The Tragedy of Viknyna

Oleksander Hai-Holowko

The village of Viknyna is situated at the meeting point of three provinces: Vynnytsya, Kiev and Odessa. The district in which Viknyna lay, with its 900 families and total population of 5,000, was rich in deep black chornozem, covered in summer with a sea of rye and wheat crops. 

This village was unaffected by the famine of 1921, like the neighbouring villages. In spite of the fact that the meddling of the Russian administration with people's lives, their religion, their traditions, their customs and laws was keenly felt by them, on the whole the village led an industrious, carefree and happy life until the fall of 1929. 

Then, in December 1929 and January 1930, two meetings were held which all the villagers had to attend. These fateful meetings profoundly affected the lives of all in the village. Although they opposed it for a long time, in the end the farmers, intimidated and terrorized, passed a resolution to collectivize the whole village. To convince the farmers that they were wrong and that Stalin's pronouncement "to destroy the class of kurkuls by means of total collectivization" was right, the authorities dispossessed and sent to Murmansk (between the White Sea and Barent Sea) concentration camps the best and the most industrious farmers with their families, including babies and little children. These people were, in the eyes of the occupying power, the greatest obstacle to collectivization. The unfortunate families as far as I remember were: the Borutski, (plurals) the Chornovoly, the Dobrawski, the Kucheryavi, the Netrebchuky, the Oliynyky, the Pidvysotski, the Stari (brothers nicknamed Honchari), the Zaiky, and others. Individuals who managed to escape from exile later told the grim story that on the way to Murmansk forests all the babies and little children froze to death and that their bodies were, on orders of the GPU guards, cast out from train into the snow along the railway tracks. Later many older people were dealt with in the same way and the remainder perished in the camps. 

In February 1930, when the collectivized cattle began to die off and the farm implements to rust in the snow, there was the so-called "women's rebellion". Desperate women armed with pokers, hay forks and oven irons fell upon the collectives with great shouts, tongue lashings and curses addressed to the Russian occupants and in a moment the collective ceased to exist. They took their property, which had not been destroyed back home. A few days later special GPU detachments and militia arriving in the village arrested a score of people, mostly the poorest ones, who regarded themselves as more privileged and did not fear the bolsheviks as much as the others. Some. of them- were summarily executed and the others were sent to Siberia. The. rest of the "rebels" were forced, under threat of execution, to return the cattle and farm implements to the collectives. The farmers obeyed the order, but did not go back to the collectives themselves. Only a few formerly prosperous families remained in order to save themselves from "dekurkulizing", which meant total loss and deportation. Lacking human hands for work, horses, cattle and farm implements, much of the collectivized land became fallow, only producing giant weeds about seven feet high. 

In 1930-31 the Russian occupants tried to break down people's opposition to collectivization by exorbitant taxes, but the people went to extremes to pay them in order to remain "induses", -- the. derisive name for individual farmers. The same thing happened in the neighbouring villages. This caused the failure of total collectivization. The Russian emissaries and local activists became raving mad because failure to carry out the orders of the Moscow politburo meant that they themselves would be liquidated. Such was the situation at the beginning of 1932. 

Before the harvest in 1932 the individual farmers received assessment notices. The farmers from the anemic collective farm also received one. The amounts of taxes in these notices ran into astronomical figures and caused a widespread lament in the village, as if there were a dear in each family. Such taxes could not be paid even if all the available land were cultivated and the yield the highest possible. But to remain free the people, in despair, delivered to the state collection point, into which the church was converted, all the grain they could scrape up at home. The farmers from the puny collective farm did not reach even one third of the amount demanded as taxes. Soon after, the village swarmed with GPU agents and militia. At the hastily called meeting of the villagers the Russian "twenty five-thousander" openly called them saboteurs and accused the village of being a nest of counter-revolution. Then "grain collection brigades" were organized which fell upon the farmers with zeal and the "vykachka" (rolling out of grain) began. 

Two or three days later these brigades cleaned the village of the last ounce of grain, actually applying brooms so as not to leave a single grain behind. But they did not limit themselves to grain alone, -- scanty remains of food, flour, crushed cereals, little bags and jars of peas and beans left for seed, ready made bread, cakes, etc. -- all were gone. Looking for hidden food stores, stoves, beds, earthen floors in cottages, grain barns and stables were. wrecked by digging and probing, in short all likely places suspected by the bolshevik investigators of concealing food. Men's pockets were turned out and women were searched for grain hidden in their dresses. The trunks were opened and bolts of homespun linen, furs, embroidered towels, kerchiefs were tucked away under the overcoats of the "investigators." The effect was not unlike the action of a terrible hurricane which destroyed or carried everything away from the village. Facing the spectre of famine, some began to thresh again the straw already threshed once in order to find a few grains. But even these grains, found by great toil, were more often than not seized by the communists who kept watch over the village day and night. Some were fortunate enough to glean little stores in abandoned fields, to find a few potatoes overlooked by the diggers or some roots of beets, but many paid for breaking the law of August 7, 1932, which was added to the Stalin criminal code under the innocuous title of "law for the protection of socialist property." 

The remnants of food which people were able to hide only lasted till Christmas. The victims helped each other, but in spite of this fact many swelled up at Christmas time and some died from hunger. It is worth noting here that the first to suffer and die were the poorest who, after "grain collection", had literally nothing left and lived by begging for food or by baking "bread" out of crushed corn cobs. People who were better off felt the famine less acutely and the most prosperous were still better off because as a rule they managed to hide a little grain for food. 

The events which took place in Viknyna after Christmas, when the scanty grain supplies were exhausted, followed each other in rapid succession. 

Most of the hungry people who remained in the village soon caught and ate all the dogs and cats. 

The real hunger fever and the mass exhaustion of the people began in March and lasted till the new harvest. During this period the walking corpses gnawed the bark off the trees, ate all kinds of roots, buds and the furry catkins of pussy willows, then turned to weeds such as goosefoot, dock and amaranth, both raw and cooked. An epidemic of dysentery added to the suffering and people began to die in increasingly greater numbers, first of all men and children. The first cases of cannibalism appeared. 

In every second or third house lay dead men, women, children and older people. Driven by the village soviet authorities, the half-dead loaded the dead like logs on the wagon and buried them in common graves. The doors and windows of the empty cottages were nailed by boards put crosswise. Every second or third cottage was thus decorated. Soon the paths leading to these dwellings were covered with vegetation and in the orchards, in which most of the trees were cut for fuel in wintertime, and in the fence-less yards, -- fences, too, were used up for heating purposes, -- the weeds grew up to the roofs. 

Some of the tragic events in Viknyna made an indelible impression on my memory. 

Among the first victims of famine towards the end of 1932 was the Taranyuk family: father, mother and three sons. Two of the latter were members of the Komsomol and actively assisted in "grain collection". The father and mother died in their cottage and the sons under neighbors' fences. 

At this time six persons died in the Zverkhanowsky family. By some miracle a son, Volodymyr, and a daughter, Tatyana, survived. 

The swollen blacksmith, Ilarion Shewchuk, who, in January 1933 came to the village soviet to ask for help, was lured to the fire hall and murdered with staves. The murderers were: Y. Konofalsky, chairman of the village soviet, his assistant I. Antonyuk and the secretary V. Lyubomsky. 

The poor widow Danylyuk and her sons had a very tragic end. Her dead body was eaten by maggots and the two sons, Pavlo and Oleksa, fell dead begging for food. Only the third son Trokhym survived, by being able to find some food in the city. 

Porfir Neterebchuk, one of the most industrious farmers, lamed by hard work, was found dead by the church fence. 

An old man, Ivan Antonyuk, died when his daughter Hanya fed him with "bread" made from green ears of grain which she had secretly cut in the fields in spite of the watchfulness of the village soviet authorities. 

Oleksa Voitsyekhowsky saved his and his family's (wife and two little children) lives by consuming the meat of horses which had died in the collective of glanders and other diseases. He dug them up at night and brought the meat home in a sack. His older brother, Yakiw, and his sister-in-law died earlier from hunger. 

The brothers Kondra, Konon and Teofan Stary and all the members of their families died after eating soup made of lamb's quarters. 

But the most horrible deed, which moved even the half-dead who were near death themselves, was committed by the letter carrier, Trokhym Soloviychuk. In despair and fear of death, he began to eat the corpse of his wife and feed his three children with it. Then the same fate over-took his two younger children. The oldest child learning somehow where his little brothers had vanished and sensing that he might be the next victim, ran away. Both the village as well as the county authorities were aware of this horrible case of cannibalism but they hushed it up and liquidated those who dared to talk about it. 

It would be no exaggeration to assume that out of 4,000 people in Viknyna, -- that is exclusive of those who were exiled, shot or vanished in 1929 - 1932, -- more than a third died of famine, artificially created by the Russian occupant. The tragedy of some of the neighboring villages was even greater. In Kocherzhyntsi, 4 1/2 miles from Uman, all the people died with the exception of a few of the village soviet authorities who saved themselves by official "food rations". 

The above are only a few authentic facts concerning the tragedy at Viknyna. Many others will come to light when the satanic iron curtain is no more. 

Source: Pidhainy, S. O. ed. The Black Deeds of the Kremlin: A White Book. Vol I Book of Testimonies. Toronto: Ukrainian Association of Victims of Russian Communist Terror. 1953 p. 291 - 296