Holodomor Memories

My paternal grandmother was from central Ukraine, which for centuries was under the Russian Empire, and then from 1922 the Soviet Union. As such, unlike the rest of my ancestors who lived in western Ukraine (under Austria and then Poland), they experienced the Holodomor (Famine-Genocide) in 1932-3, a man-made famine which left millions of people in Soviet Ukraine dead.

Five years ago I traveled to Kamianske (until a few months ago Dniprodzerzhynsk) to meet my grandmothers sisters who were still alive. It was a very interesting experience, as it was my first encounter with relatives who were not from Galicia, and thus with relatives who had a different history, language, and culture. They shared with me stories and old photographs of my ancestors.

To commemorate the victims of this horrible tragedy, I want to share my family's account of their experience of the Holodomor, for it's these personal stories which should never be forgotten. Below is an excerpt about the Holodomor from the recording I took of our conversation about family history. Here are the English and Ukrainian translations. (Original language mostly Russian/surzhyk.)

***

1920-1930s
Nastia, Varvara (my great-great grandmother)
and Aleksandra (Shura) (my great-grandmother)
“They (my grandmother and two of her sisters) were taken to their grandma's (Varvara) in Andrusivka so they would not die from hunger. Grandma was on her own, but she was very good at efficiently distributing food. She counted out all of her potatoes, and counted how many days there were until the new harvest, and knew how much they could eat per day so as not to die. She helped her neighbors a great deal. One neighbor came to her to kill her so he could take something to eat. She gave him a broth made from potato peels. And he left her alone.

Mykola lived across the road. He had five children, who went to work as shepherds. Some died along the way, while searching for food. His wife died. He had five children, but only two survived. Three died from hunger. Mykola was a hard worker. Grandma helped him a great deal, gave him corn, potatoes. In one day his grandmother and his last daughter died, and they hadn't even taken their last breaths when they were taken away. He was left alone. Then he too died from hunger.

Grandma helped him, always tried to have some extra food to give him.

The three sisters came to her, helped her pound corn. They kept things together well. And moreover, grandma continued to work as a proskurnytsia (a woman who bakes communion bread). She baked a lot of communion bread. Not everyone could bake like her. People went to church and bought the bread and from that she earned money.
The famine was horrific.

She saw people with swollen legs as they walked along the road, searching for some sort of small game, and sometimes they died on the way. When someone passed by, it was not known whether he or she would ever return…"

***

"Вони (моя бабця і дві її сестри) були в бабці, їх відвезли до бабусі (Варвари) в Андрусівку, щоби вони не померли з голоду. Баба була одна, але вона дуже добре економно розподіляла їжу. Вона порахувала всю свою картоплю, і порахувала скільки днів до нового урожаю, і знала скільки може їсти на день, аби не померти.  Вона багато допомагала сусідам.  Сусід прийшов до неї вбити, щоби взяти щось з’їсти. Вона дала йому бульйон з лушпиння картоплі. І він відчепився.

Микола навпроти жив. У нього було 5 дітей, які пішли працювати пастухами. Деякі помирали по дорозі в пошуках їжі. Жінка його померла. 5 дітей було, але тільки 2 залишилися, 3 померли від голоду. Микола був працьовитий. Баба йому дуже помагала, дала йому кукурудзу, картоплю. В один день померли баба і остання дочка Mиколи і казали, що не встигли вони померти як їх вже відвезли. Він лишився сам. Тоді він теж помер з голоду.

Баба допомагала йому, завжди старалася щоб був в неї якісь запас (їжі).

Троє (сестри) приїхали до неї, помагали їй товкти кукурудзу. Трималися добре. І тим більше вона й далі працювала проскурницею. Пекла багато проскур, не кожен може так пекти. Люди йшли до церкви і купляли і тим вона гроші заробляла.

Голод був дуже страшний. Вона бачила людей з опухлими ногами, як йшли по дорозі, шукали якусь тваринку і так могли по дорозі вмерти. Коли хтось пішов, не було відомо чи він повернеться чи ні."

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