THE FAMINE IN UKRAINE THROUGH MY EYES
Taras Shevchenko wrote:
"It's hard to die
in a strange land !'"
How difficult it must have been for Ukrainians to die on their own land, the land of their forefathers. I was still very young and didn't understand everything that was said in my parents' house about the years 1932-33, the terrible years of the famine. I didn't give much thought to my mother's words when she made me eat everything on my plate because there were times when children didn't even have a morsel of bread to eat. I couldn't completely understand how it could be that people ate people.
Even now when I am ten years old I cannot understand why the world is so cruel. Why are people so cruel? Why did one Slavic nation rise up against another? Why are there politicians in the world - grown mature people - who made children die of hunger? Yes, children. It's so scary.
Of everything I've read or heard from my parents, the greatest impact on me in this horror, was the plight of the children. I've seen many photos of children with finger-thin legs, bloated stomachs, and huge heads. I looked at the photos and tears streamed down my cheeks. Children at that time saw so many deaths that they considered them a natural part of life. We, children, tend to accept things as they are.
There was terror and famine, but the famine was the worst killer. Children died in their homes with their families. There were situations where children outlived their parents and were at a loss of what to do next. They would leave their home and would infrequently be found lying somewhere in a ditch, like kittens. There were cases where parents in despair would send their children out into the world hoping that begging and stealing would save their children. And then the mother would wander off with the last child left alive. Many times mother and child corpses were found lying by the roadside. Sometimes the child would still be alive sucking the dead mother's breast. Sometimes mothers would leave their infants on the doorsteps of strangers or just anywhere, in the hope that someone would save them. There were yet other dangers for children: the appearance of raiding parties that hunted down children, killed and quartered them.
The abandoned children survived only if they were able to join some group. Homeless children formed these groups. They would find shelter in some ruins. They would catch birds and look for fish heads or potato peels in garbage; they would hunt cats and cook them; they would go begging. The children in these bands were 12 - 14 years old, but sometimes there were even 5 - 6 year-olds among them. Petty thefts were also a part of their survival techniques.
These children defined themselves as follows: A hooligan is a homeless boy who became homeless due to hunger". "Children become hooligans if their parents die and they are left alone."
There were children's work camps, that is, prison camps where children were detained. Young offenders openly expressed their contempt for everything Soviet. A lot of children ended up in adult camps or prisons. During the famine, children's homes were filled way beyond capacity. When this occurred, the surplus children would be moved to a "children's town" where they could live out in the "open". They were not given any food and there they could die well out of sight. Officially the cause of death in these cases was given as death due to a weak nervous system. The children's town was fenced in by a wall, so that no one could see what was happening inside. To hide the extent of the deaths, trucks would move out the bodies only by night.
Often bodies of children would fall out of the trucks. Guards would be assigned to check for children's corpses on their beats. The dead children were buried in ditches filled to the brim and covered with only a thin layer of earth so that wolves and dogs could easily get at the corpses. Thousands of children died in this way.
Consequently some of children fell under the influence of the criminal element; others became prime material for the NKVD (secret police). I know of Pavlyk Morozov whose name adorns the Palace of Young Pioneers in Moscow. Fourteen-year-old Pavlyk exposed his father, a former head of the collective farm in his village, Harasymisvka. In doing so he sentenced his father to death. However, when he was later punished by a lynching-mob, he was declared a martyr. Today, in the village there is a museum dedicated to Pavlyk Morozov.
Of course, children like Pavlyk should be condemned but to no lesser degree than those who motivated them to such behaviour.
But the majority of children simply died of starvation. I read in a magazine that of the seven million that died, approximately three million were children, mainly infants. During the time of the famine, birth registrations were not properly kept so that many unregistered infants could have died. In addition to the three million children who died during the famine there were children who died during the forced collectivization of the land.
Indeed, this is a sad and tragic topic, and I hope events of this nature will never be repeated. I want the people in my dear Ukraine to live well; we certainly have deserved it. I am afraid of this evil repeating itself now as these are very difficult times in Ukraine. God help us save this beautiful, amicable.. musical land!