Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine 1932-1933
Report to Congress, Commission on The Ukraine Famine (1988)
April 22, 1988, Pages 151, 164-167, 184
CHAPTER 6: THE AMERICAN RESPONSE TO THE FAMINE
"Despite ample and timely knowledge about the man-made Famine of
1932-1933 in Ukraine, the US government did not publicly acknowledge
what it knew or respond in any meaningful way. Similarly, a number of
members of the American press actively denied in public what they
confirmed in private about the famine........................
"Robert F. Kelly, chief of the State Department's Division of Eastern
European Affairs from 1926 until its abolition in 1937, oversaw research
and processed intelligence on the USSR. The single most important post
for reliable, timely intelligence was the Russian affairs section at the
US Legation in Riga, Latvia, which had monitored the Soviet Union since
"The first Ukrainian group to send an appeal to a member of the
Administration was the US World War Veterans of Ukrainian
Descent of New York. On September 18 (1933) the organization
wrote and sent a number of photographs and press accounts
to Postmaster General James J. Farley, who was also
chairman of the Democratic Committee in Roosevelt's home
state. (Note 56) The letter went through various hands in
the New York Democratic Committee, who noted that it
contained possible "political dynamite." It was then sent to the
State Department, where it too went to Kelley, who wrote:
There has been referred to this Department for attention your
letter of September 18, 1933, addressed to the Postmaster
General, and its enclosures, certain photographs and
newspaper clippings relating to the sufferings of persons
living in the Ukraine and to the communist movement in the
United States. Your letter and its enclosures have been read
with interest. (Note 57)
Many letters came from the large and active Ukrainian
community in Canada. On October 2, representatives of the
Ukrainian community in Ward, Manitoba, write the President,
asking that he "give a helping hand" and support the starving
millions of Ukraine and the North Caucasus. On the same
day, the Ukrainian National Council in Canada also appealed
to him. Attached to the latter appeal was a detailed statement
by Mrs. Marie Zuk of Kalmazivka in Odessa Oblast', who
had been permitted to leave Ukraine on August 7 to join her
husband, a farmer in Alberta. (Note 60) The Consul General in
Winnipeg was directed to inform the organization's leaders that,
since these conditions "do not appear to directly affect American
citizens or interests, the Department is not in a position to take
any action. (Note 61)
On October 13, the Ukrainian Community in Oshawa, Ontario,
held a mass meeting to protest the Famine and Soviet policies
responsible for it. Its resolutions were also sent to the US State
Department. (Note 62) The Consulate in Hamilton was directed
merely to acknowledge receipt of the communication and
nothing further. (Note 63)
On October 20, a White House press release announced an
exchange of letters between FDR and USSR President Mikhail
Kalinin regarding normalization of relations. Formal recognition
of the Soviet government was extended on November 16.
The letters from those who wrote about the Famine out
of humanitarian concerns continued to arrive. Ukrainians
throughout the world wrote to President Roosevelt and the
State Department. On October 28, Paul Skoropadsky, who
had been Ukrainian Hetman (monarch) in 1918, appealed to
FDR not to recognize the Soviets and, failing that, to insist that
the Soviets acknowledge "the right of the U.S. to organize a
relief committee for the starving on Ukrainian territory. No
response was sent. On October 29, Henry Bayne of Edmonton,
Alberta, sent a handwritten letter to the President asking his
help. On November 3, the Ukrainian Deputies and Senators
in Poland sent a telegram which begged him to "consider the
tragic situation in Ukraine where (the) population starves" in
his negotiations with the Soviets. Only after recognition was
extended did the Warsaw Embassy receive orders to even
acknowledge receipt of the communication. (Note 67)
On November 6, the Czechoslovakian Committee for the
Salvation of the Ukrainians wrote to President Roosevelt,
describing the situation in Ukraine and the North Caucasus
and asking that a special American mission be sent to Ukraine
in order to study Soviet policy toward non-Russians in the
Soviet Union. No response is recorded. (Note 68) On
November 11, the Committee for Aid to the Starving
Ukrainians sent a telegram from Brussels, asking that
an American Committee of Inquiry be sent to Ukraine.
The US consul in Brussels was instructed to give the now
standard response that "although sympathy is felt for the
sufferings of the persons referred to, there does not
appear to be any measure which this Government can
appropriately take at the present time to alleviate their
sufferings." (Note 70)
Even Eleanor Roosevelt was approached in November
with a request to exert some influence to pressure the
Soviet government to allow duty-free admission of relief
packages through 'torgsin.' Mrs. Roosevelt replied that
although she realized "that the need was very great,
she deeply regretted" that she could do nothing to help.
The Soviets did everything in their power to deny the
existence of the Famine. When the London 'Daily Express'
reported a Soviet purchase of a modest 15,000 tons of
wheat from abroad to alleviate the shortage of bread
at home, Pravda on May 27, 1933, published an indignant
denial. (Note 72) Stalin denied the existence of the Famine
and continued to export grain, albeit at a lower rate. In
1931, the USSR exported 5.06 million metric tons of grain.
In 1932 this fell to 1.73 million and in 1933 to 1.68 million.
Yet, complete concealment of the Famine was impossible.
Early in 1933, Gareth Jones, a reporter and former aide to
Lloyd George, traveled to Ukraine. In March he reported
what he had seen there, "I walked alone through villages
and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry,
'There is no bread; we are dying.' " Jones estimated that
a million people had perished in Kazakhstan since 1930,
and now in Ukraine millions more were threatened.
(Note 74) The United Press Moscow correspondent,
Eugene Lyons, later called this the first reliable press report
in the English-speaking world. (Note 75) Moscow
responded by forbidding journalists to travel there.
"The Man-Made Famine, given the absence of internationally
recognized human rights norms and an Administration committed
to closer ties with the Soviets, was seen as an internal Soviet
affair, viewed with skepticism, or simply not mentioned.
"Politicians and opinion makers either turned a blind eye toward
Stalin's famine out of expediency or saw sympathy for the Soviet
Union as a litmus test of one's commitment to a more just society
in this country.
"The tragedy is that the reality of mass starvation and collective
victimization became politicized such that the question of fact
concerning whether there was a famine was subordinated to the
question of one's political values.
"This is ever the case when human issues are viewed through
the prism of one's commitment to the Right or the Left. If there is
one lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it must reside in the
universality of human rights and human suffering.
"If the quest for a 'greater good' or the struggle against some
'greater evil' is seen to require a double standard of blindness
toward the injustice and evil perpetrated by those who claim to
be on our side of the political spectrum, the victims will always
be ignored." (End of Chapter 6)
56. Volodimir Jurkowsky, Secretary, US World War
Veterans of Ukrainian Descent, New York, New York,
to Postmaster General James J. Farley, September 18,
57. Robert F. Kelley to Volodimir Jurkowsky, October 11,
58. N. Yaroway and N. Bilash, Ward, Manitoba, Canada,
to President F. Roosevelt, October 2, 1933; 861.4016/362.
59. "We are taking the liberty of directing your attention
to the deplorable fact that for a considerable time the
population of Eastern Ukraine ... are being systematically
starved by the Moscow authorities... Thousands of letters
are being received in Canada continuously, containing
gruesome details of the vast number dying; there are
settlements in Ukraine where only one-thirdsometimes
one-fourthof the original population are still alive.
"Crop failure is not the reason for this famine, but the
brutal policy of the Moscow rulers who ... pitilessly take
everything from the farmers, already proletarianized.
Especially in Ukraine, where the peasants are opposed
to the foreign Russian rule, are they being deprived of
literally everything, being left without even the smallest
ration for daily meals, under the excuse that they are
hiding food. With such tactics, even a bumper crop, of
huge yield, could not save these people from starvation.
"Having in mind the tragic plight of their compatriots, and
realizing their moral duty in the matter, the Ukrainian
National Council in Canada, Winnipeg, to President
Franklin D. Roosevelt, October 2, 1933; 861.48/2452.
60. "There were several cases in our district where parents
have eaten their own children in a state of insanity caused
by extended starvation. ...The most remarkable case of
this kind happened this spring in the village of Oleshky,
where a young married couple, Ivan Chuhan and his
wife, killed and consumed their two small children. The
gruesome crime was discovered when a pig was stolen
from the kolhosp (collective farm) and the members of
the militia organized a search of all the houses in the
vicinity in an endeavor to locate the stolen 'treasure'.
Finally they found some meat of a particular appearance
at Chuhan's home and, pressed to the wall, the man
admitted having murdered both his children in order to
still the unbearable hunger. The head of the second
child was found in the oven, where it was being prepared
for consumption. The couple were arrested.
"The conditions in Ukraine were bad enough in 1930,
but in 1931 they became really critical. The present
situation is as follows. There is literally no bread there;
no potatoes (all the seed potatoes having been eaten
up); no meat; no sugar; in a word, nothing of the basic
necessities of life. Last year some food was obtainable
occasionally for money, but this year most of the bazaar
(markets) are closed and empty. All cats and dogs have
disappeared, having perished or been eaten by the
hungry farmers. The same is the case with horses, so
that cows are mostly used as draught animals. People
also consumed all the field mice and frogs they could
obtain. The only food most of the people can afford is
a simple soup prepared of water, salt, and various
weeds. If somebody manages to get a cup of millet in
some way, a teaspoon of it transforms the soup into
a rare delicacy. This soup, eaten two or three times a
day, is also the only food of the small children, as
the cow or any other milk has become a mere myth.
"This soup has no nutritive value whatever, and people
remaining on such a diet get first swollen limbs and
faces, which make them appear like some dreadful
caricature of human beings, then gradually turn into
living skeletons, and finally drop dead wherever they
stand or go. The dead bodies are held at the morgue
until they number fifty or more, and then are buried
in mass graves. In the summer the burials take place
more often in view of quick decomposition which
cannot be checked even by the liberal use of creoline.
Especially devastating is the mortality from hunger
among children and elderly people. Nobody ventures
to dress the dead family members in any clothes, as
the next day they would be found at the morgue, naked,
stripped of everything by unknown criminals.
"There are many cases of suicide, mostly by hanging,
among the village population, and also many mental
"The famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1921 was
undoubtedly a terrible one, but it appears like
child's play in comparison with the present situation.
"The village Kalmazivka was one of the more fortunate
ones, but in the adjoining villages of Olshanka and
Synukhin Brid the death toll defied all description. Those
who were not deported to the dreaded Solovetsky
Islands, or to the Ural Mountains, died from starvation,
and at present not one quarter of the original population
is living there and they are leading a life of misery.
No word of complaint or criticism, however, is tolerated
by the authorities and those guilty of the infraction of
this enforced silence, disappear quickly in a mysterious
"Worst of all, there is no escape from this hell on earth,
as no one can obtain permission to leave the boundaries
of Ukraine, once the granary of Europe, and now a valley
of tears and hunger.
"In crass contrast to this terrible condition of mass death
from starvation is the real condition of the crops. Last
year the wheat crop in our district was good, and this
year it is even better still. Unfortunately the peasants
derive no benefit from it, as the grain fields are watched
day and night by armed guards, to prevent theft of grain
ears, and after threshing the grain is immediately removed
to the government storehouses, or to the nearest port.
"There are two classes of peasants in Ukraine. Most of
them are already 'collectivized' and are working on the
state or collective farms. A limited number still work on
individual farms, but the taxes in kind, imposed on them
by the authorities, render their existence a permanent
privation. Cow milkand there are only very few fortunate
enough to possess a cowmust also be delivered to the
government creameries at a nominal price. The only
exception in this general suffering are the members of
the Communist Party, and the various officials, mostly
non-Ukrainians, as they receive their 'paioks' or rations
of food from the government depots . . .
"What a different picture did I find in Moscow on my
way to Canada! The markets there were flooded with
the most delicious foodstuffs! Only Ukraine seems to
have been sentenced to death by starvation by the
central government in Moscow..." Ukrainian National
Council in Canada, Bulletin No. 1, Winnipeg,
September 15, 1933; 861.48/2452.
61. Robert F. Kelley to US Consul General, Winnipeg,
November 20, 1933; 861.48/2452.
62. Michael Petrowsky, Oshawa, Ontario, to
Department of State, October 13, 1933; 861.4016/361.
63. Robert F. Kelley to US Consul, Hamilton, Ontario,
November 22,1933; 861.4016/361.
64. Paul Skoropadsky, former Hetman of Ukraine,
Berlin, to President Roosevelt, October 28, 1933;
65. Henry M. Bayne, Edmonton, Alberta, to President
Roosevelt, October 29, 1933; 861.4016/366.
66. Dmytro Lewitsky, Chairman, Ukrainian Deputies
and Senators in Poland, to President Roosevelt,
November 3, 1933; 861.4016/363.
67. Robert F. Kelley to US Charge d'Affaires a.i.,
Warsaw, November 24, 1933; 861.4016/363.
68. G. H. Bobishkovsky, Chairman, and J. Palyvoda,
General Secretary, Committee of Salvation for
Ukraine, Prague, to President, November 6, 1933;
69. Yakovliv, President, Comité Belgique de Secours
aux Affamés en Ukraine, Brussels, to President
Roosevelt, November 11, 1933; 861.48/2455.
70. Robert F. Kelley to US Consul, Brussels,
November 23, 1933; 861.48/2455.
71. The writer of this letter summarized it and
Mrs. Roosevelt's response. Dr. Lubow Margolena
Hansen to Dr. Nellie Pelecovich, January 30, 1934,
pp. 2-3; Archives of the Ukrainian National Women's
League of America, New York, New York. The
archives are uncataloged, and the Commission is
indebted to the organization's president, Mrs. Iwanna
Rozankowsky, for making available this and other
documents available to the Commission.
72. Felix Cole, Charge d'Affaires ad interim, Riga,
Latvia, to Secretary of State, June 2, 1933;
861.6131/275; T1249; Records of the Department
of State; NA.
73. Vneshniaia torgovlia SSSR za 1918-1940 gg.
(The Foreign Trade of the USSR in 1918-1940)
(Moscow, Vneshtorgizdat, 1960), p. 144.
74. "Famine in Russia, an Englishman's Story:
What He Saw on a Walking Tour," Manchester
Guardian, March 30, 1933, p. 12.
75. Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New
York, Harcourt Brace, 1937), p. 572.
76. Lyons recalled, "We were summoned to the
Press department one by one and instructed not
to venture out of Moscow without submitting a
detailed itinerary and having it officially sanctioned.
In effect, therefore, we were summarily deprived
of the right of unhampered travel in the country to
which we were accredited.
" 'This is nothing new,' (press censor Konstantin)
Umansky grimaced uncomfortably. 'Such a rule
has been in existence since the beginning of the
revolution. Now we have decided to enforce it.'
"New or old, such a rule had not been invoked since
the civil war days. It was forgotten again when the
famine ended. Its undistinguished purpose was to
keep us out of the stricken regions. The same
department which daily issued denials of the famine
now acted to prevent us from seeing it with our own
eyes. Our brief cables about this desperate measure
of concealment were published, if at all, in some
obscure corner of the paper. The world press
accepted with complete equanimity the virtual
expulsion of all its representatives from all of Russia
except Moscow. It agreed without protest to a
partnership in the macabre hoax." Ibid., p. 576.
Material from "Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine 1932-1933, Report to
Congress, Commission on The Ukraine Famine," Hon. Daniel A. Mica,
M.C. (D-FL), Chairman, Dr. James E. Mace, Staff Director, U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, 1988, Pages 151, 164-167, 184.