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

Working papers

The Political-Economic Causes of the Soviet Great Famine, 1932–33, with Andrei Markevich and Nancy Qian

This study constructs a large new dataset to investigate whether state policy led to ethnic Ukrainians experiencing higher mortality during the 1932–33 Soviet Great Famine. All else equal, famine (excess) mortality rates were positively associated with ethnic Ukrainian population share across provinces, as well as across districts within provinces. Ukrainian ethnicity, rather than the administrative boundaries of the Ukrainian republic, mattered for famine mortality. These and many additional results provide strong evidence that higher Ukrainian famine mortality was an outcome of policy, and suggestive evidence on the political-economic drivers of repression. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that bias against Ukrainians explains up to 77% of famine deaths in the three republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and up to 92% in Ukraine.

Paper: PDF, SSRN, CEPR discussion paper 16408, NBER Working Paper 29089; Popular press: NBER Digest Oct 2021

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