Skip to main content Accessibility help

Mass Repression and Political Loyalty: Evidence from Stalin’s ‘Terror by Hunger’



States use repression to enforce obedience, but repression—especially if it is violent, massive, and indiscriminate—often incites opposition. Why does repression have such disparate effects? We address this question by studying the political legacy of Stalin’s coercive agricultural policy and collective punishment campaign in Ukraine, which led to the death by starvation of over three million people in 1932–34. Using rich micro-level data on eight decades of local political behavior, we find that communities exposed to Stalin’s “terror by hunger” behaved more loyally toward Moscow when the regime could credibly threaten retribution in response to opposition. In times when this threat of retribution abated, the famine-ridden communities showed more opposition to Moscow, both short- and long-term. Thus, repression can both deter and inflame opposition, depending on the political opportunity structure in which post-repression behavior unfolds.


Corresponding author

*Arturas Rozenas, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, New York University,
Yuri M. Zhukov, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan,


Hide All

We greatly benefited from comments and discussions with Therese Anders, Volha Charnysh, Anita Gohdes, Evgeny Finkel, Omar Garcia Ponce, Stephen Kotkin, Leonid Peisakhin, Carly Wayne, Oleh Wolowyna, Thomas Zeitzoff, participants of workshops at Columbia University, George Washington University, University of Konstanz, University of Southern California, NEWEPS-9 at Princeton University, University of California–Merced, Arizona State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, NYU–Abu Dhabi, University of Wisconsin, and Yale University. We also thank Oleh Wolowyna and Natalya Levchuk for famine mortality and USSR census data, Alexander Kupatadze and Thomas Zeitzoff for sharing survey data, Anastasiia Vlasenko for research assistance, and Roya Talibova and Sergey Sanovich for assistance in obtaining data on Soviet army personnel records and elections. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



Hide All
Alexandrow, Julia, and French, Tommy. 1995. Flight from Novaa Salow: Autobiography of a Ukrainian Who Escaped Starvation in the 1930s under the Russians and Then Suffered Nazi Enslavement. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Incorporated Pub.
Applebaum, Anne. 2017. Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. New York: Doubleday.
Balcells, Laia. 2012. “The Consequences of Victimization on Political Identities: Evidence from Spain.” Politics & Society 40 (3): 311–47.
Beissinger, Mark R. 2002. Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Beissinger, Mark, and Kotkin, Stephen. 2014. Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Belloni, Alexandre, Chen, Daniel, Chernozhukov, Victor, and Hansen, Christian. 2012. “Sparse Models and Methods for Optimal Instruments with an Application to Eminent Domain.” Econometrica 80 (6): 2369–429.
Berelovich, A., ed. 2005. Sovetskaya Derevnya Glazami OGPU-NKVD (Russian) [Soviet Village in the Eyes of OGPU-NKVD]. Vol. 3 (1930–1934) Moscow: ROSSPEN.
Berkhoff, Karel C. 2008a. “The Great Famine in Light of the German Invasion and Occupation.” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 30 (1/4): 165–81.
Berkhoff, Karel C. 2008b. Harvest of Despair. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Blaydes, Lisa. 2018. State of Repression: Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bondarchuk, Volodymyr H., ed. 1962. Atlas Ukrainskoy SSR i Moldavskoy SSR [Atlas of Ukrainian SSR and Moldavian SSR]. Moscow: Main Geodesy and Cartography Directorate of USSR Council of People’s Commissars.
Byman, Daniel. 2016. “‘Death Solves All Problems’: The Authoritarian Model of Counterinsurgency.” Journal of Strategic Studies 39 (1): 6293.
Cantelaube, Pierre, and Terres, Jean-Michel. 2005. “Seasonal Weather Forecasts for Crop Yield Modelling in Europe.” Tellus A 57 (3): 476–87.
Carson, George Barr. 1955. Electoral Practices in the U.S.S.R. New York: Frederick A. Praeger.
Central Statistical Directorate of USSR. 1928–1929. Vsesoyuznaya Perepis’ Naseleniya 1926 Goda. Moscow: Central Statistical Directorate of USSR.
Chainey, Spencer, Tompson, Lisa, and Uhlig, Sebastian. 2008. “The Utility of Hotspot Mapping for Predicting Spatial Patterns of Crime.” Security Journal 21 (1–2): 428.
Charnysh, Volha. 2015. “Historical Legacies of Interethnic Competition: Anti-semitism and the EU Referendum in Poland.” Comparative Political Studies 48 (13): 1711–45.
Cho, Wendy K.Tam, Gimpel, James G., and Dyck, Joshua J.. 2006. “Residential Concentration, Political Socialization, and Voter Turnout.” The Journal of Politics 68 (1): 156–67.
Conquest, Robert. 1987. The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. New York: Oxford University Press.
Costalli, Stefano, and Ruggeri, Andrea. 2015. “Forging Political Entrepreneurs: Civil War Effects on post-conflict Politics in Italy.” Political Geography 44: 40–9.
Davenport, Christian. 2007. “State Repression and Political Order.” Annual Review of Political Science 10: 123.
Davies, Robert William, and Wheatcroft, Stephen. 2009. The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia. Volume 5: The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture 1931–1933. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dolot, Miron. 1985. Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Dray, Stéphane, Legendre, Pierre, and Peres-Neto, Pedro R.. 2006. “Spatial Modelling: a Comprehensive Framework for Principal Coordinate Analysis of Neighbour Matrices (PCNM).” Ecological Modelling 196 (3): 483–93.
Ellman, Michael. 2005. “The Role of Leadership Perceptions and of Intent in the Soviet Famine of 1931–1934.” Europe-Asia Studies 57 (6): 823–41.
Enukidze, A., ed. 1928. Atlas Soyuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik [Atlas of the USSR]. Moscow: Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union.
Finkel, Evgeny. 2015. “The Phoenix Effect of State Repression: Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust.” American Political Science Review 109 (02): 339–53.
Fouka, Vasiliki, and Voth, Hans-Joachim. 2016. “Reprisals Remembered: German-Greek Conflict and Car Sales during the Euro Crisis.” Working Paper.
Galagan, Anatol. 1956. Budni Sovetskogo zhurnalista (Ukrainian) [Weekdays of a Soviet Journalist]. Buenos Aires: Peremoha.
García-Ponce, Omar, and Pasquale, Benjamin. 2015. “How Political Repression Shapes Attitudes Toward the State: Evidence from Zimbabwe.” Working Paper.
García-Ponce, Omar, and Wantchekon, Leonard. 2011. “Echoes of Colonial Repression: The Long-Term Effects of the 1947 Revolt upon Political Attitudes in Madagascar.” Working Paper.
Gilison, Jerome M. 1968. “Soviet Elections as a Measure of Dissent: The Missing One Percent.” American Political Science Review 62 (3): 814–26.
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Ruggeri, Andrea. 2010. “Political Opportunity Structures, Democracy, and Civil War.” Journal of Peace Research 47 (3): 299310.
Goychenko, Dmytro. 2012. Chervonyy apokalipsys: kriz’ rozkurkuliuvannia ta Holodomor. Memuary svidkiv (Ukrainian) [Red Apocalypses: Through Disposession and Holodomor. Memoires of the Witness]. Kiev: A-ba-ba-ha-la-ma-ha.
Grechko, Andrey Antonovich, ed. 1976. Sovetskaya Voennaya Entsiklopediya [Soviet Military Encyclopedia]. Moscow: Voenizdat.
Gurr, Ted Robert. 1971. Why Men Rebel. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Haran, Olexiy, and Zdioruk, Serhiy. 2012. “Russkii Mir and the Future of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.” PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 234.
Harff, Barbara, and Gurr, Ted Robert. 1988. “Toward Empirical Theory of Genocides and Politicides: Identification and Measurement of Cases since 1945.” International Studies Quarterly 32 (3): 359–71.
Iefimenko, Hennadii. 2013. “Pereselennia ta deportatsiï v postholodomorni roky (1933–1936): poraionnyi zriz.” In Problemy Istoriï Ukraïny: fakty, sudzhennia, poshuky: Mizhvidomchyi zbirnyk naukovykh prats, ed. Stanislav V. Kul'chyts'kyi. Vol. 22. Kyiv: Institute Of Ukrainian History, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, 136–66.
Ishchenko, Volodymyr. 2013. “Bazy protesnykh podiy ta povidomlen’ [Databases of protest events and reports].” Center for Social and Labor Research. URL:
Jacobs, Everett M. 1970. “Soviet Local Elections: What They Are, and what They Are Not.” Soviet Studies 22 (1): 6176.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2006. The Logic of Violence in Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Karklins, Rasma. 1986. “Soviet Elections Revisited: Voter Abstention in Noncompetitive Voting.” American Political Science Review 80 (2): 449–70.
Kitschelt, Herbert P. 1986. “Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest: Anti-nuclear Movements in Four Democracies.” British Journal of Political Science 16 (1): 5785.
Kocher, Matthew Adam, Pepinsky, Thomas B., and Kalyvas, Stathis N.. 2011. “Aerial Bombing and Counterinsurgency in the Vietnam War.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (2): 201–18.
Kogan, Felix, Adamenko, Tatiana, and Kulbida, Mikola. 2011. Satellite-Based Crop Production Monitoring in Ukraine and Regional Food Security. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 99104.
Kondrashin, Viktor V., ed. 2011. Golod v SSSR 1929–1934 (Russian) [Famine in USSR 1929–1934]. Vol. 1 (Part 2). Moscow: MFD.
Kondrashin, V.V., ed. 2012. Golod v SSSR 1929–1934 (Russian) [Famine in USSR 1929–1934]. Vol. 2. Moscow: MFD.
Kotkin, Stephen. 2017. Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941. New York: Penguin Books Limited.
Kozlov, Mikhail Mikhailovich, ed. 1985. Velikaya Otechestvennaya voyna 1941–1945: Entsiklopediya [Great Patriotic war 1941–1945: Encyclopedia]. Moscows: Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya.
Krupskiy, N.K. and Polupyan, N.I., eds. 1979. Atlas pochv Ukrainskoy SSR [Soil atlas of Ukrainian SSR]. Kyiv: Urozhay.
Kul’chyts’kyi, Stanislav. 2007. “Pochemu on nas unichtozhal?” In Stalin i ukrainskii golodomor. Vol. 15. Kyiv: Ukrainskaya press-gruppa.
Kul’chyts’kyi, Stanislav V., ed. 1993. Golod 1921–1923 rr. v Ukraini: Zb. dokumentiv i materialiv [Famine of 1921–1923 in Ukraine: Collection of documents and materials]. Kyiv: Nauk. dumka.
Kupatadze, Alexander, Zeitzoff, Thomas, and Zhukov, Yuri. 2018. “How Crime and War Shape Attitudes Towards the State”. Working Paper.
Kuran, Timur. 1995. Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Lichbach, Mark Irving. 1987. “Deterrence or Escalation? the Puzzle of Aggregate Studies of Repression and Dissent.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 31 (2): 266–97.
Lupu, Noam, and Peisakhin, Leonid. 2017. “The Legacy of Political Violence across Generations.” American Journal of Political Science 61 (4): 836–51.
Lyall, Jason. 2009. “Does Indiscriminate Violence Incite Insurgent Attacks? Evidence from Chechnya.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53 (2): 331–62.
Magaloni, Beatriz. 2008. “Credible Power-Sharing and the Longevity of Authoritarian Rule.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (4–5): 715–41.
Marples, David R. 2009. “Ethnic Issues in the Famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine.” Europe-Asia Studies 61 (3): 505–18.
Matsuura, Kenji, and Willmott, Cort. 2014. Terrestrial Air Temperature and Precipitation: 1900–2014 Gridded Monthly Time Series (V4): National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Meng, Xin, Qian, Nancy, and Yared, Pierre. 2015. “The Institutional Causes of China’s Great Famine, 1959–1961.” The Review of Economic Studies 82 (4): 1568–611.
Merl, Stephan. 2011. “Elections in the Soviet Union, 1937–1989: A View into a Paternalistic World from below.” In Voting for Hitler and Stalin: Elections under 20th Century Dictatorships, eds. Jessen, Ralph and Richter, Hedwig. Frankfurt, New York: Campus Verlag GmbH, 276308.
Military-Topographical Directorate of the General Staff. 1974. Atlas Ofitsera [Officer’s Atlas]. Moscow: Military-Topographical Directorate of the General Staff.
Naumenko, Natalya. 2017. “The Political Economy of Famine: the Ukrainian Famine of 1933.” Working Paper.
Ó Gráda, Cormac. 2007. “Making Famine History.” Journal of Economic Literature 45 (1): 538.
Overy, Richard. 1998. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet Effort: 1941–1945. New York: Penguin.
Perezhogin, Vitaliy Afanasievich. 1997. “Partizany i naselenie (1941–1945 g.g.) [Partisans and the population (1941–1945)] .Otechestvennaya istoriya 6.
Plokhy, Serhii. 2016. “Mapping the Great Famine.” In The Future of the Past: New Perspectives on Ukrainian History, ed. Plokhy, Serhii. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 375420.
Pop-Eleches, Grigore, and Tucker, Joshua A.. 2017. Communism’s Shadow: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Political Attitudes. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Priemel, Kim Christian. 2015. “Occupying Ukraine: Great Expectations, Failed Opportunities, and the Spoils of War, 1941–1943.” Central European History 48: 3152.
Raftery, Adrian E., Madigan, David, and Jennifer, A. Hoeting. 1997. “Bayesian Model Averaging for Linear Regression Models.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 92 (437): 179–91.
Rating Group Ukraine. 2017. Dynamika stavlennya do Holodomoru: listopad 2017 [Trend of attitudes toward Holodomor: November 2017]. Technical Report, Sociological Group ‘Rating’.
Rozenas, Arturas. 2018. “A Theory of Demographically Targeted Repression.” Working Paper, New York University.
Rozenas, Arturas, Schutte, Sebastian, and Zhukov, Yuri M.. 2017. “The Political Legacy of Violence: The Long-Term Impact of Stalin’s Repression in Ukraine.” The Journal of Politics 79 (4): 1147–61.
Rudnytskyi, Omelian, Levchuk, Nataliia, Wolowyna, Oleh, Shevchuk, Pavlo, and Kovbasiuk, Alla. 2015. “Demography of a Man-Made Human Catastrophe: The Case of Massive Famine in Ukraine 1932–1933.” Canadian Studies in Population 42 (1–2): 5380.
Schelling, Thomas C. 1966. Arms and Influence. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Simpser, Alberto, Slater, Dan, and Wittenberg, Jason. 2018. “Dead but Not Gone: Contemporary Legacies of Communism, Imperialism, and Authoritarianism.” Annual Review of Political Science 21: 419–39.
Snyder, Timothy. 2010. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin New York: Basic Books.
Somov, Vladimir A. 2003. “Pis’ma uchastnikov Velikoy Otechestvennoy voyny 1941–1945 gg. [Letters from participants of Great Patriotic War 1941–1945].” Voprosy Istorii 8: 131–5.
Statiev, Alexander. 2010. The Soviet Counterinsurgency in the Western Borderlands. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Statiev, Alexander. 2014. “Soviet Partisan Violence against Soviet Civilians: Targeting Their Own.” Europe-Asia Studies 66 (9): 1525–52.
Sysyn, Frank. 2016. “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Memory and Memorialization of the Holodomor.” URL:
Tauger, Mark B. 2001. “Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931–1933.” In Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies. Vol. 1506. Pittsburgh, PA: Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 165.
Ustinov, Dmitriy Fedorovich. 1973–1982. Istoriya Vtoroy Mirovoy Voyny, 1939–1945 [History of Second World War, 1939–1945]. Vol. 4, 5, and 8. Moscow: Voenizdat.
Werth, Nicolas. 2013. “Keynote Address for the Holodomor Conference.” In After the Holodomor: The Enduring Impact of the Great Famine on Ukraine, ed. Graziosi, Andrea, Hajda, Lubomyr A., and Hryn, Halyna. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, xxixxxxvi.
Wheatcroft, Stephen. 1996. “The Scale and Nature of German and Soviet Repression and Mass Killings, 1930–451.” Europe-Asia Studies 48 (8): 1319–53.
Wintrobe, Ronald. 1998. The Political Economy of Dictatorship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wittenberg, Jason. 2006. Crucibles of Political Loyalty: Church Institutions and Electoral Continuity in Hungary. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wolowyna, Oleh, Plokhy, Serhii, Levchuk, Nataliia, Rudnytskyi, Omelian, Shevchuk, Pavlo, and Kovbasiuk, Alla. 2016. “Regional Variations of 1932–34 Famine Losses in Ukraine.” Canadian Studies in Population 43 (3–4): 175202.
Young, Lauren. 2019. “The Psychology of State Repression: Fear and Dissent Decisions in Zimbabwe.” American Political Science Review 113 (1): 140–55.
Zhukov, Yuri M. 2015. “Population Resettlement in War: Theory and Evidence from Soviet Archives.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59 (7): 1155–85.
Zhukov, Yuri M., and Talibova, Roya 2018. “Stalin’s Terror and the Long-Term Political Effects of Mass Repression.” Journal of Peace Research 55 (2): 267–83.
Zolotarev, Vladimir Antonovich, ed. 1997. Prikazy Narodnogo Komissara Oborony SSSR. 22 Iyunya 1941 G.–1942 G. [Orders of the USSR State Commissar of Defense. 22 June 1941–1942. Vol. 13 (2–2) of Russkiy Arkhiv: Velikaya Otechestvennaya. Moscow: Terra. ISBN 5-85255-7.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Rozenas and Zhukov supplementary material
Online Appendices

 PDF (5.5 MB)
5.5 MB
Supplementary materials

Rozenas and Zhukov Dataset


Mass Repression and Political Loyalty: Evidence from Stalin’s ‘Terror by Hunger’



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed