UKRAINE, "the breadbasket of Europe" is a land famous for its fertile black earth and its golden wheat. Yet, only forty years ago seven million Ukrainians starved to death although no natural catastrophe had visited the land. Forty years ago the people starved while the Soviet Union exported butter and grain. While Moscow banqueted, Ukraine hungered.
Stark, cold, statistics, the accounts of thousands of Ukrainian survivors and German; English and American eyewitnesses, as well as confessions of Moscow's agents and the admission of Stalin himself: All these have slowly seeped out of the Iron Curtain and have been piled into a tremendous mountain of facts. The whole story, pieced together like a jig-saw puzzle, ends with the biggest puzzle of all: Why did Moscow decide to starve to death seven million Ukrainians?
THIS GREAT CRIME OF GENOCIDE AGAINST the Ukrainian people has not been completely ignored by the history books of the world. Any history of the Soviet Union will mention the triumph of "Collectivization" in which the Kulaks, or well-off farmers, were "liquidated as a class." Collectivized farming, which is today the most inefficient agricultural system in existence, had to be instituted for Marxist reasons. The Kulaks (Kurkulsin Ukrainian) constituted only 4 to 5% of the peasantry -- yet they endangered the success of Communism!
The Communist Party on January 5, 1930, as part of the first Five Year Plan, started the machinery of Collectivization rolling. Collective is, incidentally Kolkhoz in Russian and Kolhosp in Ukrainian. The Russian peasantry demonstrated little opposition to Moscow because of their past tradition of communal farming. The Russian mir, or village commune, where the land is owned by the village and not by the individual, had for centuries prepared the Russians psychologically for Collectivization. On July 30, 1930 the first RSFSR decree abolishing the mir was passed to make way for the Collectives.
The Ukrainians, on the other hand, had an independent, individualistic farming tradition of private ownershp of land. The Russian communal spirit was comething completely foreign to the farmers of Ukraine and so they opposed Moscow bitterly. While the collectivization in the Russian Republic (RSFSR) went on schedule, the stubborn resistance of the Ukrainians slowed it down to such a standstill that Moscow even had to retreat temporarily. This was noted by Stalin in his famous "Dizzy with Success" letter. One way the Ukrainian farmer showed his opposition to collectivization was by slaughtering his livestock before joining. Later a death penalty was passed for such an action. The folowing table shows the tremendous drop in livestock:
|Livestock in Ukraine|
|Source: Ukrainian Encyclopedia, page 1064|
OPPOSlTlON TO COLLECTIVIZATION is only half the story why Moscow created the famine in Ukraine. The Ukrainian opposition was not only ideological, that is against Communism, but also political. Russian nationalism reared its ugly head at this time. The Kremlin used the famine as a political weapon to destroy Ukrainian aspirations for independence. At the same time as the famine (1932-34) a wave of persecutions of thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals, writers and leaders took place. Plots for liberating Ukraine were discovered not only in the smallest villages but even in the top ranks of the Ukrainian Communist Party itself. Purges took hundreds of Ukrainians. Suicide was the escape of many. In 1933 the famous writer Mykola Khvylovy and the veteran Ukrainian Communist, Mykola Skrypnyk, both chose suidde.
"This famine," says the American authority William H. Chamberlin, "may fairly be called political because it was not the result of any overwhelming natural catastrophe or of ... a complete exhaustion of the country's resources... "
THE DEATH AND DESOLATION caused by the famine is likened to war by many of the eyewitnesses. And in fact, the unequal struggle between the peasants of Ukraine and the agent of the Russian Kremlin certainly may be accurately called a "war". This Ukrainian-Russian "war" between peasants armed with pitchforks and the Red Army and Secret Police, was carried out mercilessly with no pity for the aged or young, nor for women and children. According to Bertram D. Wolfe: "Villages were surrounded and laid waste, set to the torch, attacked by tanks and artillery and bombs from the air. A Secret Police Colonel, almost sobbing, told the writer Isaac Deutscher:
"I am an old Bolshevik. I worked in the underground against the Tsar and then I fought in the civil war. Did I do all that in order that I should now surround villages with machine-guns and order my men to fire indiscriminately into crowds of peasants? Oh no, no!"
One Moscow agent, mighty Hatayevich, in reprimanding Comrade Victor Kravchenko, one of 100,000 men "selected by the Central Committee of the Party" to help in Collectivization said:
"... I'm not sure that you understand what has been happening. A ruthless struggle is going on between the peasantry and our regime. It's a struggle to the death. This year (1933) was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay, We've won the war."
Hatayevich, Secretary of the Regional Committee of the Dnipropetrovsk Communist Party and one of the foremost Communist in the Ukrainian SSR reveals here that the famine was intentional, that it took millions of lives, and that he considered it a "war" aganst the Ukrainian farmers.
One woman in Poltava said, "No war ever took from us so many people." This was true, since Ukraine's losses in 1932-33 were greater than that of any nation that fought in the First World War. It should be emphasized that the main weapon in this struggle was not tanks, machine guns or bullets -- but hunger. Famine, a man-made "Collectivized" famine, was the main cause of the loss of life in this "war," one of the strangest in history.
WHEN SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL visited Stalin at the Kremlin in August, 1942 he asked: " ... Have the stresses of the war been as bad to you personally as carrying through the policy of the Collective Farms?"
"Oh, no" he (Stalin) said, "the Collective Farm policy was a terrible srtuggle ... Ten millions," he said, holding up his hands. "It was fearful. Four years it lasted. It was absolutely necessary ..."
Stalin admits that a complete year of World War II to him was less of a struggle than Collectivization! How gigantic the opposition of the Ukrainian peasants must have been. Stalin went on to tell the British Prime Minister that some peasants "agreed to come in with us" and were given land to cultivate in Tomsk or lrkutsk (both in Siberia). "But," Stalin added, "the great bulk (of the 10 million) were very unpopular and were wiped out by their labourers (?)."
When Nikita Khrushchev "purged" Stalin in his 1956 secret speech, he didn't say a word about this Famine, the most immense of Stalin's crimes. Instead, Khrushchev expressed concern over the "thousands" of innocent Communists that had suffered from Stalin's diabolical suspicion. It was on this occasion that Khrushchev said that Stalin considered deporting the population of Ukraine, however as Khrushchev says: "The Ukrainians avoided meeting this fate only because there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them. Otherwise, he would have deported them also." In his book Khrushchev Remembers (Boston, Little, Brown, 1970) the Soviet premier devotes a chapter to the famine in Ukraine, 1945.
"CONSERVATIVE ESTIMATES place the number of deaths in Ukraine due to this enforced famine, at about 4,800,000. Many recognized scholars, however have estimated the number between 5 million to 8 million."
This statement from a United States Senate Document (No. 122 of 1958) can be backed up with actual statistics squeezed out of the Soviet press. The Russian government, however, took special measures to keep secret the death toll. Of course, it has never admitted any statistics or even the existence of the famine. But, indirect references were accidentally made and it is possible to estimate that during the famine from 10% to 25% of Ukraine's population (32,680,700 in January 1932) starved to death.
Vasyl Hryshko, in his factual study says that in 1935 about 25,000 people died daily in the villages of Ukraine, or more than 1,000 per hour or 17 every minute. It was in early 1933 that the greatest loss of life took place. In the first half of the year foreign travel in Ukraine was banned. No newspaper correspondents were allowed to visit the besieged country until the late summer and fall when signs of the famine had been cleared up. The American journalist William Henry Chamberlin visited Ukraine immediately after the ban on travel was lifted. He says every village he visited had lost at least ten percent of its residents.
Hryshko sums up the statistics of 1932 and 1939 in this way. When we compare the 32,680,700 persons living in Ukraine in 1932 with the 1939 figure of 30,960,200 we see that, taking into account the normal 2.36 per cent annual increase, in seven years Ukraine had lost 7,465,000 persons. Of this number, Hryshko says, some 4,821,600 persons or roughly 18.8 percent of the Ukrainian population, died in the years 1932-1933.
The impact of the famine is shown in many ways. Just before World War II a survey of the number of students was made. Since children start school in the USSR at seven years of age therefore, seven years after 1932 there should be an indication of the famine by a drop in enrollment. Look at these figures:
|Source: Cultural Construction of the USSR, Moscow: Government Planning Pub., 1940, pages 40-50.|
The Russian Republic (where no famine took place), shows a steady increase as did all seven other Soviet Republics, with the exception of Armenia. Why did Ukraine have an absolute loss of 600,216 students and Byelorussia (also a famine area) 11,174? The tragic story of these missing school children is written in the pages of the man-made famine. Let us not forget that Stalin himself said "ten millions" some of whom suffered death not from famine but as slave laborers in Siberian mines and timber camps.
HUNDREDS OF UKRAINIAN eyewitnesses of the famine have told their tragic and unbelievable experiences in the book The Black Deeds of the Kremlin, edited by S. 0. Pidhainy. The second volume of this work is devoted exclusively to "The Great Famine in Ukraine." It should be added that some of the people were able to travel to Moscow and other areas because they were technicians, etc. They testify that while they left Famine at the border of Ukraine or the Kuban (North Caucasus) area, which is also Ukrainian populated, they found no evidence of hunger in Russia or other Soviet republics, except Byelorussia. It is not possible to give even a hint of the horror and pathos in Ukraine at the time.
Arthur Koestler, the famous writer who visited Ukraine in late summer of 1932 and fall 1933 and who spent about three months in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv writes in The God That Failed:
"I saw the ravages of the famine of 1932-1933 in the Ukraine: hordes of families in rags begging at the railway stations, the women lifting up to the compartment window their starving brats, which, with drumstick limbs, big cadaverous heads and puffed bellies, looked like embryos out of alcohol bottles ..."
Carveth Wells, a world traveller, traveled through Ukraine in July 1932 and describes the early stages of the famine in his fascinating book Kapoot.
"The extraordinary thing was that the farther we penetrated into the Ukraine, which used to be the 'Granary of Russia', the less food there was and the more starvation to be seen on every side."
"None of us knew what tragedies had been enacted here ...
"We ourselves happened to be passing through the Ukraine and the Caucasus in the very midst of the famine in July, 1932. From the train windows children could be seen eating grass. The sight of small children with stomachs enormously distended is not at all uncommon in Africa or other tropical countries, but this was the first time I had ever seen white children in such a state."
Victor Kravchenko was a Soviet official who escaped from the USSR Embassy in the United States in 1944. He described his life in the book I Chose Freedom. In 1933 he was one of the Communist agents assigned to safeguard the new harvest, the "Harvest in Hell" as he calls it:
"Although not a word about the tragedy appeared in the newspapers, the famine that raged ... was a matter of common knowledge.
"What I saw that morning ... was inexpressibly horrible. On a battlefield men die quickly, they fight back ... Here I saw people dying in solitude by slow degrees, dying hideously, without the excuse of sacrifice for a cause. They had been trapped and left to starve, each in his own home, by a political decision made in a far-off capital around conference and banquet tables. There was not even the consolation of inevitability to relieve the horror.
"The most terrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon-like abdomens. Starvation had wiped every trace of youth from their faces, turning them into tortured gargoyles; only in their eyes still lingered the reminder of childhood. Everywhere we found men and women lying prone (weak from hunger), their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless."
Kravchenko was shocked to discover a butter plant was wrapping its products in paper titled in English USSR Butter Export.
"Anger lashed my mind as I drove back to the village. Butter being sent abroad in the midst of the famine! In London, Berlin, Paris I could see ... people eating butter stamped with a Soviet trade mark. Driving through the fields, I did not hear the lovely Ukrainian songs so dear to my heart. These people had forgotten how to sing. I could only hear the groans of the dying, and the lip-smacking of fat foreigners enjoying our butter ..."
At the same time Communist Party members and Soviet officials, the privileged classes, were specially supplied with food. Some of these, however, had a conscience and Comrade Somanov, Chief of the Political Department said:
"Victor ... I'm of peasant origin myself and the sufferings of my people hurt me deeply. Tears, blood, death, exile. And why? The land is fertile, the people are hard-working. Why must we let them starve and die and perish? The more I think of it the more confused I get."
The famine was not caused by a lack of food in Ukraine. This may seem a paradox but the cause of the famine was completely the Kremlin's decision. It locked up Ukraine's food and guarded it from the people. The Russian grain collectors did not take only the wheat from the peasants but stripped them of all food. In one village near Odessa "they collected all the grain, potatoes, beets to the last kilogram" and "in other places they even took half-baked loaves of bread from the stove." These are not mentioned by Kravchenko. He does reveal however, that these millions need not have died except at the whim of Stalin in Moscow. He says:
"When the first of the new grain was being delivered to the granary near the railroad station, I made a discovery which left me tremulous with horror. Stacked in the brick structure were thousands of poods of the previous year's (1932) grain collections These were the state reserves for the district ordered by the government, their very existence hidden from the starving population by officialdom Hundreds of men, women and children had died of undernourishment in these villages, though grain was hoarded almost outside their doors!
"The peasants who were with me when we found the 'State reserves' stared with unbelieving eyes and cursed in anger. Subsequently I came to know that in many other parts of the country the government hoarded huge reserves while peasants in those very regions died of hunger. Why this was done only Stalin's Politburo could tell -- and it didn't."
"Since that date (1926) catastrophes have befallen the rural folk of the Ukraine about 3,000,000 are reckoned to have perished during the famine of the early thirties, and another 2,000,000 certainly have migrated (to Siberia?) as a result of conditions which they have found intolerable."
The Ukraine: A History, by W.E.D. Allen, Cambridge University Press, 1941, page 375.
"Hundreds of thousands of the recalcitrants were transported to Siberia to work in the forest or mines. ... Others starved during the famine which swept Ukraine in the early 1930's particularly in 1932."
An Introduction to Russian History and Culture, by Ivar Spector, D. Van Nostrand, New York, 1950.
"... Largely as a result of the forcible collectivization of agriculture, a famine developed in Ukraine. Starvation and all it accompanying diseases stalked unchecked through the richest agricultural region in the Soviet Union, and within the space of a few months hundreds of thousands if not millions of people died in unimaginable misery."
A History of Russia, by George Vernadsky, Philadelphia, Blakiston, 1944, page 337.
"The famine of 1930-31 followed close on the heels of the chaos, which existed everywhere in agriculture, and in Ukraine in particular the suffering and starvation reached a scale which almost passes human comprehension."
A History of Russia, by George Vernadsky, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1954, page 360.
"But among the ghastly fruits of the campaign for collectivization was the 'man-made famine' of 1931-32 in the Ukraine and the northern Caucasus, where it had been resisted most fiercely and where the fields had lain almost totally neglected. There were millions of deaths from starvation in these regions."
A Short History of Russia, by Richard Charques, London, 1959, page 245.
"At the same time Stalin had just forced through the collectivization of agriculture ... at a fearful price ... First there were the millions of ruined lives, the lives of the rich and middle peasants, the so-called kulaks, killed in the struggle, or exiled to Siberia; then the three million dead in the great famine which swept Ukraine ..."
Russia by Daylight, by Edward Crankshaw, London, Michael Joseph, 1951, page 100
"I'm still young and want so much to live a while"
This letter was written to K. Riabokin, a University Professor at Kharkiv, by his niece Zina:
"Please, Uncle Do Take Me to Kharkiv."
"We have neither bread nor anything else to eat. Dad is completely exhausted from hunger and is lying on the bench, unable to get on his feet. Mother is blind from the hunger and cannot see in the least. So I have to guide her when she has to go outside. Please Uncle, do take me to Kharkiv, because I, too, will die from hunger. Please do take me, please. I'm still young and I want so much to live a while. Here I will surely die, for every one else is dying ..."
The Uncle received the letter at the same time that he was told of her death. He says, "I did not know what to say or what to do. My head just pounded with my neice's pathetic plea: `I'm still young and want so much to live ... Please do take me, please ...'"
"The peasantry fought for its life with fowling pieces and pitchforks. Uprisings embraced whole regions. Villages were surrounded and laid waste ... Districts were stripped of their stocks of grain and seed, then cordoned off to die of famine and plague."
Khrushchev and Stalin's Ghost, by Bertram D. Wolfe, Praeger, New York, 1957, page 165
"In 1932 the State decreed the death penalty for stealing a bit of coal or grain from a freight train. Then the death penalty was provided for the collectivized farmer who might steal from the fields some of the product of his "collective labor;" then for the willful slaughter of his own cattle; then for letting "cattle die by neglect." "In March 1933, thirty-five officials of the Commissariat of Agriculture were executed after being 'tried' ... for having 'willfully permitted noxious weeds to grow in the fields.'"
Khrushchev and Stalin's Ghost, by Bertram D. Wolfe, Praeger, New York, 1957, pages 169-71
"... Official Soviet reports referred to the 1932 harvest as of medium quality: poor results or failure were never mentioned. (page 29) 1933 was a particularly critical year for the food supply of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, 1.8 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs were exported ... In the first eight months of 1934, during which period the acute lack of foodstuffs continued, the export was even more considerable; 591,835 tons of grain, worth 13.6 million roubles were exported ... via the Black Sea ports."
Human Life in Russia, by Dr. Ewald Ammende, London, G. Allen & Unwin, 1936, page 46
"In the first fortnight of January (1933) ... Stalin made a speech 'What is wrong,' Stalin asked in effect, 'on the agrarian front? We are wrong, my comrades -- we, not the peasants nor the weather, nor class enemies, but we Communists, who have the greatest power and authority the world ever saw, yet have made a series of blunders ... We miscalculated the new tactics of hostile forces of boring from within, instead of engaging in open warfare.'"
"In April, 1933, I travelled through Ukraine to Odessa, and ... a Red Army brigade commander (General) told me: 'We had a communal farm in Ukraine attached to my regiment ... Everything went well until a year ago (1932). Then the whole set-up changed. We began to get letters asking for food. Can you imagine that, that they asked food from us? We sent what we could, but I didn't know what had happened until I went to the farm only a month ago (March 1933). My God, you wouldn't beleive it. The people were almost starving. Their animals were dead. I'll tell you more, there wasn't a cat or dog in the whole village, and that is no good sign ... Instead of two hundred and fifty families there were only seventy-three, and all of them were half-starved. I asked them what happened. They said 'Our seed grain was taken away last spring.' They said to me, 'Comrade Commander, we are soldiers and most of us are Communists. When the order came that our farm must deliver five hundred tons of grain, we held a meeting. Five hundred tons of grain! We needed four hundred tons to sow our fields, and we only had six hundred tons. But we gave the grain as ordered."
What was the result? I asked the brigade commander.
"Barren fields," he told me. "Do you know that they ate their horses and oxen, such as was left of them? They were starving, do you know that? Their tractors were rusty and useless; and remember, these folks weren't kulaks, weren't class enemies. They were our own people, our soldiers. I was horrified ..."
USSR: The Story of Soviet Russia, by Walter Duranty, New York, 1944, pages 194-5
"The more well to-do peasants continued to resist the movement, and to dispose of their opposition, the Soviets proceeded to liquidate them."
The Great Offensive, by Maurice Hindus, New York, 1933, page 154
"Worst of all the excessive collection of grain. This was carried out with especial vigor."
(Hindus, page 151)
"Thousands (of people) came to Moscow, because they knew that in Moscow there was an abundance of food. The Ukraine with its lovely lands and its lovely skies and its lovely white villages was siezed with panic and gloom. The mortality of livestock from starvation during this time was enormous."
(Hindus, page 153)
"I never had seen such an abundance of weeds in the fields as there were in the summer of 1932. Sugar beet in the Kiev area (Ukraine) were literally submerged in weeds."
(Hindus, page 154)
Hindus quotes the Commissar of Agriculture, Yakovlev, who spoke in February 1933 about the Peremozhetz collective farm in Odessa region of Ukraine. "Here," said Yakovlev, "was as choice a farm as there was in that part of the country -- rich soil, superb climate -- Yet in 1932 it failed to fulfill the grain obligation to the government even though the amount was reduced to one-fourth of what it had been the year before, and many a family had in hand only scanty supplies of bread. Of its 153 horses, only 53 were left. The other 100 died of starvation."
"The same year (1932) also saw the outbreak of the second great Soviet famine, in the Ukraine and along the Volga. It claimed some five million further peasant victims -- deliberately sacrificed by Stalin, who continued to dump Soviet grain on world markets while those who had grown it were starving en masse. The new dictator was very largely successful in concealing this disaster from world opinion."
A Condse History of Russia, by Ronald Hingley, New York, Viking Press, 1972, pages 172-73.
"The next famine, that of 1932-3 was created artificially by the authorities as a means of breaking the resistance of the peasants to the collectivization of agriculture; ... the grain was removed from the countryside by armed detachments chiefly composed of internal security troops and Komsomol members. (page 175) Millions of peasants died of starvation or were deported and sent to forced labour camps." (page 120).
A Concise Encyclopedia of Russia, by S.V. Utechin, New York, Dutton, 1964.
"It is difficult to estimate accurately the number who perished in the famine, but it was approximately 4,800,000. This is certainly an underestimate, although certain other calcu- lations will place the number between five and six million."
Ukraine Under the Soviets, by Clarence A. Manning, New York, Bookman Associates, 1953, page 101.
"While no official statistics about this tragedy have been published, there is a document - The Small Soviet Encyclopedia of 1940, in which it is stated that Ukraine had in 1927 a population of 32 millions, and in 1939, only twelve years later, a population of 28 million. Where had the 4 millions gone to, apart from what should have been the natural increase of at least another 4 million?"
Tortured but Unconquerable Ukraine, by John F. Stewart. Edinburgh, Scottish League for European Freedom, 1953. page 8.
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Copyright © 1974 Andrew Gregorovich
Copyright © 1974 Andrew GregorovichReprinted from FORUM Ukrainian Review No. 24, 1974