Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum

Review published on September 24, 2017.

As someone from a Polish family who before the Second World War lived in the Kresy (East Poland, now in Ukraine) it has always surprised me how little of this war against Ukraine and her people is known in the West. My grandfather often used it as an example of how evil Stalin was in the way he allowed policy to kill people and relieve him of a troublesome part of the country of its affluence.

As a child, he lived in Podwołoczyska, a border town on the river Zbruch, and when playing alongside the river he often heard the machine gun fire of the Soviet border guards killing Ukrainians trying to escape in order to feed their families and themselves. He would often talk of his childhood and the knowledge that on the other side of the river Zbruch, evil things were happening to Ukrainians. After 17th September 1940, my family would also feel the wrath of Stalin.

Following rural unrest in 1932, the harvest in the Soviet Union dropped by 40%, and between 1928 and 1932 the livestock fell by 50%. One of the reasons being the peasants would rather feed themselves and their families than hand the cattle to the Communists.

All this after Stalin’s New Economic Plans, which enforced collectivisation on the people, brought resistance, the liquidation of kulaks and a famine that would extend across the Soviet Union. Better known to Ukrainians and many East Europeans as the Holodomor, this episode of cruelty and killing has become better known in the West since the country’s independence.

Stalin knew what was going on in Ukraine, and what some readers might find hard to understand is that the Holodomor was completely man-made. It was his decisions, and those of his ministers, that led to the famine, through the collectivisation of land and the eviction of kulaks, identified as enemies of the Revolution.

There are some historians who dispute the fact that the famine was man-made, I happen to agree with Applebaum’s assessment. Like Katyn, the Holodomor was the great unmentionable, Ukrainians could not talk about or acknowledge until 1991. Now is the time to tell the world and remind it what happened and not allow Stalin to be rehabilitated.

Anne Applebaum is not afraid to investigate and write about controversial parts of history, and the world is a better place for the light being shined into the dark corners. This is an excellently researched, well-written book; this is not a dry history. This is a book that draws you in and the writing keeps you captivated. I hope this book gets a wider audience, as it is compelling and tackles the ignorance that exists.

Paul Diggett 5/5

Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum
Allen Lane 9780241003800 hbk Sep 2017

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