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Ukraine 1933: A Cookbook

From early childhood, Mykola Mykhaylovych (Bondarenko) loved to listen to the old people reminiscing about village life in the olden days. Having learned about the famine, he attempted to reproduce it graphically, but was not satisfied with the few sketches he made. The artist wished to tell about this tragedy in his own, different way. He considered the fact, that although entire families and entire villages were annihilated by the famine, some individuals managed to survive. What was it that helped them defy death by hunger while next to them their relatives and friends perished? He went around questioning the old-timers who told him about their unbelievable "menu". Thus he found the answer to his question; he decided to portray not the emaciated peasants, but rather the "food" which they were forced to ingest in order to survive.

At first he tried to paint several more common weeds which were consumed by the starving people, raw or prepared. Then he turned to producing a series of graphical depictions of other vegetation. His sketchbooks contain drawings from nature of coughgrass, clover, hemp, sweet-flag, burdock, rush (cane), nettle, thistles, lime tree and acacia buds, from which fifty engravings have been made.

Almost each engraving depicts a window, the cross-like frame of which symbolizes the heavy cross, carried by those condemned to death. Every windowpane symbolizes the hope to survive the famine. On such a background are depicted weeds and some other plants consumed by the starving people during those horrible times. On the right windowpane is the "recipe" for preparing this ersatz food.

Several of the engravings show the self-made tools, which helped the peasants to chop, grind, sieve, squeeze, and otherwise prepare the weeds. To own such tools meant risking one's life. The most touching and alarming for the viewer are the depictions of domestic animals - a cat, or a dog, fleeing to who knows where, so that they would not be caught and eaten; carcasses of dead cows or horses, which the starved populace did not hesitate to eat; and the panicked eyes of fledgling birds in a nest, which is about to be robbed by the hand of a starving person.

Noticeable in these engravings is the absence of any accusations of those who wrote the scenario of the famine, and of those who only too eagerly helped in this criminal action. Only the sickles and hammers on the iron rods with which the village activists probed everywhere, looking for hidden grain of the peasants, point to the cause of the famine. And, also, the blood on the knife blade reminds the viewer that we are dealing with a horrible crime.

Oleksander KAPITONENKO, Simferopol.

Hooks and crooks of different length were used by the activists to look for buried grain and other valuables in the garden and indoors, under the floor, by the stove. They poked and looked, and looked, and looked...

Maple leaves were dried in the stove or in the sun, crushed, put through a sieve, mixed with water into dough from which flat-cakes were made. Bark was dried, crushed, put through a sieve, mixed with flour and water and made into flatcakes.

Dogs were caught. The barking of dogs could very rarely be heard in the villages - they were all consumed.

 

 

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