Julia Rubin, Associated Press
The Washington Times, Washington, D.C.
Section: A, WORLD, Edition: 2, Page: A7
September 6, 1993
KAGARLIK, Ukraine - Sixty years ago, Petro Vasheka's parents and four of his
brothers and sisters starved to death on the fertile farmland of central
He watched them die after Josef Stalin's government confiscated the last of
the family's grain. The Kremlin denied for decades that the Ukrainian famine
of 1932-33 ever happened, but Mr. Vasheka did not forget.
This month, for the first time, Ukraine will commemorate the anniversary of
the "Terror Famine," which Mr. Vasheka and others believe was engineered by
Stalin to crush Ukrainian nationalism and force farmers onto collectives.
Since Ukraine became independent in 1991, the famine has become a defining
historic event for the new nation.
Historians estimate 4 million to 7 million Ukrainian peasants perished. Only
now are some villages starting to erect monuments over the mass graves.
Books about the terror are being published and films made.
As a symbol of Moscow's tyranny, the famine continues to cast a shadow on
"This would not have happened if we were masters of our own land," said
Mykola Zhulinsky, minister of humanitarian affairs and chairman of the
"Morally, Ukraine won't be strong until we give the necessary attention to
what really happened."
Mr. Zhulinsky and other reformers believe the famine made Ukrainians cynical
about government and afraid to take the individual actions needed to build a
market economy. He said agriculture had never recovered from the loss of
But some of the former Communists who dominate Ukraine's parliament accuse
reformers of exaggerating Soviet complicity in the famine to discredit the
old regime. They say calling attention to it could hurt relations with
Russia, which Ukraine depends on for fuel.
The commemoration, scheduled for the coming weekend, includes wreath-laying
ceremonies, religious services, even a mock trial of Stalin and his
Mr. Vasheka, who was 11 during the famine, said he survived by eating weeds,
corn cobs and tree bark. He picked insects off the crops at a collective
farm in return for soup.
Now a retired farmer and bootmaker with snow-white hair, he pointed to other
houses in the village and ticked off the death toll in each. He showed the
places in his own cottage where the "Red Broom" - Communist activists
carrying guns and metal rods - poked holes in the walls and dirt floor,
looking for the Vasheka family's last caches of food.
He and other survivors describe the horrors of starvation, and even
cannibalism, matter-of-factly, with hardly a trace of anger, grief or shock.
"That's because people lived in constant fear of the government," said Olga
Voloch, 70, a retired teacher. "With a small circle of friends, first you'd
curse Lenin, then Stalin - but you'd never do it outside."
As late as 1990, Soviet officials denied accounts of the famine by
historians and expatriate Ukrainians. Some Soviet leaders acknowledged there
had been hunger but blamed it on bad weather.
The truth, according to survivors, is that the harvests were good in the
early 1930s. Soviet soldiers guarded full storehouses, and the Soviet Union
continued to export grain.
"It's good that people are finally talking about it," said Mr. Vasheka,
sitting in the yard of his house at a table heavy with bowls of homegrown
apricots and apples. "I knew the truth would come out sooner or later."
Some of the richest land in Europe can be found in the region around
Kagarlik, about 50 miles south of the capital, Kiev. It was the Iowa of the
Mr. Vasheka's yard is a riot of flowers, nut trees, squawking chickens,
meandering cats. But 60 years ago, he said, the village was so desolate that
even the birds had disappeared.
One of the Vashekas' five children, Lyuba Tkachenko, runs the small museum
in Kagarlik and plans to expand the famine exhibit from a single glass case
to an entire room. She collects lists of victims and the stories of
survivors, and prods teachers to talk about the famine in class.
"Children today don't respect bread the way they should, and they don't know
their past," she said. "There's nothing eternal in life except human
Illustration: Photo, Petro and Hanna Vasheka sit with daughter Lyuba at
their home, the same house where Petro's parents and siblings starved to
death 60 years ago., By AP
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