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"When the Ukrainian World Was Destroyed": Genocidal Narrative Convergence and Stakeholder Interactions during National Crises

posted on 2020-03-30, 00:00 authored by Kristina Hook

In the wake of complex, contested disasters, narratives of suffering often emerge as integral features of attempts to rebuild cosmologies, particularly when such catastrophes are perpetrated by other humans. Due to the social negotiations and fluidity inherent in these processes, influential stakeholders can play an outsized role in using these discursive political tools for nation-building and solidarity. Genocidal narratives of suffering exist as a special and morally untouchable case due to their emotional salience and scope. Despite our knowledge that such narratives of suffering can impact sociopolitical processes, how these processes unfold, particularly as they are driven by influential stakeholders, is under-theorized. This project examines the interactions of four groups of social actors who frequently interact with Holodomor genocide narratives—lawyers, academics, politicians, and activists—in the context of modern Ukraine. The 1932-1933 Ukrainian Holodomor (“killing by hunger”) refers to an artificially induced famine in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Ukraine that killed an estimated 4.5 million people and changed Ukrainian society forever.Since Ukraine’s 1991 independence, narratives regarding the Holodomor have grown from a diffuse set of suppressed memories into an officially-sanctioned charter story for Ukrainian national identity as nuances decreased and stakeholder narratives converged during a series of escalating national crises.To substantiate this argument, two overarching, interlinking themes are explored: 1) the extreme cosmological destruction (i.e., the intentional, concurrent targeting a group’s biological existence and social world) caused by the Holodomor itself, and how this devastation contributed to 2) modern national identity ambiguities that paved the way for the pronounced role that influential stakeholders played in steering conversations of who Ukrainians were, are, and should be.Using more than 1,000 pages of qualitative data gathered by intensive interviewing with 100 national-level stakeholders across politics, law, academia, and activism, I illustrate how the Holodomor today is laden with representational meanings signifying Ukraine’s contemporary reality as a borderland caught between its Eastern past and Western aspirational future.Contextualizing this argument through 2.5 years of ethnographic fieldwork and participant-observation in Ukraine, I explore Holodomor narrative functions—including reclamation, resistance, absolution, and camouflage—and demonstrate the salience of this event and its legacy in understanding contemporary Ukraine.


Date Created


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Defense Date


CIP Code

  • 30.0501

Research Director(s)

Agustín Fuentes

Committee Members

Rahul Oka Vania Smith-Oka Serhii Plokhii


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • Ukrainian
  • Russian
  • English

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Library Record


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Additional Groups

  • Anthropology
  • Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies

Program Name

  • Anthropology
  • Peace Studies