NINE TO A ROOM IN SLUMS OF RUSSIA
‘WE ARE WAITING FOR DEATH”
By Mr. Gareth Jones.
April 6th 1933
Peasants killing horses
for food, peasants sleeping nine to a room in the village slums of the
once-rich Ukraine, empty cottages whose owners have died of starvation or
fled —such are the sidelights on the Soviet catastrophe given below
This is the fourth “Daily
Express” article by Mr. Gareth Jones, who has just returned from Russia,
which he knows intimately.
My tramp through the villages was about to begin. My feet crunched through
the snow I made my way to a group of huts. A white expanse stretched for
many miles. My first encounter was ominous, for the words I heard in the
countryside were the same as those I had heard from peasant-beggars. A
woman with bowed head walking along the railway track turned me and said:
“There is no bread. We have not had bread for over two months and many are
WE HAVE ONLY CATTLE FODDER LEFT
I was to hear these same words in the same tone from
hundreds peasants in that region, the Central Black Earth district, which
was once one of the most fertile of all Russia. There was another sentence
which was repeated to me time and time again: “Vse pukhli.” "All are
What then do you eat, if you have no bread?” I asked one
“Up to now we have had some potatoes, but our store has
run out, and we only have cattle fodder left.” He showed me what he had to
eat. It was a kind of coarse beet which is given to cows.
“How long will this last?”
“Only a month. But many families have neither potatoes
nor beet, and they are dying.”
In every village the bread had run about two
months earlier. Finally, sunset came, and I talked to two men. One said,
“You had better not go further, for hooligans will rob you of your coat and
your food and all.” The other added: “Yes, it is dangerous. They might
jump out at you when it is dark. Come and stay with us in our
They took me to the village Soviet, a hut which
was full of peasants. There were two children there, one of which had a
large swollen stomach.
When the news spread that there was a foreigner in the
village the young men came to ask questions. Their knowledge of events in
the world was remarkable, and showed that they had been well drilled in the
reading of newspapers. Their enthusiasm for learning, impressed me, and I
thought they must have been through a good school. ‘
My stay in that village threw much light on what the
peasants thought. There was only one Communist among the whole population.
The hut in which I stayed became a Mecca to which came all those who wished
to see and wonder.
MANY PEASANTS DIE FROM HUNGER
They all laid their griefs before me openly. They had no
fear in telling me that never had it been so bad and that it was much worse
than in 1921.
The cattle decrease, they told me, was disastrous. “We
used to have two hundred oxen but now, alas there are only six,” they said.
“Our horses and our cows have perished and we only have about one-tenth
left.” The horses looked scraggy and diseased, as do all the horses in the
countryside. Many peasants in the village had died of hunger.
Bewilderment reigned there as
it did over the twelve to fourteen collective farms through which I
tramped. The peasants nodded their heads at the continuous changing of
policy. “We do not know where we are,” one peasant said. “If only Lenin
had lived we would be living splendidly. We could foresee what was going to
happen. But now they have been chopping and changing their policy and we do
not know what is going to happen next. Lenin would not have done something
violently and then suddenly have turned round and said it was a mistake.”
WARNED NOT TO TRAVEL AT NIGHT
One evening two soldiers came into the hut and I found
that they had come to arrest a peasant thief who was guilty of murder. The
thief had gone to steal potatoes from the hut of the other. The owner
hearing the noise had come out to seize the intruder and the thief had
stabbed him in the heart. The soldiers told me that theft had increased
rapidly, and another Red Army soldier who came next morning warned me: “Do
not travel by night. There are too many wild, uncultured men who want food
and to steal.” My tramp took me further through several villages until I
came to the Ukraine. On the way I entered a school, where there was a
notice: “The Soviet school is foremost among all the school in the
In the wall newspaper to which children contribute, there was an item which
read: “At the present moment the collective farm
construction is going through a period of transition. The kulaks and the
opportunists are trying to wreck the plan for the spring sowing but the iron
muscles of the collectivists must reply to their destructive tendencies.
“DISGRACEFUL PERISHING OF OUR
“The mechanisation of the country is going rapidly
ahead. In agriculture we must also go over to the machine, but this cannot
be done immediately. Thus we must still pay attention to the horse. Now
just look at how we treat horses in this village. Horses fall down and die
of hunger and dirt. The collective farm members here must pay attention to
the disgraceful perishing of our horses.”
The peasants had eaten horseflesh in the next collective
farm which I visited. This is significant, for the Russian peasant never
ate horseflesh. It was only the Tartars who ate horses, and for this they
were despised by the Russians. Along the route which I took going south I
noticed frequently patches where the dry skeletons of last year’s weeds were
peeping above the snow. One old peasant stopped me and pointed sadly to the
fields. “In the old times,” he bewailed, “that was one pure mass of gold.
Now it is all weeds.” The old Ukrainian went on moaning: “In the old times
we had horses and cows and pigs and chickens. Now we are dying of hunger.
In the old days we fed the world. Now they have taken all we had away from
us and we have nothing. In the old days I should have bade you welcome, and
given you as my guest chickens and eggs and milk and fine, white bread. Now
we have no bread in the house. They are killing us.”
In one of the peasant’s cottages in which I stayed we
slept nine in the room. It was pitiful to see that two out of the three
children had swollen stomachs. All there was to eat in the hut was a very
dirty watery soup, with a slice or two of potato, which all the family and
in the family I included myself ate from a common bowl with wooden spoons.
Fear of death loomed over the cottage, for they had not
enough potatoes to last until the next crop. When I shared my white bread
and butter and cheese one of the peasant women said, “Now I have eaten such
wonderful things I can die happy.” I set forth again further towards the
south and heard the villagers say, “We are waiting for death.”
HUNDREDS OF EMPTY COTTAGES
Many also said, “It is terrible here and many are dying,
but further south it is much worse. Go down to the Poltava region and you
will see hundreds of empty cottages. In a village of three hundred huts
only about a hundred will have people living, in them, for the others will
have died or have fled, but mainly died.” Before long I set foot in the
city of Kharkoff, the capital of the Ukraine. What I had seen in one small
part of vast Russia was typical of conditions throughout the country, from
the borders of Poland to the distant parts of Siberia.
How were the men and women in the towns faring? I was
soon to learn.