In March 1932, a painting of Red Square by Diego Rivera appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine. A countless crowd of faceless men in red banners marched, surrounding a locomotive adorned with hammer and sickle. This was the image of communist modernization that the Soviets wished to convey during Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan: the achievement was impersonal, technical and unquestionable. The Soviet Union was transforming itself from a stagnant agricultural region into an industrial power through the absolute disciplined understanding of the objective facts of history. Its citizens celebrated the revolution, as Rivera’s painting suggested, even as it molded them into a new kind of people.
But by March 1932, hundreds of thousands of people were already starving in Soviet Ukraine, the breadbasket of the country. Rapid industrialization was financed by the destruction of traditional agricultural life. The Five-Year Plan brought about the “elimination of cultivars”, the deportation of peasants who were considered more prosperous than others, and the “consolidation”, the state expropriation of farmland. The result was mass starvation: first in Kazakhstan, then in southern Russia and Especially in Soviet Ukraine. Soviet leaders knew in 1932 what was happening, but insisted on orders in Ukraine anyway. The grain that people needed to survive was forcibly confiscated and exported. The writer Arthur Koestler, who was living in Soviet Ukraine at the time, remembers propaganda portraying the hungry as provocateurs who would rather see their stomachs swell than accept Soviet achievements.
Ukraine was the most important Soviet republic outside Russia, and Stalin understood this as a stray and a traitor. When collective farming in Ukraine failed to produce the yield Stalin expected, his response was to blame local party authorities, the Ukrainian people, and foreign spies. With the extraction of nutrients amidst the famine, it was the Ukrainians who suffered and died – About 3.9 million people in the republic, according to a best estimate, is more than 10 percent of the total population. In contacts with trusted comrades, Stalin did not hide that he was directing certain policies against Ukraine. prevent residents of the republic from leaving it; Peasants were forbidden to go into the cities to beg; Communities that failed to meet the grain targets were cut off from the rest of the economy; Families were deprived of their livestock. Above all, grain was taken from Ukraine mercilessly, beyond anything reason could command. Even the corn seed was confiscated.
The Soviet Union took drastic measures to ensure that these events went unnoticed. Foreign journalists were banned from entering Ukraine. The only person who reported the famine in English under his minor title, Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, later killed. The New York Times’ Moscow correspondent, Walter Durante, explained that starvation is the price of progress. Tens of thousands of starving refugees managed to cross the border into Poland, but the Polish authorities chose not to publicize their plight: a treaty with the Soviet Union was under negotiation. In Moscow, the disaster was presented, at the party congress of 1934, as a second, victorious revolution. Deaths were reclassified from “starvation” to “exhaustion”. When the next census counted millions fewer people than expected, the statisticians were culled. Meanwhile, residents of other republics, mostly Russians, moved into the abandoned homes of Ukrainians. As beneficiaries of the Nakba, they did not care about its sources.