There is little photographic evidence left of the Holodomor, but what there is includes photos of people who simply died of starvation in the middle of the streets. One minute they were walking there, then sitting, and then they were dead. By U. Druzhelubov. The date of death is impossible to determine therefore PMA is not known. – Proletarskoe Foto (Proletarian Photo) issue 1 dated Feb 1933, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69991318

My late grandfather, Harry Zinchuk, and parents got on a boat in 1930, leaving Ukraine for Canada. They were following his much older brother, Steve, who had come over in 1929.

Harry was 13 at the time, having been born in May 1917, during the height of the Great War, what we’ve since come to know as the First World War. His family was evacuated from western Ukraine in the early days of the war to Saratov, north of what eventually was known as Stalingrad. My grandfather, in essence, was born a refugee, or at least an internally displaced person.

Harry Zinchuk in 2003. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Another little thing happened in November 1917, by our calendar. According to the Russian calendar, it was October, and the thus aptly-named October Revolution took place. Communists overthrew the provisional government which had displaced the czar. Lenin quickly sued for peace with Germany, and the Russian Empire, which included most of Ukraine, fell to pieces in a civil war that lasted several years. For four of those years, Ukraine was an independent state until the Red Army said otherwise.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Spanish Flu pandemic swept around the world in 1919, when Harry was two years old. His eldest brother and sister survived, as did he. I once asked my grandfather if he had other siblings. Harry said to me that so many brothers and sister had died in the flu pandemic and the return home, his parents never talked about it. Ever. He told me he didn’t even know how many brothers and sisters he had, so many had died.

I’m guessing the Zinchuks were evacuated from Ukraine around 1914/1915 by train, but I don’t know that for sure. They had to walk back, in the midst of the Russian Civil War, approximately 1,500 kilometres. For perspective, that’s about the distance from Winnipeg to Ottawa, as the crow flies.

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So step forward to 1930. They came to Saskatchewan and settled close to Stenen, about 90 kilometres north of Yorkton.

Ukrainians didn’t need to eat

Only in recent years have I come to appreciate how truly fortunate they were. Perhaps prescient, even.

That’s because in 1932, Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union, decided that Ukrainians didn’t need to eat.

This is not something that we hear about much, here in Canada. I sure never heard about it in school. Indeed, it was hardly discussed at all, anywhere, until around 1986, after the Chernobyl disaster.

I personally never heard about the Holodomor, as it’s called, until former Deputy Premier Ken Kravetz made it his mission to make sure Saskatchewan knew about the millions who died as a result. Since 2015 there’s been a statue near the Legislature.

Holodomor statue at the Legislature in Regina. Photo by Government of Saskatchewan

 

Since then I’ve listened three audiobooks, while not focusing on the Holodomor, they provided some enlightenment about it.

The first was the unabridged version of The Gulag Archipelago, Volumes 1, 2 and 3, by Aleksandr Solzhenitszyn. The second was Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum. The third was Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator, by Oleg Khlevniuk. In these books, the Holodomor was not the focus, but rather an incidental horrific event that was, in some ways, just one of many over decades of horrific events.

In their religious zeal of purging the Soviet Union of capitalism, the government kept coming for more and more classes of what were considered undesirable people. This included business owners, intellectuals, Cossacks, religious leaders, and various ethnic groups. This typically involved being dragged off by the secret police in the middle of the night and shipped by train to the Gulag. Usually these camps were in some of the most inhospitable places in the world to live. And if you didn’t like that, or they didn’t like you, a bullet in the back of the head was a common refrain.

Eventually in 1930-31 the zealous communists got to what they called the Kulaks, the successful farmers. If you had two or more head of cattle, you were a Kulak. That essentially meant that anyone who knew anything about farming – producing food from the land – was a Kulak. And most of them had their land and assets seized, and they were sent off to Siberia.

Instead, the land was gathered up in collective farms, and people who had no idea how to farm were told they were now farmers, so make it happen. Good luck with that.

As a result, collectivization failed on a massive scale, as could be expected when you imprison everyone who actually knows how to produce food. This led to a great man-made famine – the Holodomor (death by hunger, in Ukrainian).

It got to the point where the secret police would show up on these collective farms and seize the entire crop in the bin, not even leaving seed for next year. What little crop there was went to the cities. If you had no food left, it was your fault for not being a good communist and producing your quota.

If you were found with a handful of grain in your pockets when the secret police came to seize all your food, you could be shot or sent to the Gulag.

There is little photographic evidence left of the Holodomor, but what there is includes photos of people who simply died of starvation in the middle of the streets. One minute they were walking there, then sitting, and then they were dead.

Depending on what source you look at, the number dead was well into the millions. It wasn’t just Ukraine – the surrounding regions were affected, too, but Ukraine was hit the worst. Britannica says, “Between 1931 and 1934 at least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the U.S.S.R. Among them, according to a study conducted by a team of Ukrainian demographers, were at least 3.9 million Ukrainians.”

There are other estimates that it was higher. Whatever the actual number was, it’s within the ballpark of the Holocaust of the Second World War.

I don’t know if the Zinchuk family was actually in the Soviet Union in 1930. Harry said he lived in a village that was almost all Ukrainian families, with a handful of Polish, but Polish was the language taught in school four days a week. Poland’s borders were a lot further east prior to 1939, and encompassed some of Ukraine. Maybe that’s why they were able to get out, because leaving the USSR was all but impossible in the 1930s. If it wasn’t, everyone would have left, if they could.

Today

So what does all of this have to do with today? Everything. If your people, your nation, suffered under the Russian boot as the Ukrainians have, how, exactly, would you feel with over 100,000 Russian soldiers on your borders, surrounding three sides? The Red Army mastered the pincer movement during what they called The Great Patriotic War, and it sure seems like they are putting their troops in place for a gigantic pincer action to take nearly all of Ukraine.

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How enthusiastic do you think Israel would be of Germany invading it?

I don’t go out of my way in calling myself Ukrainian. In fact, I specifically don’t. I tell my kids the air force uniform both I and their mother wore said “Canada” on the shoulder. We’re Canadians, and so are they. But that doesn’t mean those ties to the “mother country” are gone, either.

The world needs to wake up to what is going on. This Ukrainian thing is rapidly elevating to the closest thing to war with Russia since maybe the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This book has already been written

In recent years, I’ve discovered a geopolitical strategist and demographics expert named Peter Zeihan. I’ve watched nearly every one of his presentations posted on YouTube since 2014, and read all three of his books. His insight into how demography has been shaping our modern world is both jarring and eye-opening. From what I’ve seen, his batting average for predictions is about .800. He not only predicted Iran would attack Saudi Arabia, he even listed the specific oil facility Iran would hit, which it did in 2019. But Zeihan did miss on his prediction Alberta would be seeking independence by now, so he’s not perfect.

Several years ago, Zeihan started talking about how Russia would start expanding its borders to points it considers more defensible with a smaller army. Chapter 6 of his 2017 book The Absent Superpower: The Shale Revolution and a World Without America reads word-for-word like the headlines we are seeing in 2022. Zeihan said this expansion would eventually include “in whole or in part 11 nations; Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania (all NATO members), Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

Ukraine would be first, he said.

Where are over 100,000 Russian troops today? The border of Ukraine, precisely as Zeihan predicted, and in the order he predicted.

Here’s what he said about it on Jan. 31, 2022:

Zeihan speaks about how the US is gearing up to try to replace some of Europe’s energy needs, should Russia cut off its supply of oil and gas to Europe, their punishment for supporting Ukraine. Principally, the Americans are looking at shipping liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe, as well as oil. So are other suppliers.

Canada is not one of them.

And why is that? Because Canada still does not have any LNG export capacity. And we killed the Energy East oil pipeline, which was initially supposed to have been in service by December, 2018. Most recently, in July, 2021, Quebec killed the Énergie Saguenay project. The Nova Scotia Goldboro LNG project is still up in the air, most recently considering doing it as a floating LNG project (FLNG). Do you know why they might do that? It’s like signing a prenuptial agreement before getting married. If it doesn’t work out, you can pull stakes and leave, and take your whole facility with you.

The net result is, there’s almost nothing we can do. We can’t send oil. We can’t send LNG. Our military has withered under Conservative and Liberal governments to the point of utter irrelevance. Zeihan had something to say about that, too, in a recent interview with Business in Vancouver on Jan. 6.

 

Go to 14:01 to 15:52.

About the best we might be able to do is load up our five – count ’em – five C-17s strategic lift aircraft with what few anti-tank missiles we have and ship them to Ukraine. Maybe we can throw in a few pallets of Browning Hi-Power pistols we have left over from the Second World War that we are still using.

Royal Canadian Air Force C-17, also known as the CC-177. Canada only has five of these aircraft. Photo by Department of National Defence

 

A far more potent form of assistance, not just for Europe, but Ukraine, too, would be the ability for Canadian oil and gas to displace Russian oil and gas. Taking away the markets, and revenue source, for Russia’s most significant commodities, would be much more devastating than any number of soldiers we could ever deploy against the Red Army.

Russia is adamant that Ukraine not join NATO. Think about it – if nearly every country in Europe that was once under your (Russian) boot has since joined an alliance specifically to protect themselves from you, you just might be the bad guy. For those who might have missed it, that list includes Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. That’s 14 nations with relatively recent experience of Russian control who fled into the arms of NATO. But whose counting?

Maybe they know something we don’t?

Given what has happened before under Russian rule, specifically the Holodomor, no Ukrainian should ever wish to be subject to Moscow’s whims again. How many millions more bodies do we need to figure this out?

I’m just glad my family got the hell out of there when it did.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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