Wales and the forgotten famine, or ‘Holodomor’ in Ukraine   1 comment

Mick Antoniw AM, member of the National Assemb...

Mick Antoniw AM, member of the National Assembly for Wales. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following article by Mick Antoniw, Welsh Assembly Member for Pontypridd, appeared in the Western Mail last week….
Wales and the forgotten famine:

…This weekend in Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities and homes across the world people will be commemorating the 79th anniversary of the “Holodomor“, the artificial famine created by Stalin which led to the deaths over an 18 month period during 1932-1933 of over 7 million Ukrainian men women and children. The precise figures will never be known but estimates suggest between 6 and 10 million died.

It is only in recent years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union that people in the West have become aware of this concealed and forgotten act of genocide.


As a child, brought up in a Ukrainian émigré community I became aware of the stories of the Holodomor. I grew up with some children whose families had survived and lived through these terrible events. In a hotchpotch community of the post war flotsam and jetsam of Ukraine, former soldiers from the Polish, Red and German armies, in some cases soldiers who had served in all three, ex partisans, nationalists, socialists, betrayed communists, ex Gulag and concentration camp prisoners, former slave labourers and mere, ordinary refugees from the bombings and killings; all had their horror stories but all knew of and in some cases had experienced the Holodomor, the “death by famine”.

You might think that famine was nothing new; after all there was famine in the immediate post revolution period in Ukraine. However,, this was different, a man-made famine which had as its main objectives, the forced collectivisation of land and the peasantry, and the wiping out of millions of Ukrainians and replacing them with more loyal, Russian speaking cadre, to appease Stalin’s feeling of political insecurity arising in central and South East Ukraine, the bread basket of Europe.


The famine also exposed the worst and the best in British journalism. The worst, typified by some of the left leaning journalists who visited and reported on the Soviet Union in glowing terms, feted and well looked after by the Soviet authorities they saw no famine. In fact suggestions there might be a famine on any thing like the scale suggested was immediately put down and rubbished as anti soviet or right-wing propaganda. Journalists of international acclaim such as the 1932 Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty were seduced by the Soviet propaganda machine into allowing their hearts to overrule their heads and their responsibilities as journalists. British and indeed international investigative journalism failed spectacularly. On the other side, the best of British journalism was exemplified by journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and in particular Welsh journalist Gareth Jones.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Malcolm Muggeridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


After graduating from Cambridge in 1930, Barry born Gareth made his first visit to Hughesovka (Donetsk) where he saw the first signs of famine. In 1933 he visited Soviet Ukraine again and defied a ban on travelling to visit the famine affected regions.

During his March 1933 “off limits” walking tour of Ukraine he witnessed the famine first hand and reported:
“I walked alone through villages and twelve collective farms. 
Everywhere was the cry, “there is no bread, we are dying.”

“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.
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.”

During the famine around 20-25% of the population of Soviet Ukraine was exterminated including a third of Ukraine’s children.

That the famine was a direct product of Stalin’s political leadership was illustrated by the gruesome statement of leading communist MM Khatayevich who summed up the official position “A ruthless struggle is going on between the peasantry and our regime.

It’s a struggle to the death. This year was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay. We’ve won the war”
Gareth Jones was vilified and ostracised for reporting honestly what he saw. He was nevertheless one of the few who stood up and maintained the highest journalistic principles. He was banned by the Soviet authorities from re-entering the Soviet Union. Two years later he was murdered in suspicious circumstances in Manchuria in 1935.

In recognition of Gareth Jones’ exposure of the famine a memorial plaque in English, Welsh and Ukrainian was unveiled in Aberystwyth in May 2006. In November 2008 I attended a ceremony in London at which his nephew was awarded the Ukrainian Order of Freedom. Wales has an unusual historic connection with Ukraine mainly arising out of its common industrial heritage. In Gareth Jones, Wales can be proud of something else; at a time when many turned a blind eye to the terrible events in Ukraine, it was a Welshman who stood up and told the world the truth.

A Holodomor memorial at the Andrushivka villag...

A Holodomor memorial at the Andrushivka village cemetery, Vinnytsia oblast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



By Mick Antoniw

Advertisements

One response to “Wales and the forgotten famine, or ‘Holodomor’ in Ukraine

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Reblogged this on virtualborscht.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: