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.
August 15-31, 1933
On August 17, Svoboda reported on commentaries about Ukraine published by the French press. After the suicide of Mykola Skrypnyk, a correspondent for the French press stationed in Riga, Latvia, wrote the following in regard to the situation in Ukraine: "What the rest of the world would call a national movement, the Soviet Union labels a counterrevolution, opportunism, sabotage and opposition."
The correspondent wrote that Ukraine - one of the richest agricultural countries in the world - was constantly on the brink of a famine. He added that Bolshevik Russia is the reason for the hunger in Ukraine.
On August 18, the headline in Svoboda read: "Irregular harvests in the Soviet Union." Reports from the London Daily Telegraph examined the problems in Ukraine and the northern Caucasus region, stating that the Soviet regime could not organize the harvest and could not get enough machinery in working order. The reports noted that if the situation remained in disarray, the following winter all of the Soviet Union would be threatened by famine. However, Moscow officials contended that everything was fine.
That same day Svoboda reported that the Soviet regime was selling goods it had stolen from the collective farms (such as livestock) back to the people for large sums of money.
On August 19, Svoboda printed news from Lviv which stated that steps were being taken to organize aid for Ukrainians in Soviet-occupied territories. Efforts initiated in Lviv called on Ukrainians in western Ukraine, Europe and abroad to help their brothers in need. Although the Ukrainians of western Ukraine were themselves facing difficulties after recent flooding, they tried to help their fellow Ukrainians in the east. Protests against the USSR were also initiated in the Polish parliament since western Ukraine was under Polish occupation.
In Czechoslovakia, a Committee to Aid the Hungry in Ukraine, composed of representatives from 32 Ukrainian organizations, issued a communique to all Ukrainians.
News from Vienna also printed in Svoboda on August 19, stated that many foreign organizations were recruiting aid for Ukrainians living in the Soviet Union. An aid center, established in response to appeals by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, was based in Vienna. Cardinal Theodore Innitzer was to head the committee; the Austrian Red Cross volunteered its help.
On August 22, Svoboda reported that all foreign correspondents stationed in Moscow had received notices from the secret police prohibiting them to leave Moscow without special permission. William Henry Chamberlin of the Christian Science Monitor had been refused permission to travel to Ukraine, according to the news reports from Moscow.
The story also noted that although the Soviet press wrote articles praising the harvest in the country, once in a while information about the true situation in the Soviet Union leaked out.
The foreign correspondents reported that the food situation in the Soviet Union could not be very good since bread prices had doubled in recent months.
From Kiev, Svoboda received and printed news that a Soviet state commission had recently purged the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, eliminating certain departments.
Also on August 22, Svoboda printed news it had received from Vienna, which stated that Cardinal Innitzer, inspired by reading reports on the famine in Ukraine (written by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky and Dr. Ewald Ammende, general secretary of the Congress of European Minorities) had issued a worldwide appeal to help the starving masses in the Soviet Union.
The headline in Svoboda on August 23 read: "Moscow Makes Children Its Confidantes." The story datelined Moscow, revealed that the Soviet regime was encouraging children to spy on their parents and neighbors in order to make sure they were not stealing the harvest intended for the state. The Soviet authorities formed light cavalry brigades composed of children to age 16. Juvenile informers were rewarded with new clothes and books.
Kids between the ages of 6 and 10 were also organized into brigades; their mission was to go out into the fields and pick the seeds which fell off the stalks during the harvest.
A front-page story in Svoboda on August 23, datelined Moscow, revealed that the harvest was worthless. This news had been reported in Izvestia. In July, only 84.6 percent of the quota had been fulfilled. The August harvest was projected to be even worse. In the first five days, only 12.5 percent of the harvest was picked. These reports in Izvestia, Svoboda said, were an exception, since most Communist papers continued to write that everything in the Soviet Union was fine.
On August 24, the headline in Svoboda read: "Moscow Takes All Grain for Its Own Use." Datelined Lviv, the story was subheaded: "Since the Beginning of the New Year, Over 2 Million Ukrainian Peasants Have Died." The reports came from a Prof. Menda, whom Soviet academians had invited to teach in Soviet Ukraine.
After being expelled from the Soviet Union, Prof. Menda made his way back to Lviv with samples of the "bread" on which the people subsisted. He said they paid 70 rubles for one kilogram of the so-called bread which was composed of cockle and chaff and some unidentified ingredients. Prof. Menda added that all reports about the wealth of the Soviet Union which appeared in the Soviet press were lies. Typhoid and famine killed entire towns and villages, he told the press in Lviv. People, insane from hunger, cut up and ate their children, and it seemed that the people had lost all human emotion - they had turned into wild animals, he said.
He added that along the streets, one saw corpses that rotted away because there was no one to bury them.
On August 25, the headline in Svoboda reported that the Moscow censors had admitted to the existence of a famine in the Soviet Union. In a telegram from Moscow, Walter Duranty, a correspondent for The New York Times, wrote that there was a famine in the country, especially in the agricultural districts. He reported that about 4 million people had died in the past year because of a shortage of foodstuffs. According to the Svoboda news item, in his telegram, Duranty tried to downplay the seriousness of the food situation, saying that things were on the upswing. He condoned the raising of the price of bread, saying that the price of everything had gone up. Duranty said that the people wouldn't mind paying the extra money for the bread if the quality of the bread also improved.
On August 26, the entire right half of the front page of Svoboda was filled with eyewitness reports about the famine in Ukraine. The news was received from Berlin. According to the Svoboda story the German press was writing extensively about the situation in Ukraine and the northern Caucasus region. The German newspapers wrote that the harvest that year wouldn't improve because the people had no strength and no desire to work in the fields.
According to the reports from Germany, a few representatives of the German Evangelical Press Association had toured the Soviet Union. They were asked to give reports to the German press of what they saw. All of them said that reports stating that 4 million people had died of hunger were more likely to be underestimated rather than exaggerated. Among the people who toured the Soviet Union was an American, Walter Becherer, of the First Wisconsin National Bank in Milwaukee. He said that the deeper into the steppes the group had traveled, the worse the famine became. They saw children - weak with swollen bodies - crawling along the railroad tracks, looking for salvation. Field mice had become the source of nourishment for most peasants. The representatives reported that there were thousands of people exhausted, undernourished, trudging out to the fields, gathering the harvest they were forbidden to eat.
A person's most wild fantasies could not compare to the hell that existed in Ukraine.
Becherer said he had visited a children's hospital, where the kids were swollen from hunger. He said that he had heard of cases of mothers eating their own children. One woman ate three of her children; it was not until she began eating her fourth child that the Soviet secret police caught her and put her on trial. He added that the number of people who died of hunger would be impossible to determine, for none of these deaths were registered, he said. Other group members noted that no one was allowed to walk the side streets of the cities. The secret police were very careful not to allow people - especially journalists - to venture into towns and villages.
They added that new police methods had been instituted in the Soviet Union. Planes flew overhead to make sure that the people didn't gather in masses - this was to prevent any sort of large revolt against the regime, the group members reported.
On August 28, Svoboda printed news from Lviv that the Soviets continued to purge the Communist Party of Ukrainians who might propagate any nationalist feelings.
On August 29, news reports in Svoboda, datelined Moscow, stated that the large collective farms had proven unsuccessful. Therefore, the Soviets had decided to break them up into smaller agricultural units, thinking that better organization would mean more productive harvests.
On that same day, the headline in Svoboda read: "Herriot in the Soviet Union." The former French premier had docked in Odessa and traveled to Kiev and Moscow to see the agricultural progress made in the Soviet Union in the past few years.
On August 30, Svoboda received more eyewitness accounts of the famine in Ukraine. This time, the reports were datelined Paris and they came from two Ukrainian Americans who left Ukraine in 1913 and had gone back for a visit. They said that the people roaming the streets of Kiev looked like shadows; some were swollen from hunger. The situation in the villages were even worse, according to the couple, who said that people were dying from hunger left and right. There was grain, but all of it had to be turned over to the state, they explained. The eyewitnesses said that not one of the packages containing either money or foodstuffs, which they had sent over in the past year to their relatives had ever reached them. In one village, where the population had been 800, 150 people had died of hunger in the previous eight months, they reported. Relatives of the two visitors had informed them not to walk the streets at night, because desperately hungry people were known to rob, kill and then eat their victims.
Also on August 30, news reports from Berlin were printed in Svoboda which indicated that the famine was also rampant in the region near Moscow, where people ate cats, dogs and had even become cannibals.
A correspondent had reported in the French press that the Soviets had purged the All-Ukrainian Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Moscow sources reported that the Institute had done little work to develop collective and state farming; it had instead tried to propagate the old theories of agriculture.
* * *
Around the world:
The Huang Ho, or Yellow River, in China flooded the countryside, killing 50,000 people and leaving 1.5 million people homeless.
Ukrainian Week began in Chicago as part of the World's Fair celebrations. Opening ceremonies were held at the Hall of Science, where thousands of Ukrainians gathered to welcome Chicago's mayor.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 14, 1983, No. 33, Vol. LI
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