by Christopher Guly
The Ukrainian Weekly
Ukrainian National Association
Parsippany, New Jersey
July 5, 1998
Tears rolled down Halyna Zelem's cheeks on a rainy June 14 afternoon in
Ottawa as she stood with some 100 members of the local Ukrainian
Canadian community recalling a brutal chapter in their homeland's history.
Sixty-five years ago, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's artificially created
famine had ended in Ukraine, leaving as many as 7 million Ukrainians dead.
Ms. Zelem was 7 years old at the time, living with her family in the Poltava
region of eastern Ukraine.
"We were always hungry," recalled Ms. Zelem, who came to Canada in
1951 and worked as a seamstress.
She said that in order to feed their family, her father, whose farm was
confiscated by the Soviets, took her mother's gold earrings and cross to a
store, hoping to exchange the items for food. "They gave him millet, but
half of it was chaff," Ms. Zelem said.
In 1933, the late British writer and broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge
reported on a visit that he made to Ukraine, where he saw "millions of
starving peasants, their bodies often swollen from lack of food." Under
Stalin's orders, "everything edible" had been taken away and some of
the world's most fertile land had been reduced to a "melancholy desert."
Between 1932 and 1933, Stalin's campaign of agricultural collectivization
and attempt to keep the independent-minded farmers in line with Kremlin
authority claimed millions of lives.
As Member of Parliament Inky Mark of the Manitoba Reform Party
recalled in the House of Commons on June 2, the number of victims
represented "approximately the total populations of Manitoba,
Newfoundland, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan,
Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island."
Witnessing the wrath of the famine left the late Russian poet Boris
Pasternak, most famous for his 1957 novel "Doctor Zhivago," so shaken
he could not write for a year. He later wrote "There was such inhuman,
unimaginable misery, such a terrible disaster, that it began to seem almost
abstract; it would not fit within the bounds of consciousness."
Other stories, which estimated that Stalin's war against the people claimed
14.5 million lives, painted pictures of babies looking like "embryos out of
alcohol bottles" and of people making soup out of boiled rats, nettles, tree
bark and the skin of old furs.
The situation for food became so desperate some people resorted to
cannibalism, said Ms. Zelem. "My mother would never eat sausage because
people said it was made from people's flesh." Instead, they ate mostly
beets, said Ms. Zelem, now married with two grown children.
It wasn't much better for Diana Lawruk, who was 13 years old and living in
the Kyiv region in 1933. "I was eating leaves from cherry trees," said Ms.
Lawruk, a widow who worked in the Ottawa Civic Hospital's housekeeping
department for 27 years. Once, when she was scouring the neighborhood in
search of food, Ms. Lawruk was invited to one home thinking she might get a
meal, not realizing she was the meal. "The man's wife said, 'Run away,
because chances are he's calling you to eat you.'"
She said she heard horror stories of husbands killing wives and serving them
as meals to guests who thought they were consuming horse meat. Today, Ms.
Lawruk who attended the Ottawa commemoration ceremony, says she's
happy, "I have everything I need."
The Ukrainian Weekly, July 5, 1998, No. 27, Vol. LXVI, Roma
Hadzewycz, Editor-in-chief, 2200 Route 10, P. O. Box 280, Parsippany,
New Jersey, 07054. Published by the Ukrainian National Association.
The website exhibits a large collection of material about the Famine.
For personal and academic use only.