Voices of Genocide

A play by Nestor Chumak


Act I

Evening of March 15th 1931 - Mariansky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Palace dining room - luxurious and richly decorated
(Buffet table in a corner set with exotic foods and beverages)

The door opens and in walk:

- Commissar Lazard Kaganovitch
- Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov
- NKVD Generick Yagoda
- Soviet Official Lavrenty Beria
- Soviet Official Nikolai Yezhov

They all take their seats with Kaganovitch at the head of the table.

Kaganovitch - Comrades, I have called this meeting on the orders of our illustrious leader Comrade Joseph Stalin. He is greatly concerned about the rise of Ukrainian Nationalism... (He is interrupted by Yagoda.)

Yagoda - The Ukrainian "svoloch" also do not want to partake in our program of collectivization.

Molotov - I do not understand their stupid mentality. (A waiter serves him his dinner.) Collectivization is the only way to provide food for the state. These fools do not know what is best for them.

(The whole room agrees with Molotov, several small conversations start.)

Kaganovitch - (Loudly to stop the talking.) Comrade Stalin was very clear in asking us to resolve this issue by devising a plan of how to deal with this Ukrainian... uh... problem.

Yezhov - That Ukrainian 'holota' never appreciated what we have done for them Kaganovitch - We must find the root of this trouble for it is hindering our plans of modernization and reform.

Yagoda - Yes... yes indeed. Perhaps we could increase our surveillance of their leaders and after "FAIR" (holding his fingers to resemble quotation marks with a devilish smile on his face) trials we decide whether to execute or expel them.

Yezhov - It is not a bad idea. However it requires too much man power and Comrade Stalin wants us to act quickly.

(Everyone agrees and most take a drink of their vodka.)

Beria - Perhaps we could train the school teachers to explain the need and benefit of collectivization to children.

Kaganovitch - An excellent idea but propaganda is a long term solution, we need something short, inexpensive and effective.

Yagoda - Hmm... it seems to me that we have 2 choices; we could immediately execute the leaders and activists who refuse to embrace collectivization or we could impose laws which would be enforced by the NKVD to root out the Ukrainian intelligenzia; the leaders of these problems.

Beria - Dogs do not have intelligenzia! (The others start laughing.) But Comrades, if Comrade Stalin is greatly concemed about the depth and widespread rise of nationalism and resistance to collectivization in Ukraine, I am sure that he wants a solution as soon as possible.

Kaganovitch - (Stands up.) What do you do when a dog bites the hand that feeds it?!

Soviet Official - What... What do you mean?

Kaganovitch - What would you do in that situation Comrade Yagoda?!

Yagoda - Why... I would put it down of course. That, or punish it by perhaps refusing the animal any food.

Kaganovitch - Precisely. Now... Why do we let these rampant dogs roam around our state biting at and protesting our perfect ideals?! I think we all know what we must do. (Sits down) My Comrades, we must punish the leaders - send a strong message to the population that we will not tolerate any deviation from our plan of collectivization. Nationalism has no place here!

(Everyone raises their glasses in agreement.)

Molotov - But Comrade Kaganovitch, how do we do it? How do we punish the enemies of the state?

Kaganoviteh - (Chuckles.) My old friend Molotov, that is the reason we are gathered

here today. We will devise a plan in the name of agrarian reform to keep the Ukrainian nationalists in line. What I propose is straightforward and uncomplicated... we starve them.

Yagoda - Fantastic but how would we do it Comrades? We must think of a cost effective way of doing it swiftly and silently.

Yezhov - We use food as our weapon! Starvation! Brilliant! Genius!

(All the others start whispering to each other confusedly... Kaganovtich takes one more bite of his dinner before it is cleared by the waiter, he gets up and walks to the other end of the room and faces the wall).

Kaganovtich - It is a simple concept...really. What I mean is... we force collectivization to it's highest level. We remove all crops and locate them where only our public officials can access them. People can not live without food. If we control the food, we control the people. In fact I very strongly urge that we remove all food from the Ukrainian population so we could store it for export and profit.

Yezhov - (Excited) We can seal off Ukraine from the rest of the world in order to prevent information leaks. I suggest we close all borders and let no one in or out unless approved.

Beria - I still do not see how we can make this plan of reform work. Comrades, would there not be the media and some dignitaries coming into Ukraine for visits who might question our border laws? People of importance and high stature?

Molotov - Our AgitProp department informs me that Walter Duranty, a renowned journalist with The New York Times is desperate to have an interview with Comrade Stalin. We have the power to set that up on condition that this Duranty writes only what we allow him to write. I have met the man, I am sure he will be more than happy to comply. It has also come to my attention that British journalists Beatrice and Sidney Webb are equally easy to bribe. I shall look into these offers and I will make certain that they write exactly what they are told.

Beria - Comrades, a state visit is scheduled already, I believe it is the Prime Minister of France, Edouard Herriot.

Yezhov - Fear not, I know the man on a personal basis. We could show him sections of Ukraine that are not touched by the "agrarian reform". This way he will be convinced that everything is fine. Otherwise we can brand him, the journalists and all the other nay- sayers, as fascist agents.

Yagoda - What is our aim? How many people do you think that this imposed starvation or lack of food would kill?

Kaganovitch - (Gleefully rubbing his hands.) Frankly, I would like to see them all dead.

Molotov - If done correctly we could at least execute 5 000 dogs a day.

Yagoda - Comrade Vyacheslav, are you afraid to raise the bar? We can do better. I assure you that we can dispose of 15 000- 25 000 "land owners" daily and depending on how long the agrarian reform takes place, we could probably reach the target of 10,000, 000, the entire Ukrainian "holota".

(The others nod with smiles.)

Kaganovitch - This plan...this decision... this man made famine. (Pauses) It will ensure our superiority over the Ukrainian "svoloch". It solidifies the strength and spirit of our Union by exterminating all those that don't believe in what is obviously right. Comrades, we have an exceptional plan. Let us now present this to Comrade Stalin.

(They all stand up and raise their glasses in agreement.)


Act II

Flash forward to the village of Troyetzk in the Dnipropetrovsk region, 1933. It is a dark, foggy and lifeless street.

Pavlo Makohon walks out. (He is alone)

Pavlo Makohon - "In the spring famine struck my family. We'd eaten everything in the house and our bodies began to swell. At the same time, the spring sowing began in the kolhosp.

Our village was in the clutches of death. Every dog and cat had been killed and eaten. When the horses began to die in the kolhosp then the villagers ran there in the hope of finding theat. They ran with knives and sacks, and I ran too, and when a horse died we, who were hungry and swollen, attacked it like lunatics, trying to cut off a piece of meat. At first we accomplished this unhindered. But then the authorities invented a way of keeping even these dead carcasses from the starving. They dug a large hole and when the horse was dying the activists poured carbide all over it and threw it into the hole. By now, however, the people were half- crazed with hunger and despair and, ignoring the poison, they scrambled into the hole and hacked at the horse with their knives, running home with their poisoned bounty. It was our last hope of survival and even this was turned into a death trap.

I wandered around the outskirts of the village looking for hedgehogs in the bushes. When there were none left we knew that we wouldn't survive. People began to die at an alarming rate. In almost every house the physically-strong succumbed first, then the others followed soon after. The authorities saw that the situation was becoming uncontrollable, for in many houses the corpses of the dead were decomposing. So they organized a team of even stronger men to dig a hole in the cemetery. To this hole they drove all the dead in carts and flung them in.

Death entered our house. Within a week my grandmother died.

One after another my brothers, Ivan, Vasyl and Anatoly, and then my little sister Maria, also died. They were hauled away on the kolhosp cart to the pit and thrown in. I saw this with my own eyes." 1

A Voice - It was a silent genocide. Despite all the efforts of the authorities to cover up the holodomor, millions were sacrificed and lost their lives because of a forced, planned and concealed crime against humanity. After 70 years of hiding in the dark and a change in the geopolitical map of the world the truth has finally surfaced. Most countries of the UN have recognized and acknowledged the injustice and crime that has been perpetrated on the Ukrainian nation. On this, the 70th anniversary, most cities and countries have proclaimed a Famine Remembrance day in honour of all the lives that were lost.

(Footnote: 1 Pavlo Makohon, Witness (Memoirs of the Famine of 1933 in Ukraine), Anabasis Magazine, Toronto)

Works Consulted

  1. Pavlo Makohon, Witness (Memoirs of the Famine of 1933 in Ukraine), Anabasis Magazine, Toronto, 1983

  2. Andrew Nynka, Pulitzer Board declines to revoke Duranty's prize (The Ukrainian Weekly article), Sunday, November 30, 2003

  3. Harvest of Despair (movie), Produced by the Ukrainian Famine Research Committee, 1984.

  4. Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow, The University of Alberta Press, 1986