The Famine of 1932-33 that encompassed a significant part of Ukraine was neither an incidental act of nature or social phenomenon. It was the direct result of terror-by-hunger, created by a totalitarian government, thus a genocide. All this was planned with one purpose – if not to destroy, then to bring to her knees, a freedom-loving nation.
The hungry years became a national tragedy for Ukrainians. Aside from the obviously devastating loss of life and morale, this famine caused irreparable damage to Ukrainian life as a nation. It effectively destroyed the rural/farming community and with it, all its traditions. It was turned into a kol-hosp, a collective farming system, never to rise up against the Soviet regime.
Social stigma and fear had been implanted into the village/peasant psyche for several generations prior to the Holodomor, resulting in political apathy and passivity. The Holodomor interrupted the succession of Ukrainian national elite. It halted Ukrainianization of cities in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Following the Holodomor, the
population gaps were replenished mostly through migration from Russia. The effects of the Holodomor were felt even up to the fall of the Soviet Union: rural youth fleeing the towns, thousands of villages disappearing off Ukraine’s map. The rural population became disillusioned and indifferent to its own sense of belonging to a community. Productivity declined.
With the arrests and execution of Ukraine’s intellectuals, together with the erosion of the rural population, the social basis of a nation, its traditions, religious culture and sense of self were shattered.
"Poor corn fields, poor villages, poor ragged people…"
This is what the organizers and ideologists of the Holodomor strived for. They knew full well that the heart of the nation’s strength lie in its peasantry. That is why the decision to take such action was made in which the Ukrainian spirit would be destroyed beyond possible future resurrection.
In order to accomplish this, a favourable opportunity was seized to implement a new agricultural plan - collectivization. Throughout Soviet history manuals there are consistent references to the ever-growing hardships, temporary but insignificant increases in mortality due to these hardships, as being “side-effects of collectivization, sabotage to the kulak and poor harvests.”
“When will this great occupation end, that has us captive in this Promised Land?
“In 1933, the harvest was bountiful. I remember my family always saying that the rye was so tall, that when a person walked into the field, you couldn’t see his head. The tops of the grain were so heavy with seed, they would break off, simply break off,” recalls Teodor Trypyak from the Dnipropetrovs’k region. There was bread in the field but none on the table, because the villages were ruled by ‘tysiachnyky’, people from Russia. They went from field to field collecting every last bit. In order not to starve, people were forced to sell the grain they would normally have saved to sow the following spring. This insured a crop for the next year. All that kept a connection between the past and the future had its price – life.
The Soviet leaders did not stop there. Moscow issued a new death sentence to those regions that did not meet their grain quota. In reality, this edict was not meant for a few regions, but for the entire Ukraine. Goods and produce shipments were stopped, government and cooperative trading was controlled and open-air markets and bazaars were banned. To prevent people from leaving, the government stopped issuing the necessary travel documents, and train stations had no tickets for travel outside of Ukraine. A blockade was in place.
“Ukraine is worried; there is no place to live,
The hordes with their horses, trampled the young.
O the trampled young, the beaten elders,
Taken into captivity is the young servant”
At the start of the 1930’s, the peasant children and their parents did not see food for months. Their bellies swelled from hunger and they died before their family’s eyes. We can only imagine the horrific transformation that occurred in the souls of those cursed enough to live through that hell.
“The physiological changes of a starving body are accompanied by psychological changes. Prolonged and severe hunger numbs all normal human emotions and senses. A starving person does not look at good and bad, truth and deceit, fairness and corruption the same way as a satiated person. Natural human values take second place to the over-riding
need to eat. All feelings of patriotism, faith, friendship and love die, or never develop,” recalls Hryhoriy Bevz – a Holodomor survivor.
Children were left unattended when parents died. By rights, the skeletal hand of hunger usually claimed children sooner. Parents, who could not bear to watch their children shrivel up, left them in nearby villages, in hospitals, train stations or just out on the street.
Tens of thousands of cast-off children resulted, causing serious problems. P. P. Postysheva from the Politburo took action. The government released funds to open temporary care centres for these children. These same children from whom their very livelihood was taken, their families, homes, a bread crumb; who learned to lie, steal and betray in order to survive, were now being raised in these care centres to become the builders of communism.
A fatal blow was dealt to the national consciousness of Ukrainians. The same people who bore arms in resistance to Russian Communo-chauvinism during the Civil War, who rose against forced Russification of Kuban at the end of 1932, voluntarily registered themselves as Russians in 1939.
The peasantry understood that the Bolsheviks were suppressing them with hunger because they were Ukrainians. The fear of preserving their national mentality was driven into their subconsciousness. Since the Communists were not held accountable for this genocide, but instead prospered in their power, even until today, this fear has been passed on through the generations. Today that sentiment is felt in the Russified mentality of many Ukrainians.
Instead of Christian values in the souls of those crippled by the Holodomor, there exists a different kind of ‘honesty’, brought about by those who murdered our villages in the 1930’s: theft, fraud and corruption. In other words, those who exposed others for hiding grain or food, were rewarded with a bounty of 25% of the deemed value of the stash that was uncovered.
The seed must die in order to give
the life-giving rye – Life.
The effects of the horrific Famine years of 1932-34 will continue to echo on. “To this day, my grandparents keep bags of crackers in the attic,” explained Mykola from
Cherkashchyna. “After the Holodomor, a fear took up residence in peoples’ souls, even on a genetic level. Even in my generation it exists.” Not so long ago, there was a panic across most of Ukraine when there was a threat of a bread shortage. The line-ups to buy bread stretched for kilometres. People feverishly were pacifying themselves with the loaves.
Let us recall Mr. Hryhoriy Bevz’s words. He characterized hunger as a weapon of genocide. “People have used many weapons of mass destruction: mechanical, chemical, biological, radioactive. Famine – is one of the cheapest and most effective methods. With hunger, not only can you destroy a people, but you can re-educate them, change their desires and dreams, feelings and attitudes. For those creating a ‘new society’, this is very important.”
The re-education of Ukrainians by a Stalinist regime has in fact occurred. This is a horrible blow to the ethical make-up and morality of a nation. These are important elements necessary for the spiritual health and growth of a nation; hence people “cannot live by bread alone.”
Famine-Holodomor- not only is this the horrible suffering of every single one of its millions of victims and a terrible attack on the strength of a nation, but also a blow to very future of the nation.
- Nelya Lavrinenko (Kyiv)
Translation from Ukrainian: Marusia Shysh (Calgary)