While the world debates whether Stalin really meant to kill 3-3.5 million Ukrainians in his plan to strengthen the economy, the reality is that that’s exactly what happened. Between 1932 and 1933, when the Soviet government increased Ukraine’s production quotas to such a level, they could not be met. Starvation was widespread. Ukrainian villagers were dying at a rate of 25,000 per day; that’s 1,000 per hour or 17 per minute. The Ukrainian population was reduced by as much as 25%, all the while the Soviet Government refusing to acknowledge to the international community the starvation it had de facto imposed upon the Ukrainian people.
Spearheaded by Ukraine on 28 November 2006, a resolution by the Verkhovna Rada declared the event a genocide. To date, however, only 16 countries around the world have followed suit. In an attempt to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Holodomor, and ensure we never forget the atrocities inflicted, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Ukrainian World Congress have collected stories from those who lived it. Posting one account everyday over 80 days leading up to the anniversary on 23 November, the stories speak for themselves.
“In 1933, there was such a harvest. You couldn’t take a stalk of grain because if you did, you’d end up in Siberia. People would die in the streets. People were dying as if they were flies.”
– Winnipeg, Canada
Born 1 March 1923, Yakhynky village, Poltava oblast
“I remember in the winter, my mother sent me to the neighbours, with some corn soup for them. I went to their house, but nobody answered. So I opened the door, and went home, and told my mother, ‘They’re all sleeping.’ My mother went with the neighbours to take a look, and they were all dead. My mother said, ‘They’re not sleeping. They’re in the next world.’”
– Winnipeg, Canada
Born 1925, Bilmanka village, Zaporizhya oblast
“My father realised things would get bad. And he hid grain, and some meat and lard in the forest somewhere. They didn’t find it. They came with long rods, sharpened at one end, and prodded the ground, looking for freshly-dug earth. They prodded the hay in the barn; they searched everywhere but they didn’t find anything. This saved our family.”
– Philadelphia, US
Born 1925, Zhovdaka village, Sumy oblast
“They took my father away. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, because we were kulaks. They called us kulaks. My mother went to work on the railroad. About 2 kilometres from Kybyntsi there was a distillery where they made vodka from beets. The mash that was left [after distillation] was poured into a hole. When my mother came home from work she would take a bucket, walk 2km and take that mash. We called it braha. She would bring it home, pour a bit of water in, and cook it. That’s what we ate.”
– Philadelphia, US
Born 12 August 1925, Kybyntsi village, Poltava oblast
“I was sent to Krynychky to teach third grade. I had 40 students. [Soon] there were fewer students. I could see that they were hungry. Nobody gave them food. They didn’t complain to me. They would come [to class], and some were still listening; others tilted their heads to the side and went to sleep. It came to it that in one year, in 1933, there was not one student left in my class.”
– Philadelphia, US
Born 6 January 1915, Hryshivka village, Katerynolav gubernia (now Dnipropetrovsk oblast)
“Everyone was swollen. I was swollen, the skin on my legs was cracking. We went around and in the spring, tore leaves off linden trees to eat. We would sleep in the school. There was no straw or anything [to sleep on]; we slept on the floor. When we got up, [some of the children] had died. Later, when we started to swell [from hunger] and our skin began to crack, we didn’t go to the school anymore, we slept on the side of the road.
– New Jersey, US
Born 20 October 1921, Krynychne village, Kharkiv oblast
“I was a student at the Kyiv Construction Institute and I was mobilised for the harvest campaign, to assist in the collection of the harvest, because so many [villagers] had died. I was ordered to call [villagers] to work. I had to go from house to house. In one house, I saw a swollen girl. When I said that she had to go to work, she said she couldn’t, because she was swollen. I remembered this house, and the next day I brought her my bread ration. I did it again, and what do you think happened? Somebody informed on me to the [Communist] Party man who was in charge that I was feeding [this girl]. He called me in and said, ‘Listen Revutsky, what are you doing? You’re feeding Enemies of the People!’”
– Vancouver, Canada
Born 14 June 1910, Irzhevets village, Poltava gubernia (now Chernihiv oblast)
“People died every day. A lot of people died. I saw this. We had a river in the village, and not a single fish, or frog or turtle was left. Nothing. There was not a single dog or cat left in the village. Nothing. People ate everything. Later there was nothing. Absolutely nothing was left. A wagon went around every day, from house to house, collected the dead and threw them on a wagon. At the cemetery they dug a big pit, about the size of this room, and for two or three days would collect the dead there. That’s how it was. I often think about this, but it is very hard to remember...it’s very hard to describe, and who can believe that this is what happened.
– Edmonton, Canada
Born 14 February 1926, Hrynivtsi village, Zhytomyr oblast
“I remember our neighbours in Dzhankoi, the husband was a [Communist] Party member, and he had a job and food. For the Communists there was no famine. Their parents had good jobs and food; they didn’t know what famine was. But the villagers, they know. The villagers know.”
– London, Canada
Born 24 August 1924, Cherhen village, Zaporizhzhya oblast
“When I came [to Canada] in 1950 I was already living in the house where I live now. I was standing near the window and saw a garbage truck. My son was about one-year-old and had just started walking, and was walking on the couch in front of the window. I began to shake. My husband said, ‘What happened? Are you ill?’ I said, ‘No, I remembered how when I was young, during the Famine, and people were falling, and they would put them on the truck and cover them with canvas.’ It was the same way the garbage here was covered.”
– Toronto, Canada
Born 11 February 1924, Odesa city, Odesa oblast
To learn more, or simply to find more stories like these, visit www.sharethestory.ca
. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Ukrainian World Congress will continue to upload a new story every day until the official commemoration day on 23 November.
by Lana Nicole