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.
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
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My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Penguin
Year it was published: 2018 (first published in 2017)
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.
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