Ukraine's turmoil linked to 1930s famine-president

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KIEV, Nov 25 (Reuters) President Viktor Yushchenko said on Saturday today's turmoil pitting Ukraine's Russian-speaking east against its nationalist west had its roots in a famine engineered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin 75 years ago.

Yushchenko was addressing a ceremony marking the anniversary of the 1932-33 famine designed to break the spirit of Ukraine's independent farmers and entrench collectivised farming.

Historians say about 7.5 million people died.

Ukraine has been gripped by political uncertainty since Yushchenko was swept to power by ''Orange Revolution'' protests in 2004 and embarked on plans to move closer to the west and seek membership of the European Union and NATO.

Three years on, after a split in ''orange'' ranks, a parliamentary election in September produced a near-even split between parties backing national causes in Ukrainian-speaking western Ukraine and those in the Russian-speaking east, friendlier towards Moscow.

Politicians are currently locked in talks to produce a government after ''orange'' parties won a slender majority.

Yushchenko says he wants to reconcile the country's two halves and has called for a prospective ''orange'' coalition to give some posts to their rivals based in the east.

Some analysts say he may instead favour a broad coalition between his allies and his rival, outgoing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich with the aim of bridging Ukraine's differences.

Speaking in a central Kiev square dotted by rows of candles, Yushchenko said the 1930s famine instilled fear in a shattered people.

''Our political and social ills find their way back to this fear of returning to one's national roots as that was the very reason for the deaths of millions,'' he said yesterday.

''And here lies the difficult path of moving closer to one another, to understanding and unity.'' The famine was created by authorities setting impossibly high harvest quotas and requisitioning crops and livestock.

Farmers were left to die in their own homes.

At its height, 25,000 people perished every day. Soldiers dumped bodies into pits, cannibalism became rife.

Ukraine's parliament, after long debate, proclaimed the famine ''genocide'' last year and Yushchenko has been pressing other countries to extend similar recognition.

The famine, one of three to beset Ukraine last century, was never even acknowledged in Soviet times.

Russia, backed by some other ex-Soviet states, has rejected calls to describe it as genocide on grounds that other nations also suffered from mass famine under communism.

His voice breaking at the memory, famine survivor Volodymyr Gerasimovych, 77, recalled how as a three-year-old he saw a visitor with swollen features seize food from dishes meant for pets.

''What is difficult is that not all elderly or young people believe it happened,'' he said. There are many people here in the square. But others are brazen enough to say it was all made up.'' Reuters TB VP0505

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