During the Holodomor, the Soviet government introduced stringent travel restrictions into Ukraine, in an attempt to prevent journalists and others from seeing for themselves the extent of the famine.
There were some journalists – most infamously Walter Duranty of the New York Times – who, in return for interviews with Stalin and other high-ranking government officials, collaborated with the Soviet government to cover up the existence and scale of the famine, while admitting privately that the famine both existed and that the death toll was horrendous. Malcolm Muggeridge called him “…the greatest liar I ever knew…” and finally, in 1990, a New York Times editorial, written by Karl A Meyer, acknowledged that what Duranty had written constituted “…some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.”
There were others, however, who evaded the restrictions to seek out the truth, in spite of the abuse and vilification they then suffered from both the Soviet government and other journalistic colleagues. British journalists Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones were among their number.
Malcolm Muggeridge smuggled out several articles via the diplomatic pouch which were published in the Manchester Guardian. What he saw horrified him and stayed with him forever. At a German co-operative farm (a government concession in the Caucasus), he saw peasants kneeling in the snow, begging for a crust of bread. In his diaries he wrote, “I must never pretend that I haven’t seen this. Ideas will come and go; but this is more than an idea. It is peasants kneeling down in the snow and asking for bread. Something that I have seen and understood.”
Gareth Jones, a young Welshman, was a former adviser on foreign policy to Lloyd George. He too travelled through Ukraine and subsequently wrote articles for and was interviewed by several newspapers. In an interview with the Morning Post in March 1933, he said, “I walked alone through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread; we are dying…’”
Other eyewitnesses include Andrea Graziosi, who was the Italian consul in Kharkiv in 1933. His letters and dispatches form a unique account of the reality of the Holodomor. He described the influx of starving peasants from the countryside to the city and the children abandoned by desperate parents in the hope that someone would look after them. He told how the dead and dying were dealt with, “People who are already starting to swell up are moved out in good trains and abandoned about forty miles out of town so that they can die out of sight. When they arrive at the destination, huge ditches are dug and the dead are carried out of the wagons…”