How the Holodomor Can Be Integrated into our Understanding of Genocide


  • Norman M. Naimark Stanford University



The study of the Holodomor should be integrated into a broader understanding of genocide as a whole, given that a consensus that has evolved among a substantial group of scholars that the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–33 fits the general template of genocide. Raphael Lemkin, who introduced this concept into the legal structure of the international system, was clearly aware of the famine of 1932–33 and developed a notion of the “Soviet Genocide in the Ukraine” as a multi-pronged genocidal assault on the Ukrainian people. The events of the Holodomor remained largely unknown to the general Western public until the publication of Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow in 1986. Presently, the links between the study of the Holodomor and genocide studies in North America are relatively underdeveloped.  As such, there are many aspects of genocide studies that could be illuminated by an understanding of the Holodomor. These include its examination as a “Communist genocide” as per Mao’s 1950s famine or Cambodia, but perhaps more specifically within the context of Stalin’s actions in the 1930s.  Another important aspect is the problem of isolating ethnic from social and political categories:  the Holodomor saw a concomitant attack on the Ukrainian intelligentsia and Ukrainian language and culture. The question of the numbers of victims remains controversial, although the figure of 3–5 million Ukrainians who died in Ukraine and the Kuban seems to withstand scrutiny. Finally, there is the question of intentionality. Here, in light of recent interpretations of international law, it seems quite clear that Stalin was responsible for genocide in the case of the Holodomor.


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