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The Daily Express, April 4th, 1933 Page 1


‘Bread!  We are dying’

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Parliament Asked to Rush Through Bill Controlling Russian Imports

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By Gareth Jones

One cry haunts the Russian of today and that is “Hleba Nietu” (There is no bread). 

As you walk through the Tverskaya-street in Moscow, a rough-bearded peasant in a sheepskin coat will lumber up to you and say: “Give for the sake of God. I am from the Ukraine, and there ‘hleba nietu’ (there is no bread).  In my village they are dying off.  I have come to Moscow for bread, which I shall send to my home by post.  We are doomed in the Ukraine.  In my village we had eighty horses.  Now we have only eighteen.  We had a hundred and fifty cows.  Now there are only six.  We are dying.  Give us bread.”  

Further on, a little girl, about eight years of age, with dark brown eves, her little face wrapped in a shawl, sells you scented white spring flowers for a rouble a bunch. 

“Where do you come from?” I, ask. 

“I am from the Crimea,” she replies, where there is warm sunshine.  Here it is cold, and I am freezing.”  

“Then why have you come up north to Moscow ?" 

“Because there is no bread in the Crimea and people are dying.  There will be plenty of fruit there of all kinds, but that will not be until the summer.  So my mother and I have brought flowers to Moscow and have come to find bread.”

Ask that pox-pitted youth who sell wooden bowls with burnt-in designs on street corner where he comes from and what he is doing in the great city, and he will say: 

“I come from the Nijni-Novgorod region, and there we have no bread.  So we carve these wooden bowls by hand and come to Moscow to seek something to eat.” 

Ask that peasant woman who stands in a side street and sells milk at three roubles (nominally six shillings) a litre why she is in Moscow, and she will reply: “I live fifty versis” (thirty miles) “from Moscow, and there we have no bread.  We come to Moscow and bring bread back.  Moscow is feeding us.  If it were not for Moscow we should die.” 

“How many cattle have you in your village?”  I ask.  “We had three hundred cows and now we have less than a hundred and it is difficult to feed them now because we have to eat cattle fodder for ourselves.”  She asks for bread.  “I will exchange milk for bread,” she says.  So a kind of primitive barter is returning.  

Now we see a peasant enter a shop that is crammed full with goods.  Big loaves of pure white bread are piled on the counters.  Vast slabs of butter stand side by side with pyramids of cheeses of every kind.  Oranges, apples, figs, dates are there in plenty.  Clothes of every hue hang in one department.  Fur coats are being examined by inquisitive girls in another corner.  Fish from the Volga and the Caspian Sea fraternise with products from the Baltic. 

 Can this really be Russia?  Why are nearly all the other shops empty while this is brimming over with plenty?  

We shall follow the peasant and see.  He turns round and comes up to us and says:- “Please, I am from the village, and I have some gold earrings which I have kept for a long time.  They tell me I can buy things for gold here.” 


That is the solution to the mystery.  In this shop one can buy with gold or silver, or with foreign currency, and this is another magnet for the peasants to come into the towns. 

In many villages there was a little gold left, and so one or more peasants would come to Moscow to this so-called Torgsin shop, and in exchange for gold or silver receive bread and other objects.  There has therefore been a flow of gold and silver from the villages into the towns, and a flow of bread back. 

But there are not many fortunate peasants who have gold or silver, and soon this supply of food will be stopped.  Some of the peasants who wander into the towns in search of bread have dollars which they have received from relatives who have emigrated abroad.  With these they can buy bread and post it home to their families.  Some of them still have silver roubles from the days of the Czar Nicholas.  Some of them bring silver spoons.  Having delved into all their treasures they have only one thought: “How can I get bread?” 


Many of these new invaders of the towns bring their children with them.  Sometimes a whole family will stand and beg, or the youngest child will be deputed to go to a passer-by and say: “Uncle, give me some kopeks to get some bread.” 

These peasant beggars call at houses for food, but often in the houses there is not enough for the occupier.  The police have a great problem with these peasant beggars, and I do not envy their task. 

One night I saw a crowd on a street and heard piteous wails. I went up and saw a dark-bearded Ukrainian peasant clad in the usual sheepskin, struggling with  a policeman. Three children, distraught with fear and shrieking, were hanging on to him. 

“You have no right to beg here,” said the policeman. 

“We want bread! We want bread!” 

The policeman won the battle.  He called a passing droshky, pushed the peasant in with the children hanging on desperately, and standing on the board of the droshky, bade the driver drive off to the police station.  The unceasing cries of the children could be heard as the droshky trotted off. 

These searchers for bread from the villages sleep the anywhere.  In the courtyards of the houses they find corners, but in March these are freezing.  Some have friends in the towns, and they swell the already large numbers of occupants of the houses.  Many of them swarm to the railway stations, which are crowded with peasants - a typical feature of the attempt of the villagers to get into the towns. 


In one railway station I talked to a group of women who said: “We are starving.  We have hardly had bread for two months.  We are from the Ukraine and we are trying to go north for they are dying quickly in the villages.  But we have come so far, and now they will give us no railway tickets.  So we are stranded here without food and do not know what to do. 

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