Pope Francis Prays Soviet Starvation Massacre of Ukrainians Never Be Repeated

Pope Francis prays during a mass on Christmas eve marking the birth of Jesus Christ on December 24, 2016 at St Peter's basilica in the Vatican. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty

Pope Francis recalled Sunday the manmade, Stalin-era famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 20th century, praying that such a massacre never be repeated.

“Yesterday, Ukraine commemorated the anniversary of the Holodomor, a terrible famine caused by the Soviet regime that caused millions of casualties,” the pope told thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for the Angelus prayer.

“May the immense wound of the past serve as an appeal for all so that such tragedies never again be repeated,” Francis said. “Let us pray for that dear country and for its much-desired peace.”

Every year on the fourth Saturday of November, Ukrainians mark the “Holodomor” (death by hunger) Remembrance Day, commemorating the millions of victims of the artificial famine of 1932-1933, produced by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s mandate seizing the property and crops of peasant households and forcing them onto collective farms. Stalin closed off borders and denied any outside assistance, ensuring massive deaths. At the height of the famine, some 28,000 people were reportedly dying each day.

Since successful private farmers, or (kurkuls, or kulaks, in Russian) stood in the way of Stalin’s controlled reorganization of Soviet life, he had them branded as an enemy of the U.S.S.R. and used regular troops as well as secret police to “liquidate them as a class.”

The communist starvation program marked the peak of a Ukrainian genocide that began in 1929 with massive deportations of Ukraine’s farmers (kurkuls, or kulaks, in Russian) as well as the expulsion or execution of Ukraine’s religious, intellectual, and cultural leaders.

In 1930, armed brigades confiscate land, livestock, and other property from peasants, and shipped some half million Ukrainians to remote, uninhabited areas such as Siberia, often without food or shelter.

The Holodomor, which killed an estimated 4 million Ukrainians, is considered one of the great atrocities of the 20th century and in 2015 was recognized as a genocide by Ukraine and 15 other countries. The Vatican City State is one of the 16 countries that officially considers Holodomor an act of genocide carried out by the Soviet government.

To commemorate the 85th anniversary of the massacre, in October 2018, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution acknowledging that Josef Stalin and his Soviet regime had committed genocide against the Ukrainian people in the early 1930s. The resolution declared that the event “should serve as a reminder of repressive Soviet policies against the people of Ukraine.”

Following the famine, the Soviet Union engaged in a decades-long program of enforced silence regarding the atrocity, and vigorously prosecuted those who dared to speak of the famine publicly.

This became the accepted story in much of the West as well, which fell for and spread the Soviet propaganda.

In 1933, the New York Times declared: “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda. There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.”

The New York Times report by Walter Duranty has been called “the mother of all fake news stories” and effectively helped the Soviet communists to cover up one of history’s worst crimes against humanity.

Remarkably, the Duranty story also garnered a Pulitzer Prize, which has not yet been revoked despite strong appeals to do so.

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his wife, Maryna, placed bouquets of wheat stalks and red flowers at a Holodomor memorial on Kyiv’s Mykhailivska Square.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Poroshenko condemned the Holodomor as an “artificial” famine and an atrocity committed by Soviet authorities.

“In the name of Ukraine’s preservation we must always remember the terrible crimes committed by the communist regime on Ukrainian lands,” he said.

Elsewhere, Ukrainians lit and displayed candles to commemorate the famine, which killed not only Ukrainians but millions of others in different agricultural regions of the Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan, for instance, suffered the starvation of an estimated 38 percent of the ethnic Kazakh population, according to a Harvard University study published in 2001.

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