Natalya Naumenko

Assistant Professor, Department of Economics at George Mason University


The Political Economy of Famine: the Ukrainian Famine of 1933

The 1933 Ukrainian famine killed as many as 2.6 million people out of a population of 32 million. Historians offer three main explanations: weather, economic policies, genocide. This paper documents that (1) available data do not support weather as the main explanation: 1931 and 1932 weather predicts harvest roughly equal to the 1924–1929 average; weather explains up to 8.1% of excess deaths. (2) Policies (collectivization of agriculture and the lack of favored industries) significantly increased famine mortality; collectivization explains up to 52% of excess deaths. (3) There is some evidence that ethnic Ukrainians and Germans were discriminated against. 

The Journal of Economic History (2021) no. 81(1): 156-197. Paper: PDF, SSRN, JEH; Appendix; Data files

Response to Professor Tauger’s Comments

This is a response to Professor Tauger’s comments on my 2021 Journal of Economic History paper. Professor Tauger mostly comments on the paper’s Introduction, Background, and Weather sections, ignoring most of the statistical results. While the Background section has some oversimplifications, and I am grateful for the opportunity to correct them, Professor Tauger’s comments do not change the findings and conclusions of my paper. 

Econ Journal Watch (2023) no. 20(2): 304-313.

Working papers

The Causes of Ukrainian Famine Mortality, 1932-33, with Andrei Markevich and Nancy Qian

Revise and Resubmit at the Review of Economic Studies

We construct a large dataset to understand the causes of high Ukrainian mortality during the Great Soviet famine (1932-33). We document that holding per capita grain production, urbanization, and other factors constant, famine mortality rate was increasing in pre-famine ethnic Ukrainian population share across regions, even outside of Ukraine. Government grain procurement as a share of production is also increasing in pre-famine ethnic Ukrainian population share. These and other results imply that Ukrainian bias in Soviet policy was the main contributor to high Ukrainian famine mortality, and rule out alternative explanations such as bad weather or other exogenous factors.

Paper: NBER Working Paper 29089; Popular press: NBER Digest Oct 2021; Der Spiegel; Big Questions podcast (in Russian)

Work in progress

Economic Consequences of the 1933 Soviet Famine

Using recently discovered archival data, this article studies the impact of the 1933 Soviet famine on population and urbanization patterns. It documents that, although most of the direct victims lived in rural areas, the famine had a persistent negative impact on the urban population. In fact, the rural population gradually recovered while urban settlements in more affected areas became permanently smaller. The paper argues that the shortage of labor during the crucial years of rapid industrialization hindered the development of cities in the areas struck by the famine. Thus, the timing of the shock to population appears to be an important factor. While established urban networks tend to recover from large temporary negative shocks, the lack of people during construction and rapid growth might have a permanent negative impact.  

Unintended Long-Term Consequences of Industrial Nuclear Explosions in the USSR, with Alexey Makarin 

The 1922 Soviet Famine, with Volha Charnysh and Andrei Markevich