[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
The Daily Express, April 6th, 1933
NINE TO A ROOM IN SLUMS OF RUSSIA
Russia’s Collapse No.4
Horses Only Meat
Gangs of Robbers
‘WE ARE WAITING FOR DEATH”
'EMPTY COTTAGES: OWNERS FLED'
By Gareth Jones
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 dying here.”
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 swollen.”
What then do you eat, if you have no bread?” I asked one raw lad.
“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 a out 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 village.”
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 a 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 world.”
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 HORSES”
“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.
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