28/11/1925 - 16/09/2010
Born Kherson region
Settled in Bradford, UK
Interviewed by Maria Danylczuk in 2008
It is very difficult for me to talk about the Holodomor. Every time I think about it I just want to cry.
There were six of us in our family – my mother and father, two sisters, a brother and me.
I remember that there was nothing to eat. I walked and walked far and wide with my brother searching for branches and bushes to feed on.
My eight-month old sister Oksana was the first to die because my mother did not have any milk to feed her with. Then Halyna, my three year-old sister, died followed by my older brother Philip, who was born in 1923.
My mother kept telling my father to go and work on the kolkhoz where he would at least receive something to eat. However, he [refused and] said that he would rather die than work there. Sadly, that is what happened. He died leaving only my mother and me.
My mother went to work on the kolkhoz and would leave me on my own all day. At least she returned home at the end of every day with a cupful of food. I was so young to have had to live through all of this.
We both survived. Eventually, when the famine had ended, with the help of my mother’s sister, we were able to grow crops but it was so hard to get used to there just being the two of us out of a family of six.
15/07/1919 - 2008.
Born Sloboda village, Burynskiy, Sumy region.
Settled in London.
Interviewed by Ukrayinska Dumka in 2007.
Q. What can you remember?
A.It is very difficult to talk about it [the Holodomor]. I keep it to myself.
I remember when they took away the grain, when they took everything away. I remember my father chasing after them after they had taken the flour saying: “What are you doing? We have five children…!” I was the eldest. In 1933 I was 14 years old.
We had a smallholding. They had given us land for four people when the new economic policies were introduced. My father did not want to join the kolkhoz. We had plenty to meet our family needs – a cow, a horse, pigs, and some chickens. That was until they started to take everything away. The communists (or Stalinists) came - however you want to describe them - collectivisation was implemented and that was the end of the matter. They did not evict us from our home because my father had bought an old house and then built a woodshed. It wasn’t worth turning us out.
My father worked as a blacksmith at the sugar factory. None of us (five children) died in the famine because my father and mother always tried to get some food. We had a few clothes, so they travelled to Kharkiv and bartered them for some flour. We [even] ate the chaff of buckwheat. My mother dried it, I then went to my grandmother’s house to grind it, and then my mother baked small pancakes. When we still had some flour, she would mixed that it in so that the pancakes would hold together. She put them into boiling water to make a soup.. And that’s how we survived.
One of my younger brothers became very swollen, just as wheat began to grow near our house. I stripped the ears of wheat and gave them to him, which ultimately saved his life.
Q. Tell us how the food was taken away.
A.They had these designated yards for people who were not part of the kolkhoz. The communists came with revolvers and those who weren’t part of the collective had to go to their headquarters. There they gave orders on how much potato and grain you had to bring in. After dinner, you had to go back to them so that they could give you a receipt for the amount that you had collected. And if you didn’t bring anything in, the brigade would take everything from you. We didn’t have anything left for them to take, but the brigade nevertheless came to the house.
Since the sugar factory was only a short distance from where we lived, I ran to tell my father that they had come. My father ran home and they were still there, on a sledge - it was January. My father begged a small amount of flour from them, but because he had left work without permission, he was thrown out of the factory.
They took the grain, they took my father’s job… So what can you do…?
My father went to the railway station because they gave out bread there. I remember him coming home in the evening and we took the crumbs out of his pocket and ate them.
Q. You managed to survive, but what about the other villagers?
A.Few survived in our village. Very few people were left alive. The older people all died.
I remember my grandfather and grandmother... my grandfather lying in bed asking for someone to bring him even a sweet…
In the spring, the real crimes began. Potato was sown, and people dug them up to eat… and they caught and killed them all….
Yes, that’s how it was. If it were possible to describe everything, it would be a huge history. But not everyone believes that it happened, that we had to eat chaff… They say we are making it up.
24/04/1924 - 05/05/2013
Born Kryvyi Rih.
Settled in Bradford.
Interviewed by Orysia Chymera and Bohdan Lanovyj in 2008.
During the famine my parents left the village. I remember my father laid out in the house. There was nothing left for us to exchange for food. He did not survive the terrible fate and died on the 17 June 1932. My mother was pregnant at the time and three days after my father’s death, my sister Halyna was born.
My mother went to work down a mine because the workers there were given 250 grams of bread. She worked there for five years, in the iron-ore mines.
My mother’s father, my grandfather, lived 3 kilometres from us and worked as a bread delivery man. He would collect morsels of bread – they were not packaged in those days - and brought them to us.
Also, in order to survive, we collected weeds to make soup. However, at that time, there wasn’t even any salt around.
After my father had died I went to his workplace to ask for help to dig his grave. Six men arrived but they were all afraid to dig the grave because they themselves were not sure whether they would be able to climb out of it once it had been dug.
However, they did dig it and we buried my father. To this day I do not know where that grave is.
My mother later told me that before his death, my father had told her that if he could just survive, that I would grow up to be successful. Without him, he feared that I would have difficulties. Hence my mother ensured that I received at least some education. She worked hard all her life.
During the famine I walked about 2 kilometres in search of bread. However, at that time, because of the density of the queues, you could only get bread if you either climbed over the heads of people or in between their legs. Whenever I managed to get some bread, I would cut off a piece and immediately sell it to buy some milk.
In 1932 – and this was just the beginning – all of the kulaks were removed from the village. My father did not let on at the time that my grandfather had been [one of those] exiled “to the new land”. We did not see him again until 1942.
The famine was not hidden. When we set off in the morning, we would see dead bodies in the streets. We used to go to the banks of the river to pull up the reeds to eat.
That period was sorrowful. Many members of our family died. My father had three sisters – they all died. My mother’s brother was shot over some ears of wheat. He went into the field to gather some wheat and was shot there.
I also used to go to the station. As the train wagons pulled in you could usually pick something up. One man said to me: “let’s go, the troop train is coming and we should be able to get some corn...”. We went and filled our pockets but he was then arrested and imprisoned for 6 years [for appropriating state property]. I was young then and so avoided punishment.
On one occasion I was stopped on a bridge and asked what I was carrying. I had some bread. I began to cry and one of them said: “Let him go…”. Fortunately for me, they did let me go.
It was a miracle that we survived.
The communists showed their power and satisfaction through the suffering of people. I saw how a communist ate: he ate three varenyky and threw 2 away. A number of us boys watched and waited to grab the leftovers.
Ukrainian wheat was transported through our station en-route to somewhere. If anybody got too close to the train, they were immediately shot by the guards.
Somehow, thank God, we survived. It is a fact, that it was mass-murder.
05.05.1923. - 31.03.2014.
Born Kropyvniya village, Novohradskiy raion, Zhytomyr region.
Settled in Manchester.
Interviewed in 2008 by Viktor Andrusyszyn and Bohdan Ratycz.
I was born into a village family and was 10 years old when the Holodomor took place in 1933.
I remember 1932 well, and the preceding years. My father was a bookkeeper in the kolkhoz and the village council. He was responsible for calculating the number of days worked on the basis of the information provided to him by workers out in the fields. The amount [of grain] reaped, or whatever other work they carried out, was calculated in terms of a working day, or a day and a half, and this in turn determined the amount of bread that the worker would receive.
I know from a photograph shown to me by my mother that my father had been in Petliura’s army. However, she hid that photograph so that nobody would know. Indeed, nobody did know, not even us [her children].
Then the famine began to spread through the village. People had very little food because they stopped being paid a wage or in kind for a working day. The authorities simply gave them a little grain or something on account of the work carried out in the kolkhoz. They stopped giving out bread. This was the beginning.
As time passed people began to fall ill from hunger. Some fled the village. They didn’t know what to do because they had eaten everything that they had at home.
Komsomol brigades came to search the houses to check whether there was anything hidden in storerooms or elsewhere, and whether there was an icon or cross hanging on the wall. The komsomol activists did what they wanted with the people and nobody punished them… They searched the houses every week. If they found something cooking on the fire, some soup or borscht, they would take it and pour it away into the ground. It was as if we all had to die, as if we were marked out for death. This was in 1931-32.
Seeing what was going on, my father left his job in the village council and put in a request for a horse so that he could plant potatoes (in the kolkhoz). He ploughed a furrow in a large field with the horse and a plough. Behind him people planted potatoes and they were followed by others who covered the plantings. On a number of occasions he took some potatoes, dug them into the ground and then marked the spot with a small stick. At night, in the dark, he crawled out so that nobody would see him heading for the field.
We would have soup on following day made with the potato that he had brought back and mixed with some other type of plant. We ate anything that we could because it was spring and nothing had grown yet.
Later in 1932 my father died – he simply did not have any strength left in him. Initially he became very thin. None of us had enough to eat. My father worried and then became ill with pneumonia. The hospitals didn’t take people in and so he died at home. He called me and said, “My daughter, you are the eldest. Look after the little ones…”.
I was the oldest in the family. Then there was Ludmila, who went blind and died from hunger. Then there was Sonya and Yevhen, the youngest. Both of them survived.
After my father had died, my mother went around the garden and picked horseradish. It was springtime and the green leaves were sprouting out of the ground. She took the horseradish, cleaned and grated it, and then pulled leaves from a tree. My mother knew what was edible – she dried the leaves, mixed them with the horseradish and baked biscuits or pancakes. She gave them to us to eat and then went to work.
I saw with my own eyes how each morning a cart would come to collect the dead from the houses in the village. Our neighbours, the Khomenko family, had a house full of children. So when Mr Khomenko, the father, died, his wife ran from the house and cried, “Wait, don’t take him yet, because my son will be ready tomorrow. Let them at least lie together.” This was because the dead were all thrown into a single grave. You know, there was such misery that it is impossible to describe…
There was one family in the village where everyone had died except for one son, Matviy. The leaders of the kolkhoz built a small wooden shed in the farmyard. They used it to store the potatoes and they locked Matviy in there too. He lived and slept in that shed and was tasked to cook the potatoes for the horses, so that the horses had something to eat and could work in the fields. Then they would take the potatoes. They smelled so good!
The children crowded around the shed and begged – like bees around a hive. Matviy couldn’t do anything, because he was locked in. They only unlocked the door to take away the cooked potato, deliver fresh potatoes and then locked the door again. However, there were a few small holes and gaps in the wood that we would peep through and sometimes Matviy would push some potato through these holes for us children. That was about all he could do.
Harvest time was a real tragedy. Many ears of wheat lay in the fields. We would go along the paths and hide in bushes. When we saw that there was nobody around, we collected the wheat into our aprons and ran home quickly because every field had two guards with sticks on horseback. If they caught anyone in the field, they would beat them…
Our village was large. It had a school with a large orchard containing apple and pear trees. However, nobody was allowed to pick any of the fruit. It was removed and given to someone else.
I remember that on one occasion my mother gave me some sort of pastry to eat during school break time. However, I was afraid that if other pupils saw me eating it, they would report me to the teacher and that she would then tell her superior… So I told my mother that I couldn’t eat it – I had asked to be excused to go to the toilet and threw the pastry into the hole fearing that otherwise, my mother would be arrested and tried. They would have taken my mother away and then put the children into an orphanage. So even the children were scared of each other.
My mother would stand the four of us in a line each morning and would then take out a small religious picture. I do not know where she normally concealed it. We would repeat the “Our Father”. My mother told us all; “For the fear of God never tell anyone at school that your mother has taught you this...”
I remember when I went with my aunt Olha (my mother’s sister) to another village tosee if we could find anything to eat or to trade something in. When the train stopped at the station, there were children lying all around close to the tracks begging for food. However, those on the trains had nothing themselves to throw out to them through the windows.
There was a good, bumper harvest in 1932-33, but when the grain had been collected and placed in the grain store, they said that the government needed help. They then loaded cart after cart with sacks of grain, attached a red flag, and moved off to Novohrad to deliver up everything to the government. So the [good] harvest didn’t help anyone because practically everything was being sent somewhere else to someone else.
Meanwhile, the people suffered from hunger. It was an impossible time, but as you can see, God is good and we somehow managed to survive.
The communist authorities were so terrible. They simply wanted to break the Ukrainian people so that they stopped believing in God and believed only in Stalin. Such a government…! May God prevent the same kind of atrocity from ever happening again in any country… because it was horrific… They spoke so nicely at the meetings – about how everything would be better and that it would be paradise. However, the reality was very different. Famine scythed down everyone who lived on Ukrainian land – including Poles, Germans, Russians...
23.09.1923. - 15.02.2013.
Born Pyshenky village, Opishlyan district, Poltava region.
Settled in Keighley.
Interviewed by Orysia Chymera and Bohdan Lanovyj in 2008.
My name is Mychaylo Hryhorovych Pyshnenko. I was born on 23 September 1923 in the village of Pyshenky in what was the Opylanskyi district of the Poltava region.
My father was thrown out of the kolkhoz in 1931. A member of the commissariat then arrived at our house during the night and said: “Hrytsko, you have to escape because they’re going to arrest you tomorrow and throw you out of your home”.
My parents immediately then hid a few items and my father quickly fled into the night. They [the brigade] came to the house the next morning. “Where is Hrytsko?”, they asked. My mother replied that he’d gone to Poltava. They then said that they would make an inventory of everything in the house and that she and the family would have to leave the house altogether. My mother responded: “Where to? It is winter. There are four children. Where will I go?”
They took my mother and threw her and us children out of the house. I was only eight years old in 1931 and my youngest sister had only just been born. They sealed the house and told my mother that she did not have the right to live anywhere.
Fortunately, an elderly neighbour, living on her own, took us into her house. They mocked her for this, but she retorted that we were human beings and that she would not turn us away.
So my father had escaped and found work at the Dnipro Hydroelectric Station where a dam was being constructed for the power station on the Dnipro river.
We lived with the elderly lady, Mariyana, thanks to the good will and help of people, neighbours.
By 1933, we had reached a point where there was nothing left and nobody could help us anymore because there was nobody left.
My brother Mykola was the first to die. He was only three years old. Then my one year-old sister died. This left just me and my brother, who was five years younger than me.
We survived by searching through gardens and weed beds. We ate weeds and raided birds nests, taking their eggs and even eating their young – that is how my brother and I survived.
My mother was swollen by this time, but later when things began to improve and people had more, they helped us. My father returned from the power station and that eased things a little.
There was also my uncle Luka. In 1933 his wife Evdokhia died and Luka died on the following day. As for their children, my cousins, one went to work in the Sovkhoz and the other stayed at home.
Luka and Evdokhia’s son, who was born in 1928 and was just five years old, was taken by my cousin to the village council so that he could be taken into care. She completed the paperwork, left him there and went home. Several weeks later this boy was found drowned in a bath – that communist-activist had drowned him. Instead of taking care of him, he drowned him. So my mother and cousin buried him and now there are five gravestones: my uncle Luka, aunt Evdokhia, my brother Mykola, sister Natalka and little Ivanko.
Our house was sold and we had no rights to it at all. Later, when my father returned in 1934, he bought a house on the farmstead for 50 karbovantsi. There was then me and my brother Oleksiy together with my mother and father. In 1937 another sister, S’anya, was born. However, in 1938 my father was taken away. We did not know where to and only discovered more recently that my father had been shot [executed] in May 1938.
Our village suffered greatly. It consisted of some 300 homes and several smallholdings. 146 people had died but what can one do about it now? Such was our fate. In a neighbouring village, some 10 kilometres away, 700 people died out of the 1000 dwellings there.
That’s what I remember. I lived through too much.
Born 6 September 1925.
Petrovske village, Kharkiv region.
Settled in Farsley (nr Bradford).
Interviewed by Orysia Chymera and Bohdan Lanovyj in 2008.
I lived in my parents’ house in Ukraine during 1932-33. We had a smallholding, were dekulakized, and they [the communists] took absolutely everything from us. All that remained were my father, my mother and the four of us girls. They cleaned us out to the last piece of grain.
We lived this way for some time, without anything, eating potatoes in their skins, potatoes that had been discarded because they were rotting…
At one point my father told my mother that he would go to the town, to Donetsk, in search of a job. We could then, perhaps, follow on and things would surely get better.
While my father was in Donetsk, my younger sister died from hunger because there was nothing to eat. Some two weeks or so later, another sister died. That left me with my mother and younger sister.
Soon afterwards, my father returned from Donetsk. He could not be registered for work there because he was a villager, had been dekulakized and he was Ukrainian. They told him that he was not needed there. When he returned home he was thin, battered and tired. We were all bloated with swollen stomachs because there was nothing to eat - no dogs, no chickens, no pigs… Nothing!
We even ate grass and fought over it when we found some because we thought that if we rubbed it between our fingers we could extract some milkwort (milkweed) which we could eat.
Eventually I was the only child left in the house and my mother said the same to my father who responded by saying that none of us would survive. The next morning my mother found him dead - he had died during the night. I didn’t know this and just wanted to climb onto my father and play – I was only a child then, I didn’t understand...
That is how we ended up, just me and my mother.
My mother sometimes left me at home by myself. There was nothing in the house to drink from or to cook with. People lay dead in the streets, flies ate their eyes out. Nobody paid any attention. Everyone only thought about one thing - where to find something to eat. People walked about swollen, stepping over corpses, but nobody did anything. There was nothing anywhere.
On one occasion I was left alone by our house. I slept in the garden for I don’t know how many nights before my mother miraculously returned home from the town. At this time the kolkhoz wheat fields were abundant with grain but (by contrast) there were also thieves about. If they caught sight of anybody carrying anything that they could feed their children with, the thieves would pounce, beat them, take whatever they had been carrying and prevent them from entering their house.
When my mother returned, I don’t know who it was, but someone said to her: “Maria, take the child, meaning me, and somehow try and get to the town. You might be accepted there. There is nothing left here. You won’t survive if you stay”.
At that time, as far as I could tell, the man transported post (or something similar) from our village to the town. He took me with him but left my mother behind. We arrived in another village, but I cannot now remember its name. I was left there to stay with a woman until my mother arrived. We remained there for some time. My mother would go and beg for bread and this kept us alive.
Then, somehow, my mother got us to Donetsk. She had a brother living there and we went to see him. However, we could not stay with him straight away. So when we arrived in Donetsk, we effectively had nowhere to live, had no job, and my mother could not register for work because she was not registered in the town. Since she had no home address, she could not get any work. We had to sleep on the streets, outside houses, and beg for bread.
Eventually, my mother did find a job. She was then able to register and we went to stay with her brother. He had a family so we had to sleep on the floor in the corner of one room. Thus began my life in Donetsk.
That is what I can tell you [about the Holodomor].
But, do you know, every child when close to death would ask for some milk or food. When my sister was dying she said to me: “Klavdia, give me some milk…”. “Mummy, please give me something to eat…”. But there was nothing to give. We walked around like skeletons. Our bodies were glowing and we looked as though we had been pumped up. That is how we were. It was terrible, truly terrible! Nobody paid any attention to anything. No attention at all.
On the streets in the villages, people, usually children, just sat there – one here, dead, one there, dead… Dogs walked by, sniffed them and even they didn’t want to eat them because they were… oh…!
It was a terrible time for me - one that I will never forget.
Born 17 September 1925.
Arbuzynkakh village, Mykolayiv region.
Settled in Halifax.
Interviewed by Orysia Chymera and Bohdan Lanovyj in 2008.
I have one document, a birth certificate, which shows my date of birth in Ukrainian and in Russian.
In 1927-28 when everyone was being dekulakized, my father lived on a farmstead in the Mykolayiv region. He had a couple of cows, a couple of horses and a few hectacres of land.
Some time later, when I was older, I found out that my father had fled home but then returned after a while to take us, his children and our mother, to live in Kyiv on the left bank of the Dnipro, opposite the centre of the city. This area was known as Mykolayivska Slobidka and it was where we lived until 1934.
It was here that I remember seeing a dead boy lying in the street. This was either in 1932 or ‘33. I remember this clearly even though I am now 83 years old this memory is lodged firmly in my head. I was walking down the street with very few people around, and there was this young boy, perhaps 7-8 years old, lying dead in the street. Nobody paid any attention. People just walked around him, passed by him. Nobody even glanced at him. I then crossed the road and there was a man lying there, uncovered, dead. Again nobody came near, not [even] the police, nor the militia. Nobody. I remember this!
I also remember where we lived across the river from Kyiv that the area was surrounded by steppes. The school that I attended was situated beyond the city by some woodlands. I will never forget the dead people. To get to the school I had to go through the deserted woodlands. There were no houses or habitation, nothing, and I was always told – be careful because they catch children there and eat them… This is what I remember of 1932-33, a time when people were eaten…
I went to school at the time of Soviet rule. At school it [the famine]was a taboo subject, nobody spoke about it.
Some English journalists were aware of it at the time but when they returned to England and tried to recount what they had seen they were told to “shut-up – there is nothing going on there”.
19/01/1923 - 01/05/2010
Born Krolevets, Sumy region.
Settled in Bradford, UK
Interviewed by Orysia Chymera and Bohdan Lanovyj in 2008.
I was born in the town of Krolevets, Sumy region, Eastern Ukraine, on 19 January 1923. My father was a priest with parishes in neighbouring villages.
In 1932, when I was 9 years old, famine began to take hold in Ukraine. It is hard for me to talk about this because we suffered greatly.
Bread disappeared as did all seasonings for soup. We were told which herbs were poisonous and which were not. We wandered through gardens and orchards looking for edible herbs. My mother would cook some borscht but this consisted of just water and herbs. We all had to eat this borscht - water and herbs. We couldn’t even get any salt. From then on our stomachs were often swollen.
People collected linden leaves. Even now, when I pass a linden tree, I pull off a leaf and eat it. This serves as a reminder that we used to eat linden leaves. They were very bitter but we ate them whenever we could.
What saved us was that there were many woods in our region. They were known as the Kochubeyski woods. When the trees were felled there, strawberries would grow in the clearing. Women from our village would gather at midnight and walk for 10 kilometres to get to these clearings. I was 10 years old at the time and my mother took me with her. We reached the clearing at dawn, just as the sun was rising, gathered the strawberries and took them home. This helped to boost our morale and to save us from starvation.
Understandably, at that time people became very ill. To minimise the level of psychological damage to us, my mother tried to protect us from seeing the terrible scenes that were everywhere around us. When my friend’s father died, I begged my mother to let me go and visit my friend, but she would not allow it. Many people were dying at that time. We children used to run to the funerals because we knew that we might be given some broth or soup afterwards.
Every day my mother examined our fingers, because when a person is hungry their body begins to swell. This swelling always begins in the fingers. My mother always checked our fingers to see if there were any signs of swelling.
Thank God, somehow we survived.
When our grain began to grow in 1932, people collected it whilst it was still green to make flour.
On one occasion my father returned from a funeral and brought back a loaf of bread which was so yellow that it was almost green.
In 1933 the situation worsened. My mother sent me to live with my grandmother, thinking that it would be better for me there. Unfortunately, it was even worse. At least where we lived there were meadows nearby where we could collect sorrel leaves. But where my grandmother lived, all of the sorrel leaves had already been collected. With no sorrel leaves, the soup was made from herbs alone. This did not taste good.
There was an apple tree in the orchard. We collected all of the small unripe apples and grated them into the soup to at least make it a little bit more appealing. But my grandmother never ate apples until harvest time and she banned us from putting any apples into her dish.
It was hard for me to understand the strong will of my grandmother. No matter how bad the famine got, she steadfastly refused to touch the apples before harvest time.
[Prior to the Holodomor] my grandfather (on my father’s side) had a good smallholding. He had a garden, some land, horses, pigs and cows. But during the Holodomor he was left with nothing. Everything had been taken away from him.
Initially, the state imposed a tax. Anyone that could not pay the tax had their possessions taken away. I remember that my mother had a cabinet which she brought to the house after she got married. They even took that cabinet.
The village council, that is to say those that ruled the village - the head of the collective farm, head of the village council, secretary of the village council - were given unlimited powers. They did whatever they wanted. They could confiscate property from ordinary village people at will. First they took taxes. If somebody could not pay these taxes they took their cows and pigs. Later they took all the food in the house. Some people tried to hide food from the authorities, burying it in the soil under the floorboards (if they had earthen floors in their homes). The authorities searched for food and grain, dug up gardens, pulled up floors... Whatever food they found, they took.
Some villagers said that the authorities kept whatever they took from the villagers for themselves, personally.
My path to school took me past the farmstead of the secretary of the kolkhoz. People used to say that he had fat running down his moustache. As a child during the famine, I imagined that he had everything, cows, pigs..., and that fat literally poured out of his mouth.
The confiscated cattle and pigs were herded into sheds in an attempt to create a kolkhoz. The cattle would bray because nobody fed or tended to them. People were forced to go and work in the kolkhoz, but nobody wanted to become a member of the collective, because this would have meant that one would have been left with nothing in return for becoming a member.
One man described how he had travelled to Belarus because there was no famine there and that food was still available. He earned some money, travelled to Belarus and brought back some salo (salt-meat) and loaves of bread. However, the Komsomol activists – young people preparing to join the communist party - peering through a window, saw that he had returned with some food. They immediately went to his house to confiscate it. Fortunately, his mother managed to throw the salt-meat into the slop-bucket. She threw it into the dirty water to save it knowing that the activists would not search there. This man’s father then sent his son to Belarus again. However, on this occasion, his return was delayed as he sought to find some salt. By the time he had returned home, both his mother and father had died and were already buried.
The Ukrainian nation suffered great hardship. The famine was horrific. Thank God we somehow survived.
What was hardest to comprehend was that the famine was man-made and that our own people took the food from ordinary citizens. They [the communists] also sent people in from Moscow, who ransacked villages, robbed people and confiscated their last items. How many innocent people were lost...
I had a friend called Halya. When I looked at her, her eyes were like cherries. Lovely brown eyes. Her father had a small house and kept tools for his smallholding. One day they were arrested (they came to our school to fetch Halya) and exiled them to Siberia. They were dekulakized, as were many other good landowners.
In our village there was a family with the surname of Drotiv. They were ginger-haired with lots of children. My mother often gave them things because they were very poor. They took this Drotiv family and re-settled them into the empty house of a good landowner. Before my very own eyes this house [deteriorated and] became dirty, the land unkempt, because they did not know how to look after it or how to tend to the land. Several years later, just before the war perhaps, the good landowner returned home. He wandered around the village and then disappeared again. Nobody knew what became of him.
The good landowners were destroyed and the village holdings suffered for a long time after this. Those that worked on the kolkhoz had no initiative. They did not have the level of knowledge that the dekulakized villagers had... They did not know how to work the land. They were told to do a day’s work and that is what they did - and then they went home. They were incapable of working the land properly. That is how the better people in the village were ruined.
When I returned home from my grandmother’s house, I remember our home being quite dark. My mother gave me a biscuit but it was not very nice. I took it, started to bite into it and then broke down and started to cry. My mother said to me: “What else can I give you? There is nothing else in the house”.
In 1934 we left to go and live in the nearby town. There [at least] they gave out small portions of bread.
One of my friends recalled that when the famine began she was with her mother while her father had gone to the Donbas region in search of work. She and her mother went to Kyiv. They didn’t know anybody there and had nowhere to live. They went to the cemetery and slept amid the gravestones. During the day, the mother left the girl to lie amongst the graves or to play in the cemetery itself while she went in search of work or money to buy some bread with. Then on one such day, somebody approached the girl and tried to persuade her that all she had to do was to say that she had no mother or father and she would be taken to a Children’s Home. The girl refused to say this and then told her mother about what had happened. On hearing the story, her mother took the girl to the river Dnipro and said: “if you leave me, I will throw myself into the river and drown”. However, the girl had become so hungry that when she was next approached, she succumbed and said that she did not have a mother or a father... She was then immediately taken to an orphanage where she remained until the start of the war.
Subsequently, however, she somehow managed to escape the orphanage and went in search of her village and parents. When she reached her old family home (her family had been dekulakized) and asked for some water, her mother gave her the drink and said: ”Our own daughter has disappeared somewhere. I do not know where she is”. The girl replied: ”Mama, it is me – I am your daughter…”.
I have heard many sorrowful tales of what happened to people during the Holodomor. It was a terrible time. I just thank God that I survived.
23/06/1926 - 04/12/2020
Born Serhiyivka village, Donetsk region
Settled in Nottingham, UK
Interviewed by Nick Higham, BBC, in 2009
Maria Volkova. How old are you?
Eighty three years old. I was born on 23 June 1926.
Q. Maria, tell me how old you were and where you lived when the Holodomor began?
I was six years old. I lived in the village of Serhiyivka, Krasnoarmiysk district, Donetsk region. I was born in this village.
Q. Can you describe to me how the Holodomor began, when you began to realize that there was a lack of food.
You know, our childhood ... I obviously do not remember anything from when I was a one year-old, but by the time we reached the age of 3-4, we understood everything. We knew that we had nothing to eat. We played in the street and would come running home: “Mama, we want something to eat!” And my mother would reply: “Go and eat the cherry tree leaves.”
Q. So, this was when you were pretty young and the famine grew really bad in 1932-33. Can you describe some of the scenes in your village in ‘32 and ‘33?
This is how it looked in our village. We saw how people walked... elderly people, young people, children, all carrying bags, moving from yard to yard, begging. For some reason I said to my mother: “Mama, the children have come again”, and I cried as I said it. And my mother replied: “There is nothing for me to give to the children. You yourselves are also hungry.”
We really were absolutely hungry. And my father, who was still with us at that time in 1930, saw that my mother had emptied everything from her wardrobe (chest) in exchange for food. She traded all of her clothes for bread, wheat, or some type of cereal.
There were some people who had things [stored] somewhere, but nobody knew where. My mother had a suit and one woman said to her: “I will swap you a glass of wheat for this suit” and with tears in her eyes, my mother gave away/swapped the suit for the glass of wheat.
Q. Did people fall ill as a result of this?
They were all so ill that their stomachs were swollen. Their hands and feet looked as though they had been pumped up with water - so full of water. However, I also want to add that when the last remaining garment had been removed from the wardrobe, my parents asked themselves what they should do next. “You have a bicycle, sell the bike...”, my mother said to my father. At that time, a cousin whose name I remember very well, Ilko Sukhnov, had said that there were people selling wheat. So my father sold the bicycle, bought a bucket of wheat and brought it home that same morning. That night, however, KGB or NKVD officers came to our house, confiscated the wheat and took my father away. They initially sent him to a prison in Artemivsk, some 90 kilometres from our village, as an enemy of the people. From there he was then sent to Moscow to work [as a slave-labourer] on the construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal. He never returned from there and we were left without a father.
I remember how we woke up that next morning with the sun brightly shining in the street and my mother standing there, crying. We asked her what the matter was and she replied: “your father isn’t here – they have taken him away”. Each day they [the communists] spread this rumour... There were individuals who would walk around saying that grain could be bought. And that same night they would come and arrest those who had been sucked into the trap. It was all prepared and specifically aimed at removing good people, labelling them as enemies of the people, taking them away to work on that five-year plan adopted in 1929. ...And we were left without a father.
That grain that they took – they re-sold it. It was a deliberate ploy... They re-sold it several times to take people away to carry out unpaid work. They needed this type of labour force.
Q. When there was no grain left, you could find no grain, what did you do for food?
We had nothing in the garden. People didn’t have the strength to plant anything. So nothing grew that year - 1931. We went in search of weeds. Nobody saw us and, by this time, they no longer followed us. I remember how we would get the roots from weeds... they were all bitter. We were told that the weeds might be poisonous.
On one occasion I found some root. I didn’t know what it was, we didn’t look at the leaves ... whatever it was it looked like a root. I ate it and the area around my mouth and hands turned brown. Later I needed to be scrubbed clean but I realised that this root was good for me. I somehow began to feel stronger. We then always looked out for this – and soon all children looked for it. I subsequently discovered that it was burdock. Then in the summer we also looked for bittersweet, which literally is bitter and sweet. We were told that this too was poisonous. It grew on heaps of rubbish – a tall trunk with branches that had lots of small berries, similar to blackcurrants, but with green water and tiny seeds inside. There was nothing more to it other than this green water, but it was sweet and we searched for it and ate it day and night. We even picked a bucketful of this bittersweet and dried it for the winter. And we proved that it was not poisonous!
In 1932, there were 28 children in my class at school. By the following spring there were only 12 of us left. It was only then that they (the authorities) thought that something needed to be done.
Q. Many people must have died. What happened to them, to their families?
They died as families. In some cases fathers were taken away and their wives and children were condemned to searching for weeds. My grandmother cried all of the time, upset that we were spending all of our time among the weeds. But other children died [from sheer hunger] doing this.
Someone said that they were selling grain dust at the mills. This dust was produced during the grinding process – and it was, perhaps, mixed with some earth… I do not know... But people took this grain dust and mixed it [to eat]…
In 1932, pumpkins planted in the spring grew and my grandmother fed them to us. We ate a piece of the pumpkin but without anything else - there was no bread - we developed serious stomach problems. We were very ill! Standing in line at school, feeling faint and needing to run to the toilet.... Diarrhoea! Incessant diarrhoea! I said that I wouldn’t eat it any more. Then at lunchtime we came home from school to find that my grandmother had taken the pieces of the pumpkin that we hadn’t eaten, mashed it up and told us that it was porridge. And there was nothing to add into it - no kind of groats or the like. We stopped eating those pumpkins. Then my grandmother obtained some “flour” from the place where they ground the grain. It was actually the grain dust. She took the pumpkin, added the roots of some type of herb to it and then mixed it with the grain dust to make so-called hal’ety. There may have even been some earth in there. We ate that hal’ette during the day.
One further thing. My mother made an occasion of my sixth birthday by inviting children to our house. I remember well that all of the swollen children came and I also remember that my mother picked some little yellow pumpkin flowers and put them into the soup along with something else. The children ate this pumpkin-flower soup and said: “God, what a good egg-soup this is!”. Some time later, in 1935-36, they recalled that soup “with the eggs”. So I asked my mother where she had got those eggs from. She then admitted that they were pumpkin flowers (and not eggs). Even when we met up in later years as adults, those children continued to recall how my mother had saved them. They still couldn’t believe that there were no eggs in that soup.
Q. Can you remember when it started to get better and how did it change?
I will tell you how it was at school in 1933. Children had become so weak by then that they were unable to stand in a line. They would collapse and excrete blood as a consequence of eating all sorts of weeds. The teachers then sent a statement to the village council saying that something needed to be done with the children.
Close to the school there was a grassy area where people used to bring their cattle to graze. They then ploughed this area and planted some millet seeds. And this millet grew. We went there to tend to it to make sure that it grew. At school we received a plate of soup. I do not remember eating anything at home at that time. This was in the winter and spring of 1933. The soup was cooked in the school every day. On account of being fed at school, we were forced to do work outside of the school. We walked into the waterlogged fields where the snow was still thawing, each with a bucket to scoop out the excess water. We dragged this water to the countless burrows and poured the water into them to flush out the gophers. These are grain-eating agricultural pests. As the grain grew, they would eat it.
I didn’t have the nerve to try and catch them so we called on the boys to catch them as they came out of their holes. The boys would then eat these gophers. They also caught hedgehogs and ate them too. When the beets had been sown in the kolkhoz, we went to collect weevils, a type of beetle, which destroyed the beets by eating the leaves. There were so many of them that we all carried a small bucket or jar and were tasked to collect a kilogram each. We would put these beetles into our buckets and they would start crawling out. We then shoved them back in again... Once done we would empty the bucket out in the field and burn them. There were heaps of these burned beetles in that field. In payment we received 125 grams of bread per kilo of beetles. This was in the summer of 1933.
In the autumn, the law on grain was introduced. Ten years imprisonment [for gleaning ears of grain]. However, the schoolchildren prepared themselves and agreed to collect sunflower seeds and not ears of grain. We wandered through the field, everyone with their own bag which we filled with the sunflower seeds. Suddenly a guard on horseback caught us and forced us to empty our bags out. We did this and left...
Q. Your father was arrested and I think you never saw him again. What happened to the rest of your family, your brothers and sisters, your aunts and uncles, your grandmother?
I had two sisters and my mother. We did not see our mother very often then. She would go somewhere [for long spells] to stand in bread queues. There was no bread in the village, but in the cities, where there were workers, it was possible to get one eighth of a bread. She would stand in the queue all night and in return she could have received one eighth of a bread, or perhaps nothing at all. She spent a week there, gathering eighths of bread and then carrying them home. This was in the winter of 1932.
My father was no longer at home - they had already taken him away. On one occasion there was a big freeze and she had to walk 25 kilometres to get home. A man on a sleigh passed by her and pulled up his horses. He asked her whether she would like a lift? My mother replied that she would. The frost was so severe that she was not sure whether she would make it home before dark. As soon as my mother put down her things into the sleigh, the man quickly set off leaving my mother standing there. She began to run after him – running and crying. He had taken everything – that bread that she had bought after a week of queuing. He rode on and on and eventually turned, came back and pulled to a stop. My mother ran up to him, fell on the sleigh and cried… “I stood for a week [to buy this] and you did that to me…! You want to take this from me?” He replied: “No. I did not want to take it from you. Had you sat down straight away onto the sleigh, you would have never got up again because of the freezing temperature. But you have now got your blood circulation going and will therefore live.
Q. Some people say that this famine was deliberately brought about, deliberately engineered by Stalin. Looking back now, what do you think
The Holodomor did not begin in 1930. It began in the 1920s when everything started to be taken away from people. This was the overture to the Holodomor. They were preparing for it and then, in 1929, when they released the first five-year plan. At its core was the industrialisation of the country. However, to achieve the plan they needed finances and human manpower. Where could they get this from? Only from the village! Label people as kulaks, take everything from them, evict them from their homes, take the men away to work and leave the women and children to their own fate. The houses that had been emptied after the people had died during the Holodomor were then re-populated with Russians from Russia. Why are there so many Russians living in Ukraine [today]? Because they moved in then. This was a deliberate policy. They wanted to destroy the [Ukrainian] nation because it was always striving for freedom. And they did not need this. They needed slaves.
At that time the following anecdote circulated around our village about the first five-year plan: Five years worth of sowing seeds were delivered to a village. People couldn’t understand it. They were accustomed to sow every spring and then reap the harvest in the autumn. Yet here was a five-year sowing plan. They decided that only Stalin could answer their question so they decided to send some village representatives to meet with Stalin. The representatives arrived in Moscow but began to worry that they might be labelled ‘enemies of the people’ and taken away. They were afraid that they might never return home. However, Stalin took them in and one of the representatives asked Stalin to clarify how to sow five year’s worth of seeds when the village only had enough land to cope with one year’s worth of sowing. Stalin led them to his window and said: “Look at Red Square. There is only one car to be seen. You see, this is the beginning of the five-year plan. By the end of the five-year plan, cars will be swimming through like a river. Do you understand?” They understood. “And you will have a car [at the end of the five year plan]”, he added. The representatives thought that this could be a good thing and with that, they returned to their village. The people were eagerly awaiting to hear about the meeting and so, like Stalin, the representative walked over to the window just as a coffin was being driven past. The representatives then said: “Do you see that? This is the beginning of the five-year plan – they are carrying a deceased. By the end of the five-year plan the number of corpses will be flowing through here like a river”.
This was 1933 and the numbers of deceased people was by this time flowing…
My mother shared the bread that she had brought back with her after the incident with the sleigh. I did not eat it but kept it for my father. I did not know whether or not he was alive. In the spring of 1933, people collected money and we travelled to Moscow to try and find my father. We stayed with friends on Krasnaya Presnya. I brought an apple with me. There were no trees, all the trees had been cut down. There were no apples, nothing! Yet I had brought an apple for my father. I thought that I would see him and be able to give him the dry piece of bread that I had saved for him. We were promised that they would find out whether he was alive. We did not know anything about him, but we knew that the Moscow-Volga canal was being built.
The friend took us there to the construction site. I looked. The fence was very high to prevent the prisoners from escaping. There was a guard. And there I was, barefooted. We had nothing. It was summer. I moved closer, noticed a dug-over piece of land leading to the site and raced past the guard as he screamed: “Where are you going? Where are you going…?”
I had been told that there was a construction site where all enemies of the people worked. I ran towards it. It was a massive building site. People were so tiny that they looked no bigger than a finger. This showed how deep the canal would be. All of the workers were carrying baskets of cement on their backs and were scaling the ladders. I looked and looked, but I didn’t recognise anyone. I did not see my father. How could I have done when there were thousands of them, like ants, dragging cement on their backs. These were the labour resources. This is what I saw in the summer of 1933...
25/07/1925 - 09/05/2018
Born Tsybuleva Stantsia, nr Mykhailivka village, Kirovograd region. Settled in Bramley (nr. Leeds).
Interviewed by Orysia Chymera and Bohdan Lanovyj in 2008.
I was born on 25 July 1925 at Tsybuleva Stantsia, near Mykhailivka village, Kirovograd region, and attended school in Mykhailivka.
I was about 7-8 years old when the famine took hold but I also still recall the period leading up to it - when they started to close down churches.
We were children then and only later learned who had caused the famine and why.
My father was a tailor by profession but during harvest time (before dekulakization) he would stop his own work to help local farmers with the threshing. He had his own flail and a tractor-runner. He was also trained to operate a steam engine.
That was how we lived. We didn’t have any land, only a garden. Life then was normal and good.
Later, because my father did not have a lot of cattle - we only had one cow, a few chickens, geese and the like – they confiscated his flail and the tractor-runner for the kolkhoz and wanted him to join the collective.
They didn’t send him to Siberia because we didn’t have any cattle to speak of. However he refused to join the kolkhoz arguing that he was specialised as a machinist and would find employment elsewhere. He found a job at the local sawmill.
Then the famine began. Firstly they took our cow, a piglet… and then they took everything… all of our stored grain... They even took the salt that was stored high up on a shelf in a large pottery jar.
The people that took everything from us were members of the Komsomol (Communist Youth). They were very young and tended to come from a class of people that didn’t want to work.
When the Soviets came to power they took control of the villages. They went from house to house, in a drunken state, beat people, searched the houses to try and find who had hidden what and where, and they forced people to go and work on the collective farm.
They took everything, and if there was anything left over that they couldn’t take, they poured petrol over it to destroy it. They did everything that they could to ensure that the people had nothing to eat. And when they had taken everything from us, everything that we could possibly eat, the famine began.
My grandmother on my father’s side had some gold - earrings, rings, little crucifixes on chains and suchlike, some nice pottery and tablecloths. Initially she started to take them to the marketplace to trade them in. Later she took them to the “Torgsins” – shops where people could trade in their gold for a bowl of wheat or corn. The “Torgsins” took the valuables practically for nothing. Yet people, compelled by their hunger, continued to bring in all of their valuables.
It got to the point that there was absolutely nothing left in our house. It was empty. The walls were bare. My mother had even removed the rushnyk and sold it for a piece of bread or some grain.
At that time there were five of us children. The youngest two died quickly: the smallest died shortly after birth followed by my brother, who was about 3-4 years old. He had nothing to eat and kept asking for milk. My mother told me to give him water.
As for us, she placed a small bowl of salt on the table, told us to wet our fingers, dip them into the salt and then suck on them. That is how it was…!
On one occasion my grandmother on my father’s side brought us 2-3 ears of corn with the corn kernels still attached. My mother took this corn, cleaned it and placed it into some sort of a bowl, blessed it with holy water and distributed a handful of the corn kernels to each of us. That was what we ate on Easter Sunday.
My parents often cried, but we were all small - I was small – and could not understand why they were crying.
In time it turned out that I had become quite swollen. Since my father had been a tailor, we had a mirror in the house and I remember looking into it wondering why I looked that way. I went outside into the sunshine. There was a bank of earth up against our house but things had got so bad that I couldn’t even climb up onto that bank.
My father fully understood the dire circumstances that we were in but he did not know what he could possibly do.
Our neighbours, who were almost all grown-ups, with the poor two youngest school children being aged about 14-15 years old. All five of them in that neighbouring house died from hunger. It was terrible. They [the brigades] had also taken everything from them. They wanted to force them to work in the kolkhoz…
But what did people receive for working in the kolkhoz? I will tell you. My mother worked in the kolkhoz while my father was still working in the sawmill. They said, “go work there… they have made some soup or dumplings”. So she went, brought back the soup, but it was just water, no dumplings. There was nothing – just water.
And so it came to pass that people began to die on the streets on a massive, massive scale. Some man would be going somewhere and would then just die in the street. Someone else would move his body over so that the corpse didn’t get in the way or get run over. A cart would come by and collect the dead.
There was one girl, my age, who lived close to us and who I played with. At one point I just didn’t see her again… and her mother and father died too.
Another one of our neighbours, a Ukrainian, whose husband was taken away to Siberia, had a daughter. Well, she ate that daughter. Obviously the daughter wasn’t alive by then but nevertheless the woman was prosecuted. She had eaten her daughter after her death. Everything that took place then was truly horrific.
They took away all grain from everyone. They would come and ‘pick’, as we would say, in the cellar, always searching, breaking down fireplaces, digging up floors, pulling up wooden floorboards where there were floorboards, probing with metal poles, searching to find anything that might have been hidden. And if they did find anything hidden, it was straight to Siberia [for the homeowner].
My aunt lived two doors down from us. Her husband was a doctor. They had two sons and lived well because of his profession. However, because he was Ukrainian and supported Ukrainian causes, they sent him to Siberia and threw my aunt and her sons out of the house. It was taken over by the NKVD – otherwise [more latterly] known as the KGB.
They saw everything that happened in the villages, but they didn’t care. The KGB woman herself went around forcing people to work in the kolkhoz where [she said] they would find a good and prosperous life.
Many people travelled out of the villages trying to get to a major town in the Donbas region. Some died on the way while others died in the Donbas where they had to register [for food]. To register, they were asked where they lived? Where do I live? On the street. Well, if you live on the street, you cannot register. And so they just died there. A terrible, terrible scenario evolved.
As for the church, I even remember when we still blessed the paska. Our church was still open at the time. Drunken Komsomol youth, agitators, who forced people to work in the kolkhozes, drove their cart around the church singing songs. If you like, I’ll even repeat the words of one of those songs because I can still remember it:
Pioneers: do you believe in God?
Where is your church?
And the others sang:
This is where our church is:
Pioneers do not believe in God.
And where is your Christmas?
The snow has swept away our Christmas,
That’s where our Christmas is.
Those are the kind of songs they sang - against God, against the Church.
People were afraid and nobody challenged them because the consequences were dreadful – they would beat or even kill.
Then an “intelligent one” from their midst climbed up onto the roof of the church, dislodged the cross and threw it down to the ground. They closed the church and sent the parish priest and the church warden to Siberia. After that, nobody heard anything more of them and they never returned.
They closed the church… Lord knows what happened to everything… They smashed everything up, destroyed it.
At the outset of the famine they still collected the grain from the people and stored it locally. However, there were some large hangers situated close to the railway station. So they then began to transport the grain – wheat and rye and everything else from the kolkhoz – from all surrounding villages and stored it all in these hangers. They then had to ship off somewhere into Muscovy.
This began to be called the grain factory and its manager tried to mechanise the process of transferring the stored grain directly into the railway freight carts by introducing a conveyor belt machine. However, he had no specialists to operate it and someone told him about my father who was still working at the sawmill. At the time, my father could only provide us with sawdust and nothing else, so we then ate things like white acacia, acorns, all sorts of weeds, leafy spurge and something that we called kalachyky, which grew close to the ground and produced tiny berries… We ate anything that we could lay our hands on.
People had eaten up all of the cats, dogs and caught birds. My older brother caught birds using a small trap that he had made, removed the feathers and we boiled and ate the bird. Then there were no more dogs, cats or birds left to eat. Meanwhile, they loaded the grain onto those wagons...
The manager of the [so called] grain factory approached my father and asked whether he understood the workings of machinery. In the first instance the machine needed to be repaired and he asked my father whether he would be able to repair it. My father agreed to take a look, went, and repaired the machine. In return the manager gave him a pood of flour and three litres of oil.
This was like pure gold because it could not be bought anywhere at any price. My father could not carry it all so he took my brother, his eldest son, and they brought everything back to the house. Well, it was paradise then in our household. This gift, the pood of flour and those three litres of oil, saved us from hunger. And not only us, but also our elderly grandmother who had brought us those ears of corn.
Some time later the same manager of the grain factory asked my father whether he would work the machine. My father immediately agreed. He could work with the grain, grab a fistful and eat it while working.
Then they began to transport all of that grain somewhere into Russia – mainly to Moscow, while our people were dying [from starvation].
I would like to come back to the issue of the church. The person that took down that cross later committed suicide by hanging himself. Before they had emptied the church, he visited it and found some religious book there. He hung himself after reading it. They took the church apart. Only the stone steps and floor remained. Everything else was taken away [and the church demolished].
By the time the famine had begun to subside and we all started to revive, my mother had left the kolkhoz and went to work in the Sovkhoz.
As I told you earlier, the two youngest children in our family had died and so there were three children that survived the famine. These were my two older brothers and me. I was still quite small then and I went to a kindergarten while my mother went to work.
It is true that they gave us something to eat at the school so the famine was already coming to an end. People began to revive because what had been sown in the fields in the autumn went on to grow in abundance. And so the famine passed.
As for the church, only its foundation remained. At Easter, people would still bake their little paska and bring it to the site of the church. There, an elderly man would bless these Easter breads.
And that is how we survived the famine. Had our father not been a mechanic, we would have all died. But the memories of everything, as I recall them now, are horrific – something that I didn’t fully understand at the time when I was just 7-8 years old.