Ukraine had been under the domination of the Imperial Czars of Russia for two hundred years. Finally freedom had arrived in March of 1917. Some optimistic Ukrainians declared Ukraine to be an independent nation and began to re-establish Kiev, the nations capital. However, they did not stay free for long. Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union, wanted to reclaim Ukraine. Four years of chaos and fighting followed. By the end of 1921 the Soviets were able to crush the Ukrainian people and win the war. Half of Ukraine was then divided up between Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.
The rest of Ukraine was kept by the Soviet Union. The Soviets began shipping grain out of Ukraine to satisfy hungry Russians. While the Soviets banqueted, Ukrainians suffered. Then a drought occurred resulting in widespread hunger and popular resentment towards Vladimir Lenin and the Soviets. To lessen this animosity, Lenin lessened his grip on the Ukrainian people and even encouraged a free-market. People started to relax and renewed their interests in independence, folk art, music, and literature. The Soviets began slowly losing control of Ukraine because of this revival.
However, when Lenin died Stalin, one of the most cold-blooded humans to ever hold this much power, took over. Stalin thought the gradual loss of Ukraine was completely unacceptable. To crush the free spirited revival he started using the same ruthless methods used on the Soviet Union. In the beginning of 1929 over five thousand Ukrainian scholars, scientists, cultural and religious leaders were arrested with false accusations of planning an armed revolt against the Soviets. Everyone that was arrested was either shot or deported to prison camps where they would be tortured with out a trial.
Stalin also disapproved of Ukraines system of land management. He began seizing all privately owned farms in a country where eighty percent of its people are farmers. There was a class of farmers called kulaks by the communists. Kulaks were wealthy farmers who made a profit by themselves. Stalin believed that all farms should be collective farms run by the government. Stalin started forcing people to join these collective farms or else they would be classified as Kulaks and put into jails, which began appearing in most Ukrainian villages.
By the summer of 1932 eighty percent of Ukraines population started working in collective farms. They were afraid of seeing their own children die of starvation so they gave in. He thought that any revolt in the future would be led by the Kulaks so he began destroying them as a class. Kulaks were declared enemies of the people and were left beaten in the streets with out any possessions of their own. The Red army stole all of the kulaks possessions. It was against the law to help Kulaks or their families in any way. Millions of people were put onto railroad boxcars and were shipped to prison camps in the wilderness of Siberia.
One-third of the people sent to these camps died because of the horrible conditions. Back in Ukraine things were getting worse and worse each day. Stalin sent out henchman Lazar Kaganovitch to destroy all Ukrainian resistance. He made quota shooting 10,000 innocent Ukrainians weekly. Eighty percent of all intellectuals were executed. Stalin began stealing food that was made from the Ukrainians own hands. All farms were raided for any possible food, blankets, cattle, and fuel. The secret police looked for hidden grain under men and womens clothing. Even the smallest amounts of grain were confiscated.
They blocked all railroads and streets so nothing could get in or out of Ukraine. Ukrainians began to quickly die of starvation, cold, and sickness. During the winter of 1932-1933 the famine hit full force. Soon people were eating shoes, belts, tree bark, pets, and some even ate infant children and dead bodies to stay alive. Many begged neighbors for potato skins and other scraps, but they found their neighbors equally starved. There were unbelievably emaciated bodies in the street. I remember all this¦ I was swollen from hunger; my brother was even in the worst condition¦
He was dying; his swollen body was leaking fluid. I was sitting beside him, he was gritting his teeth and kept asking for a cucumber¦ Then he died¦ His dead body had been wrapped in a blanket, the color of this blanket is still in my memory. This is the testimony of Hanna Nelasa, born in Luhansk region. She was one of the few people brave enough to give her testimony about the famine. In Russia it has been made illegal to commemorate this event. To this day people do not know the exact amount of people that died during this tragic time. At the famines height 25,000 people were dying per day.
They estimate the number of people that died to be around seven to ten million. In the end the Soviet collective farms never succeeded. The livestock were poorly cared for on these farms and the conditions were very unhealthy. Inexperienced young communists ran all the farms. They became jokes throughout Ukraine about how uneducated they were on simple things like farming and cleaning. An American Journalist wrote this horrifying description of what he saw: About twenty miles south of Kiev (Kyiv), I came upon a village that was practically extinct by starvation.
There had been fifteen houses in this village and a population of forty-odd persons. Every dog and cat had been eaten. The horses and oxen had all been appropriated by the Bolsheviks to stock the collective farms. In one hut they were cooking a mess that defied analysis. There were bones, pigweed, skin, and what looked like a boot top in this pot. The way the remaining half dozen inhabitants eagerly watched this slimy mess showed the state of their hunger. On a personal note, my grandfather lived through this time.
He was once walking and thought he saw a log and went to go sit on it, but it was a frozen body. They were living at the edge of the woods so his father buried potatoes and grain two hundred feet deep in the back of the woods. The Secret Police came to their house and took bayonets poking them into the soil looking for any food they had. Adults and children constantly came begging to their house for scraps of food and they gave it to them. This is why I chose this as my topic because my grandparents told me hundreds of stories about growing up during these times.