June 7, 1987

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


(The Ukrainian Weekly, June 7, 1987, No. 23, Vol. LV)

Following are excerpts of testimony by eyewitnesses to the man-made famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine who appeared at the Phoenix, Ariz., regional hearing of the U.S. Commission on the Ukraine Famine on February 13.

Ivan M., Tucson, Ariz.:

…From 1929 to 1933, I worked at a cement factory in a suburb of the city of Kharkiv, called Nova Bavaria. In 1932, I had my first glimpse of the famine. In the summer of 1932, either in June or July, workers from Kharkiv and Nova Bavaria, 300, 400 or possibly as many as 500 individuals were mobilized to weed sugar beets in the village of Terny in the Poltava region.

We were told that we would be in Terny for three weeks, but we left the village after only four days of work, because the soil was very dry, and the beets small and poorly developed. The tall weeds almost reached our waists, and when we pulled out the weeds, we also pulled out the beets along with them.

Three days after our arrival, authorities arrived from Kharkiv to take a look at our work. When they saw what was happening with the beets, how we were inadvertently pulling them out along with the weeds, they called us together and ordered us to return home.

So, on the fifth day after our arrival, we returned home. The village of Terny was located approximately half a mile from where we were being housed in tents. None of us workers was permitted to visit the village. Two or three individuals, who were specifically chosen for this task, rode out to the village periodically to get water.

When these individuals returned to our camp, they told us that on the outskirts of the village they had seen two extremely emaciated peasants working in the field. The horse which was harnessed to their plow was equally emaciated. It was so exhausted from hunger that it would pull the plow a short distance and then stop, too weary to go further.

Our workers asked the peasants why the beets had not been weeded earlier. The peasants replied that there was not one in the village of Terny to weed the beets, because everyone had died of hunger.

…At the end of August of 1933, as I was traveling from Kharkiv to Poltava, I saw with my own eyes several corpses lying along the road. I was not long at the Institute, for soon after my enrollment I was expelled as an enemy of the Soviet people. Thus, on the fourth of January, I was on my way back to Kharkiv.

Not far from the monument to Kotliarevsky in Kharkiv, I saw a woman and child lying on the ground, dead. Excuse me, in Poltava, I saw a woman and child lying on the ground dead.

Walking along Lasal Street, I saw another body, that of a man. In the middle of Blahovishchensky Bazaar, I saw a third corpse. People at the bazaar, and indeed in the entire city of Kharkiv, were no longer surprised at seeing corpses in the street. They would take one look at the body and then continue along the way.

…My mother died of hunger in the village K. in Poltavshchyna. Her sister and her two children also perished from hunger. About the rest of my relatives I know nothing. The little I do know, I discovered when I returned to the village in 1941 during the German occupation.

…I was also told that my father had been shot in 1937. Surviving neighbors also told me that my younger brother had been taken from the institute where he was studying and also shot as an enemy of the Soviet people.

…Neighbors and acquaintances who survived the famine told me not only of my family’s fate, but also about the horrors wrought by the famine during 1933. Not only had many people starved to death, but so had the domestic animals which were necessary to the people’s survival.

Most of the horses had starved to death. Those horses that were still alive, but very weak, were tied around the middle and suspended in air during the night, in order to prevent them from falling down and expiring from exhaustion.

All through the winter of 1933, the horses were fed from the hay taken from cattle sheds. The horses that managed to survive till spring revived by eating the newly sprouted grass. It was the Russians, in the main, who conducted the grain seizures of 1932 that precipitated the famine. Our people from the Komnezam (committee of poor peasants) aided and abetted them. During the famine there were 350,000 Soviet troops stationed along the borders between Ukraine and Russia.

Russian tanks and planes stood ready to put down what the Russians feared would be a revolt precipitated by the grains seizures.

Panas Liubchenko, a secretary of the Central Committee in Ukraine from 1927 to 1933 and prime minister of the Ukrainian Soviet government in the late 1930s, having seen the sword of Damocles suspended over Ukraine commented to his close friends that the famine was created not because of collectivization, but because when the Ukraine had lost its struggle for independence, Stalin said, quote, “anyway you look at it, the Ukrainians are already in the bag. All that remains for us to do is to tie the bag.” …

Tetiana Kysil, Phoenix, Ariz.:

I was born in Poltavshchyna. I left the village of my birth in 1932. I was 13 years old. I worked there, left my parents behind, my grandfather and my grandmother as well, and they all died in 1933 from hunger. I worked in Kharkiv at the time, and I remember passing over dead bodies, walking over the dead bodies.

Swollen, bloated people begged for food, and I could not bear to walk on the streets, because there were so many people there….

Mike Kuzin, Phoenix, Ariz.:

I was born in Ukraine in the Poltava region. I was swollen twice from hunger.

…We were thrown out of house. Everything was taken from us, and were taken beyond the borders of the village. Every week people would come to see if we had yet died. In 1930, father fled to the Donbas region and took us from the house where 20 other families who had been removed from the villages were living.

So we lived in Donbas where many people who had been dekulakized had fled, and with my own eyes, I saw how at the stations, dozens and dozens of individuals lay dead. …

Halyna Kuzin, Phoenix, Ariz.:

I was born in Ukraine in 1922. My parents died of hunger, my father, mother, brother, sister. I and my sister were the only ones left. I was then taken to an orphanage, and I was there until I got a little bit older. We were fed with a watery substance every day, once a day, just so we could survive, and then my sister took me and we would take grain from anything that grew in the ground to survive. …

Ivan Pylypenko, Phoenix, Ariz.:

My parents were villagers. They lived in Poltavshchyna. They had 28 desyatynas of land, and they never used hired help, because they had five sons who did all the labor by themselves.

But, in 1932 and 1933, my father died of hunger, my brother, and my brother’s wife. Only my mother and two small children of my brother’s, approximately 50 percent of my family which existed, and my brother and his wife died being members of the collective.

My mother and father had much earlier fled so as not to be taken. I was at work in Poltavshchyna at that time. Frequently I saw graves, many dead bodies of people who had already died of starvation, those still in the process of dying. …

Jacob K., San Diego, Calif.:

I was born in the city of Uman in Ukraine, in the Kiev region. I saw the following. In 1932, I was a student. Where we students were mixed or added to the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) and sent to the villages to seize grain and all kinds of foodstuffs in the village.

The seizures were motivated by the government’s insistence that certain persons in the village had not fulfilled their grain quotas. We students had no concept of Moscow politics and believed what the government said, that the whole country was in trouble.

Villagers regarded the Communist system with great suspicion. These seizures brought the villages into a bad condition which resulted in the famine which began in 1932.

On the streets of the town, there appeared swollen bodies, swollen people. In the marketplaces, there appeared all sorts of foodstuffs containing meat of cats and dogs and human meat as well.

…As I was going on winter holiday through the station, we saw thousands of people scattered by the wayside who had belongings, clothing and so forth which they were taking to sell for food.

These people were venturing into the unknown and had no idea that death awaited them. They begged for food, but no one paid attention, because all were hungry and those who were not hungry simply disregarded the pleas of those begging for food.

…In 1933, the directors decided to send the students on a practical expedition to unite theory with practice. They sent us to the collective farms so that we could gain experience in how farming was done. They were preparing us as engineers in the machine tractor stations. I and another student was sent to a small town near a village. We were given lodgings at the home of one of the brigadiers of the collective farm who had a family, cows and several chickens.

On the following day, we students emerged outside to look around the village, and we were gripped by fear. A majority of the houses had their windows and doors boarded up. There was not a soul about. There was not even the barking of the dogs, and only occasionally we saw bodies or half bodies scattered about the street.

We looked at all this, and we could not regain our composure. Returning home, we asked the lady of the house, why is it that practically half of the buildings are hoarded up, and not a soul is to be seen?

She answered, they have all died of starvation. Every morning we witnessed brigades who would pick up the bodies lying on the street and would take them to holes in the ground to be dumped. …

The women collective farm workers who were weeding the sugar beets were talking among themselves that their children are missing somewhere. One woman was saying, my son, my little son has disappeared, and no matter where I look I cannot find him.

Another woman, her neighbor who was with her, said, I saw your son as he was playing with little Tolya, and Tolya called your little son into his home, and I did not see your son exit. This woman who lost her son immediately went to the head of the collective farm, telling him that her son had gone into Tolya’s house, but has not returned from there.

…Tolya was brought from the field, and a search was instigated. They found a kind of meat dish, meat dish of jelly cooked with human meat, as well as much raw meat in the storehouse, as well as the innards of a human body and the head of the little boy which had been cut off and covered over.

They called to the regional police which immediately arrived after an hour. Upon questioning, Tolya coldly admitted to having killed the little boy, but he also said he had killed his sister, and he himself did not wish to die of hunger, because his own two children had died. I was a witness to this tragedy. …