How many people were affected during the famine? Are there any sources for Soviet records on the Holodomor?

  • 8
    Hm, I'm not so sure that you'll find a good answer to this, especially from Soviet records, given that the Soviet Union denied the famine even happened for quite some time.
    – yannis
    Nov 19, 2012 at 22:49
  • 3
    This is a great question, but I agree with Yannis that you should not really hope for a good answer. Soviets denied its existence as a matter of policy, and Western intelligentsia happily denied it out of their deep and abiding love of Stalin/USSR (I'm looking at you, New York Vremya)
    – DVK
    Nov 20, 2012 at 17:26
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    Also, it's "Golodomor", "Golod" being "hunger" and "Holod" being "cold". No matter what Wikipedia calls it
    – DVK
    Nov 20, 2012 at 17:27
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    @DVK In 6 popular transliteration standards (including Ukrainian's national), the "cold" is "kholod" or "cholod". Quite unlike usual Russian transliterations. There is only one standard (ISO 9) in which Ukrainian "cold" is "holod".
    – kubanczyk
    Nov 20, 2012 at 19:22
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    There was no "Ukrainian" famine; that is a nationalist myth. There was generalised famine in most of the European Soviet Union, and in Kazakhstan. It hit the Ukraine hardest, because the Ukraine was the most important agricultural province in the SU, so grain requisitions (and individual hoarding) were centered there, but the idea that Ukrainians were to Stalinism what Jews were to Nazis is ridiculous. Jul 30, 2016 at 14:58

5 Answers 5


According to the official internal Soviet statistics, the number of excessive mortality in Ukraine in 1932-1933 was 1,532,700 people, of which 1 million 385 thousand in 1933.

A paradoxical fact of this is that in 1933 the total harvest for the USSR was 69 million tonnes (some think this number is overestimation due to the counting method used in the USSR and the actual harvest was about 50 million tonnes), compared to average 35 million tonnes during the war, which did not cause a hunger. The shipment of grain abroad was also drastically cut in 1933. The harvest of fish in 1933 was also very good.

From 19 March 1932 to 4 July 1933 the government shipped additional 1 million tonnes of food to Ukraine at expense of other regions.

It should be noted also that the most of deaths happened in June and July of 1933, during the summer, an non-typical time for hunger.

Another peculiarity of the deaths was that there were no reports of dystrophy which is typical for any historical hunger, including that of 1920s in Volga region, of 1947 and of the siege of Leningrad, as well as hungers in India. Instead, there were numerous reports of widespread tumescence.

It was conjectured by some historians that the actual reason for the excess deaths was a liver disease due to consumption of defective grain.

This could happen because a serious portion of grain was hidden from the state agents or stolen from the kolkhoz fields. The farmers could not purify and winnower their grain themselves because the necessary equipment was transferred to the kolkhozes in the course of collectivization.

It is known that consumption of such grain leads to exactly the same symptoms as those reported for the victims.

Also there were no reported cases of mortality in cities, which always consumed properly processed grain.

Kosior in his report to Stalin wrote:

Why they starve in Kiev oblast where we did virtually no grain procurements?

Overall the picture was the same: where the less were procurements, the higher was mortality.

It should be noted also that there were reported numerous cases where grain storages were found in households where all the family members were found dead.

Kosior wrote to Stalin:

There are facts that many kolkhoz and individual farmers under the influence of panic have hidden their grain, but at the same time they starve themselves. Only in Dnepropetrovsk oblast there were uncovered over 50 such cases.

According to one GPU repot,

At the household of kolkhoz woman Yurchenkova who reported that she was tumescending due to hunger it was discovered 8 poods of rye.

Given these reports and the harvest statistics (which was known to Stalin) it is possible to suggest that Stalin possibly thought that there was enough food available and the farmers intentionally had hidden it and starved due to their own greed.

  • 9
    OP asked about two things: the numbers and the sources. What question was on your mind when answering?
    – kubanczyk
    Nov 25, 2012 at 10:22
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    "Overall the picture was the same: where the less were procurements, the higher was mortality." That's a mind-boggling statement that would have to be substantiated with statistics before one can even start to believe it. Jan 4, 2013 at 12:05
  • 5
    Anixx, you fail to give a reference to a document giving your numbers. Merely calling the numbers "official Soviet" isn't sufficient.
    – jjack
    Apr 9, 2016 at 12:14
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    I'd like to see sources on this also. Jul 26, 2016 at 5:22

The Western authorities on this are Robert Conquest (Harvest of Sorrow) and Timothy Snyder, already mentioned. Robert Conquest gives an estimate of 4 millions. Snyder is somewhat more conservative.

But we will never know the exact number: the earliest census after this was forged, and those who made it exterminated.

EDIT. In one comment a method of "asking random Ukrainians" is proposed. I am a Ukrainian, and my grandparents survived it, by escaping from a village to a large city (Kharkiv) shortly before it began. I lived in Ukraine for 36 years, and have heard plenty of eyewitness accounts.

  • I took the liberty of adding a hyperlink to wiki, hope you don't mind. Apr 10, 2016 at 7:33
  • @Felix Goldberg. Thanks. Of course I don't mind when someone improves my ans:-)
    – Alex
    Apr 11, 2016 at 5:02
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    Robert Conquest writes propaganda. It is best to look at population figures, and do a survey by asking random Ukrainians you meet about the fate of relatives. This produces a rough statistical assessment which disproves the ridiculous figures of Western propagandists extremely easily.
    – Ron Maimon
    Jul 18, 2016 at 1:43
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    @Ron Maimon: I strongly disagree with all your statements. Robert Conquest is not a propaganda, but the population figures from the Soviet census are definitely forged (read the story of this census). Concerning people that I meet, I lived in Ukraine for 36 years and met many people.
    – Alex
    Jul 25, 2016 at 16:01
  • @Alex: Oh fantastic! Can you give an estimate from your experience regarding relatives of friends who suffered from hunger, children/elderly who perished? The estimates of experts are all over the place, I believe on the order of 2-4 million people died union-wide, most in Ukraine, but I have no idea. Conquest says absurd things, including a death toll which is higher than the Ukraine's population. The 1930s Soviet census was forged, but later censuses weren't, and it is hard to hide missing people for too long. The 1950s census should give you accurate figures, but even better is your poll.
    – Ron Maimon
    Jul 30, 2016 at 2:19

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor#Death_toll

A 2002 study by Vallin et al. utilizing some similar primary sources to Kulchytsky, and performing an analysis with more sophisticated demographic tools with forward projection of expected growth from the 1926 census and backward projection from the 1939 census estimate the amount of direct deaths for 1933 as 2.582 million. This number of deaths does not reflect the total demographic loss for Ukraine from these events as the fall of the birth rate during crisis and the out-migration contribute to the latter as well. The total population shortfall from the expected value between 1926 and 1939 estimated by Vallin amounted to 4.566 million. Of this number, 1.057 million is attributed to birth deficit, 930,000 to forced out-migration, and 2.582 million to the combination of excess mortality and voluntary out-migration.


According to historian Timothy Snyder, the recorded figure of excess deaths was 2.4 million. However, Snyder claims that this figure is "substantially low" due to many deaths going unrecorded. Snyder states that demographic calculations carried out by the Ukrainian government provide a figure of 3.89 million dead, and opined that the actual figure is likely between these two figures, approximately 3.3 million deaths to starvation and disease related to the starvation in Ukraine from 1932–1933. Snyder also estimates that of the million people who died in Soviet Russia from famine at the same time, approximately 200,000 were ethnic Ukrainians due to Ukrainian-inhabited regions being particularly hard hit in Russia.


According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the overall number of Ukrainians who died from 1932–1933 famine is estimated as about four to five million out of six to eight million people who died in the Soviet Union as a whole.

  • 10
    The wikipedia article is rubbish on this topic, as it is on any Central or Eastern European topic where nationalist mythologies are in play—the holodomor is a specific mythic imagination in the minds of Ukrainian nationalists, and ignores the real extent of the famine that year in other SSRs. You need to cite the EB edition, as scholarship in this area has moved rapidly since archival opening. (ie: EB is probably over-estimating) Nov 20, 2012 at 21:00
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    @SamuelRussell - You may have notice that Wiki cited TWO OTHER studies aside from EB? And unlike you, I actually spoke to people who survived that and it was not a "mythic imagination" in any way shape or form, much as it galls you to acknowledge that a benevolent left wing regime may do something like that on purpose
    – DVK
    Nov 20, 2012 at 23:07
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    Yes, I am very familiar with that wiki article; and with the attempt by Ukraine to portray a generalised famine as a unique national experience only suffered by Ukrainians. Nov 24, 2012 at 8:29
  • @SamuelRussell: Perhaps instead you could present sources that talk about this "generalized famine" in 1932-3? Jan 4, 2013 at 12:07
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_famine_of_1932%E2%80%931933; Contains an extensive bibliography including 2004 book by R.W. Davies and S.G. Wheatcroft, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931–33 2004. Not known for their left sympathies either. Also three peer reviewed journal articles in the last 10 years from American journals characterising it as a general famine. Jan 5, 2013 at 1:47

The area which suffered most (per capita) from that famine was Northern Kazakhstan; Lower Volga region numbers are lower but comparable to Ukraine. Those dastardly Soviet rulers, it seems, "conspired" to exterminate mostly Russian population of Northern Kazakhstan and Lower Volga... but perhaps they were only doing that to distract the world from their real purpose, to kill all the Ukrainians, so that nobody would notice? There is really no logical explanation for this fictional "intentional Holodomor genocide" unless you believe the (ridiculous on its face) idea that Soviet rulers had deep and villainous hatred of specifically Ukrainians ... why Ukrainians and not Tatars or Cossacks or Armenians? They must have tossed a coin, I guess.

The most logical (if you discount theories based almost purely on propaganda) explanation is that some (quite moderate) "natural" drought/famine was very much exacerbated by Stalinist policy of forced collectivization and also by the grain confiscation policies executed in 1929 and before, which among other things led to lack of seeding material. One of the semi-logical reasons was that USSR was desperately in need of hard currency for the rapid rebuilding of its industry and trying to level the military and industrial field (considering the prolonged "cold" and sometimes not very cold war Europe and USA still conducted vs USSR). So they did that by selling off whatever they had - art from museums, gold confiscated from churches, grains from the fields. Quite a debatable solution, to say the least, but that's what they did.

Added (hopefuly this will add some basis/sources/etc). R. W. Davies, Stephen G. Wheatcroft - The Years of Hunger. Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933 (Industrialization of Soviet Russia) (Vol 5), Palgrave Macmillan (2004)

Can be downloaded via Library Genesis. It contains a very detailed econo- and socio-analysis of the famine. E.g., table 48, p.511 has death rates for Volga region and Ukraine.

  • 2
    This answer would be greatly improved if you include sources to support your assertions. Jul 26, 2017 at 21:03
  • Per capita numbers about North Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Lower Volga etc? Actually, as far as I know, they are not disputed (much). Took them from Wikipedia page on that famine. With the rest of it, I haven't made any assertions - I am simply asking to try to forget about politics and use your common sense.
    – JimT
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:37
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    This answer started out pretty good, but then transitioned into answering a "why" question that was not asked.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 26, 2017 at 22:01
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    Added a book which has a very detailed (and very boring, of course) analysis of the 1932-33 famine, with tons of data. The "why" question that I answered is (imho) the one which has to be answered when looking at this issue from the common-sense point of view.
    – JimT
    Jul 26, 2017 at 23:56
  • @T.E.D. The question claims the famine was a genocide (by definition: intentional, targeted) which is wrong IMO. It is ok to address wrong claims in questions. The answer could be improved: Ukraine was, at the time a, multi-ethnic, multilingual area. Starvation which affects everyone in the countryside does not make sense as a tool for targeted extermination of Ukrainians. (+ the other explanations given in the answer)
    – mart
    Jan 18, 2021 at 8:12

There was more than one Holodomor genocide in 20th century Ukraine. At least three major famine-genocides occurred: 1921-23, 1932-33, 1946-47.

(Sorry, didn't find English sources)

  • 2
    Welcome to History! Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. Feb 10, 2018 at 21:36
  • @LangLangC, thanks, I know, however, I couldn't find yet reliable info in English, therefore, I added a Ukrainian one. Here is an ebook (also Ukrainian though). I'll update my answer when I'll find an English one.
    – Al Crow
    Feb 10, 2018 at 22:29

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