BITTER enmity between Ukraine and Russia could be rekindled after the Kiev authorities launched a criminal investigation into a devastating famine that claimed millions of lives, stating it was an act of genocide orchestrated by Moscow.
More than 70 years since the famine struck Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, the country's prosecution service believes it has enough evidence to begin criminal proceedings.
A statement issued by Ukraine's security service the SBU, said that through murder, the forcible collectivisation of agriculture, dispossession, deportation and confiscation, the Soviet authorities had "aimed at organising hunger to kill the Ukrainian people as an ethnic group".
It went on: "The Stalinist regime wanted to create living conditions that would result in the total physical elimination of ethnic Ukrainians."
Although estimates of how many people died in what Ukrainians call the Holodomor, which ravaged the nation in 1932 and 1933, conservative estimates have put the death toll at more than seven million.
Ukraine has long maintained that Stalin wanted to wipe out the Ukrainian people, because of their questionable loyalty to the Soviet Union and their stubborn adherence to age-old farming practices that stood in his way of the plan to destroy private agriculture.
In the early 1930s, Stalin launched a brutal campaign of collectivisation and requisition across Ukraine that few historians dispute turned a natural famine into a human tragedy of massive proportions. Eye-witness accounts from the time speak of whole villages being obliterated by starvation and disease, and people resorting to cannibalism to stay alive. Often, the authorities prevented survivors fleeing the famine-stricken regions in fear that if news got out, it would damage the credibility of Stalin's regime and policies.
The Ukrainian government has waged a long campaign in the international arena to have the famine classified as genocide, while some Ukrainian nationalists argue that Russia, as the successor to the Soviet Union, should now be held responsible.
However, the Russian government disputes the genocide claim, pointing out that famine and starvation struck other regions of the Soviet Union at the same time. It also argues that so far no evidence, such as a paper trail, clearly stating that the Kremlin wished to starve Ukraine has ever come to light.
With Ukraine and Russia at odds over links to the West and energy, Kiev's genocide claims have assumed a political dimension. Some in Russia consider Ukraine's willingness to open old wounds as evidence of its determination to antagonise Moscow and seek sympathy in the West.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has charged Ukraine's pro-western president, Viktor Yushchenko with exploiting the famine for "instantaneous political goals", while General Vasily Khristoforov, head of the registration and archives department at Russia's federal security service, dismissed the Holodomor as a "Ukrainian invention".
Ukraine's decision to push ahead with a criminal investigation could fall under the scrutiny of a new Russian commission, appointed by Mr Medvedev last week and charged with guarding against "the falsification of history at the expense of Russian interests".
But opposition to the inquiry also comes from within Ukraine, with some politicians questioning the sense of investigating events of 70-plus years ago.
"From the legal point of view, what the security service is doing is absurd," said Gennady Moskal, a member of parliament. "Who will criminal charges be brought against? Maybe against a cemetery? Who can be brought to justice? If a person was 18 years old in 1933, then how old are they now when criminal proceedings are beginning?"