Red Famine by Anne Applebaum

Red Famine by Anne Applebaum – Stalin’s War on Ukraine – is a must read because not only sheds light on a less know part of European history, the implications of what happened at that point and how the west reacted are still with us today. It offers an insight into why Ukrainians are so fierce against Russians and also what the Russians are doing. The last two chapters in the book are about the western response, what politicians, journalists, and even the Pope did. She talks about what these people knew, how they reacted the way they did and, also, why. She also talks about the Crimean invasion of 2014.

Red Famine by Anne Applebaum

The book is about Holodomor, an Ukrainian word meaning death by starvation. It was a man-made famine, starting in 1932, with the highest number of casualties in 1933. In total about 3.9 million people died and, possibly, another 0.6 million were not born due to the famine. The survivors saw a significant decrease (about 20%) of their life expectancy as a result of the lack of nutrients and food.

Stalin and the communists pressed ahead with collectivisation, placing the farmers in a loose-loose situation. Any food they were able to produce was taken from them and shipped to Russia. In Russia there were shortages, but not to the extent suffered by Ukrainians. The book contains also pictures, first-hand testimonies, and views by Ukrainian scholars who researched this topic.

The stories are bleak and heart-breaking. The Ukrainian people are not presented in a rosy light, they were victims, but some of them were oppressors, the Ukrainian communists were just as bad as the Russian communists were. The accounts of what happened are harrowing, but also important to read about and understand.

The propaganda made by communists within Russia and in the world was well made. Besides the famine, Ukrainian culture was a target in that period too. Census reports were falsified. What’s even worse is that western journalists trumpeted the Soviet propaganda, because they were profiteering from their relations with Russian leadership or their articles were receiving awards. Others though realised the tragedy happening but they were too aligned with their communist/socialist ideals to care that millions of people suffered. These journalist were creating and shaping public discourse and politicians could easily continue with their economy-based approach, in a time when, in fairness, there were huge financial problems in US and Europe (Great Depression started in US in 1929 and in 1931 in Europe).

If you only have time for only the last 2 chapters, on what western powers did, read that. The rest is bleak and heart-breaking. Reading what is happening to a body when deprived of food is not an easy read. So, read only those two if you can’t read it all.

Red Famine by Anne Applebaum

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Penguin
Year it was published: 2018 (first published in 2017)
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): History
Pages: 482

About the author: Anne Elizabeth Applebaum is a Polish-American journalist and historian. She has written extensively about Marxism–Leninism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. She has worked at The Economist and The Spectator, and was a member of the editorial board of The Washington Post.
Website & Social Media Links: –

5 thoughts on “Red Famine by Anne Applebaum”

  • Obviously the Ukrainian people are suffering such huge loss of life through starvation today, but I think that is because so many people have managed to escape the country before things got too bad. However in many areas things still sound pretty bad and I am waiting with baited breath to see what tomorrow – May 9th- might bring forth from the Russian aggressors. As you also point out, there are definitely good and bad on both sides of any conflict and I’m sure there are still some small pockets of Ukrainian fighters, who are every bit as vile as their Russian counterparts. I must admit I was a little appalled to see images of the Ukrainian children from the homes, who have been abandoned. The similarities with the images we saw coming out of Romanian orphanages under Nicolae Ceaușescu were really stark and upsetting for me! I am desperately hoping that Monday will pass without any horrendous surge in force. Take care and have a good week 🙂 xx

    • In 1930s Ukraine where were bad communists, some Russians, some Ukrainians, but all communists. Their laws and their implementation led to the death of millions of people. They took grains from Ukraine and sent it to Russia in 1932-1933 and now they are doing the same thing.

      I don’t understand what you mean by good and bad sides to every conflict. Today there are some Ukrainians who can be charged with war crimes, such as killing POW or “mutilating” bodies of Russian soldiers (this is a war crime, even if a soldier is put on display at a crossroad, for example, as a deterrent for others), or calling a mother to tell her son died in Ukraine (which one might argue it would have happened if Russians stayed in Russia instead of invading). On the other side, Russians are raping women and children (including at least one toddler), intentionally killing civilians, torturing civilians, besides killing POWs, so there is no real comparison between these two armies.
      I am not at all surprised by the Russian army, this is what they did in Germany after WWII as well. When Russian army “liberated” Romania, women and girls fled and hide, while men would burying anything of valuable they had, such as wedding rings.

      Yes, the orphanages in Romania were horrifying places. Those children had their development impaired due to lack of care in the first few years of their lives. Orphans needed to be hidden because “good Romanian communists” would not give birth and abandon children. They were insignificant, of course, communists only cared about their propaganda. The situation improved after that, when I worked with children in orphanages they were taken care of. That was around 2000, so 10 years after the fall of the communism. Naturally, what happened to orphans during the communist period it was our collective fault, even though we didn’t know about it.

    • Yes, at least from this point of view, how things that happened 80+ years ago still influence what is happening now. Gruesome details, but still important to know, also the propaganda… at times it seems I was reading what the Russians are saying now in their TV shows, just incredible.

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