Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
You would think that the world would notice if a dictatorship killed millions of its own people. But it didn’t. It was the Holodomer—which literally means death by hunger––in the Ukraine, ruled by the Soviet Union in 1932-33. The actual number of dead has never been fully counted and estimates vary widely from 2.5 to 14 million.
Russia hid details about the forced famine until archives were opened following Ukraine’s independence in 1991. My own knowledge was scant until I previewed the movie Bitter Harvest and read more about it. Russia, would rather you not know about the Holodomor but as is often said, being ignorant of history makes it likely to repeat itself. Given that Russia again wants the Ukraine under its control, once one knows the history, Ukraine’s strong resistance makes perfect sense.
Bitter Harvest portrays the Holodomor through a fictional love story between Yuri, a peasant boy with artistic ambitions, and his childhood sweetheart Natalka. There is passion, a heart-wrenching separation, and undying love amid depraved rulers sacrificing innocent lives in Ukraine’s pastoral country.
Stalin had commanded a 44 percent increase in grain in the Ukraine despite that the nation’s productivity had been hampered when communists eliminated many of the private farms. Stalin threatened that failure to meet the quota would mean all grain was to be confiscated. He kept his word.
Food was declared state property and even taken from households. Soldiers searched homes and confiscated food any found in hiding places. In August of 1932, the Communist Party had passed a law mandating the death penalty if anyone be caught stealing food from government-owned farm fields. Many peasants, desperate to feed their families, were shot from watchtowers built to watch over the collective farms.
The most intense thrust was against Ukraine's Churches, for they represented a form of Ukrainian solidarity opposed to Marxism. Churches were demolished or turned into state buildings and priests were executed or sent to labor camps. By the end of 1933, 80 percent of the Ukraine's village churches were closed.
The article, “Holodomor: The Secret Holocaust in Ukraine,” in The New American, explained that the worst paradox was that besides much of the confiscated grain being “exported to the West, large portions were simply dumped into the sea by the Soviets, or allowed to rot. An Italian diplomat during that time reported: “The famine has been deliberately planned by the Moscow government and implemented by means of brutal requisition. The definite aim of this crime is to liquidate the Ukrainian problem over a few months, sacrificing from 10 to 15 million people.”
The West Should Have Known
What is especially disturbing was that it was a rare Western observer who reported on the Ukrainian’s plight. Instead, journalists who enjoyed high esteem claimed there was nothing to worry about. The New American reported that playwright and socialist George Bernard Shaw, after receiving a tour orchestrated by the Soviets, proclaimed in 1932 that he had not seen a single undernourished citizen.
By far the worst offender, according to the New American article, was Walter Duranty, New York Times' Moscow bureau chief from 1922 to 1936. “Duranty enjoyed personal access to Stalin, called him ‘the greatest living statesman,’ and even praised the dictator's notorious show trials… Journalist Joseph Alsop termed Duranty a ‘KGB agent,’ and Malcolm Muggeridge called him ‘the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in 50 years of journalism.’
“In November 1932, he brazenly told his New York Times readers, ‘There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.’ He denounced as ‘liars’ the few brave writers who reported the famine, which he called ‘malignant propaganda.’”
When reports of massive deaths made Duranty’s claim questionable, he wrote it was just a problem with malnutrition. Shockingly, Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for "dispassionate, interpretive reporting of the news from Russia."
In 2013, during the making of the movie Ukraine’s corrupt former President with strong ties to Russia, opted to join Russia instead of the European Union. Street protests broke out throughout the Ukraine and led to his overthrow.
Putin sent in forces in the spring of 2014 to occupy Crimea and the Donbas. His goal was to annex the Ukraine. But the citizens know their history well thanks to stories passed down from their grandparents. Never again! Ukraine leaders insist as they fight for their freedom against Russian aggression.
This time, the turmoil is playing out on a national stage. It has been estimated that over 10,000 people have died thus far since the 2004 Orange Revolution, set off an ongoing conflict between the government in Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists.
Bitter Harvest is a movie that chronicles history for a better understanding of current events. It will be released in theaters February 24. It’s not a family-friendly film. There is a scene suggesting that Yuri and Natalka were intimate before marriage and it is rated R for violence and disturbing images.