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British Diplomatic Reports on the Ukrainian Famine

Document #22 (5 March 1933): Correspondents forbidden to visit Ukraine 

Conditions in Kuban have been described to me by recent English visitors as appalling and as resembling an armed camp in a desert - no work, no grain, no cattle, no draught horses, only idle peasants or soldiers. Another correspondent who had visited Kuban was strongly dissuaded from visiting Ukraine where conditions are apparently as bad although apathy is greater. In fact all correspondents have now been "advised" by the press department of Commissariat for Foreign Affairs to remain in Moscow. 

N.B. The description of the conditions then prevailing in the Kuban Territory also applied to Ukraine. At the time of the Famine, the majority of the inhabitants of Kuban were ethnic Ukrainians. 

Document #26 (9 April 1933): Letters from Ukraine on the famine 

4. Letters have been addressed to the Embassy begging for England's help against the present regime. One of these, from Ukraine, states that the Communist administration has ruined the working people and has reduced them to starvation, barbarity and even cannibalism. After the words "England, save us who are dying of hunger; help us to get rid of the Bolsheviks," the letter is signed by "The Committee of One Hundred," and a postscript adds: "Oh, Mr. Ambassador! We cannot express in a letter all our misery; we are being forced to cannibalism by our Workers' Government of Desperates; save us!" 

8. Reports indicate that nowhere is the situation worse than in Ukraine, where the only hope of the desperate population seems to lie in the rumour of a contemplated annexationist coup on the part of Poland. 

Document #50 (September 26, 1933): Walter Duranty of the New York Times on the Famine in North Caucasus and Ukraine. 

Walter Duranty, the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times, returned to Moscow a few days ago after a ten days' trip in the North Caucasus and Ukraine in company with Mr. Richardson of the Associated Press. Mr. Duranty has given to a member of my staff the following account of the impressions gathered during his trip... 

5. According to Mr. Duranty, the population of the North Caucasus and the Lower Volga has decreased in the past year by 3 million, and the population of Ukraine by 4-5 million...

7. From Rostov Mr. Duranty went to Kharkov, and on the way he noticed that large quantities of grain were in evidence at the railway stations, of which a large portion was lying in the open air. Conditions in Kharkov were worse than in Rostov. There was less to eat and the people had evidently been on very short commons. There was a dearth of cattle and poultry. Supervision over visitors was also stricter in Kharkov. During the year the death rate in Kharkov was, he thought, not more than 10 per cent above the normal. Numerous peasants, however, who had come into the town had died off like flies... 

10. ...Ukraine had been bled white... 

12. At Kharkov Mr. Duranty saw the Polish consul, who told him the following story: A Communist friend employed in the Control Commission was surprised at not getting reports from a certain locality. He went out to see for himself, and on arrival he found the village completely deserted. Most of the houses were standing empty, while others contained only corpses. The consul also mentioned that during the early part of the spring, stones were thrown at any car passing through a village, it being supposed that any such car must be an official one... 

13. Mr. Duranty thinks it quite possible that as many as 10 million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food in the Soviet Union during the past year... 

Star reporter for the New York Times, Walter Duranty, conveyed the information contained in document #50 to a British diplomat off the record. Officially he wrote the following: "And here are the facts... there is no actual starvation or death from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from disease due to malnutrition... These conditions are bad but there is no famine." New York Times, 31 March 1933, p.13. 
 

For his reporting from the Soviet Union, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  As yet, it has not been revoked. 
 
 


Source: The Foreign Office and the Famine: British Documents on Ukraine and the Great Famine of 1932-33. Edited by Marco Carynnyk, Lubomyr Y. Luciuk and Bohdan S. Kordan. Kingston, Ontario: Limestone Press, 1988.

 

 

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