The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine, 1932-1933 (Holodomor)
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"Speak Russian or Starve" 

I am a native of Kiev region, from the village of Bridky in the administration unit of Parada.

In June of 1931, I was drafted by the Bolshevik government for compulsory work in Mariupol to build Lenin Factory named "Azovstal". There were many others brought here from Ukrainian villages, about 400 people, and we were lodged in the former Theological Seminary building under the watchful eyes of the NKVD.

Living conditions in that place were dreadful. Our daily ration consisted of 11 ounces of bread and some thin soup (balanda). Dirty rags on the bare floors, full of crawling lice, served for beds. We did heavy work under these conditions, dug ditches and carried bricks.

Close to the seminary there was a separate enclosure, protected by barbed wire, in which 4,000 priests and 36 'deviationists' were being detained. They fared even worse than we did. All of them were completely naked, hungry, and during hot spells they were not allowed to drink enough water but were forced to do the heaviest work. A huge number of them died every day.

I came home on April 5, 1932, and found out that the NKVD was again looking for me as a traitor and deviationist. I had to leave. I thought that I might get some work in Donbas and hide there. But when I came to the railway station on April 11 I 
was not able to buy a ticket to the place I wished. The only way left was to go to Moscow to work at the construction of the Moscow-Donbas railway line.

There were others in the same predicament. We were told by the employment agent: "You have two alternatives, to go and work at the railway construction or starve."

Ten days later we made up our minds. Transportation charges, amounting to 34 rubles per person, had to be paid in advance. That night we were loaded in boxcars with a double row of bunk beds. Every car had to accommodate 110 men and we were rather crowded. The next day our train, that had a human load of 4,000, was dispatched to Moscow. Not an ounce of bread or a drop of soup was given to us while we were on the way and the result was that my May 1 eight had died. They died from hunger. 

We were not allowed to get off the train in Moscow, but were taken to Kashira, that is 75 miles away. Since we were such a long time without food 370 people more died on the way.

We spent four days in Kashira being organized for work, but still there was no bread. Then we began to beg, but those who could not speak Russian did not get any bread. The Russians would say: "I won't give you any bread if you cannot ask in Russian. Go back to where you came from, and perish there from hunger."

Twenty-five others, and I were sent with the railway survey party from Kashira back to Moscow. We surveyed 67 miles in 30 days, and every night we stayed in a different village.

I had an opportunity to observe the life of the "muzhiks" in the Russian village. Every farmer had, on the average, 4 horses, 6 cows, a sheep and pigs, while in Ukraine people had been deprived of all their possessions and were starving. The Russians had bread, meat and potatoes, that were rotting in the farm yards. No one dreamed of any famine here!

I worked there for a year. Towards the end I lived in Moscow suburb and saw Ukrainians coming to buy bread, which they tried to take back to their dying families in Ukraine.

I left Moscow on April 20, 1933, after having provided myself with 79 pounds of bread. When about to leave I met two women from my native village who had come to Moscow to buy bread. Our journey was uneventful until we reached Bakhmach on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Here, all the passengers were ordered by the NKVD to go to the customs office, where the officials took away my bread, leaving me only 9 pounds. This was in consideration of the fact that I had been working in Moscow, but my countrywomen were not only robbed of their bread but were themselves detained for "taking" bread away from Russia.

These two unfortunate women left hungry children at home. Their husbands died from hunger, and the children were alone. They never came back.

After my arrival at my native village I was ordered by the village Soviet chairman, a Moscow henchman, Klym Komiychenko, to oversee a brigade of women, swollen from hunger, whose task was to sow and weed sugar beets. Practically all people in 
the village were suffering and swollen, many had already died from hunger. The work these hungry women were doing was too hard for them, and they would fall down and die. It was terrible to look at them, the skin cracked and water oozed out. The peak of mortality was reached just before the harvest.

Then another man and I were ordered to roam over the village and gather up the corpses...

...The hot weather hastened the decomposition of the bodies and the stench in the village was unendurable. About twenty people died every day and there was no one to bury them. Four men were steadily employed at the cemetery, digging graves. We brought in the dead on the wagon like logs. No one lamented their deaths because their families or relatives were sick or were already dead. The NKVD agent, a Russian, was telling us what to do. People were buried worse than cattle. If I should, by some miracle, return to my native village I would be able to find all those holes where more than half of the people in the village were buried.

I worked at this collection of the dead for two months, and then I was swelled with hunger. All I had to eat during that time was 3 and one-half ounces of bread and a small potato a day and a lack of other foods, especially meat and fats, began to affect my body. I ate nettles, lambs quarters, locust flowers and drank water. My body swelled so badly that I could walk no longer, I could only crawl along.

Luckily for me, the ears of rye began to fill with a milky substance. I greedily sucked the ears and the swelling abated. In Moscow I had weighed over 200 pounds, but now I was only 106. Slowly my strength returned. I could walk, and in four weeks out of danger, thanks to the ears of rye.

Then I managed to get hold of some forged documents, and I went to Donbas. I had never come back to my native village.

From: "The Black Deeds of the Kremlin, A White Book", Vol 1
The Basilian Press, 1953,Toronto, Canada
Story reprinted In: "The Agony Of a Nation"
by Stephen Oleskiw
Pages 64-67
Published by:
The National Committee to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary
of the Artificial Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933, London
Printed by: Ukrainian Publishers Ltd.,
London, 1983
ISBN 0 950 8851 OX

by I. Chamber


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