Discovering New Facts about the 1932-34 Famine in Soviet Ukraine – Oleh Wolowyna – Ukraine 2008 and 2014

Discovering New Facts about the 1932-34 Famine in Soviet Ukraine – Oleh Wolowyna – Ukraine 2008 and 2014

Sometimes a decision at a specific point in time triggers a significant change in one’s life course. I started my first Fulbright grant in September 2008 at the Institute of Demography and Social Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. I soon realized that the Institute staff was not very interested in my proposed research topic. Then I met Sr. demographer Omelan Rudnytskyi. He spent many years collecting documents and data on the 1932-34 Famine and he also acquainted me with the Institute’s history.

The Institute, created in 1918, was the first of its kind in Europe. It’s researchers did extensive analyses of the demographic situation in Soviet Ukraine in the 1920-30s. The Institute was closed by the Soviet government in 1938 and many of its staff were shot or exiled to Siberia. It was reopened in 1992 and, thanks to the dedication of several demographers, most of the Institute’s work was rescued and resided in its library. 

The knowledge about the Famine in Ukraine (also called Holodomor or death by starvation) was still limited at that time. The detailed demographic analyses and Rudnytskyi’s knowledge about this tragic event presented a golden opportunity for advancing our understanding of the Holodomor.

I informed the Fulbright office in Ukraine about this situation and asked permission to change my research topic. The request was approved, a research group was formed and a new project was born. This decision had several significant consequences. It opened for me a new area of demographic research, established a mutually beneficial collaboration between Ukrainian and American scholars, and launched a research project that has made significant contributions to our knowledge of the Holodomor.  

The project has been going on without interruption thanks to my second Fulbright grant in 2014 and financial support by the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI) and the Ukrainian Studies Fund. Results from our research have been published in books and scholarly journals like Canadian Studies in Population, Nationalities Papers and Journal of Genocide Studies. We provided the demographic input to HURI’s Holodomor Mapa project and our results are extensively used in the book Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by the Pulitzer-prize winner Anne Applebaum.    

The project is an example of the Fulbright program’s goals. All research is a team effort and all our publications have joint authorship. I received from my colleagues a solid education on historical demography of Ukraine and they profited from my experience in Western research standards and how to prepare articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Some key figures about the Holodomor:

* four million deaths (13 percent of the total population) caused by the Famine, with one-third of them children under ten years of age;

* 80 percent of all losses occurred during the first half of 1933;

* the number of rural losses increased ten times between January and June of 1933.

According to the French historian Alain Blum, “rarely, in all of the demographic history of Europe, a famine caused losses of such proportions.”  

Oleh Wolowyna – Fulbright to Ukraine 2008 and 2014

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