Mykola Meleshko

In the March 1987 (no. 364) issue of Moloda Ukraiina, a declaration of the Italian consul in Moscow concerning the famine in Ukraine, was published. In 1932-33, I was in Kharkiv and, as an eyewitness, I affirm that the Italian consul accurately described the horror of that time. It is true, the residents of Kharkiv were not dying of hunger, the peasants were. They would come into the city in order to find but a small bit of bread, because Stalin's bands confiscated everything edible in the countryside.

By the end of 1933, so-called "commercial bread" was being sold in the stores of Kharkiv, for about a karbovanets' and half a kilogram. This bread was sold without ration cards, and was a bit "whiter" than the bread sold with them at 25 kopiiky per kilogram. At the time, a worker would average about three to four karbovantsi per day, so he/she could afford to buy one two kilograms of loaf of such "commercial" bread for a whole day's work. Droves of peasants would come to Kharkiv to buy it, because they had no ration cards to purchase the bread available in stores. They were forced to buy bread on the black market from speculators, at inflated prices of about 6 to 15 karbovantsi a kilogram. This they did at a time when the government paid them 1 karbovanets 20 kopiiky for every pood (16 kgs.) of grain it took for its consignments.

Many peasants had no money to buy the "commercial bread" and died in the streets of Kharkiv. Trucks would come to collect the dead and the half-dead, and trucked them out to a ravine outside city limits, where corpses from prisons were also taken. They were all thrown into a heap in the ravine, dusted with lime and then covered with earth. Even if one describes this as it happened, few will believe it could.

One night, I was standing in line for bread by the shop that received shipments of bread at night, just before dawn. The bread would go on sale at eight in the morning. I stood in the line-up the entire night through and on until three in the afternoon. However, by the time I reached the counter, there was no bread left in the store. That day, the going rate for bread sold by speculators on the black market in the bazaar was 8 to 10 karbovantsi a loaf. I was exhausted by hunger and had already begun picking through garbage to find food.

Once, worn out and hungry, I fell asleep near some garbage pails. Then I heard someone say, in Russian, "Yes, that one is still alive." I opened my eyes, and saw two men standing over me. At the curb stood the truck of corpses. I got up and left.

I worked in Kharkiv, but in 1933, when I applied for a passport, I was denied one because, as a dekulakized citizen, I did not have the appropriate papers. In 1930, I had been thrown out of my house along with my entire family, and a collective farm was set up on my property. The communist authorities did not issue people such as me any documents, and so I had to buy some counterfeit ones to survive.

It is not easy to tell of those times. Not many will believe you, particularly those who had not experienced anything like it. I was taken, with my forged documents and all, to fight "for Stalin and country." And so I fought. I served as a tank crew member as a second lieutenant. I spent three months on the front and was captured by the Germans. At the hands of this "liberator;' I spent some time in prison, again swelling from starvation. It seems that I have survived two famines: Stalin's and Hitler's.