“The fractured mask (Kharkiv, 2022)”, Alexandre Mitchell, 2022
(Canson, 180g, 42 x 59cm, Indian ink)

The current war being waged on Ukraine is not the first time the country was brutalised by Russian forces. Between 1932 and 1933, Stalin was determined to obliterate Ukraine’s national identity and the country’s resistance movement, which he blamed on Ukrainian nationalists.

He deported and executed millions of Ukrainians; he seized peasants’ crops to force them to join collective farms. This quickly led to the Great Famine, known in Ukraine as Holodomor or ‘death by hunger’. Stalin called it ‘a fairy tale’ and to this day, Moscow has never acknowledged its man-made famine, pretending that millions of men, women and children starved to death because of poor harvests.

Just like Stalin, Putin is a tyrant who lies shamelessly to his people and the world, wields fear and heavy military power to repress his own citizens as well as his enemies. The Soviet propaganda machine was incredibly effective in its time but it pales in comparison to Putin’s control of social media and the news as well as his arsenal of State-sponsored internet hackers.

As the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore writes in a recent article,

‘Putin has now switched from authoritarian rule to totalitarian oppression. As this atrocious war and Western sanctions corrode Russian society, Stalinist terror will become essential to Putin’s hold on power.’

Further reading

  • Applebaum, A., Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017.
  • Graziosi, A., ‘Les Famines Soviétiques de 1931–1933 et le Holodomor Ukrainien’, Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique 46/3, 2005, pp. 453–472.
  • Koshiw, I., Ram E., ‘Kharkiv catalogues war’s toll on its architectural gems’, The Guardian, 05/05/2022 | Online 
  • Montefiore, Simon Sebag, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, New York, Alfre, 2003.
  • Montefiore, Simon Sebag, ‘Why Vladimir Putin is beholden to Stalin’s legacy’ New Statesman 2022 | online