Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles [in Ukrainian] People were lying in the fields, swollen and so many dead people lay down on the road." [in Ukrainian] I survived the Holodomor, and will remember it as long as I live. This is Rostyslav, reading the words of his grandmother, Lydia, who lived in Ukraine. [in Ukrainian] It was scary to watch and remember. Lydia was a witness and survivor of a horrific man-made famine that killed millions in Ukraine. My father has recorded an oral history that his grandmother told him and he just recorded it in ink pen. [in Ukrainian] Our family consisted of 10 people. [in Ukrainian] On one of those nights, my father said that we would starve to death. [in Ukrainian] We needed to do something. The famine hit several parts of the Soviet Union, from 1932 to 1933. But in Ukraine it became known as "the Holodomor" a term meaning “death by starvation". It was genocide carried out by a dictator who wanted to keep Ukraine under his control. And would do everything in his power to cover it up for decades. In 1917, after the fall of the Russian empire, Ukraine briefly gained freedom. But, by 1922, it was forcefully integrated into the newly formed Soviet Union and became known as the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. At the time, the country was largely rural most of the population were villagers and farmers. Self-reliance is a very important thing for every Ukrainian. And so having that piece of land, cultivating that land was something that was very important to so many. In fact, Ukraine was known for its farmland. With some of the world's most fertile soil, the country was a huge grain producer especially in these regions. Over time, it became known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin wanted complete control of it. When Stalin rose to power in the mid-1920s a distinctly Ukrainian culture and national identity were thriving. But by the late-1920s, he and other Soviet leaders feared it could bring on a Ukrainian revolution. They decided to crackdown on what they saw as an ideological threat to the Soviet regime and they began a widespread, violent purge of Ukrainian intellectuals along with priests, and religious structures. You have to think about it as kind of decapitating the leadership of the country. You cut off its head, basically. Around the same time, Stalin introduced a “Five Year Plan” that would eventually give him control of Ukrainian agriculture. The goal was to industrialize all of the Soviet Union at a rapid pace which meant building up industries like electricity, coal, and steel. To fund this project, Stalin turned to the “collectivization” of agriculture. Which meant consolidating individual farms across all of the Soviet Union into large, state run farms. If you combine, you know, 60, 70, 80 small farms into one big farm it's easier to control it. It's easier to extract surplus grain or surplus sugar or whatever that farm produces. In Ukraine, the plan gave Stalin direct control over grain production which meant he could extract all of the crop to sell to the West as a way to fund Soviet industrialization. By this policy of industrialization, by taking away everything that grew on the land Stalin aimed to really destroy that connection between the land and life itself. That was one of the key ideological things in industrialization saying that it's not about the land, it's about the state the Soviet state that will then provide for your livelihood. Many Ukrainian farmers who had worked independently for their entire lives resisted Stalin's plan. So, Stalin found another way to attack them. He launched a propaganda campaign to smear farmers. He labeled anyone resistant to collectivization, a “kulak” a Russian term for a wealthy peasant and depicted them as greedy, exploiters, and enemies of the state. And sometimes, as literal parasites. This is a way to drive a wedge within a community. And it's a way to also justify, I think, what the Soviet state and what the Communist Party is trying to do on the ideological side. No matter how rich or poor, Stalin seized the belongings of the so-called “kulaks". He then exiled, imprisoned, or executed hundreds of thousands of them. And for the farmers who remained, he engineered a famine to starve them. In 1931, Stalin deliberately set quotas for grain production that were far beyond the capacity of farmers across the Soviet Union. When farmers failed to meet those quotas Stalin's men swept their farms to confiscate all the grain they could find. Records show the Soviets took over 4 million tons of grain from Ukraine alone in 1932. That same year, a new law punished anyone who took even a handful of grain or was caught hiding grain or bread — with 10 years in prison, or the death penalty. Stalin's oppressive collection policy created a famine that started spreading in grain-producing regions across the Soviet Union. Some party members sent Stalin letters about the growing crisis pleading for a change in policy. And that's what makes it so diabolical because if a government is really concerned about its population, its people then at the end of the first famine year, it can reverse its policies. But instead, the government and the party actually doubled down. Their commitment to collectivization made the famine deadly in many parts of the Soviet Union. But when it came to Ukraine, Stalin's need for the complete submission of its people compounded the effects of the famine. In the fall and winter of 1932, Soviet police began seizing not just grain but anything edible. Even livestock. Farms in Ukraine and sometimes entire villages, were “blacklisted” for missing grain quotas, torn apart for food, and prohibited from receiving any supplies. In January 1933, knowing Ukrainians were leaving in search of food Stalin closed the borders of Ukraine and policed migration from Ukrainian villages to cities, too. In the coming months, tens of thousands of Ukrainian villagers were caught trying to flee and were sent back to their homes to starve. This was a targeted extermination of peasantry. People try to find food, you know, wherever they could in rivers and streams. They began to eat their animals, their pets. They began to catch birds and mice, whatever they could find on trees that would give them some sort of sustenance. People were so desperate that they ate flesh from animals that they found on the road and some even resorted to cannibalism. But even in this unimaginable suffering, Ukrainians fought for their lives and each other. She was my great grandmother. I have fond memories of her. My dad took me to her village, I was really young. So Lydia's house is actually my first memories. The way Holodomor happened, it was mostly happening in the rural areas. Lydia was a student at the time. And she actually told me about how they survived. [in Ukrainian] At night, we dug a hole under a tree. [in Ukrainian] We put a barrel in the hole and poured grain in there and covered the barrel with soil. At night they would make flour out of that wheat and make some makeshift bread. And the reason why they would do it at night is that nobody could see the smoke coming out of the windows. Lydia describes horrific village scenes seeing “a mother die of starvation” and “police taking away children.” Once, when Lydia saw her neighbors who had “bloated bodies and couldn't get up” she started to sneak them “bread and milk". It's likely due to her efforts, that seven people, out of that family of nine, survived. After its peak in May and June of 1933, the famine slowly started subsiding. Likely because of a weakened labor force, the Soviet regime finally took measures to decrease grain confiscations and arrests. By 1934, most regions collectivized. Almost all farmers were working for the state. Though we will never know the total number of deaths from the Holodomor a recent study estimated nearly 4 million Ukrainians killed. Places like the North Caucasus, with a large Ukrainian population, suffered greatly, too. And further east, Kazakhstan lost at least a third of its population. So many people perished during the Holodomor that the Soviet Union had to send people over to Ukraine to rebuild the labor force. The main goal was to resettle those areas in order to work the land. There were settlers brought in from various parts of the Soviet Union but mainly from Russia. This resettlement program set off a wave of future campaigns over the years. Many Russians moved here in the east and south which are, to this day, places with large Russian populations. In Russia, Stalin carried out a massive disinformation campaign to cover up the famine he'd created. Throughout the crisis, he outright denied that a famine ever took place. He banned the Soviet press from reporting on the famine and banned foreign correspondents from even going to Ukraine. But, he strategically allowed language that would effectively downplay the Holodomor words like “food shortages” or “food supply problems”. For example, Walter Duranty — a Moscow correspondent for the New York Times who won a Pulitzer for his reporting on Stalin's success with the Five Year Plan denied the famine in his reporting calling it a “food shortage". Duranty was challenged by others, including journalist Gareth Jones who snuck into Ukraine and wrote a series of articles on how “famine ruled Russia". At the time, Russia was a term many journalists used to describe the Soviet Union as a whole including Ukraine. Jones wrote: “Everywhere was the cry, 'there is no bread. We are dying.'” In response — Duranty, who had more influence than Jones, put out another article this time insisting that “Russians were hungry, but not starving". Several photographers who also tried to expose the humanitarian crisis were arrested for their photos.