My favorite subject throughout my schooling was history. These two colloquialisms help explain the reason. The first is from Will Rodgers, Jr: "History repeats itself, that's the problem with history." The second is from George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." While both are almost a century old, they go far to explain the Ukrainians' heroic defense of their homeland and the catastrophic miscalculation of Vladimir Putin that doomed his invasion.
What Putin forgot, but Ukrainians never did, was the series of Russian-created Ukrainian famines that caused over 4 million Ukrainians to starve to death. This is why Ukrainians fight.
Ukrainian Children During Famine
Putin never expected that Ukrainians would so forcibly defend their country. He told his commanders that the Ukrainians would not seriously oppose his invasion, that the Ukrainian military was weak and would surrender rather than resist the Russian onslaught, and that their leadership would quickly crumble and run. Instead of bringing extra military supplies and food, soldiers in the invasion force brought their dress uniforms for a victory parade that never occurred.
None of these prognostications came true, and the dress uniforms had to be discarded during a hasty Russian retreat. The first six months of the war saw half of the best-trained and equipped troops in the Russian army either killed or wounded. The October Ukrainian offensive not only retook significant portions of Russian gains but saw the decimation of elite Russian tank units that were supposed to be able to defeat NATO forces. Despite tens of thousands of Russians dead and wounded, and only now has Bakmut has fallen.
The war's final result is still being determined, and a Ukrainian victory is far from guaranteed. But what is unmistakable is that the present war is not the war that Putin expected.
Putin is not the first to have made such a dreadful miscalculation. Japanese leaders believed that the soft Americans would eventually sue for peace in light of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Napoleon, and later Hitler, were sure Russia would crumble when faced with an overwhelming invasion.
Putin made the same mistake as the Japanese, Napoleon, and Hitler. He ignored his foe's history, especially the historical past between the invader and the invaded. Any thought that Putin may have had that Ukrainians would lie down and accept renewed Russian domination would have been dispelled by even a rudimentary understanding of Ukrainian/Russian history and, specifically, the Soviet-engineered Ukrainian Famines of 1922 through 1923, 1932 through 1933 and again in 1946 through 1947.
Ukrainian Family During Famine
At the time of the founding of the Russian Communist State, Ukraine was an independent country, having gained independence from Imperial Russia in 1917. Yet, the Lenin-led Communist Regime believed that Ukraine was part of Russia and, through the imposition of force, compelled Ukraine to become part of Soviet Russia in 1922.
Ukraine and Russia Border As Depicted in 1919 Ukrainian Stamp
Ukrainian opposition to the Soviets continued, both armed and otherwise. The Soviets, now under the control of Stalin, instituted extreme measures, including executions and show trials, to crush those seeking Ukrainian independence. Beginning in 1928, these measures included the forced collectivization of Ukrainian agriculture. Collectivization meant that all farmland was to be controlled by the state. As a result, Ukrainian farmers were dispossessed from the cultivated land that had produced an overabundance of foodstuffs.
The 1932 "Five Stalks of Grain" decree allowed the execution of even children that "stole" any food from a collective farm. Over 55 thousand Ukrainians were arrested under the law, with at least 2,000 being executed.
Ukrainians strenuously resisted collectivization. Thousands of local rebellions were all ruthlessly suppressed. The Secret Police arrested and shot or deported tens of thousands of farmers to labor camps.
Farmers were even prohibited from collecting post-harvest leftover grains from fields. Over 200,000 Ukrainians were punished for this offense. In addition, collective farms and nearby villages faced draconian punishments for violating even immaterial rules. A blacklisted farm, village, or even district faced the cancellation of grain advances, the closure of its grain storage, and the confiscation of grain supplies, livestock, and food. At least 400 Ukrainian farms were blacklisted, with death rates in some areas over 40%.
While millions of Ukrainians starved, Stalin removed over 4 million tons of Ukrainian grain to feed the rest of the Soviet Union.
Stalin was aware of the death toll but took steps to ensure there was no relief. Ukrainians fleeing to better conditions elsewhere were stopped at the border. An internal passport system was established to squash movement to areas with food. Troops were dispatched to search every corner of homes and confiscate hidden food stores.
After the famine ended, Stalin denied that it occurred and took extensive steps to wipe out incriminating evidence. Death records were altered to eliminate any evidence that related death to starvation. The 1937 Soviet census was suppressed to hide the magnitude of the deaths. To ensure there was no public disclosure, the head of the Census Bureau was arrested and executed by firing squad.
Ukrainians During Famine
Russian efforts to deny the famine continued unabated and extended to the recent Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory. After the Russians captured Mariupol, one of their first acts was to remove a monument to Ukrainian victims of Stalin's famine.
Ukraine, since 1998, commemorates the horror of the Famines on the fourth Saturday of every November. The observance is referred to in Ukraine as the Holodomor Memorial Day. In English, Holodomor means "to kill by starvation." Ukrainians overwhelmingly view the Holodomor as an attempted genocide. A 2021 poll found that 85% of Ukrainians believed that the Holodomor was a genocide of Ukrainians. A year later, the number had grown to 93%.
The link between the current war and the Holodomor is unmistakable for Ukraine. The invasion is seen as a continuation of Russian treatment of Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor in 2022, declared
Once they wanted to destroy us with hunger, now — with darkness and cold . . . We cannot be broken. Our fire will not go out. We will conquer death again.
President Zelensky Placing A Reath At The Holodomor Memorial
It would be incredulous to believe that Putin was unaware of the Famines and Russia's demonic role in their creation. Yet, he made the same mistake that Napoleon and Hitler made when invading Russia: The invaded would forget their history and their love for their country. That a Ukrainan public that saw Russia as a perpetrator of an attempted genocide of their people would forget their past and welcome the murders of hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens. That Ukraine would not do everything in its power to resist the invasion of a country that caused the death of over 4 million of its fellow citizens.
If you want to aid Ukrainians in their time of need, go to the websites below.