The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

Pysanky Created For Holodomor Commemorations

By Ivan Mishchenko, Town of Korsun' Shevchenkivskiy
Cherkassy oblast', Ukraine
Published by Ukraina Magazine, Ukraine in 1999

During its history Ukraine has suffered a lot from horrors. Yet, the most terrifying of them was a meticulously planned mass execution of innocent people by horrible death - starvation. To accomplish the criminal plan, the elite of the nation, its hope, its intellect, its stronghold - intelligentsia - was abolished first. And then bravely and confidently, repressions were launched against defensless yet non- submissive peasants.

In the past it was not allowed to speak about famine. But now, when Ukraine has become an independent state, this issue is recalled in scientific literature and memoirs of witnesses, movies, radio and TV programs.

The horrible tragedy of Ukrainian people during the famine of 1932-33 was depicted by an amateur artist, teacher from the town of Korsun' Shevchenkivskiy, Cherkassy oblast', Ivan Mishchenko, on wooden pysanka decorated with straw. That's what he is telling....

(Click on images to enlarge them)

The Horrible Beginning......

The background of pysanka is black and light blue. Black color is in the middle and light blue color covers both ends of the egg. Black color symbolizes the hard period in the life of the Ukrainian nation. There are dates of famine on both sides of it - 1932-33, and along the pysanka, in turn, there are two branches with leaves and two without, they are rotated and divide the pysanka into four even parts. Between the branches there are two images of people. They are crawling toward the branches with leaves to be able to eat and to survive. Behind them are branches without leaves and the weak people point to them. They say that there is no way back, there is inevitable death there. One has to move only forward, despite the fact that from the top and from the bottom exhausted people are pressed by black forces which are depicted by the means of narrow strips of straw.

The sun depicted on the light blue background on the top and bottom of the pysanka symbolises faith and hope. Bright and sunny years for Ukraine will come, and Ukrainian nation eventually will get out of colonial yoke, Ukraine will become independent. The expectations of the nation has become true.

The Climax of Famine........

Spring and coming harvesting of 1933 was the most hard period for Ukrainian peasants. The meagre savings of grain and potato were completely gone. The situation was becoming hopeless.

Exhausted people that could hardly move their heavy from hunger wrapped feet were wandering from house to house asking weakly for something to eat. Many of them were falling down dead right on the road or at the fence. Especially small children and old people were suffering. In the villages all cats and dogs were eaten, even the birds didn't come close to the villages. There were cases of cannibalism. The whole families and villages disappeared. Yuri Klen ( Osvald Burghardt ) in his poem "Cursed years" wrote about that horrible time:

Then in villages they were eating people's flesh,
And bread was baked of grinded leaves
And hungry children were looking eagerly
At the swallen corpse of their dead sister.

On the black background of pysanka, which symbolises disaster, leaves and green spikes are located symetrically and divide pysanka into four even parts. Leaves mean that first leaves from the trees helped to suppress hunger, as people added some grinded grain, or potato, or beans to it. And when savings were gone, leaves by themselves could not save them anymore. The body demanded bread. That's why weak people are trying to reach spikes. One of the persons is so exhausted that he is crawling and the other is trying to stand up from his knees and also is moving towards spikes. The starving people has only one goal - to survive. Despite the fact that black powers make double pressure, people do not lose their hope to survive.

Mykola Kuzmenko was writing in his poem "Hell and Heaven":

Black power is ruling everywhere.
All people are like shadows.....
This is already the Hell
In that very glorious Ukraine.

Even nature was mourning because what was happening with people "in our but not own land". The sky has become blue. The sun became shadowed, not so bright. The date "1933" points to the most horrible time of this period, and the crosses symbolise huge death rate.

Berehynia and Holodomor........

Berehynia - is the image of mother Ukraine who in horrifying years of 1932-33, in the climax of mass starvation, lifting her hands up to the level of her head, because she couldn't lift them higher as she is weak, asking to save from death not herself, but the dearest not just for her as mother, but for the future of Ukraine - innocent children. She tries to do her best for the children to survive and be wealthy in our native land, to grow and get strong, and the symbols of this are flowers and spikes. And for the sun always to shine brightly from the cloudless sky, and for the angels always to protect their peace.

How painful it was for those mothers whose children, their hope and happiness, were dying of starvation. Tortured by hunger children kept asking weakly: "Mom, to eat..." and were dying with these words. And those whom they asked were deaf and indifferent.

My mother with swallen of hunger legs went to work in kolhosp field and I, as the oldest one, was assigned to take my two younger sisters Vira and Nadya to the kindergarten and watch them. Those children whose exhausted mothers worked in kolhosp were fed with a bowl of soup with some strange smell three times a day. Even now I cannot understand what it was made of.

Together with this soup children were given a thin piece of bread. We were eating it very carefully, not to lose the smallest piece. We were eagerly waiting for those meals!

It was carved in my memory forever, the funeral of the boy Mykola by name who was leaving next to the kindergarten. He was the third dead child in the family of Paraska Breus. He was twenty years old. The mother was sitting over her dead son and couldn't even cry, no tears left. She only was sadly looking at the next victim of hunger and kept saying: "Children, I keep burying you and who will bury me?"

I remember when in the morning Oksana Breus used to come to the kindergarten. She was the mother of several dead children and the widow already. She brought a swallen boy of about six years old. His body, arms and legs were like filled with water - it was a sign that he would die soon. A few days later he passed away. The most horrible tragedy for mothers was to bury their children.

I remember there was a cherry tree next to the kindergarten, and we were eating its leaves. Now sometimes walking this way, I always stop and look at the place where that cherry tree that saved us was growing. There have been growing other cherries have been growing on that place now but I see the one that saved us from death of hunger.

Children and Death of Hunger ........

Exhausted from hunger children during the climax of holodomor in 1933 sent letters to the Central Committee and Supreme counsel of Ukraine asking for help. The children expected that somebody will help them to survive, but nobody helped. Those to whom these letters were addressed didn't even respond. The pysanka is divided with flowers and grains into two parts. Half of them are on the light blue background, the other is on the black.

Light blue symbolizes children's hope to survive. Flowers and spikes show that in such a wealthy country like Ukraine with the best soil children were forced to starve to death. Boys and girls with their hands uplifted ask for help in the hard time.

Black background symbolize the hardest time of holodomor. It is covered with crosses - symbols of death. Let angels always guard their peace. Among those who died of hunger were future scientists, gifted poets, artists, outstanding teachers and doctors, singers and tireless peasants.

Even bees take care of their generation. If there is an intruder from outside, then the guards would destroy it. On the other hand if the bee is weak, the others will feed it with honey and help it to survive. And those who every day declared in mass media about "humanity," meticulously executed with hunger the dearest - children.

Harvest of Sorrow........

Black color on pysanka symbolizes that 1932-33 were the blackest years in the history of Ukraine. On the upper part of pysanka one can see big crosses, that are put on the symbolic graves commemorating those who were tortured with hunger. There were a lot of graves filled with dead and half dead people. Those graves were evened with ground, so there were no signs, no memory left. At present people find them and put crosses of sorror on them. Next to the symbolic cross there are a lot of small crosses which remind to those who are alive that on the day of sorror one needs to put a candle to the symbolic cross, as the sign of eternal memory about those who were abolished by holodomor. Above the symbolic crosses there are angels-guards. They will eternally guard the innocent who were tortured with hunger.

A burning wax candle on the bottom part of pysanka reminds the living that on the day of sorror for those tortured with hunger one needs to put a candle to the symbolic cross, as the sign of eternal memory about those abolished by holodomor. As a sign of respect, on the day of sorrow people put flowers on the graves. Spikes, the pysanka is decorated with, remind: bread is the main treasure of Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation has to be saved not with unripen spikes but there has to be tasty bread on each table. The wreath symbolizes respect, eternal memory about those who were not given the chance to survive and were killed with the most horrible death - of hunger.

Isn't it time to judge those who created famine as criminals, to take them to the international court!


Ivan Mishchenko
town of Korsun' Shevchenkivskiy
Cherkassy oblast'

Translated from the original Ukrainian by the  Information Service (ARTUIS). FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY.