Soviet Ukraine Before the Great Famine, 1917-1931

Soviet propaganda: "Comrades, come join the collective!"

Under the guidance of Bolsheviks, the first All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets created a Soviet government for Ukraine in December of 1917. A few short months later, in March of 1918, however, the Congress declared Soviet Ukraine to be independent. This did not sit well with the gentlemen in the Kremlin in Moscow. Stalin sent a telegram to Ukrainian party boss Volodymyr Zatonsky dated April 4, 1918: “You have been playing long enough those [childish] games of a government and a republic. Enough is enough, stop it.” Known as a Ukrainophobe, Stalin kept a close eye on the republic that was the bread basket of Russia and the future Soviet Union.

Soviet policy of “indigenization” begins

The year 1923 saw the beginning of the Soviet policy of “indigenization,” which promoted the use of native languages in the cultural sphere, at the workplace and in government. The result in the Ukraine was a decade-long flowering of culture and rapid Ukrainization. This was used as both an appeasement of “nationalities” and a way for the Communist party to penetrate into these ethnic minorities. The Communists used this policy to bolster the rank-and-file party membership from among the different indigenous peoples in the vast Soviet Union. Due to this policy, the proportion in the Ukrainian Communist party of ethnic Ukrainians grew to more than 50% by the end of the 1920s. Ukrainization was welcomed and promoted by “national communists,” but met resistance, however, from non-Ukrainians in the party. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which was formed in 1921, was an important factor in the Ukrainization process. It had a strong following among the intelligentsia and peasantry.

Stalin draws direct link between nationalism and peasantry

In 1925 Stalin sent his trusted colleague, Lazar Kagonovich, to run the Ukrainian party. Within a year, he split the “national communists” and neutralized or expelled other Ukrainian party members who displayed too much “enthusiasm” for Ukrainization. It was also in 1925 that Stalin saw a direct link between the peasant problem and the nationality issue. Stalin publicly attacked Semich, a Yugoslav communist, because he attempted to place the nationality question within the framework of a discussion of constitutionality. Such an error in thinking, said Stalin, leads to another: refusing to see the “nationality question” as a “peasant question.” Stalin said, “the peasantry constitutes the main army of the national movement, that there is no powerful national movement without the peasant army, nor can there be.”

1928 sees the first “five-year plan”

A new “revolution from above” was initiated by Stalin in the late 1920s. Rapid industrialization and social transformation were to be the result of Stalin’s first “five-year plan” that began in 1928. The same year saw the Kremlin introduce punitive measures against the kulaks — whom the regime called “wealthy” peasants. These measures included ever-rising taxes, grain-delivery quotas, and eventual confiscation of all of their property.

According to writer William Henry Chamberlin, the character of Ukrainian culture made assimilation into a communist system a difficult process. Primarily a people of free warriors (the Kozaks) and peasant farmers, Ukrainians have qualities of frankness, simplicity, open-hearted hospitality and a love of liberty. Chamberlin wrote that unfortunately Ukrainians are better able to rebel against a repressive government than build a successful one themselves. He explains that as the reason why there was no sovereign Ukrainian state in the past.

Time magazine reports article in Soviet Ivestia uncritically

An uncritical report in the November 26, 1928, issue of Time magazine, which is unsigned, said that telegrams are arriving from around the Soviet Union reporting, “deeds of arson and murders of active Communists are being perpetrated by the Kulaks…” The report, which is unchallenged by the unnamed American journalist who wrote it, is taken from a story in the Soviet newspaper Ivestia, and says that Soviet farms, libraries, and Soviet offices were burned to the ground by Kulaks in their “fierce opposition” to the Communist party and the Soviet government. The report continues to say that “murderous attacks” have been directed against village school teachers and social workers, both men and women. Ivestia says, “A destructive blow at the Kulaks must be delivered immediately!” Thus we see how American reporters reported Soviet anti-Kulak propaganda as “news” in a major U.S. publication.

Collectivization begins in 1929

The process of collectivization began in 1929, which was not well received in the Ukraine. The percentage of farms collectivized grew from nine to 65 percent from October 1929 to March 1930. The response of the Kulaks and other peasants in Ukraine was to withhold grain from the market, as well as revolts, the slaughter of livestock, and destruction of farm machinery. The Soviet response was to increase the required amount of grain to be confiscated each year. By 1932, things became desperate and the Ukraine was on the verge on unimaginable horrors.

To be continued…


  1. Bilinsky, Yaroslav. “Was the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 Genocide?” Journal of Genocide Research (1999), 1 (2), 147-156.
  2. “What is the Ukraine Famine Disaster of 1932-1933?” SMEP Biot #160.
  3. “Soviet Ukraine.” Encyclopaedia Britannia (
  4. “Foreign News: Days of Wrath.” Time magazine. November 26, 1928.