Holodomor: Memories Of Ukraine's Silent Massacre

KIEV, Ukraine -- Eighty years ago, millions of Ukrainians died in a famine that many label a genocide by the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin.

Nina Karpenko: "I remember bodies being swollen by hunger".

As Ukraine prepares to embark on its annual memorial events, the BBC's David Stern finds that memories of the massacre are undimmed for many.

Nina Karpenko, an energetic 87-year-old, demonstrates what it took to survive Ukraine's Stalin-era famine, known as the Holodomor, or "death by hunger".

Some cheap cornmeal, wheat chaff, dried nettle leaves and other weeds - this was the essence of life during the horrific winter and early spring of 1932-33 in Ukraine.

As Ms Karpenko tells her story, she kneads the ingredients into a dull green mass, adding water and a little salt, which she then fashions into a patty.

She calls it bread, though it barely fits this description.

Then she spreads wax shavings on a pan to keep the patty from sticking and burning, and places it in an oven.

Ms Karpenko's father died early on.

His legs swelled up and he expired when trying to consume a small amount of food - a common occurrence among those close to starvation.

Her mother walked 15km (9 miles) to a nearby town to see if she could obtain something to eat for Ms Karpenko and her brother and sister.

She exchanged her earrings and a gold cross she wore around her neck for about 2kg (4.4 lbs) of flour.

Ms Karpenko takes the bread from the oven when it is ready.

It is tough and tastes like grass.

But thanks to this weed loaf, and a horsehide that her mother cut into pieces and boiled for soup, the Karpenko family managed to survive until the spring, when they could forage in the nearby forest.

Others in their village, Matskivtsi, in central Ukraine, were not as fortunate.

"There was a deathly silence," she says.

"Because people weren't even conscious. They didn't want to speak or to look at anything."

"They thought today that person died, and tomorrow it will be me. Everyone just thought of death."

Silent wasteland 

Ukrainians mark a Holodomor Remembrance Day every year on the fourth Saturday of November.

Some historians, like Yale University's Timothy Snyder, who has done extensive research in Ukraine, place the number of dead at roughly 3.3 million.

Others say the number was much higher.

Whatever the actual figure, it is a trauma that has left a deep and lasting wound among this nation of 45 million.

Entire villages were wiped out, and in some regions the death rate reached one-third.

The Ukrainian countryside, home of the "black earth", some of the most fertile land in the world, was reduced to a silent wasteland.

Cities and roads were littered with the corpses of those who left their villages in search of food, but perished along the way.

There were widespread reports of cannibalism.

Ms Karpenko says that when school resumed the following autumn, two thirds of the seats were empty.

But the pain of the Holodomor comes not only from the unfathomable number of dead.

Many people believe the causes were man-made and intentional.

A genocide.

They say that Joseph Stalin wanted to starve into submission the rebellious Ukrainian peasantry and force them into collective farms.

The Kremlin requisitioned more grain than farmers could provide.

When they resisted, brigades of Communist Party activists swept through the villages and took everything that was edible.

"The brigades took all the wheat, barley - everything - so we had nothing left," says Ms Karpenko.

Even beans that people had set aside just in case.

"The brigades crawled everywhere and took everything. People had nothing left to do but die."

Genocide row 

As the hunger mounted, Soviet authorities took extra measures, such as closing off Ukraine's borders, so that peasants could not travel abroad and obtain food.

This amounted to a death sentence, experts say.

"The government did everything it could to prevent peasants from entering other regions and looking for bread," says Oleksandra Monetova, from Kiev's Holodomor Memorial Museum.

"The officials' intentions were clear. To me it's a genocide. I have no doubt."

But for others, the question is still open.

Russia in particular objects to the genocide label, calling it a "nationalistic interpretation" of the famine.

Kremlin officials insist that, while the Holodomor was a tragedy, it was not intentional, and other regions in the Soviet Union suffered at that time.

Kiev and Moscow have clashed over the issue in the past.

But Ukraine's present leader Viktor Yanukovych echoes the Kremlin line, saying it was "incorrect and unjust" to consider the Holodomor "the genocide of a certain people".

Mr Yanukovych's government still takes care to commemorate fully the destruction that the famine wrought.

This year's Remembrance Day will feature a number of different ceremonies and prayer services, as well as the world premier of a Holodomor opera, Red Earth Hunger, by Virko Baley.

Mr Baley, an American composer who was born in Ukraine, supports efforts to have the Holodomor recognised internationally as genocide.

"You have to admit that it was done, if you want to have any kind of human progress," he says.

"You can't wrap it up and say that it wasn't."

Source: BBC News


Igor Skakovsky said…
Ukraine must not rush either direction, and choose traditional partners and European values to benefit both sides. Like in the good marriage, no one is perfect and all must have respect for each other and if necessary to compromise without harming its own people.
People of Ukraine please go home and take care of your families. Ukraine is working on becoming a part of Europe. It must take some time for excepted laws to show the results. AA agreement could be singed or not singed it makes no different at this point. Ukraine can be better or worth in EU or with Russia, in either case Ukraine must negotiate favorable conditions for its industries and as a result for its people. In either case Ukrainian industrial complex and agriculture must be heavily subsidized in order to be adapted to EU standards. It is critical for Ukraine that national industry and agriculture do not get destroyed and in its majority must belong to Ukrainians.
When negotiating with EU, Ukraine must ask for EU to open up its borders for Ukrainian goods only, not for EU products to come to Ukraine, for the sett period of time so, its industries could have a chance for adaptation. Opening of the EU borders could be set up for the selected sector of industry for specified period of time, in stages. After completion of each stage Ukraine will open its borders as well and agreement should move to the next stage.
When negotiating with Russia, Ukraine must protect its independence in the sense that Russian model may not be suitable for Ukraine and it should have an exit strategy in case things will not go right so, Ukraine do not end up as it did with the gas contract. For example each country jointly with Russia should find its one steps of progressing. Many steps and programs which are common for all participants could first be tested in Ukraine to see if they work and then adopted by others. Whatever is being worked out Ukrainian nationals must keep majority of its key industries to them self in order to guaranty that changes will be made for the interest of its businesses and its people, in that order.
Business must be profitable but not barbaric nor harmful for the community, no matter with whom Ukraine will associate. Russia is known to us but, law must restrict barbaric practices of business take over. With EU, law exist for everyone so, same subsidies for the all industries that exist in EU must be applied in Ukraine. It is most important to understand what is best for your people and then for the government and act with those understandings in mind.
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