CHRONOLOGY OF THE FAMINE YEARS
This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of history's most horrifying cases of genocide - the Soviet-made Great Famine of 1932-33, in which some 7 million Ukrainians perished.
Relying on news from Svoboda and, later, The Ukrainian Weekly (which began publication in October 1933), this column hopes to remind and inform Americans and Canadians of this terrible crime against humanity.
By bringing other events worldwide into the picture as well, the column hopes to give a perspective on the state of the world in the years of Ukraine's Great Famine.
July 1-15, 1933
A July 1 story in Svoboda datelined Moscow stated that the Communist regime had issued an order which disbanded the autonomous court system in the republics of the Soviet Union. Svoboda commented that Ukraine had been deprived of even more of what little "independence" it had from Moscow.
That same day Svoboda printed news from Kharkiv which reported that the Donbas had not met its coal quota. A commissar, who was currently supervising production there, reported that this lack of production was due to workers' sabotage.
On July 10 Svoboda carried an item received from Finland which reported that many people had escaped from Russia and fled to Finland to escape hunger. The runaways were from all parts of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine. They reported that they had not seen bread for months - many fled from one raion to another in search of anything edible. Most could not work because they were too weak, the report said.
That same day Svoboda received word from a Buenos Aires Ukrainian newspaper, Ukrainian Word, which had received letters from Ukrainians in the Soviet Union. Following are a few excerpts from a letter reprinted by Svoboda.
"I'm writing you this letter as an eternal farewell. Keep it for it is the last one you will ever receive from me. I am in Siberia, sentenced to five years in prison; they sentenced me because I had believed in the prosperity of the Soviet Union and I crossed the Polish-Soviet border.
"I must die, for my organism gets no nutrition. Although I am absolutely sick and have no strength, they chase me to work; if I don't go I will be sent to the dungeon. I must go now and chop wood. My heart still beats; I will rest only when my heart stops beating."
On July 12, the headlines in Svoboda read: "In Six Months, 10 Million People in the Soviet Union Have Died of Hunger." According to news received from Berlin, the most cases of hunger were reported in Ukraine, in the northern Caucasus and on the Povolzha regions of the Soviet Union - areas where the most wheat had been planted. The reports came from a University of Chicago professor who had traveled to the Soviet Union to observe the peasants' life. After reporting some of his findings in Berlin, he stated that he wanted to get back to the United States to publicize the famine in the Soviet Union. He reported that he wanted to organize some aid groups for the starving people, much like those organized under the supervision of President Herbert Hoover, which saved millions of people from starvation in 1921-23.
In a commentary which appeared that same day, with the headline "Ukrainians are Hungry under Communist Dictatorship," written by a Svoboda reader with initials I.S., the author stated that people in one of the richest lands of Europe were constantly dying of hunger.
He wrote that the Soviet press had bragged that last year's grain quota had been fulfilled by 100 percent, but people died anyway.
He went on to say that, yet, when planting season came around this year, the peasants had no grain to plant. So in February 1933, the regime issued a decree: "because of climatic conditions in the summer of 1932, the peasants were not able to obtain seeds, so the government had decided to lend them grain to plant."
The author wrote that the Ukrainian agriculture was completely ruined; people died, farm animals died, tractors stood broken down in the fields.
Relating a story he had found in the Soviet press, the author commented that the Communist regime cared more about the horses than the people, as evidenced by a letter he found in the Soviet press, written by the peasants: "Because of the farm horses' weak condition, we, the peasants, have decided to give the horses a chance to relax and will do all the farm work by hand."
According to the headlines in Svoboda on July 13, the chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, Mikhail Kalinin, admitted that there was indeed a famine in Ukraine and that it was due to the peasants' refusal to work on collective farms. The news appeared in the London newspaper, The Observer. Kalinin said that the peasants had not taken collective farming seriously, and reacted to it negatively. Now with these deaths from hunger, he said they had learned their lesson. He had spoken at a meeting in Gorky, at which an Observer correspondent was present.
News datelined Moscow reached Svoboda on July 14, which stated that restaurant cooks had been shot by the Communist regime for destroying the food they prepared in their kitchens, by placing pieces of glass in the meals, allowing meat and greens to spoil and even stealing food for their own use. According to the reports, the regime was constantly on the lookout for such people who tried to sabotage food supply in the Soviet Union.
Also on the July 14, an unsigned commentary ran on the pages of Svoboda, which explained that whenever Ukrainian newspaper wrote about the famine in Ukraine, the "Bolshevik press" would attack them, saying that the Ukrainian press was an "enemy of the peasant workers;" that it was composed of the farm workers of the international bourgeoisie. The more facts printed in the Ukrainian press about the famine, the more the Soviet press wrote in favor of the Communist regime.
The commentary continued by saying that the English newspapers had already acknowledged the famine in Ukraine, citing The Observer, which was noted for its objectivity and The Manchester Guardian which had also recently printed Kalinin's public admission of the existence of a famine in Ukraine.
The commentary ended by stating that the Bolshevik system was to blame for the peasants' lack of ambition and energy to work.
* * *
Around the world:
News from Berlin indicated that Hitler had arrested 18,000 anti-Fascists. The government called these arrests "preventive."
The Soviet Union signed an agreement establishing its western border. In negotiations with Rumania, the Soviet Union granted the country Bessarabian territory.
The London Economic Conference was delayed until October or until the money market had stabilized. Until that time only the working committee of the conference was going to continue negotiations.
The Soviet Union was pleased as talk began of the United States recognizing the Soviet Union. The recognition would enhance the Soviet Union's prestige in both international economic and political circles.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, July 17, 1983, No. 29, Vol. LI
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