Due to the consequences of the civil war, unfavorable weather conditions of the years 1920 and 1921 and to the inept economic policies of the Bolsheviks, famine broke out in Russia. To stop it, the Bolsheviks needed to take advantage of the “breadbasket of Europe” – of Ukraine.
In the summer of 1921, the Bolsheviks started their campaign of transporting all food supplies out of Ukraine. Grain supplies were being taken out even of Southern regions where the harvest was really poor. It all led to a severe famine that burst out in the winter of 1921 in the South of Ukraine – in the regions that were almost out of control of the Bolsheviks.
The harvest of 1921 in the central and northern parts of Ukraine was beyond average. It would be sufficient to prevent any kind of famine in any of the regions. However, the Bolsheviks kept on requisiting bread supplies in famine-affected regions. Ukrainian farmers were left with nothing to eat and started dying one by one. That was how the Holodomor started.
The Bolsheviks were using famine as a weapon of destruction against their opponents. In 1921-1922 it was their only way to suppress the resistance in Ukraine.
Not sooner than the Bolsheviks made sure that the peasants were unable to resist did they officially recognize the fact of famine in Ukraine, admitting that the population needed help. Moreover, the international charities were granted permission to work in famine-affected areas not sooner than in April 1922.
Relief was being furnished by a number of international relief missions, such as the International Red Cross, the Mission of Nansen etc. However, the greatest contribution was made by the missions from the US, such as the American Relief Administration, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the American Mennonite Relief and several others.
These organizations were furnishing food supplies, medications and clothing, opening soup kitchens for kids and adults and maintaining orphanages.
Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks’ attitude to foreign relief missions left much to be desired. Their employees were being watched around the clock by the All-Russian Emergency Commission (“the Cheka”) and by the State Political Directorate. The A.R.A. and the J.D.C. employees were often charged with alleged “anti-sovietism” and espionage.
In several years time, all citizens of the USSR and the Ukrainian SSR who had once worked for foreign relief missions were arrested and many of them sentenced to death.
According to different estimates, the Holodomor of 1921-1922 and the Famine of 1923 killed between 2 and 5 million people in Ukraine. Had it not been for the international relief organizations (especially for American relief missions), the number of victims of the Holodomor of 1921-1922 could have been even bigger.