House debates

Monday, 26 February 2018

Private Members' Business

Ukraine Famine: 85th Anniversary

11:14 am

Photo of Chris CrewtherChris Crewther (Dunkley, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that commemorations are underway for the eighty-fifth anniversary of Holodomor, to mark an enforced famine in Ukraine caused by the deliberate actions of Joseph Stalin's Communist Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics;

(2) recalls that it is estimated that up to seven million Ukrainians starved to death as a result of Stalin's policies in 1932 and 1933 alone;

(3) condemns these acts aimed at destroying the national, cultural, religious and democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people;

(4) condemns all similar acts during the twentieth century as the ultimate manifestations of racial, ethnic or religious hatred and violence;

(5) honours the memory of those who lost their lives during Holodomor;

(6) joins the Australian Ukrainian community and the international community in commemorating this tragic milestone under the motto Ukraine Remembers—The World Acknowledges;

(7) recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated; and

(8) pays its respects to the Australian Ukrainians that lived through this tragedy and have told their horrific stories.

This May will mark 85 years since the pinnacle of a devastating forced famine deliberately engineered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. This famine, known as the Holodomor, claimed an estimated seven million lives in Ukraine. Stalin and the Soviets reduced millions of people to living skeletons in some of the world's most fertile farmland, whilst stocks of grain and other foods rotted by the tonne. The Soviets seized food from families and punished people for keeping food as opposed to surrendering it to the authorities. The Ukrainian people suffered tremendously as a result. The death toll was catastrophic. The latest estimates suggest up to 7.4 million people died as a result of the policies of the Soviet government.

The survivors of this famine tried to tell their stories to the world. Sadly, this atrocity was further compounded by the systematic cover-up of the famine by the Soviet Union. Even mentioning the famine was punishable by hard labour, and blaming the authorities was a death sentence. This even extended to those officials who were simply trying to do their jobs, and many were executed for simply reporting population numbers accurately to the Soviet government.

Nevertheless, survivors managed to tell their story to the world in time. One survivor, Oleksa Sonipul, lived in a village in northern Ukraine in 1933:

She said by the beginning of that year, famine was so widespread people had been reduced to eating grass, tree bark, roots, berries, frogs, birds and even earthworms.

…   …   …

As food ran out in the villages, thousands of desperate people trekked to beg for food in towns and cities. Food was available in cities, although strictly controlled through ration coupons. But residents were forbidden to help the starving peasants and doctors were not allowed to aid the skeletal villagers, who were left to die on the streets.

Ekaterina Marchenko is another survivor of this horrific period. She wrote in her diary at the time of the famine:

Where did all the bread disappear, I do not really know, maybe they have taken it all abroad. The authorities have confiscated it, removed from the villages, loaded grain into the railway coaches and took it away someplace. They have searched the houses, taken away everything to the smallest thing. All the vegetable gardens, all the cellars were raked out and everything was taken away.

As the famine reached its apex, the desperation of people was clearly apparent in memoirs and the testimony of survivors. People pulled vegetables out of the ground before they ripened. Villages were stripped of animals as people ate everything they could. Reports even exist of the victims resorting to cannibalism to survive. Stalin had seized not just food designated to be eaten but also the seeds and plants that would have been used for the harvest. As a result, many of the farmers could not even plant seeds to create the next harvest. This was amplified in the cities, where food was just as scarce. When rationed food was handed out, people would trample each other to try to get it. Those that were forced under the crowds were reported to have been left for dead.

These actions were devastating to the Ukrainian people. It has left such a scar in the psyche of the Ukrainian people that it has since been made a crime in Ukraine to deny the Holodomor, similar to the criminalisation of Holocaust denial in other nations. These cold-blooded acts carried the purpose of destroying the national, cultural, religious and democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.

Those that survived either suffered in silence or left the Soviet Union and tried to tell their story to the world, despite the denials of the USSR. Some of these Ukrainians even came to Australia and shared their stories. Along with Senator Catryna Bilyk, I have had the pleasure of being the co-chair of the Ukraine-Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group and have had the opportunity to meet a number of members of the Ukrainian community from my electorate and other areas of Australia. Ukrainian Australians see this forced famine as a deliberate and cruel attempt at eradicating their nation. Their memory of this tragedy and the impact on their families continues to play an important part in their lives today. As such, I would like to join the Ukrainian-Australian community and the international community in remembering this tragic milestone under the motto: 'Ukraine Remembers—The World Acknowledges'.

In honouring the 85th anniversary of the Ukrainian tragedy, I would also like to acknowledge the memory of millions of people of other nationalities who died of starvation and famine in other parts of the former Soviet Union as a result of civil war and forced collectivisation. These groups bear the scars of the crimes perpetrated by the Soviet Union, and the legacy of these crimes live on through their memory.

There is a great deal of importance in remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes are not allowed to be repeated no matter the circumstances. We must remember those who suffered through this devastating famine as well as those who starved to death and were left in mass graves. We must also remember those who were forced to stay silent in their suffering out of fear of punishment from an authoritarian state. As such, I would like to recognise the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor, an international tragedy which brought a people to their knees at the behest of the authoritarian Soviet government.

11:20 am

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the spirit of bipartisanship, I second the motion. In rising to support this very worthy motion moved by the member for Dunkley, I'm reminded of discussions about history and the lessons you learn from history that I had with my parents around the kitchen table when I was a young man. I think many on the other side and I know the member for Canberra did as well, in different ways.

My father, who recently passed away, spoke about the great dictators in human history, the impact that totalitarian regimes could have and the people who oversaw those totalitarian regimes, and mentioned three things that should not be forgotten; the first one was the Holocaust; the second one was, in my father's words, the mass murder perpetrated by Joseph Stalin; and the third was the cultural revolution led by Mao Zedong, which killed many millions of people.

The reason my father raised these issues—and the reason I'm very happy to speak to these particular issues—was that we must always learn from history. Item 7 in the member for Dunkley's motion says:

… recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated…

That is one of the key reasons we are here—to remember. In remembering and discussing these terrible events that occurred, for the many young people who did not live through those experiences, we drive home the importance of why we do need to learn from history: if you don't learn from history, you can repeat history. The question is: do we want these very dark chapters of our history, particularly from the 20th century, to be repeated?

Having spoken about this informally, I wish to pay my respects to the Australian Ukrainians who had family members who lived through that particular tragedy. As the previous member said, an estimated seven million Ukrainians starved to death as a consequence of Stalin's policies between 1932 and 1933. The term 'tragedy' is used, but I think it was deliberate. It began in the chaos of a particular theory of collectivisation, when millions of peasants were forced off their land and made to join state farms. It was then exacerbated in the autumn of 1932 when the Soviet politburo, the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party, took a series of decisions that deepened the famine in the Ukrainian countryside. According to Anne Applebaum in her article in The Atlantic:

At the height of the crisis, organized teams of policemen and local Party activists, motivated by hunger, fear, and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, and farm animals. At the same time, a cordon was drawn around the Ukrainian republic to prevent escape. The result was a catastrophe: At least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4 million Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure, but because they had been deliberately deprived of food. Neither the Ukrainian famine nor the broader Soviet famine were ever officially recognized by the USSR. Inside the country the famine was never mentioned. All discussion was actively repressed; statistics were altered to hide it.

It's gratifying, though, that you can try to cover over these mass crimes against humanity but eventually they see the light of day. Those listening this parliament it is gratifying in particular on the 70th anniversary of this very dark chapter in human history, that a joint statement on the great famine of 1932-33 in the Ukraine, the Holodomor, was issued on 10 November 2003 at the United Nations in New York. The statement noted that in the former Soviet Union millions of men, women and children fell victim to the cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian regime. The great famine took between seven and 10 million innocent lives and became a national tragedy of the Ukrainian people. The reason why we are talking about this here and why I commend the member, is that we must remind people who have not lived through this period that human nature does have a very dark side to it. Totalitarian regimes in their quest to control populations will embark upon the most inhumane measures we can possibly think of. It reminds people that when you have a totalitarian regime these things can happen. We must never forget this and we never will.

11:26 am

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

First I would like to congratulate the member for Dunkley for bringing this motion to the House. I would also like to congratulate the member for Holt on his words during this motion. The word Holodomor, literally translated from Ukrainian, means death by hunger, or to kill by hunger—to starve to death. It refers specifically to the brutal famine imposed by Stalin's regime on the Soviet Ukraine and primarily ethnic Ukrainian areas in the northern Caucasus from 1932 to 1933, which claimed an estimated seven million lives. We say seven million quickly. That is the entire population of the state of New South Wales that were killed in the Holodomor. In its broadest sense the Holodomor is usually described as the Ukrainian genocide that began in 1929 with massive waves of deadly deportation of Ukraine's most successful farmers, as well as deportation and execution of Ukraine's religious, intellectual and cultural leaders, culminating in the devastating forced famine that killed more than seven million innocent individuals, as I said.

This is just another in the long list of deaths caused by communism in the 20th century. History demonstrates that in every country that communism was tried it resulted in poverty, massacres, starvation, terror and death. The black book of communism puts it close to 100,000,000 deaths over the past century: 65 million in the People's Republic of China; 20 million in the Soviet Union; two million in Cambodia; two million in North Korea; 1.7 million in Ethiopia; 1.5 million in Afghanistan; one million in the Eastern Bloc; one million in Vietnam; 150,000 in Latin America. The list goes on. Alan Charles Kors, Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, said of communism: 'No cause ever in the history of all humankind has produced more cold-blooded tyrants, more slaughter of innocents and more orphans than socialism with power. It has surpassed exponentially all other systems of production in turning out the dead.'

While we may never know the exact number of deaths from communism, we also must remember the poverty, the hardship, the cruelty and torture that occurred under communist regimes. We ask ourselves, why does communism always fail? Why does it always end up in such terror?

I would argue that it, firstly, does not appreciate the importance of incentives in the economy. It fails to understand that the wealth of an economy can rise and fall, and that attempts to redistribute wealth destroy the very incentives that create it in the first place.

History has shown that communism has been nothing other than a philosophy that has destroyed millions of lives—100 million lives. Yet, in contrast, we have seen free market capitalism be the greatest wealth-creation machine that the world has ever seen—lifting close to one billion people out of poverty since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Yet, if we walk around our university campuses today, we are likely to spot students wearing Che Guevara T-shirts. You see in Melbourne young students protesting with the hammer and sickle emblazoned on their T-shirts.

We owe it to the 100 million dead, the victims of communism, to tell their story. We owe it to them to continually remind today's generation that communism is nothing other than a violent philosophy that has destroyed millions of lives. It is a death cult. We cannot trivialise it. Again I thank the member for Dunkley for this important motion. It's important that we continue to remind today's generations of the horrors of communism and the devastation and havoc it has wreaked across the past century.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to. I call the honourable member for Swan.

11:31 am

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would have thought that there would be another speaker on the other side. I rise in support of the motion put forward by the member for Dunkley relating to the Ukrainian Holodomor. I'm a firm believer that those who cannot or do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. We must remember the pain and suffering caused by such events and honour those who lost their lives. We must recognise the importance of such dark chapters in our human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated.

I thank the member for Dunkley and other speakers who have contributed for reminding the House of the significance of Holodomor. This May marks 85 years since Holodomor—the enforced famine in the Ukraine caused by the deliberate actions of Joseph Stalin's Communist government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Mr Deputy Speaker, I'd like to take you back a couple of years further. It's 1930 and 1.5 million Ukrainians have fallen victim to Stalin's policies that saw the arrest, deportation and execution of the richer peasants. Nearly 500,000 people were forcefully removed from their homes, packed onto trains and sent to often uninhabitable regions, such as Siberia. Many were left without food and shelter. Many of those who survived the journey died soon after. The worst was yet to come not only in Holodomor. That paragraph reminds us of the period under Hitler with the Jews in Europe.

In the summer of 1932 the Soviet government dramatically increased Ukraine's production quotas. They ensured that they were unachievable. Starvation quickly spread across the country. Soon after, Stalin implemented a decree that called for the arrest and execution of any individual, including children, caught taking even the smallest amount of food—grains from the fields they worked on or stalks from a neighbour's crop. Military blockades were set up around many Ukrainian villages to ensure that food wasn't brought into the villages, and the hungry weren't allow out in search of food. Stalin attempted to teach a lesson through famine.

The forced collectivisation and the seizure of crops and farms by the Stalin government had devastating consequences. By June 1933 and at the height of the famine nearly 30,000 people were dying each and every day. It's understood almost one-third of these were children under the age of 10. These children were brutally punished for stealing the smallest amount of grain. They were malnourished and eventually fell victim to Holodomor. The death toll was catastrophic. Almost 7.4 million people died as a result of the inhumane policies of the Soviet government.

I join with the member for Dunkley in condemning these acts which aimed to destroy the national, cultural, religious and democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people and in condemning all similar acts during the 20th century as the ultimate manifestations of racial, ethnic or religious hatred and violence. The atrocities of the Holodomor were further exacerbated by the Soviets' denial of the famine. Outside assistance was refused because the regime continued to deny that there was in fact a famine. Denial of a famine was long echoed by Eastern and Western journalists like. Survivors of the famine had their stories discounted and discredited and were often subject to punishments such as hard labour for even mentioning a famine. To suggest blame on the authorities risked a death sentence. Those just trying to do their jobs, such as those responsible for reporting population numbers accurately, were often doomed to execution.

It wasn't until the late 1980s, just prior to Ukraine reaching independence in 1991, that greater scrutiny and attention was paid to the atrocities of the Holodomor. The fall of the Soviet Union allowed previously suppressed documents and oral testimony from survivors to come to light which provided irrefutable evidence of the tragic famine. In 2006, the Parliament of Ukraine passed a decree defining the Holodomor as a deliberate act of genocide. It was formal acknowledgement of the pain and suffering inflicted on their people.

I join with my fellow members of parliament speaking on this motion in paying respect to the Australian Ukrainians that lived through this tragedy and those who have bravely shared their stories. Australia has continued to deepen its ties with Ukraine in recent years. We've opened an embassy in Kiev and we've remained steadfast in our support of Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian actions. This is reflective of our similar values and strength of our people-to-people links, underpinned by a community of almost 50,000 Australians of Ukrainian descent. Again I thank the member for Dunkley for his motion and support it.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.