Sample IBDP History IAs- Holodomor

Research question: How many Ukrainians died during Holodomor in 1933?

Word count: 2121

(Figure 1: Holodomor painting 1932-1933, by Nina Marchenko) 

Section 1: Identification and evaluation of sources

This investigation will focus on answering the question, “How many Ukrainians died during Holodomor in 1933?” and will analyse which statement from the chosen sources is more reliable. The two secondary sources which will explored in this investigation are history books, written from different cultural perspectives because one writer is American, whereas the other is Ukrainian. Both sources provide statistical information based on the number of deaths during Holodomor in 1933. The contrast between the two sources is that one source claims that over 10 million Ukrainians died due in Holodomor, whereas the another claims that it was between 3 – 4 million. The analysis of two sources will play a significant role at answering the question.  

The first source which will be explored is a book “Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin”, written by American historian Timothy Snyder in 2010[2]. The book was first published in America, thus this implies that the other regions already knew about the occurrence of Holodomor rather than only the countries that used to be members of the Soviet Union. The purpose of this book is to explore all the dramatic events that happed in Ukraine in the years of 1929 – 1941 in detail. Moreover, it allows a historian to discover the causes of the Holodomor and what impact it had on Ukraiane. The source is targeted at teachers, professors, students and foreigners, which are willing to investigate how Holodomor influenced the Ukrainian nation. The source portrays political, economic and social difficulties which occurred in Ukraine and were associated with the leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin. In order to support his arguments Snyder analyzes all the events happened between Ukraine and Russia and moreover it mentions German political influence on Russia and Ukraine. Thus, this allows the reader to understand that famine that took place in Ukraine was not only caused by the Soviet Union but also by Germany, who had a tremendous influence of Holodomor and its pre-stages. “Bloodlands” was written from an alternative perspective of a historian who did not live on Ukrainian territory. Hence, this suggests two perspectives – one is that Snyder presents a view of an observant, who was not influenced by his emotions while writing the book. Nevertheless, another perspective is that Snyder might not have access to all the archives in Ukraine or Russia in order to support his arguments by more statistical information. The main limitation of this source is that it was written 77 years later after the occurrence of this event. Thus, it suggests that not all the statistical information is covered in his book due to the fact that some of the data might be hidden.[3] 

The second secondary source that is explored in this investigation is a book, “Holodomor 1932-1933, written by Ukrainian professors and historians Alexander Gnezdilo and Larisa Panasenko in 2008[4]. The book was first published in Ukraine, allowing only Ukrainian speakers to be able to absorb the information. The purpose of the source is to portray tragic evidence of Holodomor and depict on how many Ukrainians were starved to death by the Soviet Union in 1932-1933. The source is targeted at teachers, professors, who are able to understand Ukrainian language due to the fact that the source is written in Ukrainian and there is no translated version. The book enables the reader to explore supported arguments on how many people died since there are photos taken during Holodomor times, which explore the number of deaths but also demonstrate evidence that happened between 1932-1940. The purpose of the book is to provide a historical information on Holodomor for the later generations and how it influenced the Ukrainian nation. The source presents an alternative view of historians and professors, which live on Ukrainian territory and had access to Ukrainian archives. Nevertheless, the limitation of this is that authors of the book might have been influenced by their emotions and personal interests in the topic while they were writing the book, therefore it might influence the increase of the number of deaths in order to emphasize the idea that Ukraine was suffering from the Soviet Union. Moreover, this book might prove Ukrainian citizens to have biased views towards Russia, especially because at this stage there is an occurrence of war between Russia and Ukraine. In addition to that, this source is written 75 years later after Holodomor and this suggests that historians did not have access to a wide range of materials based on Holodomor because some data was possibly hidden by the Soviet Union or Ukrainian government. 

Section 2: Investigation

“Day by day the sadness grew… people searched and hunted for food” – with these dramatic words survivors of Holodomor would describe the event[5]. Holodomor or “death by starvation” was an act of genocide that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. An act of genocide was commanded by the Soviet Union leader, Joseph Stalin and his “Soviet cohorts”[6]. The purpose of Holodomor was to destroy the Ukrainian nation. In 1932 Stalin commanded his army to collect all the bread, animals and money from Ukrainian peasants. It was a total collectivization to remove the Ukrainian nation.[7] In 10 months 19,740 Ukrainians were in prison, some were sent to concentration camps due to their attempt to fight for their freedom through protests or to at least supply their family with food.[8] A woman, Dubivka Evdokia, who was born in 1921 experienced Holodomor and she remembered, “…how Russian brigades were taking everything from her house, they have tried to collect everything even that food that was already cooked”. Between 1932-1933 cannibalism occurred in Ukraine, and those who were disgusted by watching their neighbors eating and killing other people or animals committed suicides.[9] Holodomor may also be compared to another terrifying event, which illustrated man’s inhumanity – Holocaust, during which millions of people were killed. The question “How many Ukrainians died during Holodomor in 1933?” was asked previously in the 90s but there are still different alternative answers which are completely different to one another. Moreover, the question of this investigation may also be relevant today in order to be aware of precise number of losses during Holodomor to commemorate those who passed away. This investigation will be focused on exploring different perspectives of historians such as Snyder and Gnezdilo and Panasenko and evaluate which statement is more reliable in order to answer the question.

On one side it could be argued that an approximate number of deaths during Holodomor varies between 4-5 million people.[10] Gnezdenko and Panasenko believe that sources they have collected from Ukrainian archives suggest an approximate number of human losses in 1932-1933. It is difficult to predict human losses as some files remained unidentified and hidden. Two Ukrainian historians - Anna Radchenko and Anna Gvelesiani determined that the amount of archives for the year 1932 decreased by 1,7 times, for the year 1933 the amount of archives decreased by 3,4 times and for the year 1934 by 40 times. Hence, it may suggest that the most important files were removed. Between 1949-1955 around 16,000 documents were hidden under Soviet’s order. By 1960 it was estimated that around 129 documents on Holodomor and the number of deaths of its victims were “lost”.[11] This question is controversial because some historians publish objective information, whereas others subjective, meaning that there is a clear expression of their feelings, emotions and communication of personal opinion to the audience, which might also influence the occurrence of propaganda. The main reason why historians have different numbers of deaths during Holodomor is because they generalize the number of deaths, meaning that some historians, classify deaths into different groups in order to determine under which circumstances they have died, while others make their predictions based on the total population of deaths and relate it to Holodomor.[12]

On the other side, Snyder argues that due to political disagreements between Ukraine and Russia Holodomor killed at least 10 million Ukrainians. In order to support the argument, American historian Oleh Wolowyna states that there were around 7 million to 10 million human losses.[13]
In his book Wolowyna articulates that in order to have an estimate and precise number of deaths during Holodomor he looked precisely at the information about those who died on Ukrainian territory and during Holodomor.[14] According to him, Ukrainian starvation reached shocking number of deaths, where by 1933 approximately 25,000 people died every day.[15] Wolowyna clarifies that it is hard to estimate an approximate number of victims of Holodomor since the event happened a long time ago and it is difficult to rely on given  information as it may be subjective and may incorporate fallacies. Furthermore, the guilty parties possibly tried to hide or get rid of as many relevant historical information as possible to prevent its appearance on international scale. Wolowyna adds that it is impossible to assume that there are over 7 million deaths due to Holodomor, because the total population of the Ukrainian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) between 1932-1934 was around 30 million, which is 13%-17% of the Ukrainian population.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian historical demographical institute states that around 20% of Ukrainian population which is 2,5 – 5 million people died. According to the Gompertz-Makeham mortality formula “μ(x) = Ro exp (α x)[16], where μ(x) – mortality rate in the age and x, aRo and a are constants of the equation, historians observed that there is no age influence on mortality rate and those number of deaths were predicted specifically for people, who died because of starvation.[17]

Therefore, it could be argued that approximate number of deaths during Holodomor varies between 2.5-5 million people. This result might not be precise enough since many historical documents were removed by the Soviets to keep the details within the committee. According to mathematical assumptions the number of deaths does not reach 7 million people as Wolowyna stated. Shyer and Borisov conclude their predictions by investigating the general population of deaths during the years 1932-33, therefore their numbers of total deaths reach over 10 million people. Nonetheless, Ukrainian historians such as Wolowyna, Gnezdilo and Panasenko investigated in details under which circumstances people died.
Section 3: Reflection

This investigation enabled me to apply historical methods, such as analyzing historians’ responses about Holodomor in order to answer the question “How many Ukrainians died in Holodomor in 1933?”.  A challenge that appeared during this investigation was the validity of each fact. Since the event took a place a long time ago, much information might have been changed or removed. Moreover, it was clear that there was a disagreement between experts in a discipline as they all had access to different information at different locations.  For this investigation I have decided to analyze books in different languages in order to determine, whether the language might have influenced reader’s perspective and understanding of the topic. Thereby, it was concluded that Ukrainian historians which lived in Ukraine or Russia had more access to information and hence they proved their predictions by providing old diaries, photos or letters. I have realized that that main challenge all historians are facing is that there is no exact answer to the question, especially if the question is based on statistical facts, because all the available information might miss the most important part and with time other historians always find new information which contradicts the old one. Throughout the investigation it was clear to understand that both countries provide the audience with information which is more “appropriate” for their country. In order to determine the most reliable answer I focused on evidence which support historians’ predictions.

Works cited

1.     Antonovich. Ukrainian genocide 1932-1933: Objective side. National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, 2012.
2.     Aulova, Ludmila. Holodomor: 1932-1933: Documents. Ukrainian Historical Institution, 2010.
3.     Biloshapka, Vasil. Petrenko, Ivan. Holodomor 1932-1933. 2006
4.     Borisow, Peter. Genocide. Ten Million. Holodomor. Canadian – American Slavic Studies, 2003.
5.     “Commemoration Art .” Education – Holodomor Research and Education Consortium,
6.     Gnezdilo, Alexander. Panasenko, Larisa. Holodomor 1932-1933. Ukrainian State Archives, 2008.
7.     Haven, Cynthia. “Timothy Snyder, Author of Bloodlands, to Speak at Stanford on March 13.” Stanford University, 6 Mar. 2013,
8.     “Holodomor (‘Death by starvation’).” doi:
9.     Jones, James. Gompertz-Makeham mortality formula. Mathematical Hazards Models and Model Life Tables. Formal Demography, 2005.
10.  Kuropas, Myron. The famine- genocide carried out by Joseph Stalin. 1995.
11.  Kuryliw, Valentina. “Poem ‘Through the Eyes of a Child.’” Education Holodomor Research and Education Consortium, 2016,
12.  Radchenko, Anna. Gvelesini, Anna. Holodomor in Ukraine in XX century. Institute for Demography and Social Studies. 2013
13.  Walowyna, Oleh. The Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933: Estimation of Losses and Demographic. 2008.

[1] Nina Marchenko, Holodomor Research & Education Consortium,, (accessed March 20, 2017)
[2] Cynthia Haven, Stanford News,, (accessed March 20, 2017)
[3] Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands. Europe between Hitler and Stalin, (Basic Books 2010).
[4] Alexander Gnezdilo and Larisa Panasenko, Holodomor 1932-1933. (Ukrainian state archives 2008).
[5] Valentina Kuryliw, Poem “Through the Eyes of a Child”,, (accessed May 10,2017)
[6] Myron Kuropas, The famine- genocide carried out by Joseph Stalin, (1995)
[7] Antonovich, Ukrainian genocide 1932-1933. Objective side, (National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” 2012 )
[8] Ludmila Aulova, Holodomor: 1932-1933. Documents, (Ukrainian Historical Institution, 2010).
[9] Vasil Biloshapka and Ivan Petrenko, Holodomor 1932-1933, (2006).
[10] Alexander Gnezdilo and Larisa Panasenko, Holodomor 1932-1933. (Ukrainian state archives 2008).
[11] Anna Radchenko and Anna Gvelesini, Holodomor in Ukraine in XX century. (Institute for Demography and Social Studies, 2013)
[12] Peter Borisow, Genocide. Ten Million. Holodomor. (Canadian – American Slavic Studies, 2003).
[13] Oleh Walowyna, The Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933: Estimation of Losses and Demographic. (2008)

[14] Oleh Walowyna, The Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933: Estimation of Losses and Demographic. (2008)
[15] “Holodomor: Death by Starvation”., (Sept.19, 2017)
[16] James Jones, Gompertz-Makeham mortality formula. Mathematical Hazards Models and Model Life Tables. (Formal Demography, 2005)
[17] James Jones, Gompertz-Makeham mortality formula. Mathematical Hazards Models and Model Life Tables. (Formal Demography, 2005)

From an old IA using the previous criteria:

Was the Holmodor an intentional genocidal policy by the Soviet Union Leadership?

A: Plan of Investigation
1. Subject- Was the Holdomor an intentional genocidal policy of the Soviet Union leadership?
2. Methods- Will use two basic sets of sources, newspapers written at the time from prominent journalists such as Walter Duranty, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Gareth Jones as well as later books written by prominent historians such as Robert Conquest. The summary of evidence will consist of three basic sections the policies taken by the Soviet Union leading to the famine, their policies during the famine and a section focusing on the famine itself. For section C the one source will be two of Walter Duranty's articles in the New York Times and the other Robert Conquest's book Harvest of Sorrows: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine.

B: Summary of Evidence
Stalin had introduced forced collectivization in 1928. The policy was meant to combine the smaller farms into larger ‘more efficient’ collective farms called kolkhozes. The 25 million peasant farmsteads were turned into 200,000 collective farms. This forced collectivization however, was highly unpopular among the peasants who resisted in a variety of ways including the slaughtering of their live stock as well as the burning of their crops culminating in large scale revolts braking out in mostly non-Russian areas including Ukraine. Such peasants were then bunched under the term “Kulaks” on which he declared “war”. It is estimated 5 million Soviet citizens were eventually classified as kulaks and either stripped of their land to be given the poorest land in the area, were deported to other nearby regions of the country or, in extreme cases to distant inhospitable regions without shelter or resources, or sent to gulags. The overall result was the inverse of what had been desired- rather then increasing the food output, the grain output dropped and livestock numbers fell; “famine was the natural outcome”.
The Holmodor refers specifically to such famine within Ukraine between 1932-33 which was part of a larger famine within the Soviet Union. The meaning of the word itself is debated, but is often translated as “death by hunger”. The actual number of casualties is recognized to be somewhere between 2.5 and 5 million though estimates vary. Cannibalism became widespread as the starving became more and more desperate resulting in the publishing of slogan by the Soviet authorities “Eating dead children is barbarism”. Disease, particularly typhoid, was widespread.
The Soviets pursued a number of policies during the famine 1932, introducing the law “On Safeguarding Socialist Property” which made stealing food punishable by death . The borders of the Ukraine were sealed by Red Army Units, and when aid arrived it was sent to all areas except the Ukraine. People trying to flee were rounded up and returned to famine stricken areas. The government went house to house in Ukraine removing all grain; in March 1933 220,000 starving people who left trying to find grain were returned as soon as they were caught. The quota was cut three times before the famine ended in 1934 when Stalin called a stop to the forced seizure of grain.
543 words

C: Evaluation of Sources

Harvest of Sorrows: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine
Written by well respected Robert Conquest, viewed by many as one of the foremost Soviet historians, the book has been described as “(t)he first major scholarly book on the horrors of collectivization” and hailed as “the most comprehensive history of the soviet agricultural crisis,” especially as Conquest himself states his focus on the Holmodor. However, having been published before the opening of the Soviet Archives, the book omits numerous sources that have come to light which indicate that many of the numbers and facts used in the book exceed the actual numbers. Furthermore, Conquest has since rescinded his claim in the book that the Holomodor was an intentional policy, instead saying that had Soviet policy of collectivization and dekulakization been dropped when the famine became eminent many lives could have been saved. Many of the book’s detractors claim that that the book is merely propaganda with “more than half of the references are come from extreme-right-wing Ukrainian émigrés”; As one of the advisors of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Conquest's true motives for the book have become suspect.
The second source consists of two articles by Walter Duranty- the now infamous “Russians Hungry But Not Starving” published on March 31st 1933 and the second less known piece “Soviet Industry Shows Big Gains” published the following week on April 6. At the time they were written the two pieces were valuable both as a “first hand account” and the fact Walter Duranty was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for his work on the Soviet Union. Also the pieces were published in the New York Times one of the most respected newspapers. However it has since been proven that famine occurred, which Duranty had flatly denied in both pieces. In fact efforts have been made to rescind Duranty's Pulitzer Prize and he was referred to by fellow journalist Malcolm Muggeridge as “the greatest liar I have met in journalism”.
Words: 470

D: Analysis
The famine is considered one of the greatest national calamities of modern Ukrainian history, an unprecedented peacetime catastrophe. The famine is such a flash point that the Ukrainian Communist Party refused to even acknowledge that it occurred until 1990, over 55 years after it happened. The current Ukrainian president has announced his attention to make denial of the Holodomor illegal. To date over 19 countries other then Ukraine have recognized it as an act of genocide and the European Parliament adopted a resolution on October 23, 2008 recognizing the famine calling it “an appalling crime against the Ukrainian people, and against humanity” and calling “on the countries which emerged following the break-up of the Soviet Union to open up their archives on the Holodomor”. The document also “strongly condemns these acts, directed against the Ukrainian peasantry, and marked by mass annihilation and violations of human rights and freedoms”.
But was the famine actually the result of a genocidal policy by Stalin? Duranty, possibly the most prominent journalist in the Soviet Union, completely denied the famine, claiming that “conditions are bad, but there is no famine”. His sources were “Soviet commissariats and in foreign embassies with their network of consuls, [...] Britons working as specialists and from my personal connections, Russian and foreign”, sources he fails to ascribe a name to, are “more trustworthy information than I could get by a brief trip through any one area”. He instead inserts any deaths are the result of “diseases due to malnutrition.” A number of prominent Westerners in 1934 agreed with him. However there can be question now of the falsity of their reports especially with the Soviet admitting its occurrence in the 80s and the Ukrainian Communist Party adopting a resolution in 1990 also acknowledging the disaster took place. In fact Duranty's work has become so discredited an attempt to revoke his Pulitzer Prize was put forward and even encouraged by the New York Times.
Robert Conquest on the other hand refers to the catastrophe as a “terror famine” and “inflicted for its own sake” is supported to differing extents by large number of historians. His assertion that the famine was the result of “the setting of grain quotas far above the possible, removing of handful of foods and preventing of help from outside” is collaborated by historian Jasper Becker, “Stalin allowed relief to all other areas”, “Party deliberately and consciously took all grain it could from the peasants” and Robert Service, “starving majority […] had to fulfill state's requirements”. Peter Wiles says “Conquest's research has established beyond a doubt that the famine was deliberately inflicted there for the ethnic reasons to undermine the Ukrainian nation”. However not all historians agree with Conquest and Becker, both Martens and Tottle are critical of Conquest's arguments asserting that the famine was actually caused not by Stalin but by four factors, a civil war perpetrated by the Kulaks and Czarist elements, the drought, the typhoid epidemic and some by the disorder resulting from the economic and social changes and pointing to the drought rather then Soviet policy. Both Marten's and Tottle's arguments are vastly weakened by the Russian's Federation co-sponsorship of a 2003 resolution holding the Soviet Union responsible for the famine which appears to be an admission of guilt. The official documents in the archives likewise “convincingly demonstrates that the blame for the suffering and deaths of millions of people lies squarely with the Stalinist leadership”. However Robert Service notes using the definition of genocide as killing an entire ethnic group or nationality then the Holdomor doesn't really apply. Other nationalities in the Ukraine were in conditions just as poor as the Ukrainians and the grain quotas were cut multiple times 3 times at the report of famines.
Words: 797
E: Conclusion

While clearly Duranty and Conquest don't agree on whether or not the Soviets are to blame for the Holomodor its clear they agree on the answer to whether or not it was genocide. Both believe that the famine was not the result of a genocidal policy when genocide is defined as “the killing of an entire national or ethnic group”. This is a position also supported by historians Service, Tottle, and Martens among others. But Service and Conquest do accuse Stalin of failing to act adequately to prevent or stop the continuation of the famine which means while he was not guilty of genocide the Soviet leader were guilty of a kind of extreme case of criminal malfeasance.
Words 126

F: List of Sources

Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts Henry Holt and Company: New York, 1996
Conquest, Robert. Harvest of Sorrows: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine Oxford University Press US, 1987
Duranty, Walter. “Russians Hungry, But Not Starving”. New York Times New York, March 31st, 1933
Martens, Ludo. “The Resolution on Dekulakization”. Another View of Stalin 1995
Meurs, Mielke. Many Shades of Red Rowman and Littlefield, 1999
“Resolution on the Commemoration of the Holodomor, the Ukrainian artificial famine(1932-1933)”. European Parliament Oct. 23, 2008. June 9, 2009
Service, Robert. A History of modern Russia from Nicholas II to Vladamir Putin Harvard University Press: New Haven, 2005
Sysyn, Frank. “The Ukrainian Famine of 1932-3: The Role of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Research and Public Discussion”. Studies in Comparative Genocide Ed: Levon Chorbajian and George Shirinian, Palgrave Macmillan 1999. pg. 182
Tottle, Douglas. Fraud, Famine and Fascism: The Ukrainian Genocide Myth from Hitler to Harvard Progress Books: Toronto Canada, 1987
Tucker, Robert C. “Stalinism as Revolution from Above”. Stalinism Ed: Robert C. Tucker Transaction Publishers, 1999