Ukrainians send recorded memories of their relatives who survived the Holodomor to the museum

21 December 2017

Dmytro Butenko handed in memories of his grandfather Borys Yarosh, who was born in 1923 in the village of Khodorkiv, Popilnianskii district of Zhytomyr region, to the Holodomor Victims Memorial. However, for most of his life, a man lived in Andrushivka village, Andrushivskii district, Zhytomyr region.


Mr. Dmitro, thank you very much for this letter! For us the unique testimonies of the course of the predatory policy of collectivization are being opened, as well as the criminal actions of the authorities against the villagers during the Holodomor (actually genocidal actions), about horror and pain, humanity and hope. Borys Yarosh describes all the processes very clearly, also tells about the family, the villagers and the comrade of the Commissioner:

«During the NEP (New Economic Policy), our life revived, but with somebody’s evil will, the economic foundations were cut: sugar factories, distillery and other important objects were dismantled.


Regarding collectivization, I must say that everything was happening by the same scenario as in your magazine, but only a few were sent out, even though a lot of people were dekulakised, mostly not reach and those who hesitated with writing applications to the collective farm.

What was the most memorable is how the brigades went and looked for bread, how in the process of dekulakization they knocked the framed with glass from the windows, so that in the huts nobody could live, as it was impossible to get glass.


On my street lived Ohrim Pohun with a big family, poor as a church mouth, his daughter was ill with tuberculosis. I witnessed how after the destruction of the house, this girl was taken outside to the street and bed was set in the snow. Tragicomic situations also didn’t lack. We had a drunkard-activist Kyrylo, whom people scornfully called “Kyryltso”. Once he was put on the dray with confiscated kulak’s furniture and was escorted by his friends through the whole street, he was given a flag into his hands and was settled to the last house of dekulakised Diiuk Osyp. But something what didn’t belong him, didn’t benefit him. Later all this family disappeared from hunger.


The first breath of hunger became noticeable in the winter-spring of 1932, when the mass extermination of horses was due to lack of feed.

Gardens and fields near farms were literally covered with horse bodies. There were not a lot of cattle in collective farms in that time, mostly there were oxen. In our area caws and poultry ** The grain yield was good, average at that time. Potatoes yield was low for all people. Those who seeded pumpkins had a good harvest.


I remember that there was much sun in summer, what gave us a possibility to draw them on the tiled roof of the house (we cut the slices together with the peel). Then it was very useful, although some people looked at it sceptical and ironic before.

For workdays in collective farms we didn’t receive anything, because they took almost everything. People sawed some crops in the gardens, but special brigades entered huts and took everything, even beans were shaken out of pots, if there was nothing to take. Each brigade was authorized by someone who usually had its outerwear loosened in order to show sword belt through the shoulder from the holsters with “revolver”.


For those who managed to withstand the pressure and to hide a few products it was easier to relieve trouble. And what “caches” were invented by those people… but unfortunately it did not save, they found it. However, many of these “pathfinders” with steel with sharp sticks were also taken by hunger later. Families which had cows survived. Until 1931-32, the cow, practically, or even two of them were in every courtyard, but then they began to demand meat production, people agreed that those who had bigger cows gave them, at the rate of 42-45 kg. pro family. They paid negligible money. Such a lottery also fell on the destiny of our family.

The trouble came up quietly, first of all, in the large physically strong working families who needed a lot of food. For those who ate less, it was easier to get through a hunger adaptation. The tragic selection was done, of course, not in the direction of the coming generations’ health improvement. Most died in the end of 1932 and the first four months of 1933, and in the spring, in general, it was scary. There were a lot of very swollen people. People were falling and dying en masse, they were lying along the roads and at the fair.


Periodically, carriages went through the streets, picked up corpses and took to the cemetery in a large pit, but not all. There were cases when the deceased were rotting under the sun in different corners, for example, my neighbour Bereznia Antonina had rotten in the pit, which was left after uprooting of giant old pear tree.


The remains of the deceased were hidden with soil only somewhere after the harvesting. There were cases when into a common pit not “ready” people were thrown who then “resurrected” there. One woman after such a journey to “that world” has lived to a very old age.

What did people eat? All that was possible to find, dig, catch. There were those who had nothing, and if they found beets or potatoes, they ate them raw greedily. These were “suicide bombers” doomed to the martyr finale. As long as there was physical capability, these people caught and ate dogs, cats and other animals. In rivers and ponds, fish, molluscs, frogs were caught. In the spring, those who still had the strength to catch ravens, they crashed their nests, firstly with eggs, and later with small crows. But, unfortunately, all this “delicacy” of local fauna didn’t last for a long time and not for all. It is clear that they didn’t pass by dead animals, what often resulted in fatal poisoning.


In such torments my uncle Oleksandr and his friends died. As for the flora, everything was used here: sorrel, loboda, leaves of trees, rhozus, rotten potatoes, beets, stems and cornstalks and others.


Especially famous were “motortanyky” from horseradish, and from the stems of corn air biscuits was received, something like marshmallow. In our area, the forest helped many people. Especially acorns, bark of trees etc.


An important role in the salvation of people was the gathering and use of heather. It was prepared massively, carried in bags, dried, chopped, pounded into flour. Then it was used to cook brown jelly from it with balsamic flavour, with a taste of bitterness, but they had the opportunity to collect it in the early spring, when there was nothing else green. They ate it a lot and daily.

I remember that part of the stock remained and as a relic, just in case. It stood for years in the great beautiful jar (for sweets) from the NEP (New Economic Policy) times. It was considered especially prestigious to eat this jelly with molasses and milk. Those who ate heather didn’t have any tumour, it could even disappear. The same effect was caused by the use of pumpkins. After starvation people didn’t have problems with intestine for a long time. Those who had such complaints before hunger, if they survived, they forgot about them.


Heather is a plant-token, a symbol of life of those terrible days. Later, the same place was taken by linden tree. It also was broken; leaves were dried, stuffed in mortar for flour, which served as the main component in cookies. In addition linden flour had stickiness. The people who worked in public institutions and farms (forestry, state farms, and sugar corporations) were better off; they were fed and given some products (bread and something for bread). On the markets something eatable was sold and usually ersatz food, in the form of patties, сakes and all other “matortanyky”. Bread was not sold. They traded with dairy products, cow meat and fat appeared. To buy something you needed a lot of money. I admit that our small family from 4 people even with possibilities and “stocks” had very difficult times, and you can imagine how difficult was it for big and poor families.


Our father was a master, in the good sense of the word,  at that time, he was working a collective farm order at a home workroom – producing large oak barrels for future souring of vegetables. There were no private orders – we couldn’t think about it at that time. It’s time to part with the things that have been acquired over the years, and then they could not be got back again. Golden accessories and wedding rings went to Kyiv, to so-called “Torgsin”, for what a dozen of bread loafs and a bit of flour was received. Even before the hunger people suspected of having gold coins were imprisoned. The prison had a romantic name “Dopr”. But expected consequences were usually not got. The hunger forced voluntarily to give away everything that was cheaper in life.


Some stronger people drove clothes, various things into the Bryansk region in Belarus, where they changed for grain and flour. I believe that more people could have survived in our area, but in result of psychological shock, apathy and fatality, stopped the struggle for life and died. This may also happen in the case of a shipwreck, when the active part the unlucky people, contrary to expectations, reaches the shore. I also saw how quite normal people were walking through the market with spoons, pretending being ready to buy, and tasted different sorts of things. But it was impossible to eat in such way. For this you needed to use at least a bit of power, what did, not because of happiness, a local policeman Potro Bryznytsii, whose motto was “ruble for a place, otherwise two pie pieces and a glass of Ryazhenka”. My neighbour Petro Bryznytskii also always went to market to taste something. He was a man of gigantic constitution and strength, but the famine slowly overcame him, then his 4 children at the age of 2-10 died, the last who died was his wife Palazhka. I remember as if it was today, a warm sunny day and on the street under the fence near her house a depleted bony woman lies on her right side with an earthy colour of the face with her face on the palm of her hand. The fingers of the left hand are moving convulsively, from a half-open mouth, a severe interrupted breath is bursting out, nearby a shovel lies and a basket stands with several rotten potatoes. Sleepy and indifferent due to starvation people are passing by and nearby the last member of a family, mother, hard-working Ukrainian woman finishes her life path.

People passed over quietly; there were almost no robberies or thefts. The most terrible remembrance of all my life was the cannibalism that I had to see at this time. On one of the streets lived a large family of Sukhorski. The daughter was walking to different houses and begging. On our street Nyzka, she tempted a girl of a school age to her house, where the father slaughtered and cooked her. I saw how police and executants of the village council brought all this family and a huge iron pot with horrible content; small hands were lying on the top.


Now I want to focus on the issue of assistance to starving people. As at all times, the world didn’t exist without good people; such people were found even on the day of peril. By saying this first of all I refer to the director of a Ukrainian secondary school Yakov Kryvich, who was previously a director of agricultural technical school, had some experience and who managed to arrange an additional husbandry and to arrange a sufficient amount of taken “products”. The school had a dining room. So-called “zatyrka” was cooked for us. Somehow it our neighbourhood it was called “shlichts”. Sometimes it was called “olyva”. The director of the Polish 7-year school Rybitsckii, a son of old Bolshevik from 1904, also didn’t lag behind in these issues. I remember how he was buried in 1934 with military honours and his son was repressed in 1937 as an “enemy of the state”.


The head of collective farm “Bilshovyk” Mykola Baranivskii, a former shepherd, illiterate, but endowed with natural intelligence and prudence. Probably because of his proletarian origin, he was forgiven more than other chiefs, so he left something hidden in the pantries. He let people mill the straw with flails, but unfortunately the consequences were not positive. Threshing machines worked good, not as combine harvesters now.


With the beginning of field works in collective farms they also cooked “shlichta” and transported to work places in barrels. Tractor driver and some other categories also received bread. “Shlichta” was given to all regardless the workplace. At this time they tries, first of all, to rescue children. I don’t know whether it was a local initiative or an order from above, but you could feel it. Those who remained mobile by then had sufficiently more chances to survive. Spring came early. In spring we, children, gathered agricultural pests on beetroots fields. Kind uncle Trohym (childless), whom the work was handed, carried about us and tried to feed us with bread and “shlichta”. Later we went to cultivate gardens. There were 2 meals a day with bread.


For children who lost parents in collective farms there were organised orphanages which were called “child parks” by then, but the care there was bad, and sanitary conditions were even worse. Dysentery (bloody flux) mowed down children. Before and at the beginning of harvesting there were cases when exhausted people ate unripe grain or suddenly died after eating bread from the first harvest. Human losses were enormous. Once with a fresh memory I counted on the street, counted 106 people in 98 houses, and in the village there were 7 more streets and everywhere hunger death  was raging, this is about 650-700 lost souls. People died not uniformly, mostly by whole families. In my homeland, the hunger-genocide took much more than we lost in the war (302 people)”.


The Holodomor tragedy is a story of almost every Ukrainian family, a story of a modern Ukrainian nation. The memory and knowledge of the Holodomor today is a powerful fence against the crime of genocide of Ukrainians. The lessons of the Holodomor history are taught to resist injustice, the threats of the crime of genocide in any part of the world. As a matter of fact, this is the reason why “Holodomor Victims Memorial” exists.

Friends, due to your public position, conscientiousness, support, we will be able to collect and preserve as much as possible testimonies of the people who survived the Holodomor! If you have written memories about the Holodomor or you have a wish to write them down from the testimonies of your relatives or acquaintances in cooperation with the Holodomor Victims Memorial, please phone 254-45-12 or send the information on the e-mail  [email protected].