Kyiv Post | 24Nov2010 | Natalia A. Feduschak

Pain of Holodomor remembered 78 years later

LVIV, Ukraine -- On March 18, 1933, as famine raged in Soviet Ukraine, a man from Poltava Oblast wrote a letter to his family in Ternopil of the horrible fate that had fallen upon his family and village.

“There is a terrible need here and a hunger like I have never had in my life,” he wrote. “Now there is no bread and you can’t buy beet, people have been dying of hunger for a long time, those who are without means. I was secured with foodstuffs until the harvest, but the plan wasn’t fulfilled for the [government-owned] bread-making factory, and so the brigade took it all away. ... We were left hungry and thus day by day carry on with a quart of barley or flour that we buy or trade for something.”

On its 78th anniversary, President Viktor Yanukovych and other pro-Russia politicians still do not recognize Ukraine’s 1932-1933 man-made famine, known as Holodomor, as genocide: “We consider it incorrect and unjust to consider the Holodomor a fact of genocide of a certain people” the president told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on April 27, 2010.

However, those Ukrainians who lived in the historic region of Halychyna, which encompasses today’s western Ukraine, believed Josef Stalin’s collectivization policies were aimed at destroying their ethnic brothers living in the Soviet Union, newspaper reports from that era show. On the 10th anniversary of the famine in 1943, the editors of the Lvivski Visti newspaper summed up the feeling of Halychyna’s Ukrainians about what happened to their Soviet brethren. “The previous year 1932 was bountiful,” they wrote. “So the hunger was not sent from the heavens. It was organized by people.”

Kostiantyn Kurylyshyn, who heads the Ukrainian department at Lviv’s Stephanyk Library, said residents of Halychyna “understood the tragedy.”

“They saw themselves as one whole. … Citizens’ organizations tried to help and to protest [the Holodomor]. It’s another thing that they weren’t believed” by the international community.

For years leading up to the famine, the newspapers in Halychyna took aim at the Soviet Union’s collectivization policies. Time and again they ran stories about the government’s foundering efforts to overhaul the agricultural sector. The scale of the famine itself, however, became evident in 1933 as news leaked out of Soviet Ukraine by people who managed to escape the region or through letters written to family, like the one from Poltava.

Dilo, an influential newspaper in Lviv, published the Poltava letter on May 5, 1933, saying it had been received by the family in the Ternopil region before Easter. That meant “news about affairs in those places is relatively fresh,” Dilo’s editors wrote. The Poltava letter was one of several the paper published, but this one was particularly detailed in its description.

Dilo’s editors did not identify the son or his parents “for understandable reasons,” but noted the son had lived in the Poltava region since World War I and had established a farm there. They also said “it is interesting that despite all the antireligious campaigns by the Bolsheviks, the quoted letter betrays the religious sentiment of the villagers.”
Indeed, the letter begins with “Praise be to God for eternity!” and then continues with a description of life in Soviet Ukraine in 1933.

“My beloved ones, last year was only half the misfortune because at least you could still buy something,” the son wrote. “This year that is not half the misfortune, but 10 put together, with little [misfortunes] attached. I am ashamed to tell you how I live; I am ashamed to ask your help, because I am not a boy.”

From the letter it is evident the family in Ternopil had tried unsuccessfully to send the son money. The son wrote that money sent from abroad “particularly dollars” are not handed over to their recipients at the post office, but are rather immediately converted into rubles at an exchange rate of 2 rubles to the dollar.

“If I don’t want to exchange them, then the post office writes down the number of the dollar and every month a finance inspector comes and checks if I still have them. If they are sold, then you are punished by either prison or a fine. On the market, you can get 4-5 rubles for the dollar,” the son wrote.

He then noted he knew where the family could send money -- either to Kyiv or Odessa -- and after getting a “certificate” to leave his village, he could pick up the products he needed.

The son provided a full list of what products cost in his locale. Using the official exchange rate of 2 rubles to the dollar, 16 kilograms of wheat, corn and potatoes cost $75, $60 and $25 respectively; a chicken cost some $10; and 10 eggs ran $4. A cow would have cost $750 dollars and a pair of boots between $200 and $300.

“In short, everything is good except we can’t live because we don’t have the strength to buy anything. God is our only hope, if He doesn’t want to lose us and we will survive to the harvest. I don’t know what will happen with us because we don’t have any strength. I am completely weak and thin and there are neighbors who when they sit, they can’t stand up again.”

The son contemplated perhaps he had “sinned before God” to deserve such a fate. Invoking images of the prodigal son, the son wrote to his father “very often I dream of you, almost every night.”

The son ends the letter with “Greetings to you all from wife Nastya, daughter Mariya and son Petro and we wish you all happiness and health and happily wait for Christ’s Easter.”

The letter was signed merely as “Son…”

The family’s fate is unknown.

Kyiv Post staff writer Natalia A. Feduschak can be reached at [email protected]