“If Stalin were alive, I would vote for him to be prosecuted and punished for his crimes,” Nikita Khrushchev sentenced in the memoirs he published in 1970. His reproduction rights in Spain were acquired by ABC, which paid the highest amount for them. It has never been paid in our country for an exclusive until then. In the United States they were taken by ‘Life’ magazine and in England, ‘The Times’. And it is that the revelations and criticisms of the former president of the USSR against his predecessor, Stalin, for his genocidal policies in Ukraine, were well worth it.
It is unusual to hear a Russian leader being self-critical, neither in the past nor in the present. Can you imagine Vladimir Putin
currently chanting ‘mea culpa’ while threatening to invade Ukrainians or charge past presidents for their policies towards Ukraine? Well, that’s what Khrushchev did in his autobiography, just six years after being dismissed, with respect to the collectivization of the lands that he carried out in the latter country, between 1928 and 1933, which ended the lives of more than ten million peasants. . The tragic period known as the ‘ Holodomor’.
“How much blood was spilled in our country was Stalin responsible for?” asks the former Soviet leader before going back to 1929, when at the age of 35 he was relieved of his duties in the Ukrainian Parliament and sent to the ‘Stalin’ Industrial Academy, where his career in the Communist Party quickly blossomed to become the head of the party in Moscow. “Collectivization had started the year before I left the Ukraine, but it wasn’t until a year after I started working in Moscow that my suspicions about its real effects on the rural population were aroused. Until many years later I did not realize the degree of hunger and repression that accompanied this policy launched under Stalin, “he said.
There is no doubt that the relationship between Russia and Ukraine has been difficult throughout the 20th century and has been marked by that genocide of the early 1930s. We are experiencing the latest episode now, when at the end of 2021 Moscow began to concentrate troops on the border A total of 100,000 soldiers who have again increased the tension between the two countries and which has its origin in the deterioration that occurred in 2004 on the occasion of the first Maidan, the Orange Revolution.
At first, the invasion of Ukraine seemed quite unlikely, but now the situation seems to point to the opposite, with the international community preparing for all scenarios. Like the former Soviet leaders, Putin is threatening the neighboring country, independent since the dismemberment of the USSR in 1991, as if it were still his possession and he could do whatever he wanted based on those 1,200 kilometers of common border. The reasons are different, since nobody believes that Putin is nostalgic for the Soviet Union or that he wants to expand his territory or the natural resources of the Federation.
The Russian president’s bet is based on the conviction that, if Russia finally invades Ukraine, the United States will not respond militarily. This was the case with the aforementioned Holodomor massacres at the beginning of 1930. Proof of this is the letter that Tolstoy’s daughter published on ABC on April 26, 1933, denouncing the extermination of Ukrainians carried out by the Soviets, which was ignored by West. “Is it possible that there are still those who believe that the bloody dictatorship of a few men who destroy culture, religion and morals can be called socialism?” he asked.
Between 1932 and 1933 alone, Stalin starved six to seven million Ukrainians to death, roughly the same number as Hitler during the Nazi Holocaust, but in less time. The aim was to impose the collectivization of agriculture that the peasants of the Ukraine, then known as “the breadbasket of Europe”, had resisted in the previous decade. A policy that ended up becoming an open war against the entire population, from which the communists stole wheat, bread and all edible products, under threat of torture, deportation and death.
In the first three months of that policy, the number of peasant properties incorporated into collective farms in the Soviet Union rose from four million to 14 million. At the beginning of the 1930s, more than 90% of agricultural land was already collectivized, after convert rural households into communal farms with their orchards, livestock and other assets. Khrushchev acknowledges in his memoirs that his “first glimpse of the truth” was when he was sent to one of those farms to deliver money he had collected so that they could buy work tools with him.
“We only spent a few days, but the living conditions there were horrible. The workers were starving. We called a meeting to give them the money. When we told them that it should be used to purchase equipment, they told us that they were not interested in that, that what they wanted was bread. They begged us to give them food,” commented the former president of the USSR, who recalled “horrified” when Stalin blamed this situation on the excesses of local Ukrainian parties.
Kreschev assures that he tried to convince his predecessor that Ukraine needed help, but that he “got angry”. At that time he began to receive official reports regarding the increase in deaths from starvation and even reveals that he came across scenes of cannibalism: «A human head and two feet had been found under a small bridge. Apparently the body had been eaten. Kirichenko told me that she had gone to a collective farm and described what she had seen: ‘The woman had her own child’s body on a table and was ripping it apart. As he did, he chatted endlessly: ‘We’ve already eaten Manechka. Now we will salt Vanechka. This will keep us alive for some time.’ You can imagine it? That woman has gone mad from hunger and has butchered her own children!”
Many historians consider that this was the consequence of a policy of extermination deliberately planned by Stalin to crush all resistance against the communist regime, suppress nationalist movements and prevent the creation of an independent Ukrainian state. In fact, the deportations acquired biblical dimensions in 1933. Hundreds of thousands of peasants from that country were sent in colonization programs to Siberia, in many of which mortality exceeded 70% in the first year.
The reality is that Khrushchev witnessed all these atrocities, but did nothing to prevent them. When he denounced them, it had been forty years since they had occurred. “Perhaps we will never know how many Ukrainians perished directly as a result of collectivization, or indirectly as a result of Stalin’s mania for blaming others for his failures. But two things are certain: first, the collectivization devised by him brought us nothing but misery and brutality; and second, that Stalin played the decisive role in the government of our country at that time. If we were to find the person responsible, we could honestly put the blame on their own shoulders. However, these reflections are late. At that time we still believed and trusted him,” he justifies.
Russia’s threats against the Ukrainians still come back from time to time today. The current crisis began last December, but its roots go back to 2014, when popular protests brought down President Yanukovych, supported by Putin. Soon after, Putin ordered an invasion of the Crimean peninsula and supported pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The 2015 agreements sealed the ‘status quo’ in those two territories, but the arrival of Zelenski to power in Kiev changed the situation. The United States and NATO then began to accumulate military potential in the country, setting off the alarm in the Kremlin, which has finally decided to play hardball. The ghosts of the past return again.