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'The crimes committed against Ukraine were forgotten by the rest of the world. But Ukraine did not forget.'
The Ukrainian word 'Holodomor,' which means 'hunger death,' is not as well recognized in the West as the word 'Holocaust,' but it should be. In 1933, a decade before the Nazis began methodically murdering six million European Jews, Stalin's Soviet leadership deliberately starved four million men, women, and children in Ukraine.
This epic atrocity has completely vanished from public awareness, except among historians and the Ukrainian diaspora, thanks in part to the second disaster that engulfed Ukraine in 1941-45 with its invasion and annexation by Hitler's army. Both Stalin's administration and its western apologists were successful in covering up and concealing this heinous tragedy from the rest of the world. Two bold British journalists stood out: Gareth Jones of the Times and Malcolm Muggeridge of the Manchester Guardian.
Jones, whose life is recounted in the 2019 film 'Mr Jones,' starring James Norton as the brave Welsh-born reporter, undertook three excursions through famine-stricken Ukraine during the Holodomor. Here's what he noticed:
'I crossed the border from Russia to Ukraine.' Everywhere I went, I struck up conversations with passing peasants. They were all telling the same story: 'There is no bread.' We haven't had bread in almost two months. 'A lot of people are dying.' The first settlement had ran out of potatoes, and the buriak (beetroot) supply was running low.
'They were all saying, 'The livestock are dying.' Kormit, Nechem. There's nothing for them to eat). We used to feed the world, but now we're starving. How can we sow when there are only a few horses left? 'How will we be able to labor in the fields if we are malnourished?'
'Then I ran upon a bearded farmer who was going along.' His feet were sacking-wrapped. We began to converse. He communicated in Ukrainian Russian. I offered him a piece of bread and some cheese. 'You couldn't get that for 20 roubles anyplace.' There is simply no food...we are doomed. "We're doomed."
Jones ate a sandwich and threw away the crust while traveling by train. It was quickly grabbed and consumed by a fellow traveler. He next ate an orange and discarded the peel, which was also wolfed down. Jones and Muggeridge sacrificed dearly for their brave coverage of the hunger. Muggeridge was removed from Moscow and fired, while Jones was kidnapped and murdered, most likely by the Soviet secret police, on a later assignment in Manchuria.
Starving Ukrainians eventually resorted to cannibalism. They cooked and ate each other's offspring as well as their own. Alexander Weinberger, an Austrian engineer, photographed the corpses littering the streets of Kharkov, Ukraine's main city at the time, and smuggled them out of Russia. Two of his photographs depict a hungry man resting on the pavement, unable to walk. The same man keeled over, stone dead, moments later. Whole towns went hungry, with rats feasting on the skeletal carcasses. A train from Poltava arrived at Kiev's main station, carrying only bodies. Because people were too weak to dig graves, the dead went unburied, and illnesses added to the death toll.
Though Stalin's supporters, like as the New York Times' man in Moscow Walter Duranty, attempted to minimize or deny the magnitude of the calamity that had engulfed Ukraine, the reality eventually out. Joseph Stalin and his cronies in the Kremlin had visited a Biblical disaster on the huge country that had previously been the world's breadbasket, thanks to its deep black fertile soil. (Even today, Ukraine's wheat exports account for 12% of global supplies.) What had they done, and why had they done it?
The terrible famine in Ukraine was precipitated by Stalin's determination to forcibly collectivize the country's farms in 1931. The country's peasants had always been detested by the country's urban-based Bolshevik leaders, who considered them as a reactionary, priest-ridden impediment to the country's rapid industrialisation. Lenin himself had stated, with characteristic callousness, that "the peasant must do a bit of starvation" - and starve they did.
To feed Russia's cities, thousands of Secret Police fanned out over Ukraine's countryside, seizing hidden supplies of grain from kulaks, peasants with a few cows or a few acres of land who were suddenly labeled class enemies and sentenced to expropriation, deportation, or simply extermination. Rather than acquiesce to collectivisation, some peasants slaughtered their own animals and then killed themselves and their families.
Stalin held a personal vendetta towards Ukraine for daring to proclaim independence in 1918, during the chaos and civil conflict that ensued after the Bolshevik takeover. He was unconcerned about the condition of its people, even gloating in their misery — caused by his own decisions – and dismissed tales of the famine as 'fantasy.' Communist apparatchiks who issued minor warnings or protested the unfolding tragedy were apprehended and killed. In the aftermath of the famine, Stalin assigned his hitman – and future successor – Nikita Khrushchev the task of cleansing the Ukrainian Communist Party of dissidents. Except for one member of Ukraine's politburo, thousands of loyal Bolshevik officials were executed.
The tragedy of the Holodomor may have been swallowed up by the even larger tragedy of the Second World War and its aftermath, and the rest of the world may have forgotten about it. Ukraine, on the other hand, did not forget. Ukrainian patriots and dissidents strove repeatedly in the decades that followed Stalin's death to reassert their independence and break free from the crushing embrace of 'Mother Russia.' They finally triumphed when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.
As Russia's bombs and missiles rain down on the country and Russian tanks move across its borders, Ukrainians brace themselves for years of darkness and persecution at the hands of Stalin's modern-day disciple.