"The Political Famine of 1932-1933"
So it is impossible to say with certainty how many of the persons executed, exiled, or imprisoned as a result of these trials were actually working for an independent Ukraine and how many were merely sacrificed to suspicion. It may, however, be affirmed with reasonable certainty that far more Ukrainians suffered for political reasons under the Soviet rule than under the Tsarist regime.
"This is especially true if one counts among the victims of Soviet rule the large number of relatively well-to-do peasants who were 'liquidated,' that is dispossessed of their property and banished to forced labor as kulaks and the larger number of people of all classes, mostly peasants, who perished in the political famine of 1932-33. This famine may fairly be called political because it was not the result of any overwhelming natural catastrophe or of such a complete exhaustion of the country's resources in foreign or civil war as preceded and helped to cause the famine of 1921-22.
"Partly because of the discontent with the new system of collective farming and the lack of manufactured goods, partly because the government had returned to methods of war communism, demanding arbitrarily all the peasants' surplus grain, without defining clearly what was supposed to constitute 'surplus,' the peasants in Ukraine had slowed down their productive effort. Climatic conditions were also unfavorable, both in 1931 and in 1932.
"The situation that had developed by the autumn of 1932 might be briefly summarized as follows. Despite the meager harvest, the peasants could have pulled together without starvation if there had been a substantial abatement of the requisitions of grain and other foodstuffs. But the requisitions were intensified, rather than relaxed; the Government was determined to 'teach the peasants a lesson' by the grim method of starvation, to force them to work hard in the collective farm.
"Early in 1933 the Ukraine was declared 'out of bounds' for foreign correspondents, so that there could be no widely circulated accounts of the great human tragedy that was taking place there. Moscow was flooded with rumors of widespread starvation, of carts going about the streets of Poltava and other towns, picking up the dead. In the autumn of 1933, when the ban on travel in the Ukraine by foreign journalist was lifted, I went with my wife, who was herself born in Ukraine, to learn at first hand what had happened in the Ukraine. We visited two widely separated regions, one in the neighborhood of Poltava, on the left bank of the Dnieper, the other near the town of Bila Tserkva, on the right bank. We also made systematic inquiries at railway stations as we traveled across the country.
"No one, I am sure, could have made such a trip with an honest desire to learn the truth and escaped the conclusion that the Ukrainian countryside had experienced a gigantic tragedy. What had happened was not hardship, or privation, or distress or food shortage, to mention the deceptively euphemistic words that were allowed to pass the Soviet censorship, but stark, outright famine, with its victims counted in millions. No one will probably ever know the exact toll of death, because the Soviet Government preserved the strictest secrecy about the whole question, officially denied that there was any famine, and rebuffed all attempts to organize relief abroad.
"But every village I visited reported a death rate of not less than ten per cent. This was not an irresponsible individual estimate, but the figure given out by the local Soviets. For, while it was easy to tell credulous tourists in Moscow that there has been no famine, it was impossible for local officials to make any such assertion when every peasant with whom we talked was mentioning friends and relatives who had perished, either from outright hunger or from typhus, influenza and other diseases that always ravage a famine-weakened population.
"I retain an unforgettable impression of a village called Cherkassy, which is seven or eight miles south of the town of Bila Tserkva. One the road to this village an ikon showing the face of Christ had been removed, as part of the official anti-religious policy of that time. But the crown of thorns, with unconscious symbolism, had been permitted to remain.
"Walking through the dusty streets of the village one was impressed by the sense of death and desertion. House after house seemed to be abandoned, with window panes fallen in and corn growing mixed with weeds in gardens which had been abandoned by their owners. The young secretary of the village Soviet, whose name was Fischenko, reported that 634 out of the 2,074 inhabitants of the village had died. There had been one marriage in the village during the last year. Six children had been born, of whom one had survived. 'It's better not to have children than to have them die of hunger,' said a woman with whom I talked in the office of the Soviet.
'No,' argued the boy, 'if not children are born who can till the land?'
Another boy on one of the village streets called the death roll of his friends and acquaintances:
'There was Anton Samchenko, who died with his wife and sister; three children were left. In Nikita Samchenko's family the father and Mykola and two other children died; five children were left. Then Grigory Samchenko died with his son Petro: a wife and daughter are left. Gerasim Samchenko died with his four children; only the wife is still alive. And Sidor Odnorog died with his wife and two daughters; one girl is left. Gura Odnorog died with his wife and three children; one girl is still alive.'
"This kind of grim, stark chronicle could have been compiled in almost any village in the Ukraine in that terrible winter and spring of 1932-33. In the village of Zhuke, not far from Poltava, I went into a peasant house at random and found a listless looking girl, fourteen years old. Her father was in the fields; her mother and four brothers had perished during the famine. A woman in Poltava declared that 'no war ever took from us so many people.'
"This was certainly no exaggeration. If one should take ten per cent mortality figure as normal (and from what I learned on the trip I think this would be a conservative estimate) the number of deaths in the Ukraine must have been over three million. While no official statistics about this tragedy have been published there are two points of circumstantial evidence showing how the population growth of the Ukraine was retarded. The proportion of the Ukrainian population in the Soviet population, according to the census of 1939, was 17.5 per cent. It has been 20 per cent during the twenties. The absolute figure of the Ukrainian population reported in 1939 was 30,960,221, indicating a decline during the preceding decade.
"There has perhaps been no disaster of comparable magnitude that received so little international attention. The Soviet method of stifling direct reporting of the famine by refusing permission to correspondents to visit the stricken regions until a new crop had been harvested and the outward signs of the mass mortality had been largely eliminated proved very effective. Officially Moscow officialdom continued to deny brazenly that there had been any starvation. Few correspondents were inclined to risk difficulties with the censorship by sending the story of events which had occurred some months in the past.
"The Ukrainians abroad, to be sure, learned through indirect channels of what had happened to their homeland and made unavailable attempts to organize relief and to bring the inhuman government policy that led up to the famine to the attention of public opinion. The Ukrainians across the border in Poland naturally received the fullest information and any enthusiasm that had existed among them for communism was considerably cooled.
"Agricultural conditions gradually improved in the Ukraine, as in other parts of the Soviet Union, after the crowning tragedy of forced collectivization, the peasants gave up the struggle for individual landholdings. It is noteworthy that the death rate was much higher among the individual peasants than among the members of the collective farms during the famine. This is because the former were subjected to more ruthless requisitions and did not get the benefit of the tardy and inadequate relief measures which were organized for the collective farms.
"..........Official Soviet population figures tell a grim and unmistakable story of the sufferings of the Ukraine under Soviet rule. About 30,000,000 people lived in the territory of Soviet Ukraine, within its pre-1939 frontiers, in 1917. The Soviet census of January 1, 1933, reported a population of 31,901,000 for the Ukraine. And the latest Soviet census, of 1939, gives 30,960,221 as the population of the Ukraine. So it appears that, for a period of over twenty years, there was a negligible increase of population, while during the thirties there was an actual decrease. There could be no more eloquent proof of the human losses inflicted by civil war, two great famines (in 1921-22 and 1932-33), and the mass deportations of so-called kulaks. Under normal conditions there would have been an increase of at least thirty per cent in a prolific peasant country, like the Ukraine, during a period of twenty-two years. The population should have been about 40,000,000, not about 31,000,000, as recorded in the last Soviet census. This would suggest that the abnormal losses of the Ukraine through death and deportation (over and a above the normal death rate) must have been little short of ten million."
"The Ukraine..A Submerged Nation"
William Henry Chamberlin
The Macmillan Company
New York, 1944
Pages 59-61, 73
William Henry Chamberlin was foreign correspondent for the "Christian
Science Monitor" for nearly twenty years. In 1922 he went to Russia as
correspondent and stayed there for 12 years. His wife was born in Ukraine.