The story of the Shevchuk family from the village of Stara Orzhytsia

17 August 2023

This photo features the Shevchuk family from Stara Orzhytsia, Zhuriv district, Poltava region. The family appears to be big, friendly and hardworking. The people captured in this picture during the distant 1930s were not yet aware of the trials and wanderings they would have to face. Denys Radushev, the grandson of the youngest girl in the photo, who is being held by her mother, donated this family photo to our museum.

Her name was Olenka. She was born on December 23, 1929, that is, she is not even a year old in the photo. The girl is sincerely childishly laughing at the camera – a rarity for that time because most people in the pictures from that time looked serious and focused. Olenka lost her beautiful mother at a very young age: in the hungry year of 1933, Yevdokia Shevchuk (born in 1897, maiden name – Zder) climbed a mulberry tree to pick berries for her five children. The exhausted woman could not keep from falling from the tree. Due to the injury she received falling, she was bedridden, was ill all summer and autumn, and died on January 8, 1934, just after Christmas. She was only 36 years old. The family says that Yevdokia’s father, Zinovii Zder, was, by Soviet standards, a “kulak” but, in fact, one of the best and strongest landlords in Stara Orzhytsia. He was extremely hardworking and had a special agricultural talent. In the village, people said about him that even if Zinovii sows grain in the desert, it will sprout and produce a harvest. He was also a village scribe, that is, a literate person. However, the Soviets did not need them, so in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Zinovii Zder’s family was dekulakized and sent to Siberia.

Yevdokia’s husband and little Olenka’s father also suffered Bolshevik “justice”. In 1931–1932, Mykhailo Shevchuk (born in 1894), trying to oppose the deportation of his sister and her family to Siberia as “kulaks”, quarrelled with an NKVD officer. He tried to give the coat and other warm clothes to his sister’s family, but the NKVD forbade him to do so. For this, Mykhailo Shevchuk was sentenced to several years in prison by the Soviet authorities. Three of the sister’s seven children died on the way to Siberia.

When Mykhailo Pavlovych returned from prison, he had to save his five motherless children. He saw no prospect of staying in a starving and bloodless village, so he took his two daughters and three sons to Kyiv. So, approximately in 1934-1935, the family ended up in the capital of Ukraine. The youngest, Olena, was only five years old, so her father was forced to give her to his sister Yevdokia Shevchuk (pictured in the upper row on the right), a nun of the Pokrovsky Monastery in Kyiv, to be raised. The aunt-nun was strict and punished little Olena for the slightest fault…

In the autumn of 1941, Kyiv was occupied by German troops. Mykhailo Shevchuk, as a widower and father of five children, was not mobilized into the Red Army. In addition, he worked at a bread factory, where the workers also had “armor” from serving in the army. He continued to work at this enterprise even during the city occupation. Once he was on the verge of death – Mykhailo Shevchuk was sentenced to death by the Germans because he took more bread for his children than was allowed by the meagre norms of that time. Everyone of that shift at the bread factory was shot by the Germans. Mykhailo Shevchuk was left alive because his children begged the commandant of the city for their father on their knees. They were Ivan (born in 1925, in the lower row, first on the left) and Maria (born in 1918, on the lower right).

But in the whirlwind of war, the family still lost two of its members. The eldest son, Mykhailo Shevchuk (born in 1920, in the photo – second from the left), went to work in Germany, where he died due to an accident, allegedly from poisoning. And Stepan (born in 1923, standing on the right next to his sister) died in August 1941 from gangrene caused by a shrapnel hit in the leg. He was wounded during the bombing of Kyiv by Soviet troops while he was trying to block the entrance door of the house near Sofia Square, in which the family lived at the time…

Also, in the photo, we see the children’s grandfather, and Mykhailo’s father – Pavlo Shevchuk and the children’s cousin – Serhii Shevchuk (third from the left).

This picture is the only joint photo of the once-large family that has survived to this day. The family also has another relic – a towel embroidered by Yevdokia Shevchuk, who died prematurely at the age of 36. It became a bridge between past and present generations – the late Yevdokia Zinovievna’s great-granddaughter married with it…

This family from the photo could have lived a completely different life, wealthy and happy. The Shevchuks could have taken care of their well-being through hard peasant work, could have gone to church and gathered around a large family table for holidays. They could have just been happy. But any regime – communist or Nazi – is not about well-being, not about prosperity or about happy people…

We are sincerely grateful to Denys Radushev for sharing his family history, as well as to Natalia Petrivna Radusheva and Alla Ivanivna Reshetova, daughter and niece of Olena Mykhaylivna, for the memories and details they shared with us.

And we encourage others to do it. Your family history during the Holodomor is our common history that must be preserved.

P.S. According to the National Book of Memory of the Victims of the Holodomor, 167 people died in the village of Stara Orzhytsia (now Kyiv Region) during the Holodomor – these are only those whose names and surnames have been established…

In the photo:

left to right – Olena Mykhailivna Shevchuk’s mother – Yevdokia Zinoviivna Shevchuk (Zder) (1897–1934)

in her mother’s arms – little daughter Olena Mykhaylivna Shevchuk, married name – Stepanova (1929–2006)

Olena’s father – Mykhailo Pavlovych Shevchuk (1894–1973)

Olena’s grandfather – Pavlo Shevchuk, Mykhailo Pavlovych’s father

Olena’s aunt – Yevdokia Pavlivna Shevchuk, Mykhailo Pavlovych’s sister. She was a nun Kateryna of the Pokrovsky Monastery

children from left to right:

Olena’s brother – Ivan Mykhailovych Shevchuk (April 7, 1925 – November 15, 1991)

Olena’s brother – Mykhailo Mykhailovych Shevchuk (1920 – May 9, 1945)

Olena’s cousin from the Shevchuk family – Serhii Romanovych Shevchuk

Olena’s sister – Maria Mykhailivna Shevchuk (November 21, 1918 – February 22, 1993)

Olena’s brother Stepan Mykhailovych Shevchuk (1923 – August 17, 1941)