Living in "survival mode:" Intergenerational transmission of trauma from the Holodomor genocide of 1932-1933 in Ukraine

Soc Sci Med. 2015 Jun;134:87-94. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.04.009. Epub 2015 Apr 15.


Qualitative methodology was used to investigate the intergenerational impact of the 1932-1933 Holodomor genocide on three generations in 15 Ukrainian families. Each family, residing in Ukraine, consisted of a first generation survivor, a second generation adult child and a third generation adult grandchild of the same line. The findings show that the Holodomor, a genocide that claimed millions of lives by forced starvation, still exerts substantial effects on generations born decades later. Specifically, thematic analysis of the 45 semi-structured, in-depth interviews, done between July and November 2010, revealed that a constellation of emotions, inner states and trauma-based coping strategies emerged in the survivors during the genocide period and were subsequently transmitted into the second and third generations. This constellation, summarized by participants as living in "survival mode," included horror, fear, mistrust, sadness, shame, anger, stress and anxiety, decreased self-worth, stockpiling of food, reverence for food, overemphasis on food and overeating, inability to discard unneeded items, an indifference toward others, social hostility and risky health behaviours. Since both the family and community-society were found to be involved in trauma transmission, the findings highlight the importance of multi-framework approaches for studying and healing collective trauma.

Keywords: Collective trauma; Genocide; Historical trauma; Holodomor; Intergenerational transmission of trauma; Trauma; Trauma transmission; Ukraine.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Genocide / history
  • Genocide / psychology*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Survivors / history
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Ukraine
  • Young Adult