History professor Snyder coming to Kyiv to present ‘Bloodlands’

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Oct. 20, 2011, 11:04 p.m. | Books — by Natalia A. Feduschak


Natalia A. Feduschak


When history professor Timothy Snyder grouped together the areas from central Poland to western Russia in his book “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” he was trying to explain why this region became the center of Nazi and Soviet policies of mass killings.

In an interview with the Kyiv Post, the professor said he noticed in writing the book that more people were deliberately killed in Ukraine than in any other part of the world between 1933 and 1945.

While he asserts there is nothing Ukrainians could have done differently in either of the two world wars to win their independence, how the country’s past is approached is important.

Snyder is in Kyiv Oct. 21-22 to introduce the Ukrainian-language version of his book, which has already been translated into 20 languages since its publication last year.

“Ukraine has this ongoing internal dispute about the significance of the [1930s] famine, of the significance of the war. Poland, on the other hand, is inside the European Union and its concerns are more like, how do we get the Europeans to alter the European narrative of history so that it can accept certain things [mass murders] that happened in the east that were different, or indeed worse,” said Snyder, a professor at Yale University.

Snyder explored the catastrophic results of Soviet and Nazi policies from 1933 to 1945 in his internationally acclaimed work.

The legitimating ideology of Belarus, for example, of the Lukashenko regime, has a lot to do with the suffering of Belarus during the Second World War. And because we don’t know anything, or most people don’t know anything about that, the regime is all the more difficult to understand, or all the more inscrutable.

- Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University.

Spanning from central Poland to western Russia, he argues that 14 million civilians were deliberately murdered on this vast territory, which he labels the bloodlands, because of the policies undertaken by Hitler and Stalin.

Snyder said that even though the region of the bloodlands has changed significantly in the last 70 years, the influence of the past on the region’s current political environment can be easily traced.

“The legitimating ideology of Belarus, for example, of the Lukashenko regime, has a lot to do with the suffering of Belarus during the Second World War. And because we don’t know anything, or most people don’t know anything about that, the regime is all the more difficult to understand, or all the more inscrutable,” Snyder said.

Although there has been a great deal of division in the region since the 1989 collapse of Communism, one of the things the bloodlands nations have in common is an overwhelming preoccupation with history.

Snyder has provided a framework for how to think about the bloodlands in the face of what are often parallel, diverse and competitive national stories on the territory. For him, however, the bloodlands were more a question than an answer.

“Once you know that so many millions of people were killed here and not elsewhere, then you want to try to explain why,” Snyder said. “Of course the answer for why does not have just to do with the people who were there, it has to do with the desire for these territories by not one, but two competing empires. So the bloodlands can’t just be about the people who lived there and died there. The bloodlands became the bloodlands because of Soviet policy and because of German policy and because of the encounter of Soviet and German policy.”

The question of collaboration with the Nazis in World War II still looms large in Ukraine, which is finally coming into its own as a subject of academic study.

However, one can’t begin to understand what happened in Ukraine in the 1930s and 1940s causally without understanding the policies of Moscow and Berlin.

“Any account of any major tragedy in Ukraine that doesn’t begin with the policies is not going to have the causation right,” Snyder said. “You can’t explain the famine by the desire of Ukrainians to starve other Ukrainians, you can’t explain the (Great) Terror by the desire of Ukrainians to shoot other Ukrainians, and you can’t explain the Holocaust by the desire of Ukrainians to kill Jews. The first two are Soviet policies, the last one is a German policy.”

At the same time, there is the moral question.

“What I would say is that insofar as you identify yourself with a given organization or group, then you have to take responsibility, associate yourself with everything it did,” he said.

Staff writer Natalia A. Feduschak can be reached at

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Anonymous Oct. 21, 2011, 7:28 a.m.    

Timothy Snyder's work is excellent although he is one historian that quotes the absolute minimum number of victims of the Holodomor, 3,000,000. Part of the reason is his arbitrary eastern border of his "bloodlands" that omits Kuban' and the part of Voronezh that were ethnically Ukrainian prior to 1932, and that today are totally cleansed of Ukrainians. He forgot to deal with the 4.5million reduction in Ukrainians in the Russian FSR between the official! 1926 and 1939 census results. Maybe during his visit he could get access to current research, to allow correction for his second printing.

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Anonymous Oct. 22, 2011, 6:18 p.m. The Financial Times: Bloodlands


This is how the Jewish Holocaust lost credibility--one storyteller piling on stories more hyperbolic than the last, until it became obvious to anyone but a true believer that the stories had entered the realm of fantasy.

The above story of eating a child still alive is bullshit. Any writer who repeats it is a Stephen King and not a historian.

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Anonymous Oct. 22, 2011, 8:12 p.m.    

&quot;Bullshit'' is not really a great way to counter an assertion.

Starving people eat feces, wood, fabric and people. There are many recorded cases of such happenings in history.

Just because it's disturbing doesn't mean it didn't happen.

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Anonymous Oct. 23, 2011, 9:54 p.m.    

In 1928 the Ukrainian Central Committee once again raised the issue of transferring areas with a Ukrainian majority in the Kursk and Voronezh regions of Russia to the Ukr.SSR. They also raised the issue of Ukrainianization in the Kuban, which at that time was essentially Ukrainian by tradition, language and culture, but whose inhabitants had already begun to lose their Ukrainian identity.

By the end of the 1920s, eight of the seventeen divisions stationed in Ukraine were manned by Ukrainians. Moreover, the Ukrainian language was beginning to be taught in military educational institutions.

Finally, the authority and influence of the national church – the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church – was growing.

Resistance to the Bolshevik regime was witnessed throughout the Soviet Union but it was most intensive in Ukraine. A total of 13,754 peasant rebellions, uprisings, and riots involving some 2.5 million people were documented in 1930 by the OGPU. Of these, 4,098 insurrections involving more than a million people took place in Ukraine, and 1,061 insurrections with about 250,000 people, in the Northern Caucasus. In his 1930 report on the political situation among the Ukrainian peasantry and elimination of the kulaks as a class, OGPU Deputy Chief V. Balytsky wrote that in certain villages the inhabitants sang “Neither the glory nor the freedom of Ukraine has died” and shouted slogans like “Down with Soviet power!” and “Long live an independent Ukraine!”

According to the 1926 All-Union Census, the rural population of Ukraine was 23.3 million, constituting 81% of its 31.2 million inhabitants; and of the rural population itself, 20.6 million, or 87.6% were Ukrainians. At the beginning of 1932 Ukraine’s population totaled 32.5 million, of which 25.5 million lived in rural areas. As before, Ukrainians comprised an overwhelming majority of the rural population and in certain regions their numbers exceeded 90%.

First of all, three quarters of the population of the Kuban, which was part of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, were Ukrainians but citizens of the Russian Federation and not citizens of Ukraine.

The fact that members of national minorities of Ukraine were victims of the Holodomor cannot be used to justify a denial of its anti-Ukrainian nature. During the Jewish Holocaust, the Nazis also exterminated Gypsies, Poles, Byelorussians, Ukrainians and members of other nations whom they also held to be racially inferior and potential enemies of the Reich. The massacres at Babi Yar and other places of mass extermination of Jews bore witness to this. Nobody, however, denies that the Holocaust was the genocide of the Jewish people.

Members of the various national minorities of Ukraine were innocent victims of the Holodomor, not because they were Russians, Jews, Poles, Germans or Bulgarians, but because they lived within the Ukrainian nation against which the crime was directed. They found themselves as if on the line of fire, like when the plan is to kill a particular person but bystanders are killed as well. Nobody, however, would attempt to deny that a crime was committed on the basis that unintended victims also perished.

Attempts to deny the genocidal nature of the Ukrainian Holodomor are also sometimes based on the fact that the artificially induced famine killed not only Ukrainians in Ukraine, but also Russians, Kazakhs, Tatars, Bashkirs and many others in various regions of the USSR. This approach is at the center of the conceptual assessment of the famine of 1932–33 by Russian historians, public officials, and by certain foreign researchers, such as S. Merl of Germany.

The Russian position can be briefly stated as follows: since the famine of 1932–33 on the territory of the Russian Federation was not considered to be genocide, the famine in Ukraine cannot be considered genocide either. This position lacks elementary logic and is an attempt to impose the Russian view of Ukrainian history on Ukrainians and the world. For that matter the proponents of this approach provide neither convincing arguments nor documents that equate the starvation in Russia with the Holodomor in Ukraine. And for one very good reason: they do not exist.


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Anonymous Oct. 22, 2011, 2:25 a.m.    

This book should be a must read for every Ukrainian, Pole, Russian, Belarussian, Lithuanian, et al. I think it explains a lot about the live for todsy only mentality of many people because of how fleeting life was for those alive at that time; they could not live with any other outlook. It takes a few generations to change that kind of life outlook caused by such unimaginable circumtances people found themselves in.

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Anonymous Oct. 24, 2011, 2:09 a.m.    

“You can’t explain the famine by the desire of Ukrainians to starve other Ukrainians, you can’t explain the (Great) Terror by the desire of Ukrainians to shoot other Ukrainians,&quot;

What kind of crap is that! It was Russians and Jews who murdered Ukrainians in the Holodomor and the Great Terror, not Ukrainians! Stalin and Kaganovich and Khrushchev were not Ukrainians and the Soviet Union was not a Ukrainian Empire, it was an Evil Empire with Moscow, Russia as its center, not Kyiv.

Snyder does not need to explain to anyone that Ukraine and Belarus were caught between two Evil Empires, every Ukrainian KNOWS THAT!!!

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Anonymous Oct. 24, 2011, 3:57 a.m.    

Calm down and read the book first...

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Anonymous Oct. 25, 2011, 5:28 a.m.    

I have read this bok and watched every documentary i can find because the history that has been hidden is fascinating.

I agree that some accounts are over the top but like any good scholar, the author give a reference for his accounts even live children eating one another which i also found unbelievable.

Perhaps the most moving account is of a traveler after the Holomor who found no sounds or signs of any animals, birds or other creatures in the countryside because they ha all been exterminated by the people trying to survive....which they did not.

Face it Ukraine...DO NOT TRUST RUSSIANS!! OR GERMANS....Even Now!

Find a way to overcome Yanukovich, Tomoshcenko and the rest

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