MEMORIES OF UKRAINIAN GENOCIDE WITNESSES
"Anger lashed my mind as I drove back to the village. Butter sent abroad in
the midst of the famine! In London, Berlin, Paris I could see ... people eating
butter stamped with a Soviet trade mark. Driving through the fields, I did not
hear the lovely Ukrainian songs so dear to my heart. These people have
forgotten how to sing! I could only hear the groans of the dying, and the lip-
smacking of the fat foreigners enjoying our butter..."
Victor Kravchenko - Former Soviet trade official and defector
"... On one side, millions of starving peasants, their bodies often swollen from
lack of food; on the other, soldiers, members of the GPU*carrying out the
instructions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They had gone over the
country like a swarm of locusts and taken away everything edible; they had
shot or exiled thousands of peasants, sometimes whole villages; they had
reduced some of the most fertile land in the world to a melancholy desert."
* GPU = Soviet secret police
Malcolm Muggeridge - British foreign correspondent - May 1933
"this famine may fairly be called political because it was not the result of any
overwhelming natural catastrophe or such complete exhaustions of the
country's resources in foreign or civil wars"
William Henry Chamberlin - Correspondent for the Christian Science
Monitor who was originally pro-Soviet. He was one of the few Westerners
who personally toured Ukraine during the Genocide of 1932-1933. Russia's
Iron Age (London, 1935) p. 82.
"...(Our reporting) served Moscow's purpose of smearing the facts out of
recognition and declaring the situation which, had we reported simply and
clearly, might have worked up enough public opinion abroad to force
remedial measures. And every correspondent each in his own measure, was
guilty of collaborating in this monstrous hoax on the world."
Eugene Lyons - Moscow United Press correspondent from 1928 - 1934.
Assignment in Utopia, p. 573.
" I saw ravages of the famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine - hordes of families in
rags begging at the railway stations, the women lifting up to the compartment
windows their starving brats, which, with drumstick limbs, big cadaverous
heads and puffed bellies, looked like embryos out of alcohol bottles."
Arthur Koestler, The God That Failed p. 68
“About 20 miles south of Kyiv I came upon a village that was practically
extinct by starvation. There had been 15 houses in this village and a
population of 40-odd persons. Every dog and cat had been eaten. The
horses and oxen had all been appropriated by the Soviets to stock the
collective farms. In one hut they were cooking a mess that defied analysis.
There were bones, pig-weed, skin and what looked like a boot top in this pot.
The way the remaining half dozen inhabitants eagerly watched this slimy
mess showed the state of their hunger. One boy of about 15 years of age,
whose face and arms and legs were simply tightly drawn skin over bones,
had a stomach that was swollen to twice its normal size. He was an orphan;
his father had died of starvation a month before and he showed me the
body. The boy had covered the body with straw, there being no shovels in
the village since the last raid of the Soviet secret police. He stated his
mother had gone away one day searching for food and had not returned.
This boy wanted to die – he suffered intensely with his swollen stomach and
was the only one of the group who showed no interest in the pot that was
Thomas Walker - American journalist who traveled in Ukraine during the
Genocide of 1932-1933.
"Moscow employed the famine as a political weapon against Ukrainians in the
year 1932-1933. The famine was in its entirety artificially induced and
F.M. Pidigo - Economist who lived and worked in Ukraine during the
Genocide of 1932-1933. Investigation of Communist Takeover & Occupation
of the Non-Russian Nations of the USSR, p. 35.
"FOUR EARS OF CORN"
Recollection of the horrors of the Famine of 1933 had become a sort of ritual
in our family. I heard the traumatic story hundreds of times. When I was a
child, I ran away every time my mother began to retell her horrible story. But
even the bits, I caught on my way out, were enough to give me nightmares.
When in time, I became a mother myself, I better grasped the pain my poor
mother suffered, and understood the scope of her tragedy. Her endurance
and unyielding faith fueled her to survive it all for us, her second family.
The Famine of '33 left lasting scars not only on my parents for the rest of
their lives, but to this day, on us children. Unlike my father, who spoke openly
about the evils of communism, but wept, trembled and shut down, when
asked about the Famine, my mother continued to fear the Soviets even in
America, but spoke incessantly of the Famine.
When she spoke—I listened. I knew by heart the sequence of events and the
wording of her story. At times, when she jumbled a memory, I cued her
discretely. Deeply engraved in my memory is my mother’s last account of the
Famine, a month before her death in June of 1983. Her stories became more
detailed. Mother named people and events that I had never heard before.
Her uncharacteristically fearless tone and serenity struck me as she began
I remember that moment vividly. I see my mother’s tidy gray braid on the side
of her white pillow. While caressing her head, I asked how she was feeling,
she sighed sadly: “ My soul will never rest. My poor darlings!” She lamented.
“Maybe your father and I are guilty. WE COULDN'T GET AWAY! We tried to
go to Kharkiv or Donbas but the commander commissar refused to issue us
our documents. The Army sealed the borders and shot those who
approached the railroad. Oh my Lord! There were so many bodies by the
tracks!” In her quest for relief of her lifelong open wound, mother continued
her story, as if she were telling it to me for the first time.
MY MOTHER’S STORY
“All our supply of wheat and other winter provisions were taken from us,
including those meager reserves buried in the ground in the orchard or
hidden in the woods. Like your grandfather, people were thrown out of their
houses and many disappeared during the night. None dared to question.
Everyone lived in fear.
“I recall,” she continued, “that in the fall of 1932, I picked four ears of corn
from behind our shed and put them out to dry on the bench, so I could make
some corn flour for the children. Someone reported it to the collective farm
leadership. As an already branded ‘class enemy’, I was accused of stealing
the corn from the collective farm and sentenced to five years without witness
or trial. All four children were left with your father. He had great merits in the
eyes of the Soviet State for he came from a poor family, and therefore was a
“proletarian”. Fed’ko, your oldest brother, was then 11 years old and tended
cows at the collective farm.
At the prison, I was assigned the job of pickling cabbages and cucumbers. In
the spring, I received a desperate letter from your father. Despite the coded
wording of his letter, I understood that my little ones were dying of hunger.
There are no words to describe my despair. That night, I escaped from
prison. I could think only of saving the children.
Afraid of meeting someone on my way, I wandered through the woods on my
way home. The villages seemed deserted. Only once did I hear a feeble
human voice calling me, at the edge of a village. A man, leaning against a
house, was inviting me to stay overnight. My heart stopped. In his shiny
bulging eyes, I was sure I saw a mad man. I ran as fast as my feet could carry
me. Intuitively, I feared the worst. I had to get home as soon as possible.
Putting my destiny in the Lord’s hands, I waded across the stream without
knowing how to swim. When I finally reached home, I found my darlings still
alive. Swollen, unconscious but alive! I didn’t save them! I couldn’t save
them! All three died in my arms a few days apart, just like Oksanka, three
days before I was taken to prison.
It was now against the law to bury them in the orchard, as it was customary.
The communist rulers threw my angels’ bodies on a cart poled on top of
other bodies. This image haunts me all my life—my little Marussia, Halynka
and Tarasko being tossed from the cart into a pit outside the village without
even a prayer…
My only reason for living was Fed’ko. I was a fugitive and had to hide. To
survive, we roamed the fields in search of fallen grains amongst the stubble
of the harvested fields. We no longer feared being shot for this crime against
the communist state. But there was no other place of work for a peasant but
the collective farm, and I had to work. Fed’ko was afraid, he begged me not
to go. I promised him that I would return. I promised…"
Mother always broke down when she reached this part. Anticipating it, I
sobbed. After calming down, she continued:
“I was standing in line with the others peasants. When my turn came, the
brigadier asked my name without lifting his head. Upon my response, he
shifted his eyes to a list in front of him, then stood-up and pointing a finger at
me shouted: “You, Evdokia Kononivna Boyko, are a fugitive from Soviet law!
People like you are a threat to our state. You shall serve your term in full!”
My whole world crumbled again. Oh my dearest child! The Lord only knows
where I got the strength to shout to the brigadier: “If your children were dying
from starvation, wouldn’t you have run away to save them?” He silently
lowered his eyes. I was taken to prison on the spot to serve the remainder of
my five-year term.”
In 1937, my mother was one of thousands of prisoners on their way to
Siberia. She had volunteered to go, for she had lost hope. In Poltava, the
prisoners were let out of their wagons and told to kneel in rows facing the
sunset. A few dozen prisoners were freed. Blinded by the sun, mother
thought she was hearing things: “Evdokia Kononivna Boyko, you are free!”
She did not move. She thought it was a dream. Then she heard her name
again, “Evdokia Kononivna B… YOU ARE FREE!”
At the prosecutor’s office two letters awaited my mother, letters written by her
two former prison wardens. Their recommendation was to free her on
grounds of her hardworking, peasant nature and honesty—so indispensable
for the building of socialism. The woman prosecutor believed them.
One can only imagine how she ran; or rather, how she flew on her wings of
joy from Poltava to Fed’ko! However, her happiness was short lived. That
same horrible year of 1937, pregnant with my older sister, mother was on trial
again, this time, accused of drowning a swine in a water tank while on her
night watch shift at the state pig-breeding farm.
The indictment stated that my mother, a ‘class enemy’ of the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republic (USSR), worked against progress in the planned economy
of the state having drowned the swine. The communist system did not allow
livestock to die.
The inquest lasted two years. A 10-year sentence hung over my mother’s
head. A courageous veterinarian risked his life to pass an honest verdict: the
swine had died from natural causes. A necropsy revealed that there was no
water in the swine’s lungs. Fearing dismissal or even imprisonment, the farm
leader dropped the swine in the tank, conveniently pointing at my mother--
already an enemy of the state.
Poltava greeted me with a dense grayness that penetrated both faces and
nature. In the heavy fog, the naked trees resembled giant skeletons, and one
could feel and even smell despair in the air. So, this was my Ukraina! What
have they done to your soul and beauty? Kept on pounding in my head.
A solemn Panakhyda* was held in the Tower, the only standing structure, of
the once historic Uspenskyj Cathedral dynamited by the Soviets. The angel
voices of the children’s choir echoed in the Holy Tower: “Vichnaya Pamiat’,
Vichnaya Pamiat’, Vichnaya Pamiat”; in memory eternal of Marussia,
Halynka, Tarasko, Oksanka and Fed’ko: “May the Lord safeguard them were
all the righteous rest”
After the gloominess of the previous evening, the morning was bright and
crisp. I was on my way to fulfill the most sacred part of my promise to mother.
The thought of standing on the ground where my ancestors lived, and where
my siblings were born and died, was overwhelming.
Kilochky had not changed much since my parents left it 50 years before. The
villagers were of the same lineage, and I was still able to see my grandfather’
s furrow between his field and his neighbor’s. Only the raven where the
bodies of the innocent victims of the Genocide, was leveled off, and a
children’s play ground was built on it.
To the children’s surprise, God was in their midst, as a prayer was sung for
the first time on their ground, and the smoke from the censer rose to heaven
proclaiming God’s love and resurrection to all those innocent souls. May they
rest in peace.
* Panakhyda- Memorial Service
** Vichnaya Pamiat’ -Memory Eternal
Written by Halyna Boyko-Hrushetsky
“Four Ears of Corn” (revised) was originally published in 1993 in “Witness, Stories of
Genocide and Urban Survival” created for middle school children in Chicago through a
grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.
Memories of Survivors and Witnesses of
the Ukrainian Genocide of 1932-1933
EXPERIENCES OF UKRAINIAN GENOCIDE SURVIVORS
"This was the first instance of a peacetime genocide in history. It took the
extraordinary form of an artificial famine deliberately created by the ruling
powers. The savage combination of words for the designation of a crime - an
artificial deliberately planned famine - is still incredible to many people
throughout the world, but indicates the uniqueness of the tragedy of 1933,
which is unparalleled, for a time of peace, in the number of victims it claimed."
Wasyl Hryshko - Genocide Survivor, 1933
"They were horrible years! Mothers were slicing their children and sticking
them in pots to cook them, and then ate them. My mother went into the field
where some horses were dying and brought back a horse's head. About five
women bit into this horse's head. What a horror it was; people were dropping
dead on the road. If you pierced them the blood was like water. So many
people died. I remember every thing in the village, including the time they
took the crosses off the churches. Two members from the Komsomol
(Communist Youth Organization) went up and took the crosses down. They
buried them two meters into the ground and old women would go to kiss that
plot of ground...
Then they filled the wooden church full of wheat. During the night mice made
their way through the walls, leaving little holes from which women filled their
buckets with the wheat. The Komsomol took the wheat from the church, and
afterward it stood empty. So many people died in the village that in the
cemetery they stopped putting up crosses. During the winter an old woman
would take a cross from the cemetery to make a fire in her house so that her
children would not freeze."
Nina Popovych - Genocide Survivor - born 1925, Lysycha Balka, Ukraine
- from Irene Antonovych and Lialia Kuchma's Generations: A Documentary
of Ukrainians in Chicago, p. 32
"In 1932 and 1933 Kyiv seemed like a paradise to nearly villagers who had
been stripped of all they had by the Soviet government. A no wonder: some
villages were dying out completely, except for those who still had the courage
and strength to flee. There were cases where mothers had gone mad and
killed a child to feed the rest of the family. So, thousands of villagers flocked
to the city of Kyiv. Many of the weak ones sat or lay down by buildings or
fences, most never to get up again. Trucks driven by policemen or
Communist Youth League members, mobilized for that purpose, went around
picking up bodies or carrying those still alive somewhere outside the city
limits. It was especially terrible to see mothers whose faces had turned black
from hunger with children who no longer cry, but only squeal, moving their
lips in an attempt to find sustenance where there was none. People sought
salvation and found death. I saw these things as I walked to work through
the Haymarket on Pidvil'na Street near the Golden Gates and Volodymyr
Varvara Dibert - Genocide Survivor - from Congressional testimony
presented before the United States Ukraine Famine Commission in
Washington, DC, October 8, 1986.
"The spring of 1933 was the most horrible and tragic moment in the history of
the Ukrainian people. In th fall of 1932 and the early winter of 1933 the
Russian Communist government had taken away the entire grain crop and all
food produce from the Ukrainian farmers in order to bring them into
submission and obedient servitude in the collective farms.
In the collective farms of my native district, which numbered 672 people, 164
died that fatal spring of 1933. Actually this collective farm suffered little
compared with all the surrounding places, for to induce the farmers to remain
there, they were given 300 grams of bread per person baked from all kinds
of chaff and some liquid concoction cooked from refuse. But there were
villages and hamlets where not a single person remained alive. For instance,
in the large village of Chemychyna, in Neforoshchanske County, which
stretched for two and a half miles, though I do not recall it's population, and
the hamlet Rybky, of the Sukho-Mayachka village administration, where 60%
of the population died.
Here is another of the many incidents of the famine:
In my native village, there was a stallion kept for breeding mares. He was
well fed, receiving 13 pounds of oats daily, but for some unknown reason, he
suddenly died. This happened at the end of May 1933. This district
administration forbid the stallion to be buried, until a special commission
arrived and held an inquest.
The dead stallion lay in the open for three days and began to decay. A
guard was appointed to shield it from the starving people who would have
eaten the meat. On the fourth day the commission arrived and, having
completed the investigation, ordered the stallion to be buried.
No sooner was that done and the commission gone, then like an avalanche,
the people descended on the dead, decaying stallion and, in an instant,
nothing was left of him. Violent arguments ensued, because some had
grabbed more than their share.
A spectacle I shall never forget was when a 16 year old boy who, beside his
stepmother, was the only survivor in the family, and swollen from starvation,
crawled up to the place where the dead stallion had been and finding a hoof,
snatched it in both hands and gnawed at it furiously. The boy was never
seen again, and rumors circulated, that he had been eaten by his
It was forbidden for people to leave their villages. GPU* guards blocked all
roads and railways. Any food that farmers happened to be carrying was
taken away from them. For picking a stray head of wheat or a frozen potato
or beet left behind in the field, a person was sentenced to ten years in prison
or concentration camp, according to the ruling passed by the government
August 7, 1932.
Thousands of corpses littered the streets, byways and buildings. Deaths
occurred at such a rate that the government could not keep up with burying
During all this time there was not the slightest sign of any famine in the
neighboring Russian territory. The Soviet press never mentioned the famine
in Ukraine but on the contrary, (even) printed misleading propaganda about
"flowering Ukraine" and her great achievements in industry and
To cover up its bloody crime, the Soviet government warned all doctors not
to state true cause of death on death certificates. Instead, they stated a
prevalent digestive ailment was the cause."
*GPU = Soviet secret police
Polikarp Kybkalo - Genocide Survivor testimony presented before the
United States Ukraine Famine Commission in Washington, DC on October 8,
In 1931, I was ten years old, and I remember well what happened in my native
village in the Kyiv region. In the spring of that year, we had virtually no seed.
The Communists had taken all the grain, and although they saw that we
were weak and hungry, they came and searched for more grain. My mother
had stashed away some corn that had already sprouted, but they found that,
too, and took it. What we did manage to sow, the starving people pulled up
out of the ground and ate.
In the villages and on the collective farms (our village had two collectives), a
lot of land lay fallow, because people had nothing to sow, and there wasn't
enough manpower to do the sowing. Most people couldn't walk, and those
few who could, had no strength. When, at harvest time, there weren't
enough local people to harvest the grain, others were sent in to help on the
collectives. These people spoke Russian, and they were given provisions.
After the harvest, the villages tried to go out in the field to look for a few
gleanings of wheat or cabbage, and the Communists would arrest them and
shoot them or send them to Siberia. My aunt, Tatiana Rudenko, was taken
away. They said she had stolen the property of the collective farm.
That summer, the vegetables couldn't even ripen. People pulled them out of
the ground, still green, and ate them. People ate leaves, nettles, milk thistle.
By autumn, no one had any chickens or cattle. Here and there, someone
had a few potatoes or beets. People coming from other villages, told the
very same story. They would travel all over trying to get food. They would
fall by the roadside, and none of us could do anything to help them. Before
the ground froze, they were just left lying there dead in the snow or, if they
died in the house, they were dragged out to the cattle- shed, and they would
lie there frozen until spring. There was no one to dig graves.
All the train stations were overflowing with starving, dying people. Everyone
wanted to go to Russia (the RSFSR) because it was said that there was no
famine there. Very few (of those left) returned. They all perished on the
way. They weren't allowed into Russia and were turned back at the border.
Those who somehow managed to get to Russia, were able to save
In February of 1933, there were so few children left that the schools were
closed. By this time, there wasn't a cat, dog, or sparrow in the village. In that
month, my cousin Mykailo Rudenko died. A month later my aunt Nastia
Klymenko and her son, my cousin Ivan, died, as well as my classmate, Dokia
Klymenko. There was cannibalism in our village.
On my farmstead, an 18 year old boy, Danylo Hukhlib, died and his mother
and younger sisters and brothers cut him up and ate him. The Communists
came and took them away, and we never saw them again. People said they
took them a little ways of and shot them right away, the little ones and the
older ones, together.
At that time, I remember, I had heavy, swollen legs. My sister Tamara, had a
large swollen stomach, and her neck was long, and thin, like a bird's neck.
People didn't look like people. They were more like starving ghosts.
The ground thawed, and they began to take the dead to the ravine in ox
carts. The air was filled with the reeking odor of decomposing bodies. The
wind carried this odor far and wide. It was thus over all of Ukraine."
Tatiana Pawlichka - Genocide Survivor testimony before the United States
Ukraine Famine Commission in Washington, DC on October 8, 1986.
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