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.
June 1-15, 1934
On June 1, Svoboda printed a news item from Moscow which stated that there was a great drought in Ukraine. The Soviets reportedly said they would raise the price of bread because the harvest was poor.
On June 2, Svoboda printed a news item about the Belgian-Ukrainian Committee to Save Ukraine. The story stated that the Ukrainian immigration in Belgium had organized a committee over a year ago which worked for famine victims in Ukraine and the Kuban.
That same day, Svoboda reported that a resolution about the famine had been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, by Rep. Hamilton Fish. The resolution stated:
Whereas several millions of the population of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the constituent part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, died of starvation during the year of 1932 and 1933; and
Whereas the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, although being fully aware of the famine in Ukraine and although having full and complete control of the entire food supplies within its borders, nevertheless failed to take relief measures designed to check the famine or to alleviate the terrible conditions arising from it, but on the contrary used the famine as a means of reducing the Ukrainian population and destroying the Ukrainian political, cultural, and national rights; and
Whereas intercessions have been made at various times by the United States during the course of its history on behalf of citizens of states other than the United States, oppressed or persecuted by their own governments, indicating that it has been the traditional policy of the United States to take cognizance of such invasions of human rights and liberties: Therefore be it
Resolved, that the House of Representatives express its sympathy for all those who have suffered from the great famine in Ukraine which has brought misery, affliction, and death to millions of peaceful and law-abiding Ukrainians; be it further
Resolved, that the House of Representatives express its earnest hope that the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will speedily alter its policy in respect to the famine in Ukraine, take active steps to alleviate the terrible consequences arising from this famine, and undo so far as may be possible the injustices to the Ukrainian people; and be it further
Resolved, that the House of Representatives express its sincerest hope that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Government will place no obstacles in the way of American citizens seeking to send aid in form of money, foodstuffs and necessities to the famine-stricken regions of Ukraine.
Svoboda printed a news report from Prague on June 4, which stated that a family received a letter from relatives in eastern Ukraine. They wrote that their 13-year-old son, Yurko, had for the first time in his life tasted white bread.
Svoboda also reported on June 4 that a million Russians had been resettled in Ukraine. That same day, Svoboda reported that the Soviet government had issued a decree stating that the price of bread would be raised. According to reports from Moscow, one kilogram of bread would cost between 50-60 "kopeykas," (up from 20-30). In American currency, Svoboda said, this was 25 cents a pound.
Also on June 4, Svoboda reported that in Kiev many students and professors were arrested for being Ukrainian nationalists.
A Ukrainian, Mr. Moison, was interviewed in the Ottawa Journal and his report was reprinted in English in Svoboda on June 7. He had recently gone back to visit relatives in Ukraine. He reported that he was "appalled at the change in Odessa, a once beautiful city of gaiety and laughter." He said he found all individualism crushed, religion in the discard, and marriage and divorce merely a matter of signing a card. The children were taught from the cradle to say there is no God, but many of the older people clung to their beliefs.
"When the peasants found they had to work for the government they decided that it would be better to die than to till the soil under such conditions, and as a result when the Soviet agents were called to gather the crops they found it unharvested with thousands of people dead in the villages. A villager was unable to keep a horse, a cow or a pig, without having it confiscated by the state and these condition were intolerable," he said.
Mr. Moison stated that residents of Odessa had to get up at 3 a.m. to secure a daily ration of bread from the government agents. "I never saw any bread like it, black and hard as a stone. I am a baker, and I should know," he said.
A magazine published in the Soviet Union, titled "For Industrialization," printed reports which stated that in a six-month period, over 462 purges had been conducted in the Ukrainian Donbas region.
Svoboda printed a news story on June 8 which reported that 29 commissars in Kiev were sentenced to jail terms or death. On June 9 through June 15, Svoboda carried a memorandum in English released by the United Ukrainian Organizations of the United States.
The memorandum to President Roosevelt included accounts from the American, Canadian, British and European press. It also carried personal accounts, including the following by Whiting Williams:
"Everywhere men and women were thinking of one thing, and one thing only - bread. Would they get enough of it to keep them alive throughout the winter? They had only too much reason to ask the question, to look with dread to the future, for they had seen so many neighbors, friends and relatives die of starvation already.
"It has been worse than the famine of '21 I, was told on every hand. And I knew that the Russian famine of 1921 had claimed 5 million victims.
"But I am not reporting merely what I have heard. Once I was off the beaten track which the tourists follow I saw with my own eyes the victims of famine. Men and women who were literally dying of hunger in the gutter.
"Have you ever seen a human being in the last stages of starvation? If you have done so once, you can never mistake the signs. The swollen faces and ankles which follow the breakdown of the body's normal functioning set the final seal of famine upon the emaciation of long-continued want..."
"While eating in a restaurant in a town I saw a girl of 12 run up the steps towards a veranda table from which a customer had just risen. For a moment she hesitated; shrank back as if in fear as she saw the man look at her. Finally, reassured by his expression, she darted boldly forward, gathered the scraps he had left on his plate in her fingers, then turned and ran down the steps with her prize.
"For all the world she was like a wild bird driven by a hard winter to a town garden. There was the same suspicion, the same holding back, and the same momentary boldness followed by headlong flight. Something, also, perhaps, of the same grace and beauty. I shall never see her again, but I cherish the hope that she will survive.
"There are hordes of those wild children in all the towns. They live - and die - like wild animals.
"Where do they come from? I made inquiries about them, and learned that last winter, when food supplies began to fall, large numbers of peasants left their villages and came into towns with their families, hoping that there they might get a chance to work - and eat.
"There was neither work nor bread for them, and under a new regulation that required every adult in the towns to show papers to prove his right to be there, they were driven back to their foodless villages.
"They believed they were returning to certain starvation. So they left the children behind. In the villages, they said, the little ones would inevitably die - in the towns, their chance of life might be slender, but there was at least a chance.
Something like 18,000 children were abandoned in this manner - abandoned because that was the only way in which their parents could help them - in Kharkiv alone."
Concluding the memorandum was a report by William Henry Chamberlin of the Christian Science Monitor, who had seen many the victims in the Ukrainian villages.
On June 11, Svoboda also reported about the 29 commissars that had been sentenced earlier in the month. The news, received from Kiev, stated that they were accused of extortion, secret trade of factory goods and profiteering with government funds.
Svoboda reported on June 12 that the Soviets were reporting throughout their newspapers that they were worried because Ukraine was suffering from drought.
On June 13, the headline in Svoboda read: "They Continue to Flee Soviet Hell." The story, datelined Bucharest, noted that people continued to escape the Soviet system trying to make their way into Rumania, across the Dnister River.
That same day reports from Moscow noted that rain had finally fallen in Ukraine, but it came too late to save the harvest.
In The Ukrainian Weekly, an editorial about the resolution introduced by Rep. Fish, stated:
"... It is clear to all of us that this resolution will cause no radical change for the better to appear in the destructive policy that the Soviet dictatorship is waging so callously against the Ukrainian nation in an effort to prevent the Ukrainian people from gaining their national, political, economic and cultural freedom. Neither will the resolution be instrumental in solving the problem of the irreconcilably divergent aims of Ukrainian nationalism and of Moscow's imperialism (masking under the cloak of communism), nor bring peace to the resultant unceasing conflict thereof.
"For, despite all our efforts here in America, the final, ultimate outcome of this conflict will be settled only on the Ukrainian lands themselves...
"Nevertheless, in spite of the incontrovertible truth of these facts, such a resolution as presented in Congress last week, before the largest parliamentary body in the world, cannot fail but have an important psychological effect upon the Ukrainian people in their homeland, upon the thousands upon thousands of them languishing in Communist Russian and Polish prisons, or upon the millions of them suffering undescribable torments in the grip of the terrible famine. To them the news of this resolution presented in the American Congress will be like a ray of sunshine, a shining shaft of hope and courage piercing and dispelling the clouds of suffering and despair, giving new life and vigor to their unceasing endeavors to gain that most cherished of all human possessions - freedom.
"Furthermore, the sympathetic reception of this resolution by the chief representative body of the great liberty-loving American people will give the Ukrainian people an assurance that their fight for independence is not going on unseen, but that it has a steadily growing number of sympathizers throughout the world, particularly here in America. ..."
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, November 27, 1983, No. 48, Vol. LI
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