The Holodomor eyewitness's response to the manipulation of the memory of the genocide of Ukrainians
Unfortunately, until today, the memory of the Holodomor is subjected to manipulation and disrespect, which mainly is based on a lack of knowledge about the history of Ukrainian genocide and the weakness of personal sense of conscience.
The museum received a special letter related to such cases in the Ukrainian society. The question “Isn’t it a hunger now” answered Mariia Klochko-Zosymchuk. Ms. Mariia survived the Holodomor at the age of 5 years. She described her story in a letter. Our duty is to hear an eyewitness and convey her memories, emotions, thoughts and appeals to Ukrainian citizens.
«It’s been a long time since that calamity – the terrible 1933, but pain, suffering the loss of relatives, friends, fellow villagers, and lost childhood are not fading in memory. I would like to forget it, but can’t. The pain covers the soul when you hear that there was no hunger or genocide. People believe in this lie and say that it was a great crop failure?! I believe my mother, who said in the 70’s: “What kind of wheat harvest had we that year!”
I did not think of touching this painful topic – HOLOD, HOLODOVKA of 1933, as we spoke. They forced me to speak, because of: “Is it true?”, “Isn’t it a hunger now?”.
Without experiencing this tragedy, people can’t understand what HUNGER meant.
Not long ago, a neighbour came to me and said that there was a delay of the pension’s payment. And if they don’t give a pension, then there will be a famine. I tell her that there will be no famine even if there is a crop failure, only in case when they forcibly withdraw what is yours. The famine is when they took your piece of bread, when there are even no crumbs in the house like it was in 1933. She says: “But they survived!”
I was so impressed by this statement. And sometimes it happened that we are sitting at the table, the table fool of food, and at that time, one of the presenters says: “All about the Holodomor and the Holodomor – isn’t it a hunger now?” Another time: “They put monuments dedicated to the Holodomor; they would better have helped us now, because it is so difficult to live…” The heart breaks down when I hear such sayings.
Maybe it is difficult with a minimum pension, especially for older and lonely ones, but nothing can be compared to the Holodomor of 1932-33. Unless with the tragedy of the inhabitants of Leningrad who survived the 1942 blockade – the difference is that that hunger and all suffering were caused by fascists, and ours – by our own government.
This terrible tragedy didn’t bypass our family. All my life I was afraid to mention the Holodomor aloud, though I felt it from my earliest childhood. The words “holod”, “holodovka” never went away in our family.
In 1933, I was 5 years old, but I very much remember how I wanted to eat. Though I was still very small but I felt completely what is hunger and what is craving for food. During such calamities, children become adults quickly.
And I was born in the Poltava region, which has the best black soil. Poltava region gave the world a lot of prominent people.
I, Klochko Mariia (later Zosymchuk), was born on the 15th of July, 1928 in the village Manachynivka, Portianska village council, Shyshatskii district in the family of Klochko Danylo and Klochko Hanna. There was a grandfather in our family Klochko Avdii, a grandmother – Klochko Nataliia, a father – Klochko Danylo, a mother – Klochko Hanna, my sister and I.
My grandmother grew up without father, at the age from 9 to 16 she was employed and when she turned 16, 16 bachelors came (to propose), because they knew how she was in employment. And the last one who came was the widow’s son (my grandfather). And my grand-grandmother, grandmother’s mother said: “I am the widow. That is why I let my daughter marry the widow’s son”. The grandfather and grandmother were very hardworking and after marriage they were preparing their own household. They wanted to live like normal people.
The grandfather was trying to buy a piece of land. He bought a calf, fed bulls, sold and bought land. They worked on their land themselves, only in the summer hired a shepherd. In 1922, they built a new house, married the son, my father, and happily lived until 1930. This was in the midst of violent collectivization. We had to enter the collective farm. The grandfather perceived collectivisation very hard. It was so painful for a grandfather to lose everything what he gained with hard work. If you were told that everything would be state – then what to do, but it was like you yourself was asking to join the collective farm. Those who didn’t have anything – joined the collective farms. So the proprietors became “the state enemies” and idlers became activists.
Party leaders, activists not only inspired fear, but acted in such a way that when the evening comes, you are shivering. They were dragging people every night in some kind of office and forced to write an application. They kept people in a very heated house all night, smoke and didn’t allow taking off outerwear; there were cases of fingers smashed between the doors, otherwise they tortured people until they wrote the statement. You do not write – climb the oven and sit there in the outer clothes (from my mother’s words).
My grandfather did not allow her dad joining the collective farm, but father still wrote the statement under coercion. Having realized this, the grandpa gave vodka to the secretary and he returned the application.
From this time our sufferings began…
The first grief – they took our father. The village council head Hryhorii Herasymenko and the executant Ivan Brazhnyk came and commanded my father to go with them. We haven’t seen our father since then and he was only 27years old.
I remember the names of these people – Brazhnyk Ivan and Hryhorii Herasymenko. The last one worked later as a head of Voskobinykivska village council, Shyshatskii ditrict, lived 86 years and brought our father to death.
Their names were always on the tip of her tongue. As long she lived, as long she cried for him. It was the last day when we saw our father. The father’s face I don’t remember, I remember only the clothes that he had on when he left the house. I remember it even now. We haven’t seen him anymore. It was the winter 1932.
One man who was together with my father wrote later to his sister, who lived in Baranivka near Shyshaky. And he said to tell the wife of Klochko Danylo that her husband died due to starvation. He fell ill with malaria. He couldn’t fulfil the norm, and if you don’t work the standard, you don’t receive the ration. Beforehand was the letter in which the father wrote: “Send me a parcel because I got very weak”. We asked relatives and acquaintances, prepared a parcel and sent, but then got it back. No other news from him until today.
When they took the father, we were dekulakized. They removed all they could: cattle, stock and farm buildings were not our property anymore. From the house they carried everything that could be taken. Bare walls left, empty shelves, chests. Later, mom recognized her shirts on women of activists.
They also didn’t leave us alone. Everyday groups of 5-7 people came and a few times per day and at different time. There were a lot of policemen among them. I still shake during the meetings with police. They dug in the yard, garden, with metal spears they pierced the ground looking for grain. They looked at every corner. And this was every day. And there was nothing on the household except balanda (a very poor soup, mostly water with grass) and lipnyky (food substitute, baked sorrel) – and even this we needed to hide. Because in case they found it – they poured it out, threw or took with themselves. They looked in the oven in every corner. Nothing could be hidden anywhere. The grandmother hid something between her closes items. They took even baked pancakes from orach and dry leaves of linden – they took everything what could save us from hungry death.
There was such a case: I was lying ill, I don’t know whether I really was ill or I was put in the bed in order to hide lipnyky, but they took it anyways. Meanwhile, the grandfather was lying ill, the mother was sick and children were hungry.
Is not this a genocide?! Everything was done to extinguish with hunger, to destroy people.
My grandfather was swollen. We, children, saw that he had very swollen legs. He didn’t have any strength, only lied and asked, “Bread, bread”. In the beginning of summer grandfather died. I remember when my grandfather was being buried, then cherry trees were in blossom. The grandfather was buried in his garden. And he was only 63 years old!”.
How we got through it…
My mother had nice clothes: kerchiefs, embroidered shirts, skirts (plachta). The part of it we managed to hide.
And when an unbearable adversity came, my mother walked through the villages and changed nice things on a piece of bread, a bowl of wheat or bran. But when we grew up, nothing was left of the mother’s clothes, even to show.
My grandmother was walking around the surrounding villages and farms searching for earnings. She did not avoid the worst and the dirtiest work. There was no close village where she didn’t clean the chimney from soot. So she needed to climb the oven, get into the fireplace.
Later the mother was remembering how hard the grandmother lived and how she tried to protect us, since she didn’t have anyone except us, two grandchildren (she had 5 children and no one survived). When she worked she could also be given some food, it enabled her to stand everything through, once in a while she brought something home. In summer, when it was warm, she took us with her.
It could also be that we had nothing at home. Then we were walking around and cutting grass. We were putting everything into the mouth. Especially often we ate spurge. Clean the skin, crumple – and it is not that bitter anymore.
Under the hill some kind of garlic grew, maybe wild, it had a smell of garlic. In the beginning of summer we got into rye, torn sprouts and sucked out a grain of milk ripeness. All green was used like food. We boiled nettle, drank the liquid and used thick substance for lipnyky. Then added there a handful of bran, potatoes’ skin (if someone could get it somewhere).
I remember that once a grandma came and brought nothing – but we were waiting for food. The mother entered the house and said that the horse died outside the village and all people ran there. The grandma said her to go there also. She went, but came back with nothing. All was taken, even bones.
The grandma often said, “No father, ill mother – I will bring you to the orphanage”. I was crying and asking, “Grandma, sweetheart, don’t give us to anyone. We will die – but we will be together”. We often remembered this talk in the family; I also remember it very clear. Later we called her “grandma, sweetheart”.
The summer came. The harvest began. There we sheaves already, but to the stubble-field – no way. The fields were protected very thoroughly. A bodyguard on the horse. One could pick up ears of grain. But let those ears of grain grow in the soil or rot – only not give them to hungry people!
Is it not a genocide?
The linden grew in our yard. And when my grandfather was still alive, he broke the branches on it, and we stripped off the leaves, dried, weighed and added to the lipnyky.
When there was such a difficulty that there we were completely broke, but we were begging for food, our grandma dared and went to the fields. She went onto the road – if nobody could see, quickly ran on the stubble-field, picked up ears of grain, crumpled them, put into the pocket. Then came back and brought a handful of grain. We grid it and cooked koolish. We ate and ate and our bellies were full, but we still wanted to eat (we had big bellies).
Our neighbours also helped us to survive. The father’s friend Danylo Kulaha lived nearby. When we were very hungry – we went to them. Their grandmother Lukiia knew why we came. She took a loaf of bread, cut a very thin piece, divides on two halves and gives us with a sister. I took that piece, squeezed in a fist and ran to grandmother. But when I came home, only a few crumbs left in my hand. I couldn’t stand not to bite it. I cried and the grandmother cried.
The grandmother Nalalka grew up in landlord’s employment and became a good housewife after marriage. She was loved by rich and by poor. The evidence for this is that my grandmother had 30 godchildren. And when our family was broke, they did not turn away from us. Sometimes we went to one, then to others. They also didn’t eat enough, but never let us without giving at least a few crumbs. And though crumbs, but they could give us something.
We didn’t play and didn’t laugh. Sometimes, though, dug the pits in the garden, put a branch in the hole, filled with soil, put a cross from reed and cried loudly. We went to the cemetery when someone died because people said that there cookies were given. But I don’t remember that someone gave them to us. But it was in the beginning, later there was a cart. All corpses were gathered from houses and brought to the cemetery. The cart went from house to house, because there was no strength to bury them themselves. They went to houses to gather the deceased.
We also went to the children of neighbours. They all were older than us. Children were playing and laughing. We were standing and looking at them. They didn’t pay attention to us. But it’s good that they didn’t insult us and didn’t drive us away. And we are very grateful for this. Sometimes parents called them to have a dinner, the children went to the houses, no one invited us, but we followed them. They sat at the table, we were standing at the threshold. No-one paid attention to us. Then someone from the parents stood up and carried something to us. We ate and stood further. The children went to the yard; we followed them and observed how they played. This is how we went to ones, then to others. In the evening the mother and grandmother came, looked for us and scolded us, because it is so late. We are very grateful to that parents and children, that they didn’t drive us away. Maybe we learned something good from them, were brought up. This is how it was when we lived in our own house. Our own house, yard, garden, neighbours, neighbours’ children. But later it went worse. We were drown away from our own house, because we were kulaks. Since then we haven’t had anyone and anything.
When we were dekulakized, they took everything and sold our house (it was new, built in 1922 or 1923). And in order to let us stay at our house during the winter and live there a bit longer, the grandmother’s nephew Dmytro Rybalskii (or Rybalchenko) bought our hose. He was a member of the management of the collective farm or the village council. The uncle lived in his house and we continued to live in ours. But then communists got to know that kulaks lived in their house. They didn’t wait and forced the uncle Dmytro to move to our house or to sell it again. And the uncle Dmytro refused from our house, because something similar what happened to us could happen with him. They drove us away, threw from our house. A lot of people with some equipment went into. We were sitting on the floor and shivering. I can see even know how they were braking fireplace. The stone fell onto the ground, they broke the stove. And during the winter the woman with children is thrown onto streets as “the state’s enemy”. It was my second fright (the first one was when they took away lipnyky under the pillow of a sick child).
Our mother and grandmother packed bundles and moved to the house of the granpa Sydor (the brother of our grandfather). The house was empty, but the stove was preserved. There we settled. But shortly after a group of policemen came and threw us out of there. The grandmother was sitting on the floor. I was standing behind her. Activists noticed boots on my grandmother (she took them on purpose in order to save them). One of the activists was holding the shoulders of grandma and another one was taking them off. I was standing and crying. It was my third fright. Afterwards I was sick, cried at shouted at nights for a long time. This fright didn’t pass without trace. Now when there is a noise somewhere – you look and see someone. And I am shaking. This is how frightened I will be all my life.
The mother took me and my sister and we went to another village to her brothers Verteletski, it’s 3-4 kilometres away. It was winter or early spring, our feet were diving into the snow and under the snow was water. We overnighted at the uncle Yakym, on the second day the uncle Ivan also came there, because he also was dekulakized and drown away. No one was telling me this – I remember it very well.
Thus, from 1933 until 1937 we were homeless. We lived in the houses of other people with no means for existence. We didn’t bag but worked the whole summer and winter. The mother couldn’t work physically due to her illness. She worked as a seamstress at Reshetyliv factories of artistic products in affiliates of villages Kovalivka and Sorochyntsi.
From early spring until late autumn the grandmother was working on the gardens with potatoes and different vegetables to prepare them for winter. Because we had neither a house, nor a piece of land. One time we went to pick up wheat spikelet on the fields in the village Nosa, the brigadier there was Nis Stepan – a kind and understanding person. He saw that there is an old woman with a small child on the field (I didn’t go to school by then), we got frightened, stood shivering, waiting what could happen. But he approached, politely greeted and allowed to collect spikes, as much as we can, only warned us not to approach close to shooks. But we were already so glad and freely collected, not being afraid. All day we collected, and in the evening grandmothers reaped, checked and poured into a bag. There, at people’s places we slept. People gave us fruits, vegetables. I don’t know how long we worked there, maybe a month. But I know that we collected one bag and a half of another bag of wheat. How much joy was then!
In winter everyone was embroidering near the gas lamp: the mother, the grandmother and me. The gas lamp was on the table, small chairs were around and we were on them. I was able to embroider various types of seams before school.
The older sister Polina was employed at the landlord since she was 7. Firstly she shepherded geese, then looked after the child. It was for food. Later she was shepherding cows. Except food she also earned for a skirt and a blouse. My sister went to school only for 3 years. At the age of 14 she went working, helped in chicken coop. I was younger, that is why I went to school.
For us the starvation continued until 1937, we lived at neighbours and didn’t eat enough bread. And when I was in the second grade, I was envying children who ate bread during breaks. But it was not 1933!
Nothing can be compared with 1933!
Only in 1938 we had our own house, if we can call it a house. On the cowshead from adobe brick (left by such kulaks as we and sent to Sybir)we built a roof, cut windows and made an oven. But we were very glad even for this! We head a roof above our heads and a garden near the house. In this village Nosa we stayed near the kindest and best people. They are like family among each other. Here our childhood had gone, our youth passed and from here we went into adult life. Our most precious martyrs – Mother and Grandmother found eternal rest on this holy ground. These are two wise women – the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law. They did everything possible to save us and each other. In the smallest matters, my mother turned to grandmother for advice, for permission, in order to relieve her suffering at least a little, because grandma didn’t have anyone except us, two grandchildren.
Years have passed, but eternal agony, eternal sadness is still in the heart. Pain compresses the heart for the loss of relatives, for the loss of the closest people, for the loss of childhood. Sometimes it is said that we overcame the grief. No! We still live with this grief. It is impossible to overcome. And the further, the harder it gets. This is a planned action of the destruction of the Ukrainian nation.
The grandpa’s brother Sydir Klochko died of starvation. Sydir Klochko wasn’t rich, not at all. He was literate and he was elected as a chairman of the Committee of the poor peasants. But when the forced collectivisation started, poor people were dekulakized because they refused to join the collective farm.
In our village lived Mykyta, he was poor, but didn’t want to join the collective farm. Once Sydir was said to go and to dekulakize Mykyta. Sydir said, “Mykyta is poorer than me, that is why I am not going to do this”. Then on the next day activists came and dekulakized Sydir. They took everything and took Sydir with them. The wife took her children (she had 3 of them) and went to her mother to the village Nosa.
Where they kept Sydir – no one knows. And how much time had gone is also unknown. Then suddenly a woman came from the hindmost hut of our village Manachynivka and told to grandmother that there was a dead Sydir lying on the road near her house. The grandmother came and saw that Sydir was swollen, there was linen bag across his shoulders with 6-8 potatoes inside. There he was buried and his woman was notified about it later (this is from the story told by my grandmother Natalia). What a poor thing…He died walking the street at the distance of a few metres from his house. It was 1933…And Sydir was just 43 years old! This is the way they treated disobedient.
The Holodomor 1932-1933 took also my uncle Kusma Kulaha – a husband of my mother’s sister Ustyna. They lived in the village Hursy (Mykhailivske village council). There were auntie Ustyna, uncle Kusma and three children in their family, Levko was 13, Mykola – 11 and Vira – 3 or 5 years old. All were swollen. Boys came to us often also. They were standing near the doorstep, but we didn’t have anything to give them. Then they were gone.
Uncle Kusma died. And then antie Ustyna put all her efforts in order to save her children. She took her youngest daughter Vira to the Mykhailivske village council. There, in the garden, the child got distracted by playing and the mother went behind the bushes and ran away. The child was screaming and then taken to the orphanage. She took Vira back only in 1936 because earlier she didn’t have her own shelter.
They boys were already conscious and she took them to the orphanage in Ochtyrka (Sumy region) and she said them not to tell that they have a mother. She herself got a job at a sugar factory in the village Chupakhivka intending to meet with the guys secretly. This is how auntie Ustyna rescued her children from death due to starvation. But later Vira was captured to Germany and she didn’t come back from captivity – she died. Boys went through the war and came back as officers (Levko finished college after school and Mykola graduated from the institute), but they didn’t see their mother anymore. She died at the age of 46.
One family lived next to us: a father, a mother and two girls at the age of 14-16 and the son Yashko. Yashko went to Poltava even earlier. Then often came to us, braided our hair (they had nice braided hairstyles themselves). They were dekulakized – they got over with them earlier. The first one who died was their father, then the mother, Hapka died, Malashka died – all died. And the house also disappeared – it was deconstructed. I think they have our surname.
One time we were sitting on the flour with my sister, waiting for my mother and grandmother to bring us at least something (we could have nothing in the house for a day or two or the whole week). Then a woman went into the hut and asked for bread. We didn’t have anything to give her. And then in the evening the mother came and said that there was a dead woman lying outside the village. It came to my mind exactly at that moment and I still often remember about it – it was the same woman that was bagging us for food.
The famine was mowing people down. The Holodomor cannot be forgotten. And the more one lives, the more this dreadful wound hurts.
We must be careful in our statements! We should care about all spoken words about dissatisfaction with modern life; we have no right to make such comparisons with the history of the Holodomor. It offends the feelings of all who survived in the years of terrible genocide on our land; all who keep the memory of their relatives killed by hunger; the memory of those who today may be remembered by nobody. Preserving the memory of the Holodomor is a duty of the whole country, each of us. Let’s do it with dignity!