On the forth Saturday of November in Ukraine is Holodomor Memorial Day. Holodomor, which translates to death by hunger, was an act of genocide of Ukrainian people that was made by Stalin officials in 1932-1933 by organizing mass artificial famine that killed at least 4,5 million people.
In 1928-1929 people who lived in villages and had individual or family farming were obligated to unite into collective farms (“kolhosp”). One of the reasons of Holodomor was that people were against Soviet authorities and collectivization, there were a strong peasant resistance movement, many protests and armed rebellions, during which people with forks and axes casted out Soviet officials from villages. There is a Stalin’s latter that says “If we do not straighten out the situation in Ukraine, we may lose Ukraine”.
In 1932 Soviet authorities in villages confiscated all people’s grains and other food and put on guards so nobody could escape. During that time Law of Three Spikelets was created, it used to prosecute not only property thieves but also anyone who collected as little as a handful of grain or “spikelets” left behind in the fields after the entire harvest was officially collected and counted. The primary punishment for theft according to this law was execution by shooting or at least 10 years of imprisonment. While people were dying from starvation, Soviet authorities exported food abroad, refused all outside offers of assistance, also lot of wheat just rotted in kolhosp’s warehouses.
Soviet authorities adamantly denied any existence of famine. Starvation was not allowed to be recorded as a cause of death in official records. Any mention of this Famine in official documents, works of fiction or even in private diaries was banned in the Soviet Union. Thanks to people who risked their lives to record this horrible crime, the truth about Holodomor was kept, people like Oleksandra Radchenko, a school teacher, Nestor Bilous, a guardian at kolhosp, wrote what they had witnessed during Holodomor in their diaries and for that they were sent to GULAG. Only after Ukraine become independent in 1991 all this information was published.
My family story
Both my mother’s and father’s families survived Holodomor.
My family on my father’s side. My grandmother Marusia who lived in Khvoshchova village (Sumy Oblast, Trostianets Raion) survived Holodomor because her relatives managed to bring her secretly to Kharkiv, she was 5 years old, the youngest child, while her two brothers died of starvation in a village. They were buried in an allotment near their house (people were very weak and didn’t have energy to carry bodies somewhere, on photos from those events people were just lying dead on the streets). Her mother (my great-grandmother) Kateryna said that they had a corner in the house where they kept all the grains, authorities took all food away; the woman who did that even stood on her knees and swept into her hands all little grains that have fallen out. My great-grandfather Hnat tried to burry a sack with corn and a sack with potatoes somewhere in the ground, but authorities searched everywhere for food and found those sacks and took them away too. During that time great-grandfather Hnat was a rich farmer, the family had two horses, two oxen, two cows, big land with a farm – government officials took all that away and called Hnat a class enemy “kurkul”. Authorities deported him somewhere to the north of Russia, people from the village said he was deported to build The White Sea–Baltic Canal, but our family doesn’t know for sure. My father sent requests for information to Russian archives, but they don’t have any information, so we don’t know what happened to him. My great-grandmother Kateryna said that she cooked pancakes from lamb’s quarters and any other wild plants that she could find. She survived Holodomor and died in 1970.
My grandfather Vasyl’s family survived because right before Holodomor they escaped to Kramatorsk, and in a big city there were no famine. His parents (my great-grandmother Marfa and great-grandfather Makar) worked there in a factory, after the beginning of Second World War they returned back to their village, because it was easier to survive the war in a village rather than in a big city. He says that Khvoshchova village used to be very big, with about thousand houses, after Holodomor it almost disappeared and has never recovered; right now, in 2015, it’s an almost empty village without a school.
My family on my mother’s side. My grandmother Hanna and my grandfather Stepan were born during the Second World War. Grandmother Hanna had an older brother Petro, who was born in 1924 and witnessed Holodomor. Their family lived in Kryvchunka village (Zhashkiv Raion, Cherkasy Oblast). He remembers that they survived because they had some food hidden and they also ate different wild plants that they could find. He also remembers that he run through fields to Tainytsa village where their other relatives lived and he was bringing them some baked potatoes that he hid in his coat, because the situation in that village was far more worse, all people were lying there on the ground dying.
Because of these horrible events any food waste, especially to throw away bread in Ukraine is considered very rude. To remember victims of Holodomor people light a candle on a window.
Memorial ceremony in Kyiv is held annually at Memorial in Commemoration of Famines’ Victims in Ukraine in 3, Lavrska St.