Political Famine of 1932-1933"
from "The Ukraine: A Submerged Nation"
William Henry Chamberlin
Chapter 5 "The
Ukraine Under The Soviets"
"...So it is impossible to say with certainty how many of the
persons executed, exiled,
or imprisoned as a result of these trials were actually working
for an independent Ukraine and how many were merely sacrificed to
suspicion. It may, however, be affirmed with reasonable certainty
that far more Ukrainians suffered for political reasons under the
Soviet rule than under the Tsarist regime.
"This is especially true if one counts among the victims of
Soviet rule the large number of relatively well-to-do peasants who
were 'liquidated,' that is dispossessed of their property and banished
to forced labor as kulaks and the larger number of people of all
classes, mostly peasants, who perished in the political famine of
1932-33. This famine may fairly be called political because it was
not the result of any overwhelming natural catastrophe or of such
a complete exhaustion of the country's resources in foreign or civil
war as preceded and helped to cause the famine of 1921-22.
"Partly because of the discontent with the new system of collective
farming and the lack of manufactured goods, partly because the government
had returned to methods of war communism, demanding arbitrarily
all the peasants' surplus grain, without defining clearly what was
supposed to constitute 'surplus,' the peasants in Ukraine had slowed
down their productive effort. Climatic conditions were also unfavorable,
both in 1931 and in 1932.
"The situation that had developed by the autumn of 1932 might
be briefly summarized as follows. Despite the meager harvest, the
peasants could have pulled together without starvation if there
had been a substantial abatement of the requisitions of grain and
other foodstuffs. But the requisitions were intensified, rather
than relaxed; the Government was determined to 'teach the peasants
a lesson' by the grim method of starvation, to force them to work
hard in the collective farm.
"Early in 1933 the Ukraine was declared 'out of bounds' for
foreign correspondents, so that there could be no widely circulated
accounts of the great human tragedy that was taking place there.
Moscow was flooded with rumors of widespread starvation, of carts
going about the streets of Poltava and other towns, picking up the
dead. In the autumn of 1933, when the ban on travel in the Ukraine
by foreign journalist was lifted, I went with my wife, who was herself
born in Ukraine, to learn at first hand what had happened in the
Ukraine. We visited two widely separated regions, one in the neighborhood
of Poltava, on the left bank of the Dnieper, the other near the
town of Bila Tserkva, on the right bank. We also made systematic
inquiries at railway stations as we traveled across the country.
"No one, I am sure, could have made such a trip with an honest
desire to learn the truth and escaped the conclusion that the Ukrainian
countryside had experienced a gigantic tragedy. What had happened
was not hardship, or privation, or distress or food shortage, to
mention the deceptively euphemistic words that were allowed to pass
the Soviet censorship, but stark, outright famine, with its victims
counted in millions. No one will probably ever know the exact toll
of death, because the Soviet Government preserved the strictest
secrecy about the whole question, officially denied that there was
any famine, and rebuffed all attempts to organize relief abroad.
"But every village I visited reported a death rate of not less
than ten per cent. This was not an irresponsible individual estimate,
but the figure given out by the local Soviets. For, while it was
easy to tell credulous tourists in Moscow that there has been no
famine, it was impossible for local officials to make any such assertion
when every peasant with whom we talked was mentioning friends and
relatives who had perished, either from outright hunger or from
typhus, influenza and other diseases that always ravage a famine-weakened
"I retain an unforgettable impression of a village called Cherkassy,
which is seven or eight miles south of the town of Bila Tserkva.
One the road to this village an ikon showing the face of Christ
had been removed, as part of the official anti-religious policy
of that time. But the crown of thorns, with unconscious symbolism,
had been permitted to remain.
"Walking through the dusty streets of the village one was impressed
by the sense of death and desertion. House after house seemed to
be abandoned, with window panes fallen in and corn growing mixed
with weeds in gardens which had been abandoned by their owners.
The young secretary of the village Soviet, whose name was Fischenko,
reported that 634 out of the 2,074 inhabitants of the village had
died. There had been one marriage in the village during the last
year. Six children had been born, of whom one had survived. "It's
better not to have children than to have them die of hunger,"
said a woman with whom I talked in the office of the Soviet.
'No,' argued the boy, 'if not children are born who can till the
Another boy on one of the village streets called the death roll
of his friends and acquaintances:
"There was Anton Samchenko, who died with his wife and sister;
three children were left. In Nikita Samchenko's family the father
and Mykola and two other children died; five children were left.
Then Grigory Samchenko died with his son Petro: a wife and daughter
are left. Gerasim Samchenko died with his four children; only the
wife is still alive. And Sidor Odnorog died with his wife and two
daughters; one girl is left. Gura Odnorog died with his wife and
three children; one girl is still alive."
"This kind of grim, stark chronicle could have been compiled
in almost any village in the Ukraine in that terrible winter and
spring of 1932-33. In the village of Zhuke, not far from Poltava,
I went into a peasant house at random and found a listless looking
girl, fourteen years old. Her father was in the fields; her mother
and four brothers had perished during the famine. A woman in Poltava
declared that 'no war ever took from us so many people."
"This was certainly no exaggeration. If one should take ten
per cent mortality figure as normal (and from what I learned on
the trip I think this would be a conservative estimate) the number
of deaths in the Ukraine must have been over three million. While
no official statistics about this tragedy have been published there
are two points of circumstantial evidence showing how the population
growth of the Ukraine was retarded. The proportion of the Ukrainian
population in the Soviet population, according to the census of
1939, was 17.5 per cent. It has been 20 per cent during the twenties.
The absolute figure of the Ukrainian population reported in 1939
was 30,960,221, indicating a decline during the preceding decade."
"There has perhaps been no disaster of comparable magnitude
that received so little international attention. The Soviet method
of stifling direct reporting of the famine by refusing permission
to correspondents to visit the stricken regions until a new crop
had been harvested and the outward signs of the mass mortality had
been largely eliminated proved very effective. Officially Moscow
officialdom continued to deny brazenly that there had been any starvation.
Few correspondents were inclined to risk difficulties with the censorship
by sending the story of events which had occurred some months in
"The Ukrainians abroad, to be sure, learned through indirect
channels of what had happened to their homeland and made unavailable
attempts to organize relief and to bring the inhuman government
policy that led up to the famine to the attention of public opinion.
The Ukrainians across the border in Poland naturally received the
fullest information and any enthusiasm that had existed among them
for communism was considerably cooled."
"Agricultural conditions gradually improved in the Ukraine,
as in other parts of the Soviet Union, after the crowning tragedy
of forced collectivization, the peasants gave up the struggle for
individual landholdings. It is noteworthy that the death rate was
much higher among the individual peasants than among the members
of the collective farms during the famine. This is because the former
were subjected to more ruthless requisitions and did not get the
benefit of the tardy and inadequate relief measures which were organized
for the collective farms."
"...Official Soviet population figures tell a grim and unmistakable
story of the sufferings of the Ukraine under Soviet rule. About
30,000,000 people lived in the territory of Soviet Ukraine, within
its pre-1939 frontiers, in 1917. The Soviet census of January 1,
1933, reported a population of 31,901,000 for the Ukraine. And the
latest Soviet census, of 1939, gives 30,960,221 as the population
of the Ukraine. So it appears that, for a period of over twenty
years, there was a negligible increase of population, while during
the thirties there was an actual decrease. There could be no more
eloquent proof of the human losses inflicted by civil war, two great
famines (in 1921-22 and 1932-33), and the mass deportations of so-called
kulaks. Under normal
conditions there would have been an increase of at least thirty
per cent in a prolific peasant country, like the Ukraine, during
a period of twenty-two years. The population should have been about
40,000,000, not about 31,000,000, as recorded in the last Soviet
census. This would suggest that the abnormal losses of the Ukraine
through death and deportation (over and a above the normal death
rate) must have been little short of ten million."
"The Ukraine..A Submerged Nation"
William Henry Chamberlin
The Macmillan Company
New York, 1944
Pages 59-61, 73
William Henry Chamberlin was foreign correspondent for the "Christian
Science Monitor" for nearly twenty years. In 1922 he went to
Russia as correspondent and stayed there for 12 years.