This year, Ukraine marks the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor tragedy of 1932-1933. The name itself means “murder through starvation.”
The manmade famine in 1930s Ukraine claimed from 7 to 10 million lives. According to the researchers, the daily death toll in Ukraine was 25,000 people; 1,000 people died every hour, 17 - every minute. The average life expectancy of Ukrainians in 1933 was 7,3 years - for men, and 10,9 years – for women.
This tragedy struck children with particular cruelty. This way, the ethnic basis of the Ukrainian nation - the village - was undermined and the stratum, on which the prosperity of society depended, was destroyed.
The fate of peasant children, who faced the hell of the Holodomor, was most tragic. "It was spring of 1933, - one of the eyewitnesses recalls, - cherry and apple trees blossomed white in warm spring days, but the village children did not run or play, but just sat near the fences with swollen legs, folded in kalach. At the same time, a slogan “Thank you, Comrade Stalin for a happy childhood!” hung in each class of the village school.
What were the reasons for Holodomor?
The researchers of Holodomor think that the big hunger was used to suppress Ukrainians’ aspirations to the independence, to destroy social-economic base of the Ukrainian national idea and to eliminate Ukrainian nation.
“Moscow planned the hunger to destroy Ukrainian peasantry as a national bastion. Ukrainian villagers were destroyed not because they were peasants but because they were Ukrainian peasants,” an American professor Robert Conquest wrote.
The main reason for Holodomor 1932-1933 was a targeted criminal policy of the Bolshevik leadership. As Stalin himself recognized the general harvest of grain in 1932 exceeded the harvest of 1931. In other words, there was enough food. Yet, the state confiscated the bigger part of it, including grain, which was meant for seed, insurance and forage supply, ignoring the calls and warnings of the Ukrainian representatives. This doomed millions of people for death from hunger, which was completely artificial. The attempts to resist were violently suppressed.
Left without bread, the villagers were eating mice, rats and sparrows as well as bone meal and bark of trees. Numerous cases of cannibalism where spotted and it is according to the officially recorded facts. In 1933, 2000 of such criminal cases were registered in Ukraine. The confiscation of the grain continued despite the fact the whole villages died out. Crumbs, potato, fat, pickles, in other words, all food was taken away, when there was no bread at the behest of Moscow emissaries Molotov, Kaganovych, Postyshev who ruled the grain procurements in Ukraine.
On August 7, 1932, All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Soviet of People's Commissars of Soviet Union adopted the order “On protection of the socialist property” which provided the shooting with the confiscation of property or imprisonment for at least 10 years in the case of theft of the collective farms’ property. The attempt to take a handful of grain home to feed hungry children was also qualified as theft. It is not surprising that the contemporaries called this order the “Law of Five Spikelets”.
Mykola Khmelnyk. Born in Olenivka village, Dnipropetrovsk region, 1923
I remember not famine but Holodomor. People were starved to death. I was 10-year-old then. A person was imprisoned for 15 years or sent to Siberia if he stole the so-called “five spikelets”. The soldiers or just traitors stood in the fields and watched so people do not take any wheat. And if someone took it, they beat that person and brought to the party members.
As Petro Veldiy noted, people tried just about everyting – and still “died, died and died.” Death was slow, humiliating, omnipresent and indifferent. It was almost impossible for anyone to die of hunger with dignity.
Tamara Bedrenko. Born in Kyiv region, 1928.
My father was a blacksmith, and the same as his whole family. We had a smithy. I was 5 years old when a big hunger came. There was nothing to eat, only tears. We cried day and night. We picked up acorns, frozen potatoes, worms. We boiled soup with that.
People fell and fell on the roads, and nobody buried them. And there were no dogs or cats.
Mykola Onyshchenko. Born in Novovasylivka village, 1925.
Before the Holodomor, my grandfather had land, the whole family worked on it, and they lived more or less well. Of course, the authorities wanted them to work for the state, not for themselves. They began to organize collective farms. No one wanted to go there.
Then they took away my grandfather’s two horses, and then the rest of the what we had. And then they began to take away the bread.
This hunger was always covered up. Although in our village, children sang a song. I still remember it: "No bread, no fat, the Soviet took it all". And I remembered it when I got a red tie and the Komsomol ticket was handed over to me.
Nina Plakhotniuk, Born in Sukhy Yar village of Kyiv region, 1929.
My parents worked in the field and locked me and my brother in the hut. The windows had lattices. Our house was on the outskirts of the village, they were afraid that we will be kidnapped by cannibals. We were ordered not to approach the windows. One day someone knocked on the window. "Children, come outside, I'll give you a present", - I saw a woman through the grille in the window. I did not remember her face, I remembered only a bright green shawl on her head. I froze in place and looked at her. The woman called us for a long time, then grabbed the cat and walked away. The green spot in the window is the worst memory of my childhood.
People who helped uncover Holodomor
The Soviet authorities tried to conceal information about the Holodomor on the territory of Ukraine in 1930s by any means. But, despite the prohibition and the threat of death, some people still spoke out.
Few foreigners witnessed a famine and were able to record what happened in the most horrible months.
Gareth Jones, Welsh journalist was the first to publicize in the Western world about the Soviet famine of 1932–33. He paid for a trip to Moscow himself and, despite the prohibition, visited Ukraine, having taken the train in Kharkiv on March 7, 1933. He randomly went out at the small station and went to villages with a backpack, full of food.
Jones saw “a great hunger.” Wherever he came, he heard the same two phrases: “everyone is swollen from hunger” and “we are waiting for death.”
On March 29, 1933, the journalist summoned a press conference in Berlin, where he publicly declared Holodomor for ther first time. Many newspapers published his press release.
One woman, Milena Rudnytska broke the wall of silence about the extermination of Ukrainians by the Soviet authorities. Public activist, deputy of the Polish Sejm and Ukrainian by descent, she was the author of articles on Holodomor.
She brought the Holodomor tragedy to the consideration of the League of Nations and the International Red Cross.
James Mace. American historian, chairman of the US Congressional Commission on the Ukraine Famine, author of many publications about Holodomor. Thanks to the Commission's work, nearly 200 verbal evidence of a Ukrainian famine have been published.
In 1993 he moved from the United States to Kyiv, where he married and lived.
William Chamberlin. Moscow correspondent of the Boston newspaper The Christian Sciense Monitor. In October 1933, togather with his wife, of Ukrainian descent, he visited Poltava region, Bila Tserkva area and Kuban.
"Famine was an instrument of the Bolsheviks national policy, which was deliberately used as the last resort to break resistance of the Ukrainian peasantry against the system," he later wrote in his book “Russia's Iron Age.”
Victor Kravchenko. Former Soviet functionary. In 1944, he managed to escape to the West where he published the book “I Chose Freedom,” which became a bestseller. Kravchenko described what he saw - collectivization, the Holodomor and terror.
"On the battlefield, people die calmly, as they understand the meaning of their death ... Here I saw death in loneliness, slowly fading, without understanding the cause and purpose of their sacrifice ...," he wrote.
Raphael Lemkin. This American Jewish lawyer has introduced the term "genocide" as a legal concept. And this is how he classified famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine. In 1953 he addressed the audience of several thousand in New York with a speech "Soviet Genocide in Ukraine".
Robert Conquest. “The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine” - the most profound scientific work on the Holodomor and probably the most famous book about Ukraine in the world. In 1986, he published it with Oxford University Press. According to the author, a historian-Sovietologist, the peasantry of Soviet Ukraine became a victim of "starvation terror" and supported the view that the famine was a planned act of genocid.
Malcolm Muggeridge. Like Gareth Jones, he also visited Ukraine in 1933 and told about the Holodomor in the United Kingdom. In addition to reports and articles on hunger, he wrote the novel "Winter in Moscow," published in 1934.
The Holodomor was recognized as the genocide of Ukrainians by 23 states: Australia, Andorra, Argentina, Brazil, Georgia, Ecuador, Estonia, Spain, Italy, Canada, Colombia, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Slovakia, USA, Hungary, Czech Republic, Chile, and Vatican.
The 85th anniversary of Holodomor
Traditionally, on the fourth Saturday of the month, memorial services are held in the country, and the pots with grain and candles will be laid at the memorials.
The leaders of the state will attend ceremonial events near the memorial sign “Candle of Memory” in Kyiv, including the heads of foreign countries, parliaments and international organizations, government officials from different countries, diplomats, representatives of religious denominations, regional delegations, public and cultural figures, witnesses of the great hunger
It is important: our diplomats are making great efforts to make the world community recognize Holodomor in Ukraine as a genocide of the Ukrainian people. This year is the 85th anniversary of the tragedy of 1932-1933.