From Holodomor to Maidan: How the Kremlin 'Brotherly Love' Cost Ukraine Millions of Lives

SERGEI SUPINSKY via Getty Images

The problem with history is twofold: it tends to repeat itself, yet we never learn from it. On Friday, Ukrainians have gathered on Maidan (the Independence Square in the center of Kyiv) to honor the Heavenly Brigade who gave up their lives defending our dignity. On Sunday, we commemorated the greatest tragedy suffered by the Ukrainian people -- Holodomor of 1932-1933, a term that can be translated as "extermination by hunger." A justification offered by Stalin at the time was the need for rapid industrialization at all cost, but what really bothered him about Ukraine was our unbending desire for self-determination. As we hear from Mr. Putin about the "love" of Russians for their Ukrainian "brothers," we worry.

When one evokes the word "genocide" in the context of the Second World War, one thinks of the massacres committed by Hitler. In his book Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder reminds us that among the 14 million, who "were all victims of a Soviet or Nazi killing policy... a quarter were killed before the WWII even began." Who were those people and why did they have to die? A vast majority were Ukrainian peasants, women and children, who were starved to death by Stalin's deliberate policy, as he felt threatened by the willpower of the Ukrainians, their desire for independence, and their proclivity for self-governance. What crimes did they commit? They were told to hand over their land in favor of collective farms, and they did not want to comply. The peasants were asked to abandon their church in favor of atheism, and they resisted. Hardworking Ukrainian farmers wanted a chance at prosperity, and they were told to give up everything they had, and were starved to death.

Kremlin is still denying Holodomor. Many Russians influenced by the propaganda pedaled by the state-run TV stations genuinely believe that Ukraine is not an independent state, that breakup of the Soviet Union is a mistake and Putin is the one to correct it, that Ukrainian is not a language but rather a dialect of Russian and that dreams of Ukrainians therefore deserve no attention. They fail to acknowledge the vast evidence documenting just how Stalin's policies of forced starvation were specifically targeting Ukrainians. The Soviet empire of those days was prepared to stop at nothing to suppress any resistance to Moscow's rule. No words can describe the horrors Ukrainian villages have lived through in the 1932-1933. Seeing images of children with distended bellies is something that can't be erased from one's memory. The vicious nature of Stalin's policies and the ability of the Soviet state to execute them, are unthinkable.

A year ago, our Revolution of Dignity has begun with the Euromaidan protests, and the Ukrainian nation has arisen to show its will for freedom, the desire to shake off Russia's dominance, proving the ability to chart its own course. The Kremlin, once again, feels threatened. Just like 82 years ago, having a strong sense of national identify is punishable by death. We want to live in prosperity, while Moscow is doing everything to undermine Ukrainian economy.

Putin is using the methods perfected by Stalin: disinformation at home, and the strategy of "divide and conquer" abroad. Thousands of people have died in Ukraine this year. Our borders were violated as Crimea was illegally annexed. Eastern regions are almost destroyed and lost their remaining economic viability. People of Donbas are left without water, electricity and food. And yet, we read reports of the army movements and witness Kremlin's continued support of the separatists.

To avoid more bloodshed, the world must continue to act with the sense of urgency: help prop up Ukraine's economy, stop skirting reality, and wishing for the problem to go away. Ukraine has been invaded by Russia, and is fighting an undeclared war. Let's call a spade a spade. Let the world show unity in the face of blatant disregard for international law. Let the European nations reply in unison to the energy blackmail by Gazprom. Let's not succumb to the 24-hour news cycle and lose focus while Kremlin is pursuing its deadly policies. It is not just the sanctions Putin is afraid of: it is the, clarity, consistency, and strength of response by the community of nations that he fears most. A message of unanimity was sent at the G-20, but the summit is now over. The war in Ukraine, however, is not.

It's high time we break the vicious cycle by learning from history, instead of letting it repeat itself, again.