Demography of a man-made human catastrophe: The case of massive famine in Ukraine 1932–1933

Omelian Rudnytskyi, Nataliia Levchuk, Oleh Wolowyna, Pavlo Shevchuk, Alla Kovbasiuk

Canadian Studies in Population 42, no. 1–2 (2015): 53–80.

Abstract: Estimates of 1932–34 famine direct losses (excess deaths) by age and sex and indirect losses (lost births) are calculated, for the first time, for rural and urban areas of Ukraine. Total losses are estimated at 4.5 million, with 3.9 million excess deaths and 0.6 million lost births. Rural and urban excess deaths are equivalent to 16.5 and 4.0 per cent of respective 1933 populations. We show that urban and rural losses are the result of very different dynamics, as reflected in the respective urban and rural age structures of relative excess deaths.

Human catastrophes hold a special place in the field of population studies. Catastrophes with large-scale population consequences are of two types: nature-induced disasters and man-made disasters. Examples of nature-induced disasters are famines due to drought or pestilence, deaths from natural cataclysms like mega-volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and pathogenic viral outbreaks like influenza. Examples of man-made disasters include wars and revolutions. A particular case of manmade disasters are those attributable to social engineering, i.e., miscalculations, failures of the system, or deliberate destructions brought by governments in their attempts to fundamentally transform a society according to a particular ideological script. Both types of catastrophe have received quite extensive coverage in the demographic literature. Besides a heavy human toll and material destruction, they often had profound long-term implications in terms of major political, geopolitical, and social transformations (Smil 2008).


Oleh Wolowyna, Center for Slavic, Eurasian and E. European Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Director of the Shevchenko Scientific Society’s Center for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research of Ukrainians in the US.

Omelian Rudnytskyi, Nataliia Levchuk, Pavlo Shevchuk, and Alla Kovbasiuk—all with the Ptoukha Institute of Demography and Social Studies at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.