Holodomor literally means “execution by hunger.” It is the name given to the devastating famine that Josef Stalin’s communist regime unleashed on Ukraine in 1932 and 1933. The Holodomor is perhaps the only instance in history of a purely man-made famine being carried out in such a cold-blooded manner that seven million lives (about 20% of Ukraine’s population) were wiped out.
Miron Dolot’s Execution by Hunger provides an authentic and rather graphic account of the devastation caused by the Holodomor. The book has grisly stories of people eating dogs, dead human bodies, and horrifyingly, their own children. Dolot was a survivor of the great famine.
The book begins with a short description of life in the village where Dolot was born in 1916. “My village stood on the North bank of the Tiasmyn River, one of the many tributaries of the Dnipro (Dnieper) River, and it was beautiful. Green hills rose in the South behind the river, and the rich tar-black soil of the plains stretched to the North. The plains were divided into strips of fields.”
The village consisted of some eight hundred households comprising a population of nearly four thousand people. Most of them were farmers and they were able to produce enough food for meeting their needs. The villagers enjoyed the freedom of movement—they often took pleasure trips and traveled freely looking for jobs. “We were free individuals,” Dolot declares.
But things start changing from 1928, when Josef Stalin began his campaign for cultural repression and collectivization. City dwelling communists with virtually no knowledge of agriculture and filled with contempt for the farmers were sent to all the villages in Ukraine to enforce collectivization. The result was a massive decline in Ukraine’s agricultural output.
Instead of blaming their flawed policy of collectivization for the fall in agriculture output, Stalin and his communist henchmen blamed the Ukrainian peasants for deliberately sabotaging the agriculture. In 1930, Stalin stepped up the collectivization programs, and he ordered the liquidation of the “kulaks,” the so-called rich farmers.
Several prominent villagers were arrested and taken to unknown locations, from where they never returned. The remaining villagers were evicted from their farms and forced to become laborers at the state-run collective farms. Severe restrictions were placed on their movement. No one could go out of the village without permission from the communist overseers.
The communists went to the extent of breaking up the family system by instigating the children against their parents. “The Party encouraged the children to spy on their parents and to denounce them, and anybody else, for that matter, who defied the Party. Such denunciation was considered a heroic deed, the best expression of Soviet patriotism.”
The village environment was filled with fear and suspicion. Miron’s three uncles, notwithstanding the evidence of their poverty, were declared Kulaks and arrested. Thereafter, his brother Serhiy was arrested on the charge of misbehaving with a communist official and sent to an unknown location. Two years later Miron and his mother received an anonymous letter saying that Serhiy had died from torture and exhaustion.
By the beginning of 1931, the village was completely collectivized and the stage was now set for the massive famine. “Our village was half ruined; more than one-third of our entire population was physically exterminated or banished from the village. Any food we had was confiscated. By the end of 1931 we faced mass starvation. There was no way to survive but to stay in the collective farm where we had been promised some food for our daily work.”
The book has many stories of people who suffered and perished under the nightmarish tyranny of the communists.
Here’s an account of one unfortunate family:
Dmytro had never returned home after he had been taken to the county center. His young wife Solomia was left alone with their daughter. She had gone to work in the collective farm, taking her little child with her. As the wife of a banished man, she too was considered an “enemy of the people,” and her child was refused admission to the nursery. Later, Solomia was expelled from the collective farm, and thus forced to seek a job in the city. That was impossible, however, because she could not show a certificate of release from the collective farm. She found herself trapped in the circle of the Communist death ring. She had to return to her village.
When winter came, Solomia went from house to house, willing to work for just a piece of bread. She was too proud to beg. People were sympathetic and helped her as much as they could. However, as the famine worsened, and the villagers were no longer able to help her, she was not seen on her rounds any more.
We found the front door of Solomia’s house open, but the entrance was blocked with snowdrifts, and it was hard to get inside. When we finally reached the living room, we saw a pitiful sight: Solomia was hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. She was dressed in her Ukrainian national costume, and at her breast hung a large cross. It was obvious that she had made preparations before committing suicide. Her hair was combed neatly in two braids hanging over her shoulders.
Frightened, we ran to fetch Mother. We helped her take down Solomia’s frozen body, and laid it on a bench, and covered it with a handmade blanket. It was only after we finished doing this that we noticed the dead body of her little daughter. The child was lying in a wooden tub in the corner under the icons, clean and dressed in her best clothes. Her little hands were folded across her chest.
On the table was a note:
Please bury our bodies properly. I have to leave you, dear neighbors. I can bear this life no longer. There is no food in the house, and there is no sense in living without my little daughter who starved to death, or my husband. If you ever see Dmytro, tell him about us. He will understand our plight, and he will forgive me. Please tell him that I died peacefully, thinking about him and our dear daughter.
I love you, my dear neighbors, and I wish with all my heart that you somehow recover from this disaster. Forgive me for troubling you. Thank you for everything you have done for me.
Miron says that people were so driven by hunger that they ate everything and anything: even food that had already rotted—potatoes, beets, and other root vegetables that pigs normally refused to eat. They even ate weeds, the leaves and bark of trees, insects, frogs and snails. Nor did they shy away from eating the meat of diseased horses and cattle. Often that meat was already decaying and those who ate it died of food poisoning.
The book has heart-rending accounts of numerous instances of cannibalism. “Another woman was found dead, her neck contorted in a crudely made noose. The neighbors who discovered the tragedy also found the reason for it. The flesh of the woman’s three-year-old daughter was found in the oven.”
Overall, Execution by Hunger is an important book for offering a glimpse of the horrible crimes committed by Stalin’s communist regime. People who are confused about the real nature of communism should read this book to find out how the actual implementation of the communist ideology created such extreme scarcity of food that millions of people in the Soviet Union were forced to become scavengers and cannibals.
View Miron Dolot’s Execution by Hunger on Amazon.
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