food.
So any peasant who wanted to hide a little bit of the food they grew to eat later could actually be sentenced to death. But even with the famine, historians argue that if the Soviets had distributed grain rations fairly, most of the deaths could have been prevented. So there’s little doubt that Stalin’s policies contributed to the millions of deaths during the Holodomor. Many scholars think that these policies were applied in Ukraine in an attempt to eliminate a large portion of the Ukrainian people. If that’s true, then the Holodomor fits the definition of genocide. And with a such a massive death toll, it ranks among the worst genocides in history.