The Ukrainian Tragedy of '33
(first published 1983 - Ed.)
Once more, the rusty trumpet of the Great Famine is blowing -- only this time the world will hear. To succeed in the same deception twice is not always possible. Back in the 1930's, it still was.
Then, rumours of famine in Ukraine were seeping through to the West. The Chicago Herald printed an article concerning this matter which included horrific photographs. The Ukrainian famine was becoming a "subject for discussion". The Moscow correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, William Stoneman, was assigned the task of going to Ukraine and viewing the situation with his own eyes. However, the Kremlin dearly understood the potential danger threatened by this journey. Stoneman never reached Ukraine -- Walter Duranty, a correspondent for the New York Times, was invited in his place. He was driven around Ukraine. Later, he was to write that he saw nothing unusual there. Of course he saw nothing; prior to his arrival not only corpses were removed from the street, but also deserted children, petty criminals and other figures of undoubted interest for the camera's lens. Thus, the greatest tragedy of the 1930's was concealed from the eyes of the world.
Moscow is particularly gifted in this field; a foreigner is conducted around a given country with the result that he sees only what the authorities desire him to see. In the past, during the reign of Catherine II, French visitors were given a tour of the Empire. "Potemkin's Villages" -- this is not merely a figurative phrase. On the banks of the Dnipro, according to Potemkin's instructions, decorations were actually erected displaying brightly-painted villages. The people, however, were real; they were hounded from one place to another so as to remain in view when the barge carrying the foreign visitors floated by. In her letters to Voltaire, Catherine II mentioned that the peasants in her kingdom ate chicken daily, and recently had even demonstrated their growing preference for turkey. The chicken on the peasant's table was indeed a reality; it was secretly carried from yard to yard to the house into which the foreign dignitaries were entering.
We cannot know what Walter Duranty ate in Moscow -- whether chicken or turkey; neither do we know the methods used to place Moscow's spectacles successfully on his eyes -- these things remain the secret of Moscow's archives. Today, fifty years later, it is clear that Moscow will fail to repeat its old stratagem and mask the tragedy of 1933. It suffices to say that forceful artillery has already been fired in this direction -- the renowned American journalist, Joseph Alsop, in his new book, Review of a Century, writes that the famine of 1933 in Ukraine was a "terrible truth" deliberately hidden from the West. Discussions of the famine, just as the investigations into NKVD crimes in Vynnytsia, are appearing more and more frequently on the pages of Western press. The English historian, Robert Conquest, has been assigned by the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at Harvard University to write a book about the Great Famine.
Already the clouds have gathered over the subject of the Ukrainian famine. The greatest danger here is to try and interpret the famine as a "social" problem, unconnected with the national problem. Professor Conquest immediately came into conflict with the Ukrainians at Harvard after stating that he wished to write the history of the "soviet famine". Apparently, the famine was caused by the authorities' desire to crush the peasants' resistance and force them into the collective farms. This version is currently upheld by many anti-Ukrainian groups, particularly the Russian émigrés. This is an attempt to conceal the national reason for the famine in Ukraine.
Unfortunately, many Ukrainian writers have succumbed to this "social" viewpoint and also consider the famine as having been organized to destroy the peasants' fight against "collectivization". However, there was similar resistance within Russia, but in Russia there was no famine. Interestingly enough, the Russian provinces bordering on Ukraine suffered nothing even remotely comparable to the Ukrainian famine. An eye-witness (Professor Voskobiynyk from Connecticut, USA) states that when he fled with his father from Poltavshchyna onto Russian ethnographic territory in an attempt to escape starvation, they found the price of flour there to be ten times (!) smaller than in Ukraine. Only the non-Russian territories of the soviet-Union suffered from the famine. Ukraine (including the Kuban), the Don (specifically the area populated largely by Ukrainians), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and 'the Middle ' Volga (consisting mainly of Ukrainian village settlements). Professor Constantyn Kononenko, in his work Ukraine and Russia, states:
Anyone who interprets the creation of the famine in Ukraine from1932-1933 as a repressive measure employed to destroy the Ukrainian peasants' resistance to collectivization is grossly in error. To arrive at such a conclusion is to misconstrue absolutely the situation in Ukraine at that time. The swollen, starving peasants, were the least able to muster a resistance. The sole thought in everyone's mind was how to obtain food... In fact, how can one even speak of resistance when by 1931 already 65.3% of all peasant households were collectivized. It would be strange to think that all the horror of the famine was created simply to increase this figure by 4 % and bring it up to the 69 % which it reached in the year of the famine. No, the famine was not a reaction against those who attempted to undermine Moscow's aims -- it was the aim itself.
An excellent argument which demonstrates that the problem of "collectivization" was not the reason behind the famine. However, the author eventually arrives at an odd conclusion:
By imposing "collectivization" on Ukrainians, Moscow discovered in the process a solution to the problem of agrarian overpopulation; not the creation of better. farming conditions for the peasants (as was attempted during the "NEP" period), but the destruction of that segment of the population considered "superfluous"... Thus, the destruction of all "superfluous" peasantry became a direct method of increasing the production of bread and enlarging colonial profits.
(lbid., p. 277)
An extremely lucid (and grim) example of the confusion of even our finest thinkers. Long years of' "social" upbringing have erased their aptitude to think nationally. The destruction of millions of "superfluous" peasants? The very idea is ridiculous and fantastical. Could the soviets claim to have even one "superfluous" human-being at that time. In the 1930's, the Soviet Union required millions of people to populate the endless Siberian wastes, to provide a "labour force" for the mines and construction in the distant cold lands. Doubtlessly no other state experienced such a crucial hunger for workers as did the Soviet Union in the 1930's. Which is quite understandable: the Soviet Union had a population of eight people per square kilometre -- ten times smaller than in Europe. Even later, in the 1940's, an UPA soldier was not executed but deported to the mines of Vorkuta -- for someone had to mine the coal. Under such conditions to consciously murder millions of people for economic reasons would have been insanity. Thus, if Moscow planned this genocide nevertheless then its motivation was obviously other than economic: it was national, and was set in motion in spite of it interfering with Moscow's economic plans. National interests always carry greater importance than economic interests. This has always been true, and always will be.
Towards the end of the 1920's a serious danger faced Moscow's imperialistic construction.. This was not the British fleet (then the largest in the world), nor was it the German army, which was gathering new strength. The black cloud that hovered over the Western horizon of the Russian Empire was "Ukrainianisation". The foundation of Ukrainian rebirth, stimulated into activity by the revolution, contrived a means of self-expression even under Soviet conditions. During the 1920's Ukrainian positions were considerably strengthened. Moscow perceived that if this process was allowed to continue for another decade then the cities would be Ukrainianised and nothing would remain of Russian spiritual domination in Ukraine. In the 1920's, the distinct role of the village in the process of Ukrainianisation became particularly evident. It was revealed that the village was not only the preserver of national tradition (as hitherto had been the case), but it was also a powerful catalyst (accelerator) for Ukrainianisation in the cities. The most talented authors and active propagators of Ukrainianisation in the 1920's came from the villages which provided a powerful foundation of fifty million people on which to accomplish the building of Ukrainianisation. From the villages flowed rich Ukrainian blood which poured into the veins of new Ukrainian structures under development in the cities. The muscles of these structures visibly grew stronger and the powerful river of Ukrainianisation flowed from the village to the city, and it became obvious that this fresh, turbulent force would crush all Russian influence. The empire had only one alternative: to thin out the millions and decrease their demographic power. To weaken and halve the Ukrainian village would mean the severing of the infusion of blood into the process of Ukrainianisation. In accordance with the ancient imperialistic tactics of "divide and conquer", the Communist authorities divided the single organism of the village into three "classes": the so-called "bidniaks", "seredniaks" and "kurkuls", with the intention of inciting one group against another.
Stalin, the major bolshevik theoretician on national matters clearly understood the role of the village. He wrote that the basis of every national movement is the village -- without it the movement becomes impossible. The renaissance of various European nations (the Czechs, Hungarians, Flemish, Lithuanians, Estonians) proved that during the period of national awakening the village infuses the town and a process of nationalization takes place. As long as this remained a distant theory Moscow was not alarmed. In the 1920's, however, the Russian element in Ukrainian cities visibly disappeared. This was no longer a theory, but a fatal threat to the empire; without Ukraine the empire would again be reduced to a mere kingdom (Khanate) of Muscovy, as it was during the 16th century.
Russia's plan involved two phases: a) to stop the process of Ukrainianisation by halving the population in Ukrainian villages, b) to colonize the starved and emptied Ukraine with Russians. If this plan were to prove successful then the Ukrainians would become a minority on their own territory and the "Ukrainian problem" would cease to exist. The Russian empire has had considerable practical experience in this field. Following the invasion of Kazan, the Tatar capital, all the males were executed. After the seizure of Baturyn, the whole population, both male and female, was destroyed. The entire aristocracy of Novgorod was deported to Moscow and the Muscovian aristocracy was sent to Novgorod in its place. Thus, this nation was annihilated and now it is virtually unknown that Novgorod was once a separate nation which only later became Russified. Likewise, by means of repression and deportation, the Don Cossacks were reduced to a minority in the Don region.
A similar fate was in preparation for Ukraine. But Ukraine proved too hard a nut for Russia's teeth to crack. Granted, the first phase of the plan was successful: Ukrainianisation was brought to a halt. But to reduce the Ukrainians to a minority on their own land has always proved impossible; neither the Tatars, who periodically deported 200,000 people from Ukraine, nor the Russians, who murdered 5 to 10 million Ukrainians (according to various statistics) in 1932-33, could achieve this. The Russian writer Chekov, in describing Ukraine's steppe region, creates an interesting image: he says the earth is so black and fertile that "if you were to stick a shaft in then soon a whole wagon would emerge." Indeed, the biological power of the Ukrainian ethos is very great. It repeatedly replenished our population following Tatar, Hitlerite, and Stalinist devastation.
There is one aspect of 1933 which is afforded little attention: the famine in the cities. For some reason, it is conjectured that no famine existed in the towns in 1933. However, the memoirs of Z. Fesenko-Kovalska (Anabasis, no. 10, 1982) pour new light onto this question. The author of these memoirs testifies that in the city of Hadyach, people died in the streets just as they did in the surrounding villages. Thus, the authorities only prevented famine in the cities of Donbas, Kharkiv and Odessa, which were filled with Russified, imperialistic elements. These elements were intended to pervade and Russify the starved and exhausted Ukrainian territory. As for traditional Ukrainian towns such as Hadyach, they were included in the plan insofar as they consisted of a purely Ukrainian population and were to the same extent as the neighbouring villages, the carriers of Ukrainian spirit and Ukrainian tradition.
What we are now most in need of are facts and testimonies with which to demonstrate to the world that the aim of the Famine of 1933 was not "collectivization" but the Russification of Ukraine.
The memoirs of Pavlo Makohon, in their sincerity and unpretentiousness, provide excellent proof of this. Nowhere does the author theorize or "philosophize". He merely presents the facts themselves, but the authority of his writing is only intensified through this straightforwardness. A boy of fifteen was not, and never could be, present at the confidential meetings in the Kremlin where the real motivations for the tragedy of 1933 in Ukraine were discussed. Following these meetings, instructions were sent to Ukraine to conceal the reason for the genocide by the use of a "class approach", more specifically, "collectivization.' And the down-and-out "activist" who invaded the Makohons' home to confiscate all their remaining food likewise knew nothing of the national reasons for the famine. He merely repressed the "kurkul" without understanding that if today the Ukrainian "kurkul" is destroyed then tomorrow the same fate awaits him -- the Ukrainian communist (the example of Skrypnyk and Khvylovyj is particularly relevant here). The guard-dog in a Siberian camp knows nothing about the human being whom he is tracking -- he is merely stimulated by outside forces into performing his role.
Nonetheless, this fifteen year old Ukrainian peasant sensed intuitively that the motive behind the authorities' actions was not economic. The Ukrainian peasants were doomed because they "loved their country and wanted to work in their own land and be independent. Also, they loved their Ukrainian language and tradition. And this was the sum total of the Ukrainian people's crime. Who will ever understand this and finally see the despotism and brutality of Russian chauvinism which yearns and has always yearned to conquer not only Europe, but the entire world? Who will recognize this danger and do something to stop it? At the moment people sit idly by while the danger approaches nearer and nearer".
The remaining ears of corn in the rafters were thrown down onto the floor and taken away. For what purpose? Was this handful of corn necessary for soviet foreign trade? Freshly-baked bread was confiscated from the oven -- were these loaves then used for export? Horses died in the collective farms on a massive scale. Obviously, such plans were weakening the "kolhosp" rather than constructing it. In 1933 more kolhosp workers than non-kolhosp workers died, for the majority of the peasants were already "collectivized". The emphasis was not on how the people perceived the collective farms, but on how they were to hide a little grain. Otherwise, death came swiftly, to the kolhosp worker and the non-kolhosp worker alike -- the entire village of Troyetzk was laid waste in 1933, as the author testifies. Such an act could only undermine rather than create any possibilities for implementing a collective farm. Evidently, the authorities were preventing "collectivization" themselves.
The harvest scene at the end of the memoirs is particularly convincing. The kolhosp workers in the fields are gaunt as skeletons. Emaciated, exhausted people who can hardly move. Which can only mean that they kolhosp workers were also deliberately starved to death. There was no "social" logic working behind these horrors... particularly taking into account the example of Hadyach, where people died in the streets. No one intended to implement "collectivization" in the cities. Thus, not a "class", but a national enemy was being destroyed.
Moscow wanted to break the spine of Ukraine. But her spine already had a thousand years experience in how to endure foreign pressure...
Back in the 1930's, a bomb should have exploded on the pages of Western newspapers. But there was no explosion: Moscow succeeded in removing the detonator in time. Even so, it was later revealed that another remained undetected -- a detonator for a delayed explosion. Now, the mechanism is striking the last few seconds but the power of the explosion will greatly depend on Ukrainian efforts in the free world.
In that year famine raged over Ukraine destroying in its wake the village of Troyetzk in the Dnipropetrovsk region, where I was born.
During that year I saw my family and the people of my village starve to death. I watched them hurled onto a cart and driven away and thrown into a pit like dogs.
These memoirs are dedicated to them.
They are written so the world may know of this tragedy of the Ukrainian Nation -- a tragedy unparalleled in History.