Ukraine's parliament adopted today a bill recognizing the Soviet-era forced famine as genocide against the Ukrainian people.

The bill passed in a vote of 233-1, a small majority in the 450-seat legislature. The Communist Party abstained from voting, and the bill was supported by two Party of Regions deputies, 118 Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko deputies, 79 "Our Ukraine" deputies, and 30 deputies from the Socialist Party.

The 1932-33 famine, known here as Holodomor or Death by Hunger, was orchestrated by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and killed 10 million Ukrainians, almost one-third of its population at the time.

"It is a belated move, but it is our obligation to remember," said lawmaker Borys Bespaliy, a Yushchenko ally. "Those who do not remember do not have a future."

The recognition opens the door to potential legal consequences including compensation for famine victims and recognition of the famine by the United Nations as genocide against Ukrainian people. Ten countries, including the United States, have recognized the famine as genocide, but U.N. recognition would imply an international acceptance.

Moscow strongly opposed calling the famine a genocide, contending that the famine did not specifically target Ukrainians and warning Ukraine not to "politicize" the issue.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's party proposed using the word tragedy instead of genocide, in what was seen as an effort to avoid spoiling ties with Russia. Only two lawmakers from the party's 186- member faction supported the bill; the Communist Party, which is also in the governing coalition, also did not support it.

Yanukovych, who has some Belarusian ancestors, told a small group of foreign journalists Tuesday that not only Ukrainians but other peoples of the Soviet Union had suffered, including Belarusians.

"It happened on the territory of many countries (former Soviet republics), maybe in Ukraine it had a greater effect as Ukraine is a more agricultural country," Yanukovych said.

Due to the resistance in parliament, the bill proposed by Yushchenko underwent several changes, including referring to genocide against the Ukrainian people instead of the Ukrainian nation. Lawmakers also dropped an initiative that would have made it a legal violation to deny the famine occurred.

During the height of the famine, 25,000 people died every day, devastating entire villages. Cases of cannibalism were widespread as desperation deepened. Those who resisted were shot or sent off to Siberia.

During the Soviet era, the mass starvation was a closely guarded state secret, but information trickled out over the years. Ukraine marked the 73rd anniversary of the famine on Saturday by lighting candles across the country in memory of the victims, and holding a solemn, fog-shrouded procession through the capital.

Genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group. It is a crime under international law.


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