The Great Hunger, Part 1 - Ukraine

The Bitter Memory of Childhood, a statue in Kyiv dedicated to the starved children of the Holodomor.  Photo credit: <a href=''>Andrew J.Swan</a>

The Bitter Memory of Childhood, a statue in Kyiv dedicated to the starved children of the Holodomor. Photo credit: Andrew J.Swan


Hunger and starvation are more often the result of human action rather than nature's caprice. And who lives and who dies is determined by a brutal calculus of power. Philip Coulter visits Ukraine and Ireland to tell the story of two "famines" that continue to shape these nations today. Part 1 examines the Holodomor or "hunger extermination" that occurred in Ukraine in the 1930's. Part 2, about the great famine in Ireland, airs on Monday, March 17.

We are used to seeing the face of famine: the emaciated bodies, the dry earth, the helpless children, the despairing adults. Natural famine is a universal horror, the ultimate breakdown of a society - the inability to feed itself, because of the vagaries of nature. But there's another kind of famine - the deliberate mass starvation of a people. Are they different, or really just the same thing? And what happens after the great hunger is over? The bodies are buried, a people try to pick up the pieces and move on, rebuild from the bodies still living, rebuild a society.

In 1932, Ukraine had long been struggling to find its own place as an independent republic in the Soviet Union. In that year and the one following, Stalin closed the borders and took the harvest. As many as 8 million people died of starvation, an event that shapes Ukraine to this day, and plays a role in the current upheaval in that country.

This episode first aired in 2009.  It has been updated with new interviews about the current conflict taking place in Ukraine today.

For their help with this programme, thanks to:

Oleksandr Ivankiv, Prof. Valentyna Borysenko, Prof. Stanislav Kulchytsky , Dr. Vasyl Marochko, Roman Krutsyk , Yuri Shapoval, Dr.  Hennadij Boriak, Oleksandr Udod, Roman Serbyn, Stephen Bandera,

Thanks also to Taras Burnos, Ostap Kryvdyk and Roman Horbyk for additional material in today's programme.

Image Gallery

Maria Lobas- survivor of the 1932-33 Holodomor in Petrushyn, Ukraine. (Photograph by Philip Coulter.)

Kateryna Shlionchyk - survivor of the 1932-33 Holodomor in Petrushyn, Ukraine. (Photograph by Philip Coulter.)

Oleksandra Mazur - survivor of the 1932-33 Holodomor in Petrushyn, Ukraine.(Photograph by Philip Coulter.)

Image Gallery -  A Slideshow of Current and Archival Photographs

The current photographs in this image gallery are by Taras Burnos, a young Ukrainian journalist who has been Philip Coulter's fixer during his travels in Ukraine. Taras has also assisted in the preparation of this programme. These photos were taken at the height of the revolution against the Yanukovich government, in the morning of February 18th of this year.  All the photos were taken at the barricades on Grushevskogo Street, across from the Valery Lobanovsky soccer stadium, near the ministerial offices and the Presidential Administration Building. Taras points out that in the three days from February 18 - 20, in the streets around Grushevskogo, at least 70 people were killed; since the end of 2013, this place has been at the epicentre of the fight against the previous government.

The archival photos in the gallery are from 1932-33, some of them from Karkhiv.

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