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Genocide of Ukrainians in the 21st cent.: the history repeats itself

by Anastasiya Glotova  •  Jul 28, 2022

Recognizing the actions of Russia in Ukraine as genocide of Ukrainians is being actively discussed. In this war, we must call things by their proper names.

In particular, on July 20, U.S. senators introduced a draft resolution recognizing the actions of Russia in Ukraine, such as deportations and intentional killing of civilians, as genocide.

For us, Ukrainians, such a recognition by the international community is a very important issue. Not because we want to be pitied. But because we want to achieve justice and make the whole world see the real threat that comes from Putin’s regime and concerns not only Ukraine.


Bucha, Kyiv region, April 3, 2022 (Source)

Historical background

In the history of the Ukrainian people there have been many tragedies of a national scale. Ukrainians are a nation that has lost its statehood and independence for centuries, but despite this has managed to preserve its culture, language, and identity.

In the article Why did the war start?, we presented a brief historical overview of the history of Ukraine and its relations with Russia.

After Ukraine regained its independence on August 24, 1991, we thought that we had a bright new future ahead of us in which we would develop our independent country and eventually “return to the European family”. And Ukraine would once again become an important European player, like Kyivan Rus in the distant past.

At that time, we could not have imagined that we would again have to go through a huge tragedy and suffer a genocide at the beginning of the 21st century! Today we are again paying with the blood and lives of thousands of Ukrainians for our golden dream – a truly independent and strong Ukraine.


The body of a man with his hands tied behind his back in Bucha, April 3, 2022. Photo: Vadim Ghirda / AP (Source)

Why do Russian rulers and army kill Ukrainians?

It is no secret that the main goal of Putin’s “special military operation” is the destruction of Ukraine’s sovereignty and statehood. And his highest goal is surely the extermination of the Ukrainian people and nation, whose existence he essentially denies. He actually expressed this idea in his famous article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, published a year ago, on July 12, 2021.

Unfortunately, it is not only Putin himself who feels this way about Ukrainians. Over the past five months, the Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine have shown and continue to show appalling cruelty and brutal hatred toward Ukrainians.

Tortures, murders and executions of civilians, sexual violence, shelling and bombing of crowded civilian areas, “filtrations”, deportations – what is it if not a targeted, direct extermination of Ukrainians?

For some people, calling it “genocide” may seem some kind of exaggeration. But let’s get to the bottom of this concept and consider some historical parallels.


Lifeless bodies of men, some with their hands tied behind their backs, lie on the ground in Bucha, April 3, 2022. Photo: Vadim Ghirda / AP (Source)

Genocide: the essence

Genocide is the intentional destruction of a people – usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group – in whole or in part. The term was coined by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1944.

Perhaps the most striking and well-known example of genocide is the Holocaust during World War II. In Nazi Germany, they developed the cult of “Aryan” racial supremacy. The Aryans – the “true” Germans – were the Übermenschen (or the master race). Whereas others were considered the “Untermenschen” (or racially inferior) – the Jews, Roma, and Slavic people. The Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942, ruled on the complete extermination of the Jewish people. It was the decree on the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” that ordered 6 million people murdered in the Holocaust. Other minority groups sentenced to death were the Roma, homosexuals, and people with mental health problems.

Similarly, Putin’s Russia has a supremacy cult that establishes that Russia has a superior (“greater”) culture, language, history, army, economy, and state-building traditions compared to other nations. It propagates those other nations (Ukraine, in particular) have inferior, secondary, provincial, weak, and underdeveloped cultures, languages, and traditions. Such a concept is alive and well among Russians on both personal and national levels and dates back to the times of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. 


Auschwitz, 1945, Jewish children (Source)

Of course, we can’t compare the modern genocide of Ukrainians with the Holocaust. However, one that they have in common, is that the both took/take place during a war. And in times of war it is much easier to hide mass crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, not in the 21st century, when war takes place practically online. 

Meanwhile, we, Ukrainians, have the moral right to draw historical parallels with the greatest genocide of our ancestors in the 1930s which we call “Holodomor”. After all, Putin is now the successor of the bloody crimes of his predecessor and “spiritual father”, Joseph Stalin.

They had already killed millions of Ukrainians before: Holodomor

Most likely, you have heard this term before – Holodomor. This word derives from the Ukrainian expression which means “to kill by starvation”. It is sometimes also called Terror-Famine or the Great Famine.

The most terrible thing about the Holodomor is that it was a famine artificially created by the Soviet government. And it took place in a time of peace – 1932-1933, i.e. in the interwar period. Its purpose was to reduce the Ukrainian population (well, you cannot kill them all!...) in order to suppress the protest moods in the society.

The thing is that it was a period of active collectivization – when land, farm animals, and tools were forcibly taken from the peasants to organize collective farms (so called “kolkhoz”). Repressions were used against the wealthiest peasants. Ukraine was one of the largest grain-producing states in the USSR. And many Ukrainians opposed this policy because it essentially meant a new form of slavery.

Resentment was brewing in Ukrainian society, and to suppress the revolutionary sentiments among freedom-loving Ukrainians (their freedom-love has always been a bone in the throat of both Soviet and Russian authorities), it was decided amid the natural famine that actually existed in 1932-33 to destroy as many Ukrainians as possible. Thus, the famine was turned into the Holodomor.


A street in Kharkiv during the Holodomor (Source)

The Ukrainians had absolutely all their food supplies confiscated, which condemned them to a starving winter. To prevent people from being able to get food for themselves and their children, the so-called Law of Three Spikelets was adopted, which provided for judicial repression for stolen collective and cooperative property, “execution with confiscation of all property”. People died en masse from starvation; there have been known cases of cannibalism.

The Kharkiv region reached the top of the most affected list, while the Kyiv, Dnipro, Odesa, Vinnytsia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions were next on the list. Now, all these names are familiar to you due to the current war.

Estimates of the death toll by scholars and government officials vary greatly, but anyway we are talking about millions of people. A joint statement to the United Nations signed by 25 countries in 2003 declared that 7–10 million died. Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine alongside 15 other countries, as a genocide against the Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet regime.  

Genocides by the Russian Federation

Apparently, for the successor of the Soviet Union, the current Russian Federation, such instruments as genocide are not at all unacceptable. Ukrainians are not the first to experience this.

The two Chechen wars (1994-1996 and 1999-2009) were estimated to have killed from 40,000 to 200,00 civilians. Human rights activists noted that strikes were deliberately directed primarily at civilian objects and places of gathering of people in order either to punish the population for their resistance, or, as the Chechens claim, to destroy their people or at least terrorize them. As the experts said: “You can take the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by Russia, read the articles, and there won’t be a single one left that hasn't been violated”.

During the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, the use of cluster bombs by the Russians caused fatalities among civilians. Amnesty International accused Russia of deliberately bombarding and attacking civilian areas and infrastructure, which is a war crime. Russia denied using cluster bombs. 228 Georgian civilians perished in the conflict.

The Russian armed forces also contributed to the genocide in Syria: the Violations Documentation Center in Syria reported 135,000 civilian casualties from mid-March 2011 till November 2020. In 2017 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has reported that Russia used cluster and incendiary weapons in Syria, constituting the war crime of indiscriminate attacks in a civilian populated area. 

These are only some of the war crimes committed by the Russian Federation in different countries. Now, it’s Ukraine’s turn.


Mass burial of those killed during military operations (Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, February, 2000) (Source)

Modern genocide of Ukrainians

The Russian occupant forces have been conducting a premeditated and ideology-driven genocide meant not only to destroy the Ukrainian state but also the Ukrainian people as such. It is evidenced for instance by a policy paper titled “What Russia Should Do with Ukraine” published in the “RIA Novosti” state-run media outlet on April 03, 2022. 

The author of the article, Timofey Sergeytsev, insists that Ukraine’s existence is “impossible” as a nation-state, and that the word “Ukraine” itself cannot be allowed to exist. According to him, Ukraine should be dismantled and replaced with several states under direct control by Russia.

We’ve already seen the consequences of the Russian occupation in the liberated parts of the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and other Ukrainian regions. Hundreds of dead civilians, numerous evidences of tortures (ears cut off and teeth pulled out, legs and arms shot through etc.), rape and other forms of cruel treatment that degrades human dignity. We can only imagine what has been going on in the territories that are now occupied by the Russians.

Only in the Kyiv region, the number of the identified civilian casualties is at least 1339 people (as of July 05). On the whole, Ukrainian officials are talking about more than 25 000 casualties. As of July 21, it is exactly known about 358 dead children.

Of course, the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on or which are now occupied has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration. This concerns, for example, Mariupol and Volnovakha (Donetsk region), Izium (Kharkiv region), Sievierodonetsk and Rubizhne (Luhansk region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.

Another dimension is the deportation, which is officially acknowledged to be an instrument of genocide. On June 20, the Ukrainian government announced, that Russia had deported about 1,200,000 Ukrainian citizens, including 240,000 children, to Russia.

They naturally cannot kill the multi-million people, so they try to exterminate some part of it in order to suppress the resistance (as in the case of the Holodomor) and impose their conditions, forcing Ukraine to a ceasefire. As we can see, this is a real state terrorism, Putin’s weapon and language in this war.


In Bucha, the bodies of people found after the Russian army left the city are collected. Photo: Sergei Supinsky / AFP (Source)

Recognizing the actions of Russia in Ukraine as genocide of Ukrainians

This issue is being increasingly discussed internationally.

As of May 11, 2022, the crimes the Russian troops committed after their invasion of Ukraine were recognized as genocide by the parliaments in the Baltic States, Poland, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ireland, and Ukraine.

On July 13, the European Union and 43 other countries condemned Russia for violating the Genocide Convention. Meanwhile, it was announced that the International Court of Justice in the UN in The Hague in autumn may begin to consider the case accusing the Russian Federation of the genocide of Ukrainians

As mentioned at the beginning, on July 20, U.S. senators submitted a draft resolution recognizing the actions of Russia in Ukraine as genocide. 

“There is no question that what Russia is doing in Ukraine is a genocide. If you could walk the streets of Kyiv, Irpin and Hostomel like I did last month, and listen to the stories of what the Russian soldiers have done, this is a genocide,” said Jim Risch, one of the authors of the draft resolution.

Of course, for us, Ukrainians such recognition is very important. For the judicial justice and the historical justice as well. The word “genocide” must necessarily be included in the designation of the modern Russia’s war in Ukraine. And we appreciate all the efforts of our international partners and friends in this direction.

But. Now, we urgently need not so much statements and resolutions, as HEAVY WEAPON to push the enemy away from our territory and prevent deaths. Every day of pondering and hesitation costs lives of Ukrainians. Of Ukrainian adults and kids, who could otherwise contribute to the strong and prosperous Ukraine. Instead, they become a part of the horrifying statistics, which we and our descendants will call by the short bloody word “genocide”. 

Anastasiya Glotova

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