In 1924, the great Soviet revolutionary and leader Vladimir Lenin passed away, and Joseph Stalin took his place as the head of the Soviet Union. Stalin was determined to expedite the process of making the Soviet Union a true communist society. He and advisors went over several different plans to make this happen, eventually deciding to adopt what would become known as the First Five Year Plan. The aim of the First Five Year Plan was to collective nearly all agriculture and to improve upon the infrastructure of Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union. While these goals were mostly accomplished, they were met at great cost to the peasant class, especially in Ukraine, where nearly all members of the kulak class were deported or executed, leading up to one final crushing blow in the winter of 1932-33: a man-made famine (known in Ukraine as Holodomor, “extermination by hunger”) that was designed to crush all spirit of rebellion and make the peasants know that collectivization was the only way of survival. The effects of this brutality had long-lasting ramifications on Ukrainian-Russian relations, which continue even today.
The Ukrainian members of the kulak class proved to be stubborn at the start of the First Five Year Plan, as they did not wish to collectivize their farms. This resistance did not sit well with Stalin, who was in a hurry to collectivize agriculture because he saw it as the fast pass for the Soviet Union to modernize and grow their economy. He initiated a “class war” on the resisting kulaks, declaring them to be enemies of the state and beginning to deport and even kill them. By the winter of 1932, Stalin was determined to finally crush all Ukrainian resistance to collectivization. The Soviets put food production on the quotas that were impossible to meet, and confiscated all their grain. The Ukrainians began to starve to death, and thousands died while the Soviet government refused to send or accept relief and continued to withhold food. By 1934, around four million deaths had been caused as a result of the high grain quotas and mass food exportation (Holodomorct.org).
Many Ukrainians who survived the Holodomor were reluctant to speak about it in any way, especially during the years that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. However, some artists did make works inspired by the famine. Volodymyr Kutkin was an artist who spent time in the gulags, and then when he was returned home he made many sketches inspired by the pain of the Holodomor. The bleakness of the medium illustrates the horror and despair felt by the Ukrainian people during this time of starvation (Wumag.kiev.ua).
In addition to inspiring some artists, the Holodomor left a lasting negative impression on Ukrainian-Russian relations. Most Ukrainians insist that the Holodomor was genocide, while the Russian government has always said that it was an unfortunate but unavoidable famine, which afflicted many other regions of the Soviet Union as well. This obviously creates a tension in the Russia-Ukraine relationship (BBC).
The Holodomor is an example of how collectivization shaped the peasant culture by basically eradicating an entire class. While Stalin’s plan to modernize Russia and bring it into communism worked, it came at such great cost to human life that it can hardly be viewed as a success. It had cultural ramifications that are still being felt today.