December 21, 1986

For the record: eyewitness testimony before Commission on Famine. Part III


(The Ukrainian Weekly, December 21, 1986, No. 51, Vol. LIV)

Following are excerpts of testimony by eyewitnesses to the man-made famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine who appeared at the Chicago regional hearing of the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine on November 7.

Halyna B., Palatine, Ill.:

I was born in the vicinity of Chernihiv-Kulykivsky district, in the village of Muvaveika. When I was 8 years old, my father died of tuberculosis in the 28th year of his young life. My mother was left a widow with two small children. My sister was 6 years old. The farm was not large, but someone was needed to work it. My sister and I went to school, and we tried to help mother after school, because we saw her despair. It is true that at first we did not go hungry, and we had something to wear, until 1929. This year was designated by the Moscow intruders as the beginning of the death and long years of suffering for the Ukrainian nation.

In 1929 the collectivization began. It began by the arrival of trained agitators from Russia; they organized meetings in homes and threatened people into joining the collectives, “If you don’t you will loose everything.” The same agitator that organized the collective farm was the school principal. His name was Nikolai Gustov. He would gather seven families living on one street into someone’s home for a meeting. He called such a meeting at our house, and I was present at this meeting.

I remember his first words! “You will live much better on the collective than now and particularly you, a widow, pointing a finger at my mother. You won’t work so hard, you will live without worries. It won’t even be necessary to bake bread, because the machines do all the work for us.” And the poor people believed his lies and entered the collective. In the beginning it was the poor peasants who joined the collective.

The well-to-do and middle peasants would not join; they would not sign. Here the agitators saw a problem; they started making lists and started accusations, but without any trial or hearing they started sending these people out to Siberia or Russia. They never came back. The rest of the peasants were scared to death and signed without wavering, because they feared exile to Siberia. This lasted two years.

Then 1931 began, collective work started, brigades were formed, and chairmen, but there was no one to do the work. What was sown and planted, was harvested, everyone including small children were dragged into the fields. The schools were closed until winter. But this hard work did not provide any benefit for the peasants. Everything was taken under the quotas, people were even accused of laziness and forced to make it up. Then we remembered the words of the agitator Husov, “You will not bake bread!” Only those baked who had some reserve supplies, the rest only had memories. The Ukrainian bread was consumed by Russian invaders who ripped it out of the poor Ukrainian peasants’ teeth. In this manner Moscow prepared the deadly famine for 1933. The village government and propagandists started pushing the quotas for past years and said that we have to produce more and more to make up for past deficiencies.

My mother knew that things would get bad and we wouldn’t have enough food, but there was none to be had and nothing to buy it with. We practically got nothing from the collective, everything was sent out, and things got bad. The whole winter we lasted, but by spring, March, the house was empty, not one slice of bread, not one potato. I was 12 years old then, and my sister, 10. My sister and I saw and we understood these unpleasant horrors and troubles, and felt our starving mother’s pain. To help our mother we decided to go and find something, anything edible. We learned that people were digging some kind of roots, and said you could eat it and it wouldn’t hurt you. My sister and I also went to dig these roots. It was wet and cold, but somehow we dug up some roots, brought them home, dried them, ground them up, and baked some “bread.” It was very bitter, but we ate it.

Mother saw that things were desperate and saw corpses taken to the cemetery, she took her golden earrings which my father gave her long ago; she took these earrings to the bazaar and exchanged them for flour with one Jewish trader whose name was Hershko Larin. Mother received 10 pounds of flour, she tried to stretch it as long as possible by mixing with bran, which was being kept for the pigs, she mixed this with the root flour and baked “pies” which we could eat once a day and live. It was very bitter, but there was nothing else.

Mother would take everything to town, embroidery, towels, tablecloths, and gave it away practically for nothing just to survive to harvest. By June 1933 there was a big commotion in the village, people were crying and cursing, and lying along the fences, but no one was paying any attention to them, thinking that tomorrow they would be next. People died almost every day. There was no priest, no services, no one even came to look. The family that was left alive dug the graves themselves, wrapped the body in a bedsheet, and threw it into the hole. Those who were still healthy, the Moscow henchmen drove to work, and kept screaming that we had to make up our quota, “Die yourself, but save Russia!”

My sister, mother, and I were fighting for our lives. But how? We decided to harvest (flowers) blossoms, from clover, dry it and crush it and boil or bake it. Those who created the collectives had plenty to eat. For example, our neighbor’s husband was one of those who did not pay people for their work; he stole and his family had food. I remember one time the neighbor came in and saw some coral beads around my neck. She said sell them to me for some bread, I hated to part with them, but I happily answered, that I will sell them because I want to eat. I don’t remember how much we got for them, but she gave us some flour. Her name was Klita, she is still living and is 92 years old.

Klita’s brother was married and had two children. His wife tried to save the children and had nothing left to give her husband to eat, and he already swelled up, he went to his sister Klita begging for something to eat, because he could not last much longer, but she said, “I have nothing for you, get out of the house!” He left and died that night.

Another family that lived a bit further from us had an older mother with two sons. Their mother died one evening. The sons were swollen and lost their mind and started cutting their mother’s flesh and baked it on the fire and ate this. But this did not help, and within a week both of them died.

At this time we got some milk from our cow and this milk saved us. In July mother started picking a few vegetables from the garden and we had sowed some barley and mother reaped a little at a time, ground it and cooked a porridge, and this porridge and milk saved us.

L. Kasian, Chicago:

I was born on December 28, 1907, in the village of Hanivka Verkhnodniprovsk region. In 1929 I was sent with my whole family out of Ukraine to Volohodsk in Russia and later by train north to the wilderness to cut wood and build shelters. The family consisted of seven people. We were forcibly taken from our home in the process of completely liquidating that class of kulaks who did not accept collectivization. Everything was taken away from us. At the end of 1930, after three attempts, I succeeded in escaping and finding work in the town of Kramatorsk, where I lived during the years 1932-1933.

I personally saw people swollen from hunger and those who died from hunger. At that time those who worked at the construction received food ration stamps mainly for bread. (Workers received 800 grams, office workers 600 grams per day, children and only those of the parents who worked, meat, maybe one kilogram per month, if they were lucky.)

There was an incident where one woman came to Kramatorsk in 1933 and received work as a cleaning lady in the communal barracks. In two weeks, having received some bread, she recuperated, but went insane, shouting that she had eaten her two children. The militia came and took her away.

In 1935 in villages about 40 to 50 kilometers from Kramatorsk there were very few people, especially men. When harvest time came at the end of June and July, there were no workers available. So, many workers (builders) from Kramatorsk were given some time to cut the grain for which they were well paid with grain, wheat, rye, honey. In the years 1932-33 it was almost impossible to buy bread. For two kilograms of bread you paid 40 rubles, when a workers earned 150 to 170 rubles a month.

To go by train was impossible, except for those having special papers. To send parcels from Russia to Ukraine or from Ukraine to Russia was forbidden. From Kharkiv to Kursk across the Russian border is not far, only 150 to 200 kilometers. Three-kilogram loaves of bread were freely available at a cost of three rubles. This is proof that the 7 million Ukrainians were artificially starved to death.

My brother, Pavlo, who was only 14 years old in 1931, escaped from exile in the Solovky Islands, but he was captured and jailed in Dnipropetrovske and sentenced to another three years. He was freed in 1935 and settled in Kramatorsk. He told me that in 1933, 37 persons were serving sentences in the Solovky camp for cannibalism.