Ukraine commemorates the Holodomor every November, to honour the millions who died in the man-made famine instigated in the Soviet Union by its former leader Joseph Stalin. It has been defined by historians as a deliberate act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. Between 1932 and 1933 perhaps as many as 10 million of Ukrainians died from starvation at the hands of their fellow men.
Whilst there are still those who disagree about the reasons and causes of the famine, and those who deny that it was a deliberate act of genocide, the fact is that this was the most terrible peace-time catastrophe in Ukraine’s history, and it was caused by man.
President Yushchenko was far-sighted in his vision to start in 2008 the annual commemoration of this atrocity, in order to raise awareness of man’s inhumanity to his fellow men, so that our children can learn from the mistakes of the past. There is evidence that the famine was planned by Stalin in order to control Ukraine’s wealthy middle classes and prevent them from seeking greater autonomy. At the time, the Soviet Union rejected offers of external aid, confiscated household food in Ukraine, and restricted the movement of the population, thereby compounding the misery and the appalling loss of life.
Although the Holodomor tragedy happened more than 85 years ago, today we see unfolding before our eyes yet another man made famine in the Middle East. The Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen against Iran-linked Houthi rebel forces has pushed 14 million people to the brink of starvation. The Saudi military campaign has killed more than 10,000 people in this desperately poor country since 2015, and over the last 3 and a half years there has been the most terrible humanitarian catastrophe inflicted on Yemen by the war. The United Nations has now warned that half of the population of Yemen need aid to survive if they are not to suffer imminent starvation.
It is within mankind’s ability to stop this needless slaughter of innocent lives. If the airstrikes against populated areas in Yemen were to cease, and all of the parties to the conflict were to move swiftly toward a cease-fire, this would then allow essential medical and food aid to be delivered to the civilian population which is being starved by the embargo on shipping and trade caused by the war.
The scars of the Holodomor are still painful to bear for Ukrainians, and the evil that caused this massive man-made catastrophe is unspeakable. Yet, two generations later it seems that that the world has learnt nothing. As global citizens we must face up to the painful reality that man has the capacity to inflict such appalling cruelty on his fellow beings, and speak out with compassion. Whilst anybody can debate who or what may be the cause of such atrocities, it is surely far more important to cut through the academic arguments, remember what happened in the Holodomor, learn the unpalatable lessons from Ukraine’s troubled history and take responsibility as decent human beings to stop any such horror from ever being inflicted on other people ever again.