On Holodomor Loss Numbers
“…Four to five million died, roughly 15 percent of Soviet Ukraine’s 30 million inhabitants. Even Mao’s 1958–62 Great Leap Forward famine, during which some 36 million Chinese died, was proportionally milder, amounting to 5 percent of China’s total population of about 700 million.” (from: “Demographic Trends in Ukraine: Past, Present, and Future,” by Anatole Romaniuk and Oleksandr Gladun. Population and Development Review, 2015, pp.318-9.)
This website adheres to the population loss estimates derived by demographers who follow professional scientific methodology that is accepted by the international scholarly community and that have been published in peer-reviewed journals in North America and Europe (See selected resources ). There are small variations among these scientifically derived estimates.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, sensitive Soviet archival sources were off limits, and those dealing with Holodomor losses necessarily made estimates in the absence of necessary data. Diplomats, politicians and journalists in the 1930s ventured estimates of losses that ranged from 1 million to 15 million, usually referring to the USSR as a whole. However, as early as the 1940s, trained demographers from across the globe consistently came up with a range of estimates for Ukraine that are comparable to the estimates published in the last decade. (Трагедія кількісний вимір. Дослідження демографічних втрат ).
A majority of the resources found on the Maps and Demography page of this website are based on or written in collaboration with a team of demographers and historians from the Institute of Demography and Social Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, along with US demographer Dr. Oleh Wolowyna (University of North Carolina) and Dr. Serhii Plokhy, (Director, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute).
Current estimates of Holodomor losses
These population loss statistics for the Holodomor are presented within the following clearly specified parameters:
- famine related deaths of individuals of any ethnicity,
- residing within the borders of Soviet Ukraine,
- during the years 1932-1934,
- above and beyond the normal average death toll for that period.
Within these parameters, an estimated 3.94 million lives were lost (4.5 including the unborn) as a result of the Holodomor famine. The Holodomor-related mortality of Ukrainians living elsewhere in the USSR is currently being studied and reported separately.
Some Key Concerns:
The Ukrainian Institute of Demography and Social Studies team of Ukrainian and American demographers adhere to the following definitions:
- Holodomor losses refer to deaths from famine and related causes.
- Time period: 1932-1934
- Territory: Soviet Ukraine
Some historians argue legitimately for a broader definition, but there is little agreement on scope: some wish to extend the time period or include areas in Soviet Russia that had concentrations of ethnic Ukrainians. Many advocate for inclusion of deaths in remote exile resulting from forced dekulakization. Some data already exist on deaths in the Gulags, and deaths of Ukrainians in territory outside Soviet Ukraine are currently under investigation. These data can eventually be considered as supplementary to currently defined famine statistics for Ukraine.
- But what about the 1939 Soviet census?
Many critics have voiced valid concerns regarding the veracity of the Soviet census of 1939, which is referenced in the work of the Ukrainian Institute demographers. The demographers are of course keenly aware of the problems with that census and went to considerable lengths from the outset to explain why and how they their research to adjust for the various significant falsifications.* In part, they took into account the accurate 1937 census, which was dismissed by the Soviet authorities, who executed or deported its compilers. The data from the 1937 census was discovered in the Soviet archives in the late 1980s. I could add that perhaps the authors should have consistently referred to the “adjusted 1939 census” in order to alleviate concern.
* Rudnytskyi et al.: “The case of massive famine in Ukraine 1932–1933,” 2015. pp. 58, 78-79.; Wolowyna et al.: “Regional variations of 1932–34 famine losses in Ukraine,” 2016.pp.179-80
A number of historians, authors, and organizations cite higher figures based on other estimates, and you will see these sources included among the pages of this website in instances where the historical significance of the resource or other informational value warrant it.
All scientific data, by definition, is subject to review and revision. Also, methodologies evolve. We can expect that there may be some modifications with time. However, demographic data is also limited by biological and other realities that make large deviations unlikely.
It is worth mentioning that recognition of the Holodomor as a genocide does not depend on the number or percentage of deaths. Regardless, the currently accepted scientific data clearly demonstrate: “… the Holodomor as one of the worst man-made famines in human history.”
Two schools of thought exist regarding the “man-made” characteristics of the Holodomor famine: One, that it was “man-made by accident”, promoted by Stephen Wheatcroft and supporters, and the other that it was “man-made on purpose.” The latest work on the unique surge of deaths that occurred in the first half of 1933 by demographers Oleh Wolowyna and Ukraine’s team, (Wolowyna, 2020) provides strong evidence “that such a rapid increase in mortality during a short period could have only happened due to politically motivated decisions that transcend strictly economic factors.*
* Wolowyna, O., Levchuk, N. and Kovbasiuk, A. 2020. “Monthly Distribution of 1933 Famine Losses in Soviet Ukraine and Russian Soviet Republic at the Regional Level.” Nationalities Papers, 2020 p.546.
September 9, 2021
rev. slightly September 16, 2021