Given all of the events taking place regarding Ukraine and Russia conflict, it makes sense that the two countries have a history together. The Holodomor, which was the Ukrainian genocide that took place from 1932 to1933, tells us a lot about the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. During the Holodomor, more than 10 million Ukrainians died, mostly of starvation. Although disputed amongst many, this starvation was purposeful and deliberate on the part of the Soviet regime which controlled Ukraine throughout a lot of the country’s history. The Soviet Union, which largely comprised of Russia, was responsible for the deaths during the Holodomor. Therefore, Russia and Ukraine have a history of conflict in which Russia oppresses and destroys the population of Ukraine, similar to what is taking place today.
This conflict between Russia and Ukraine, however, didn’t simply emerge because of this singular genocide. Russia has a long history of colonization and control over Ukraine. Throughout a large part of Ukrainian history, Ukraine has been under Russian control and seen as a part of Russia. This Russification of Ukraine that took place is important in understanding their relationship. Ukrainians recognize their differences from Russians, so they often resisted, struggling for liberation and independence. This struggle for power and identity continues today, a central aspect of the Russian attacks on Ukraine. That is why it is so important to understand the relationship between two countries throughout history because it can tell us a lot about what is currently happening. Both currently and in the 1900s, the Soviet Union, particularly Russia, wants complete control of Ukraine. They have and continue to try to achieve this through extermination, regulations, targeting certain groups such as the Ukrainian peasantry, stripping Ukrainians of their freedoms, and more. These are all strategies that they’ve done in the past, and we can learn from them to avoid repeating these repressive actions.
One of the most used strategies, however, was the use of food and deprivation as weapons. It is also important to understand this strategy during the Holodomor to see how to avoid similar consequences today. Ukraine was known as the “breadbasket” because they were a source of food and goods to many other countries such as Russia. When the Soviet regime and Russia had control over Ukraine, they exploited the country, using their power to get all the food they possibly could from the country with little thought about the Ukrainians. They required farmers to meet impossible target exports and confiscated all the produced grain, leaving the Ukrainian farmers and citizens with nothing for themselves. This regime of starvation, known as “blackboards” acted in 180 districts, which was 25% of the Ukrainian area. By removing any food and banning the trade or transportation of goods, the Soviet government killed millions of Ukrainians. These events show us the terrible consequences of using food and deprivation as weapons to destroy a population. Although any means of destroying populations are terrible, using food and deprivation is particularly bad because of its long and often torturous effects. Families would slowly starve and make sacrifices for one another. Nina Karpenko, a survivor of the Holodomor, remembers hearing her mom tell her son, “I think we’re going to die now.” No mother should ever have to say this to her son. Using food and deprivation as weapons results in not only death, but leaves scars on emotions, relationships, and futures.
Despite the millions dying of starvation because of the Soviet Union’s actions, there has been a huge effort to deny the intent behind the deaths. There was a ban to record the death as “hunger,” and instead recognize it as “typhoid,” “exhaustion,” or “old age.” These, however, were just euphemisms trying to cover up the Soviet Union’s terrible actions. The 10 million victims of the Ukrainian genocide did not die, they were killed. Oleksandra Monetova, from Kyiv's Holodomor Memorial Museum, explains that "The government did everything it could to prevent peasants from entering other regions and looking for bread.” Their actions were deliberate and they knew exactly what they were doing and causing. This genocide wasn’t recognized until 2006, which is unacceptable. These events also show us that using food as a weapon allows you to paint a narrative in which death or results are unintentional. The weapon of food is less obvious, which is why the Soviet Union and Russia have been able to deny the fact that their actions were man-made and deliberate.
The fact that there is all this denial of the genocide shows that little was resolved between Ukraine and Russia. The denial of these events therefore explain the continued conflict between the two countries. And therefore the tensions between them in the past continue to be problems today. The Russian desire for power and dislike for Ukraine is the main reason for the Holodomor, and it is also the reason for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. All of the different events throughout history are connected to one another. So although these events took place 90 years ago, their repercussions will continue today and for years to come.
Although we can learn from the similar events in history, there is still a lot that is unknown, ominous, and intimidating about the Russia and Ukraine conflict. Russia has an obvious history of wanting power over Ukraine. Even in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, which was originally a part of Ukraine. Because of this long and complicated relationship between the two, what will it really take to stop Russia and its invasions of Ukraine? In every political conflict, race plays a factor. I learned in class today that it is harder for refugees of color to cross from Ukraine into Poland than refugees who are white. So even amidst global conflicts such as these, race is putting people of color at a disadvantage. What are the other ways that race is playing a role in this conflict? And finally, given all the events taking place, how will the rest of the world be impacted in both the near and far future? We’ve seen throughout history the huge impacts of war on the world, so we can only hope that the consequences of this war aren’t as catastrophic.