Powerful article by Andriy Yermak
Mass starvation killed millions in the Holodomor 90 years ago. Now Russia has again chosen the path of terror
- Andriy Yermak is head of the Ukrainian presidential office
Thu 1 Dec 2022
The Holodomor is one of the most terrifying words ever coined: no movie or book can convey its horrors. Have you ever tried to imagine mass starvation? Millions of slow, torturous, painful deaths. It’s difficult even to conceive of it – but it’s there in the historical record.
Picture it: people cling to life with all their dwindling might. They eat grass, leather boots, tree bark. They mix orach with pounded corn cobs. They grind millet husks with weeds, just to last a day longer. The foods are hardly chewable, and the human body cannot digest them, so people have constant stomach aches. They make the legs swell and the skin crack. Bodies lie in the streets. Some are missing flesh. Mothers lose their senses seeing their kids die.
Ukraine, for centuries the well-fed breadbasket of Europe, was transformed into hell 90 years ago. Having conquered our country – not for the first time – the Russians failed, once again, to subdue its people.Onset of winter in Ukraine – a photo essay
Between 1929 and 1932, a wave of peasant uprisings swept through Ukraine, then under Soviet rule – and the empire took revenge. It retaliated cruelly and cynically, taking food away from those who produced it. Years later, just as cruelly and cynically, the Soviet authorities sentenced the inhabitants of Leningrad to death by starvation. It’s true that the German-Finnish offensive and blockade took many lives, but the Soviet regime was no less guilty: the blockade did not prevent deliveries from Leningrad’s numerous military plants to the frontlines, but for some reason food supplies to the city were scarce.
Last weekend, Ukraine paused to mark the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor. Now, a new terror stalks our lands: the Kholodomor. Spelled with just one extra letter, this word means “death by freezing”. The words “hunger” and “cold” sound similar in Ukrainian, and the outcome is the same. Have you ever tried to imagine mass death from freezing? Millions of slow, torturous, painful deaths – no movie or book can convey these horrors, either, and we don’t even want to try to imagine them. But this is exactly the fate that the Russians are preparing for Ukraine today. For weeks now, with winter fast approaching, they have been peppering Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure with hundreds of missiles.
One extra letter makes no difference to the aim; the passing of 90 years make no difference. The essence is the same: genocide. The destruction of Ukraine, as an independent state, as a nation, as a free people. But again, the Kremlin’s attempts to swallow our state, piece by piece, as it did a century ago, are failing.
We repelled the attack on Kyiv. We pushed back the invaders from Kharkiv. We reclaimed Kherson. Now we see panicking Russian troops building fortifications in Crimea, rightly fearing that we will retake it, too. Donetsk and Luhansk will also return to Ukraine.
The aggressor state’s invasion was so pathetic that it has now chosen to follow the path of total terror. Turfed off the battlefields and fleeing from military combat, the Russian uniformed terrorists are now hitting Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. The power grid is their primary target. A blatant war crime.In the western media, we sometimes read that this Kremlin strategy is an attempt to force Ukraine to sue for peace. This analysis is not completely accurate. Putin does not just want Ukraine to capitulate – he wants us to beg for mercy. He needs more than just an end to the war. He wants a triumph that will humiliate Russia’s enemies – not just Ukraine, but our western allies, too. The threat of humanitarian disaster that those Russian missiles carry serves the same purpose as the Holodomor 90 years ago: to subdue Ukraine, to break its ability to resist.Dark streets in Kyiv following Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
The Russian authorities mistakenly believe that Ukrainians will take to the Maidan (oh yeah, we always take to the Maidan!) in protests demanding an end to the war. The Russian authorities have far too long comforted themselves with the “one people” myth – that Ukrainians are essentially Russians. They do not understand that Ukrainians are different. We take to the streets because of injustice and the desire for freedom. We do not take to the streets to call for a future lived under the yoke of oppression.
Ukraine’s annus horribilis has taken an even darker turn. We are one step away from massive blackouts as the freezing winter approaches. Our armed forces intercept most of Russia’s missiles, but there are so many of them – several dozen in each salvo – and those that do hit are enough to leave millions of people dark and cold. Sometimes for hours, sometimes for days.
But darkness will always be better than slavery. To stay free, we need further help from our friends and allies. Immediately. Now. Yesterday. We need reliable protection for our skies. We need resources to restore the power grids. We need generators to keep people warm while emergency workers repair broken infrastructure. In short, we need the light of hope.
To end Ukrainian civilisation, Russia believes that terminating the power supply might be enough. But they are wrong. Civilisation ends at the point where such evil is born. Civilisation is over for Russia.
• Andriy Yermak is head of the Ukrainian presidential office