To Tell the World the Truth About the Famine in Ukraine


The Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine publishes new archival documents related to the Holodomor in Ukraine in the 1930s. They concern the activities of foreign centers of Ukrainian emigrants, which tried to draw the world's attention to the situation in Soviet Ukraine, as well as the activities of special services of the UPR government in exile aimed at gathering information and documentary evidence of the real state of affairs in Ukraine.

Documents from the Branch State Archive of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine show that back in June 1930 the Supreme Council of Ukrainian Emigrants published in Paris a call to the world, in which it tried to warn that the Soviet government was gradually creating conditions for mass famine among the Ukrainian population.

The first part of the appeal is about the forced collectivization and other repressive measures that led to the destruction of peasant farms, impoverishment of villagers, arrests, confiscation of property, and mass deportation of Ukrainians to Siberia. And then it points out:

“Twice the Bolsheviks plunged Ukraine into famine (in 1921 and 1929). It is clear that under the current terror and collectivization, they will expose it to even greater poverty and starvation. The fatal course of events cannot be stopped by hypocritical decrees, with which they try to hide the deplorable consequences of collectivization.

The whole world should know that Ukraine is on the eve of a real famine, that, ruined and destroyed, it lives day by day thinking that it will be deprived of the last piece of bread needed by its own children.

On behalf of the great number of Ukrainian emigrants settled in Europe, we appeal to the civilized world and ask it not to support unfair Soviet trade, not to buy Ukrainian bread covered with the blood of our peasantry, not to finance the occupying Soviet power in Ukraine…

Do not buy bread stolen in Ukraine. Stop trading with the Soviets. By trading with the Soviets, you support the Russian occupation army in Ukraine, you support destruction, terror, famine, you help spread criminal propaganda around the world and promote political attempts against yourself, against world civilization” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. – F. 1. – Case 12628. – V. 8. – P. 44).

This warning was made two years before the mass famine in Ukraine. And this appeal can be considered one of the first documents that testifies not to the “harvest failure in villages”, as the Soviet government had been trying to explain it to the world for many decades, and what now the same Russian propaganda is doing, but to the purposeful policy of the totalitarian regime of that time, which now has been internationally recognized as an act of genocide of the Ukrainian people.

In 1932–1933, the UPR government was one of the first in the European community to find out the tragedy that befell the Ukrainian villages. But it still did not have enough information about the scale of and reasons for the famine. That is why, the special service of the Ministry of Military Affairs of the State Center of the Ukrainian People's Republic in exile was tasked to intensify the work of agents, to ensure couriers' crossing the border. First of all they tried to reach the regions affected by the famine.

However, in the conditions of the strengthened border and counterintelligence regimes, it was not easy to get to the territory of the USSR. The UPR's intelligence, led by Vsevolod Zmiyenko, had to look for non-standard ways to obtain information about the real state of affairs in Ukraine, analyze and summarize it to have a real picture. The report of the OGPU of the USSR “Operational Activity of the Ukrainian Intelligence and Insurgent Centers Abroad”, dated 1933, states: “Zmiyenko has divided Ukraine into districts approximately within the old ones. Each district has a code. The presence of public, cooperative, etc., institutions is described in encrypted form. Areas with the deployed units of the Red Army are indicated with special marks with a note about the type of troops and their number. Currently, Zmiyenko and the Second Department of Polish General Staff have developed a special list of questions for agents who are sent to the Soviet side…” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. – F. 1. – Case 12628. – V. 6. – P. 80).

In another document of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR entitled “What the UPR's Intelligence Is Interested In” tells about this in more detail. The list of questions was confiscated by the Soviet security services, probably from one of the couriers. The answers to them were written in a sort of passports of the districts. Here are some questions from this document:

“1. To find out how grain is harvested, how much is taken from the collective farm and individuals, who takes the grain, where it is poured, what measures are taken against self-employed farmers who did not give the grain, who issues receipts for the grain given to the state, how much peasants are paid for the grain, the percentage of non-fulfillment of the collection of grain for state grain stock piles in 1932.

2. About taxes. How much the collective farm and individuals pay.

3. How the autumn sowing campaign is going on, how much and what is sown by the collective farm and individuals, how the soil is prepared for sowing.

4. How the harvesting campaign is going on, how much has been threshed and still has to be threshed…

9. About cooperation. Prices of goods and bread…

13. What bread is eaten at this time by collective farmers and individuals, to deliver samples of it.

14. To find out how many died of starvation, how many got swollen and the number of the swollen as of today.

16. The mood of the population at the moment, how Ukrainians feel about the Soviet government” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. – F. 1. – Case 12628. – Vol. 6. – PP. 143–144).

In order to obtain complete and objective information about the situation in Ukraine during that period, the UPR's intelligence would give tasks and instructions to those intelligence officers and agents who were sent abroad, as well as detailed lists of questions to those who returned.

The scale of this work can be seen in the document of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR dated October 15, 1932, entitled “Special Report on the Activities of the Polish-Petliurist Intelligence in September 1932”. It first provides general information about what the UPR's intelligence is interested in, and at the end adds documents seized by Soviet special services from couriers and agents after crossing the Polish-Ukrainian border, namely: “1) Special Task on the Peasantry's Attitude to Collective and State Farms… 2) Instruction for the Resident in the Border Zone… 3) Schemes of Description of Villages and Population of Border Areas… 4) Samples of leaflets, which were provided for distribution in September this year”. (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. – F. 1. – Case 1812. – V. 2. – PP. 197–210).

The analysis of the questions and how they were formulated shows that the UPR's intelligence tried to model the situation in case it changes. In particular, in the “Special Task on the Peasantry's Attitude to Collective and State Farms” they wanted to know the following: “1. If the Soviets lost power, what would happen to the collective/state farms: would the peasants wait for some orders from the relevant authorities, or would they begin to establish their own order? 2. If the latter, how?”. All in all, there are 21 questions in this task.

The above-mentioned “Instruction for the Resident…” also formulates an extensive list of questions concerning the mood of people in the city and in the village, the state of affairs in the Komsomol, the Party, and so on. They also had to find out whether there was a critical attitude to the Party's policy, the decisions that were made; about the activities of local authorities, militia, commandant's offices, the course of the sowing campaign, grain and meat procurement, etc. Based on the analysis of the obtained information, a general picture of the socio-political situation in Soviet Ukraine was formed.

During the period of mass famine, the tasks were set more specifically and purposefully. This is evidenced by an excerpt from one of the intelligence reports of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR for October 1932. It states that “the Intelligence of the Ukrainian People's Republic, gives its agents who are sent to the territory of the Ukrainian SSR, in particular Colonel Lytvynenko, the following tasks:

1. To ensure that the villagers insure themselves against hunger, do not give bread to the state, this will destroy the plan of the Bolsheviks to pump bread out of Ukraine.

2. To destroy and burn granaries, to spoil grain and by all means to prevent its being taken out of Ukraine.

3. To damage railways, carriages and other means of transportation in order to not let grain transportation” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. – F. 1. – Case 1812. – V. 2. – P. 214).

According to archival documents, it was not easy for representatives of the UPR government in exile's special services to get even general open information about the situation in Ukraine. It came to the point that intelligence officers sent to specific districts sometimes could not even get to some settlements – they were blocked by militia and the GPU. More frequent became detentions of agents who could not be properly trained and prepared to perform tasks. This made the Intelligence look for new people and non-standard ways to penetrate the territory of Ukraine.

The leadership of the UPR's intelligence understood that it was necessary to more carefully select candidates for tasks abroad and professionally prepare them for the job. In this regard, the already cited OGPU report on the operational activity of the Ukrainian intelligence and insurgent centers abroad states: “According to Zmiyenko, the situation has worsened, because now it is impossible to send any Petliurist, and only people who are well-versed in the Soviet situation should be sent. To this end, a special school has been set up in Poland for agents who are being trained to be sent to Ukraine. This school, in addition to intelligence skills, introduces the structure of the Soviet system and helps agents understand the soviet reality” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. – F. 1. – Case 12628. – V. 6. – PP. 81–82).

One of the ways to spread information was the participation of the UPR's intelligence in the preparations for the All-Ukrainian National Congress, which was planned to be held in 1935. The goal was to coordinate the Ukrainian forces to fight for the vital interests of the Ukrainian people and their consolidation in the international arena. The program theses addressed the main task of the Congress: “Proclamation of the will of the Ukrainian people to restore their own statehood, clarification of the life of the Ukrainian people on Ukrainian lands and outlining ways of national work and organization; protest against the barbaric policy of the Russian Bolsheviks in Greater Ukraine”.

The special report of the Foreign Department of the OGPU of the USSR dated 25th September 1933 “On the Expected Convening of the All-Ukrainian Congress” points out: “The idea of convening the All-Ukrainian Congress, put forward by the Union of Ukrainian Journalists and Writers Abroad, continues to be hotly debated in Ukrainian emigration circles… The Congress will broadly discuss the issue of “famine” in Ukraine and the organization of aid to the starving” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. – F. 1. – Case 12628. – V. 6. – P. 126).

Unfortunately, the documents in the archives of Soviet secret services do not give a complete picture of how the UPR's intelligence managed to obtain complete and objective information about the famine in Ukraine. Its capabilities were too limited. Nevertheless, even in such difficult conditions, Ukrainian intelligence officers did not lose hope for restoring Ukraine's independence and made every effort for the purpose.