From our Moscow Correspondent
Manchester Guardian, UK
October 19, 1933
This is the third of five articles in which our Moscow
correspondent, who has recently made a tour of some of the grain-producing
areas of the Ukraine and North Caucasus, describes the result of his
inquiries. The remaining articles will follow tomorrow and on Saturday.
This Ukrainian town, picturesquely located on a hill above the Vorskla
River, and scene of one of the decisive battles of Russian history, when
Peter the Great smashed the invading forces of King Charles XII of Sweden,
had a bad reputation for hunger during the last winter and spring. Many of
the rumoursof extreme hardship and suffering which reached Moscow centred
The town at first sight showed no particular traces of the difficult winter
through which, by the general testimony of those citizens with whom I
talked, it had passed. The railway station was as clean as the average
Soviet provincial station, and there was a noteworthy absence of beggars and
waifs. In general it must be noted that even those regions which suffered
most during the last winter and spring show no tangible evidences of acute
hunger at the present time.
This is very natural, because the autumn is always the most favourable
seasonal period for food supply. Fresh vegetables are available, and
'the inflow of bread from the new harvest is felt by the peasant on the
collective farm and by the city employee 'alike.
Poltava, like every Soviet town, is on the Spartan food regime prescribed by
the ambitious efforts of the Five-year Plan. Meat and fats are extremely;
scarce, and the majority of the population has almost forgotten the taste of
But the bread ration is regular (three-quarters of a pound or a
Pound a day for employees, and double this amount for manual workers);
factory dining-rooms added to the fare of the workers in the larger and more
important enterprises (in the railway depot and goods yards, in the local
bacon factory and. metal works); and prices of bread sold apart from the
rationed allotments had declined from the dizzy scarcity heights of last
winter to three roubles a kilogram .for semi-white and two roubles a
kilogram for "black" or heavy rye bread.
It is quite impossible to translate the rouble into any accurate foreign
currency equivalent, but monthly wages in Poltava ranged, on the average,
about 100 roubles a month. A visit to the local market revealed a fair
supply of Indian corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, and other vegetables, and some
milk, but a very meagre and unappetising supply of meat, while a
solitary chicken was priced, at twenty-five roubles.
Bread was sold only in State booths, as the peasants are not allowed
to sell it until the State grain collections, not only for the Poltáva
rayon, or district, but also for the much larger Kharkov oblast, or
territory, of which Poltava is a part, are completed.
A visit to the Poltava market, where townsmen chaff eyed with kerchiefed
peasant women over the prices of eggs and - milk and vegetables,
afforded a concrete illustration of two important features of Soviet
agricultural life - the State control over the supply of staple foodstuffs
and the tremendous decline in live stock of Soviet agricultural life
With a view to obtaining a general survey of local conditions I called on
Mr. Mezhuev, president of the local Soviet Executive Committee, which is
housed in a spacious building facing a park, probably the home of the
governor-general of Tsarist times. Mr. Mezhuev, a typical Ukrainan with
black moustache, was extremely kind and helpful, both in answering the
questions which I put to him and in facilitating two trips which I made
outside the town to get an idea of rural conditions.
He characterised the harvest this year as excellent, averaging over twenty,
bushels an acre. The area planted in the spring was 37,500 hectares, double
that of last year despite the fact that the number of horses had declined
from 8,000 to 4,800. Two important economic "campaigns," one for grain
deliveries to the State, the other for the autumn planting, had been
finished before the end of September, whereas last year both had dragged on
for a much longer period of time.
"To what do you attribute the improvement?" I inquired.
"Several factors have been at work," replied Mr. Mezhuev. "The establishment
of a fixed and unalterable grain levy; Stalin's declaration that it is our
ideal to make all collective farmers well-to-do ; 'more concrete and
practical leadership of the collective farms ~by, the party and Soviet
Mr. Mezhuev gave several examples of improvements in the organisation and
management of the collective farms and of the new emphasis on quality of
agricultural performance. In the first years of collectivisation attention
was concentrated on driving up the figures of land und~ cultivation; the
quality if ploughing, sowing, 'and other operations was largely neglected.
Now every field must pass the test of examination by a State commission,
which decides whether it has been properly ploughed and whether it is
reasonably free from weeds. If the field is rejected it must be ploughed
In the beginning there was much looseness and uncertainty as to the
amount of work assigned to each member of a collective farm and as to the
remuneration which he should receive. Now the collective farmers are
divided into brigades of approximately fifty members each for the main field
Each brigade is put to work on a definite piece of land and kept
there until all the harvesting operations are completed; its payment is
higher or lower, depending on whether it exceeds or falls below the average
harvest yield on this 'land for the past seven years.
There is' a similar' fixing of responsibility in regard to the handling of
the horses. In earlier years' many horses were maltreated and neglected
because the peasant, accustomed to take good care of his own horse, was
quite in. different to the welfare of the socialised horse in the collective
Now there are regular grooms who must see to it that every
horse has his proper individual harness and who must report any case of bad
treatment or neglect of the animals by the collective farmers who are using
Last, but not least, the labour discipline' and moral have been strengthened
through' the institution of the so-called political departments, the
functioning of which will be described in more detail in the following
DEATHS FROM STARVATION
"What is the truth of rumours about food shortage in the Poltava district
last winter and spring ?" I inquired.
"Elements of hunger (elementi goloda) there were," replied. Mezhuev,
weighing his words carefully. "There deaths from hunger. But the stories
in the émigré press about wholesale starvation are nonsense. The best
refutation is our successful spring planting and our good harvest."
The president of the Executive Committee then outlined interesting details
of the relief work which had been organised in the district. Two thousand
homeless peasant children hid been picked up: 1,500 of these were
distributed among families which were willing to care for them in the
collective farms, while 500 were organised in children's commune. This, of
course, went far to explain the non-appearance of waifs, of whom there were
so many after the civil war and the famine of 1921.
Six thousand collective farm members had been sent to the coalmines
of the Donetz Basin where they could find bread and work; 2 400
persons suffering from acute mal-nutrition were treated at central medical
point: Of these about 10 percent died.
These establishments Mr: Mezhuev declared, reach every case, and my
own observation in travelling about the district was that relief was
decidedly more accessible to the 12, 000 peasant families of the district
which are now organised in-Collective farms than to the, 2,500 families
which still maintained individual farming.
ArtUkraine.com thanks Margaret Siriol Colley and Nigel Colley for
furnishing this article from their Gareth Jones archives. Check out the
Gareth Jones website: http://www.colley.co.uk/garethjones/index.html