[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
Sunday American / Los Angeles Examiner [across Hearst syndicated papers]
Sunday 13 January 1935.
‘THERE IS NO BREAD’
Gareth Jones Hears Cry of Hunger All Over Ukraine, Once Russia’s Sea of Grain
And Then a Second Phrase Occurs: “We Are Swollen,” Victims of Famine Complain
This is the second of three articles on Russia by Gareth Jones, formerly research adviser on foreign affairs to Lloyd George, now commissioned by the Manchester Guardian to write on world affairs. In Russia he was received by Lenin’s widow, by Commissar for Foreign Affairs Litvinoff, by the Commissar for Finance, and by the president of the Atheists. In this article, he describes his visit to the North Ukraine, once known as the granary of the world.
BY GARETH JONES
Formerly research adviser on foreign affairs on the staff of Lloyd George, and now a writer commissioned by the Manchester Guardian, making a world tour for that publication.
- - - -
The snow lay deep around as I began my tramp through the villages of the North Ukraine, the part of Russia which once fed Europe and was known as the granary of the world.
I decided therefore to walk along the railway tracks, for if I penetrated into the country I should be lost in the snow and perhaps never return.
The first words I heard were ominous, for an old peasant woman moving with difficulty along the track answered my greeting with that phrase, “Hleba nietu” (“there is no bread”).
“For two months we have had no bread here,” she added in that deep crying voice which most of the peasant women had.
“Many are dying in the village. Some huts have potatoes, but many of us have only cattle fodder left, and that will only last another month.”
She moved away and I stood watching her bent, ugly, tragic figure outlined against the snow.
The Next village to which I came had an unearthly quietness about it and it was long before I came upon any living being.
‘All Are Swollen,’
Is Second Refrain
From him I had the same wail: “There is no bread.” And he added another phrase which I was destined to hear frequently, and that was: “Vse pukhly,” or “all are swollen.”
I noticed then that some of the peasants I saw had their hands swollen, and they told me that was a result of the lack of food.
I tramped on and was struck be the absence of cattle and of horses. There were a few cows and a few horses, but they were miserable, scraggy animals covered with hideous sores which were revolting to the eye.
When I had reached another village I asked where the cattle had disappeared, and my question brought anger and despair to the group of peasants who stood outside a well-built hut.
“Our cattle has had a curse upon it,” they declared. “The cows are now dying off because we cannot feed them, where are we to obtain the fodder?
“And shall we starve in order that our cattle may live? It is we who have to eat cattle fodder these days.”
A peasant entered the hut and came out with a coarse hard red beet.
“That’s the only food we have in this village, except for a few fortunate people who have some potatoes. And that’s the food we used to give to the cattle.
“It is a sad day when we farmers from the land of the Ukraine, which used to feed the world, and which used to be a seas of golden grain, have nothing more to eat than cattle beets.”
“What of the horses?” I asked, and some peasants turned to me with a horrified look.
“Do you know that we have had eat to horses?”
He said this in a tone of such deep disgust that I was nonplussed, but I learned later that the Russian peasant once had a profound a loathing of touching horse flesh as an orthodox Jew has of eating pork.
It was with horror that he looked down upon the Tatar who profaned himself by eating horse meat.
Thus to be reduced to eating horse flesh was to be reduced to the utmost limit of hunger, and they had reached this limit in the villages I visited.
The livestock situation was indeed disastrous, for in some more than four-fifths of the cattle had perished.
Some had been massacred by the peasants themselves, because the Communists had demanded that they give up their cattle to be owned in common by the collective farm.
“Why should we give up our cattle? Why should we allow the Communists to steal what is our own?” was the reply of the farmers, and rather than lose their cows they slaughtered them, saying: “Let us eat now, for tomorrow we may starve, having lost our cattle.”
After talking to the folk about their horses and cattle I walked on until it grew darker, and a red glow formed above the white horizon. Two men were standing on the railway track.
“Do not go further,” said one of them, a tall, well-built young man, as he politely stopped me. “There are bandits about who will steal all you have.
“Come and stay with us.” They took me to a hut, and there I noticed crawling on a bed a child with a stomach which was swollen.
The eyes of the child were strange, for there seemed to be a glassy film-like substance in them.
I asked the woman what was the matter, and she replied with one word: “Golod,” which means “FAMINE.”
The Famine Dead
Yes, famine was raging in that village as it was throughout that district.
“Famine!” said the old men who assembled to talk to me in the bare hut. “It’s famine. Worse even than in 1921.
“You ask how many people have died? We cannot tell. We have not counted them, but perhaps one in every ten.
“And death is on the way to this village for many of us, because it is some months before the next harvest.”
I turned to the old farmers and said: “Why has this scourge come upon you?”
One of them stroked his beard and scratched his head and replied: “It is because the Communists have cursed God. They have tried to banish God from our midst, and the punishment has come in the form of death. When Holy Mother Russia believed in God, the fields became a mass of gold and the cattle and horses multiplied.
“But now the revenge has come for all the blasphemy and the evil which has been preached.”
An old peasant interrupted: “They tried to take away the holy ikons which I had hanging on the wall, but I said to them: “Leave me my ikons, for I am a peasant and not a dog.”
Long into the night the discussion continued of how the Communists had brought ruin to the countryside by their policy of taking the land and the grain and the cow away from the farmer, and it was long before I fell asleep, in the middle of a famine-stricken village.
Next morning there was a knock at the door and two red army soldiers came in, laughing and joking in their warm uniforms. “Do not be alarmed, comrade, but two thieves who came here. We have to capture them.”
There had been a murder a few nights previously, when two men in search of food had plundered the outdoor cellar of a peasant and taken all the potatoes he had. The owner, hearing the noise, had rushed out to save his possessions, but he had received a fatal dagger wound.
“But,” said one of the soldiers, “there are so many of these nowadays, when there is no food,” and after asking questions of my host they marched away.
Tell of More
Within an hour I was also prepared to march and made my way further toward the south. In each home in which the peasants entertained me with that warm-heartedness for which the Russians are renowned, they would pray me to forgive them that they had no food to offer, and I would look upon the children with their distorted limbs and feel the tragedy of that man-made famine which had the country in its grip.
“Do not pity us,” some of the peasants would say, “but pity those who live down around Poltava and more to the south. There, whole villages are empty, for ALL HAVE DIED, and in many communities HALF HAVE PERISHED.”
But for me the famine in those villages was pitiful enough. Soon I was to learn more, however, for before many days were over I heard why the famine had come, how the Communists had treated many of the parents who were seeking food for their young, and how there was hunger even in a great city like Kharkov. This I shall tell tomorrow.
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