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Сергій Білокінь (Київ)

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Extermination of the peasantry

S. Bilokin

The attitude of the Bolsheviks to peasants was exclusively that of consumers of foodstuffs. Marx spoke of the “idiotism of the village life. [132]” He did not know that life, he did not understand it, and he despised it. Seeing in peasants only human material, the Bolsheviks did not bother with such detailed “special” lists and dossiers in the countryside as they tirelessly kept and updated in urban communities. Prior to the Kosygin reform of 1974, peasants were not even issued with internal passports. They were starved to death without any paperwork or formalities – in tens of thousands and millions [133]. Because of lack of written original sources, emigre investigators and foreigners in general found themselves in an impossible situation. Panas Fedenko wrote about S. Prokopovich, the author of treatises on Soviet economy with whom he was acquainted:

“He trusted these figures [official Soviet statistics – S. B.] absolutely, and, e.g., in his work on the economy of the U.S.S.R. I found nothing on the terrible famine of 1933. Why? Because there was nothing about it in the Soviet statistics, meaning that, well, there was no famine, so he disregarded it entirely. [134]

But as regards Ukrainians, the great famine became firmly embedded in their genetic memory. In the summer of 1933 my great grandfather, Semen Bilokin, had swollen legs and feet from hunger. (He lived in the village of Kozhanka in the Kiev region.) His neighbors advised him to warm them in the sun. He built himself a small hut where he could lie sheltered from the waist up and leaving his legs exposed to the sun. But they just leaked. He would get up and walk – and leave wet footprinnts behind. He even tried to wear rubber overshoes, but nothing helped. Several days later he died. Memories of this kind must still be vivid in many families.

From the very beginning in the Bolshevik-controlled territory there existed only collective responsibility and mass terror. It was not until August 5, 1920 that the Ukrainian Politburo adopted a resolution introducing “individual, as well as collective, responsibility of peasants for failure to fulfill compulsory delivery quotas. [135]” Of course, the fact of social division into classes is not denied by any historiography. Differences between the class interests of people are well known, as are manifestations of class struggle recorded in the various countries in one epoch or another. But the Bolsheviks used this to idenify themselves with only one class, supposedly positive by definition, and to declare the rest of the people partly tolerable and partly absolutely unacceptable. It did not matter whether any particular individuals belonging to the other classes were guilty of any concrete wrongdoings. The overriding principle was that of collective responsibility of all members of those classes and social groups which were totally hostile and wholly bad, and therefore deserved to be eradicated. This theory was put into operation already during the first months of Soviet rule. A meticulously drafted Order No. 2, which was promulgated over the signature of Zatonskyi [136], was quite explicit in laying down the punitive procedure: “Not a single act of banditry must go unpunished. In case of murder or wounding by village bandits of a representative of Soviet Power, a Red Army serviceman or a member of a Committee of Poor Peasants a double number of hostages shall be executed by firing squad; the question who personally [is to be executed] shall be decided by lot to be drawn by all hostages and candidates substituting for those absent. Note: In case of concealment of the bodies of those murdered the punishment shall be doubled. [137]” It should be emphasized that this wholly incompatible with the Orthodox religion which preaches individual reponsibility: “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. XIV, 12).

The reason why the imminent danger failed to rally the peasants lay in their inability to take a broader political view of the events and lack of leadership. Engraved on the memory of the Philadelphia emigre Andriy Didkovskyi was the characteristic reasoning of a certain Stepan Shpak, a peasant from an obscure hamlet of Hushovski. In 1922 he told anti-Communist partisans who came to him to get something to eat: “Throw away, kids, those guns of yours, go home, take plows and work the heaven-sent land, because if they take away my cow, to hell with her – I’ll raise another. I’ll sow grain and I’ll have more of it, and they won’t carry my land away in their pockets, and they certainly can’t fire me from my peasant’s job. [138]” This illusion restrained moderate and law-abiding peasants for a long time: they sat out the entire War of Liberation on their fences! But life is wont to play cruel jokes on people: in 1945 the author came across the very same Shpak in a temporary camp outside Bischnhofen, a little town in Austria. His was a long story.

“Well, after you left then, life was so-so at first. But then they came and took everything away. They sent me, with my wife and sons, all the way to Siberia for five years, because I didn’t want to join the collective farm. My wife couldn’t stand it in Siberia and she died there; my elder son died in the war for nothing, and I don’t even know where the other one may be and if he’s alive. I came back from Siberia before the war, and I couldn’t work any more, and then there was no land to work. I’ve gotten old already, so when people were fleeing I walked with them, too, and God alone knows where my fate may get me next.” [139]

So after all the Leninst Communists had managed to fire Shpak from his peasant’s job. And it goes without saying that in 1945, too, his prospects for the future did not look very bright either.

As in other cases, the authorities were consistent in subjugating the peasantry. Explained the Munich historian Igor Kachurovskyi:

“Thus, the approach to the peasantry was similarly differentiated: the best were the first to be culled and destroyed. These were the so-called kulaks. They were not only the wealthiest but also the most enterprising, the most active, the ablest, and the healthiest both physically and morally. In the villages Soviet power was dubbed ‘the power of horse thieves’.” “Not all the poor joined committees of poor peasants (komnezams)”, Kachurovskyi writes. Those who did were prepared to espouse the Bolshevist ideology and simply craved power. Village activists were also recruited from such people. It was they who decided who was to be given a “household quota,” i.e., a progressive tax in kind, and who was to be listed for ‘export,’ even though the meaning of this term did not become clear until some time later when the “export” got underway, i.e., mass deportations of peasants doomed to freeze to death in the taiga. […] The famine of 1932–1933 decimated the working peasantry but left collective farm bosses – chairmen, managers, storekeepers, field overseers, and team leaders – almost unaffected. [140]

The Bolsheviks actually perpetuated and deeepened the property stratification of the peasantry. No wonder that during the famine they devised preferential treatment for the village bosses who were busy enforcing their measures, i.e., the state policy. On October 2, 1933, the Ukrainian Politburo adopted an ukase that said:

“Countryside officials (chairmen and secretaries of village soviets) shall be supplied with grain from a 5% fund set aside from the harvest tax. [141]

According to Solzhenitsyn, the taiga must have swallowed up “about fifteen million peasants (maybe more). [142]” (At least half of them were Ukrainians.) In his widely known conversation with Stalin, Churchill remarked that it must have been bad dealing “with millions of small men” during the collectivization. “Ten millions,” said Stalin holding up his hands. “It was fearful. Four years it lasted. [143]” In March 1932 Kachurovsky’s family lived in Kursk, and, he recalled, “every day three trains loaded with ‘special settlers’ passed through Kursk: sixty cars (with two engines), forty people to a car. The deportation ceased in July, and it had started – as, among other sources, is known from the reminiscences of Kazdoba [144] – in the fall of 1929. I took minimum figures – and got 4,800,000. Maximum ones tally with Solzhenitsyn’s total of over 7 mln. This was the golden genetic stock of Ukraine.”

The collectivization and dekulakization were followed by another act of the tragedy in which extermination of the peasantry reached its climax. This was the great man-made famine of 1932–33 – a deliberate, cold-blooded mass murder. As Arnold Perkovskyi insisted, it was prepared in advance and logically followed from the strategic course chartered in 1932 by the 17th All-Union Party Conference and calling for the creation, in the main, of a classless socialist society within the time framework of the Second Five-Year Plan (1933–1937) [145]. The essence of this course was expressed in the famous slogan of liquidation of classes – it was hammered into the heads of the country’s entire population, even though at that time few had any idea of its practical implications. The culturologist Viktor Petrov offered his own interpretation of this slogan:

“To Bolshevism, its guidelines and concepts of ‘liquidation of classes’ and ‘construction of a classless society’ had no educational or economic meaning but, first of all, the literal and concrete meaning of physical destruction. Bolshevism was wading toward a classless society through oceans of human blood. The slogan of liquidation was to be understood in the entire naked and ruthless ferocity of this word. The Bolsheviks’ social policy was anti-social in its nature.” [146]

This interpretation was in the air. Solzhenitsyn arrived to the same conclusion wholly independently of Petrov: “One would believe that it was classes that were being liquidated, but would not the people from these classes be supposed to remain?..” [147].

During the Great Famine of 1932–33, the doctrine of collective responsibility was applied, among other things, in the form of the so-called “Black Board,” i.e., blacklisting of entire villages “for malicious sabotage of grain procurement.” On December 6, 1932, the Radnarkom and the CPU Central Committee adopted a resolution ordering the blacklisting of six villages, two each in the Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, and Odessa regions. This meant that

“no goods shall be brought to these villages, all crediting shall be terminated, all outstanding credits and other loans shall be immediately called, the bodies of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate shall check the cooperative and state apparatus and purge it of alien and hostile elements, and the collective farms of the said villages shall be cleansed of counterrevolutionary elements – organizers of the wrecking of grain procurements.” [148]

The Bolsheviks did not invent this practice in the early 1930’s, i.e., already “under Stalin.” In fact, it dates back to the early 1920’s. On December 26, 1922 the Rabochiy-Khimik (Chemical Worker) newspaper of the CC of the All-Russian Union of Chemical Workers published a report under the headline “Up to the Black Board!” It announced that at the general meeting of the workers and white-collar employees of a Krasnodar factory a worker named Plaksin had refused to take part in the celebrations of the fifth anniversary of the “October Revolution” because of his convictions. The meeting resolved that he be fired at once, expelled from the labor union and “put up to the Black Board. [149]

Ukrainian archives contain numerous documents relating to the history of the Great Famine and revealing the criminal intent and actions of the then powers that be. Several collections of such documents have been published since 1990. But several aspects have not been adequately explored to this day. For example, resettlement of Russians to the steppe areas of Ukraine left “undermanned” as a result of the Famine has been passed over in silence, even though the Politburo treated this as a high-priority matter on which it passed several resolutions:

September 11, 1933: “On the Organization of Resettlement to Areas With a Shortage of Manpower. [Reporter:] Comr. Porayko. [150]

September 19: “On the Plenipotentiary of the Resettlement Committee in Ukraine. – That Comr. Pakhomov (Dep. Peopl. Com. for Agricult. of the Ukr.S.S.R.) be nominated for plenipotentiary of the Resettlement Committee in Ukraine. [151]

October 25: “On the Organization of Resettlement to Ukraine from the Regions of the R.S.F.S.R. [152]

On September 27, the Politburo approved the “distribution of 20,000 families of resettlers from the regions of the R.S.F.S.R. by the regions and districts of Ukraine,” specifying, by districts, the number of families allocated to the Donetsk, Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kharkiv regions. On October 25 it even determined the number of train chiefs: 78 for the Odessa Region, 42 for Donetsk, 78 for Dnipropetrovsk, and 52 for Kharkiv [153].

On October 25, 1933, the Politburo put the last touch to this nightmarish picture by adopting a resolution, unsurpassed in its cynicism, that was designed to make the famished populace grateful to the authorities:

On the Organization of Supply of Workers With Manufactured Goods and Foodstuffs in October and the days of October Celebrations. – To provide for a regular and improved supply of workers, engineers and technicians, [white-collar] employees, children, students, scientists, artists, and dependents of workers and employees in October and over the days of the October celebrations the People’s Commissariat for Supply shall carry out the following measures:

The entire population entitled to centralized supply shall be supplied, in adequate quantities and without interruptions, with bread according to the established rations, and in industrial centers white and black bread shall be made available.

The People’s Commissar for Supplies Comr. Berlin [154] shall send down to the regions grain supply plans for the month of November by October 25, and the Grain Procurement Department – Comr. Melamed [155] – shall provide for the issue of supply orders to the regions by October 26.

Grain supply plan for the month of November shall be allocated to the regions at the level of the month of October.

Consumers shall be issued with bread for two days (November 6 and 7). [156]

The dimensions of the havoc wrought by the Great Famine in Ukrainian villages are still a matter of debate. But more or less precise figures are available for the cities where civil registry services were far more efficient. These figure are high. Thus, on March 12, 1933 the Kiev GPU chief Rozanov reported to the Ukr.S.S.R. GPU headquarters that in January 1933 400 dead bodies were picked up on the city streets. The February figure was 518, and another 248 corpses were collected during the first eight days of March [157]. A forensic inspector’s report of March 29, 1934 said that “over the year of 1933 the Kiev city morgue accepted a total of 9,472 corpses picked up in the city; of these 3,991 bodies were those of registered residents, and 5,481 were not registered. [158]” The latter were all peasants who had fled to the city in search of some food but found their deaths instead.

However, rural population registration services were soon improved. For without them it would have been difficult to collect taxes and regulate agricultural production. Some idea of the principles and purposes of rural registration can be gained from the same authoritative source – the minutes of sessions held by the CPU(B) Politburo. For example, on May 10, 1921 the Politburo considered a proposal to introduce personal tax records resolving “That introduction of [personal] food tax records be deemed expedient; a detailed proposal thereon shall be submitted to the Politburo for approval. [159]” On September 20, 1922, the Poliburo, after hearing a report of Deputy People’s Commissar for Finance Kelmanson “On Household Money Tax,” resolved “That the tax be deemed necessary and the matter be referred to a session of the VUTsIK for practical implementation. [160]

At least part of written sources relating to demographic processes in Ukraine’s rural areas have been lost. A fellow villager of Ivan Kozub’s who visited him in 1934 told him that in the village of Kapustyntsi (then Pyryatyn District in the Poltava Region)

“twelve hundred people died from hunger but were registered as deaths from heart diseases by orders of the district officials, and the registers were later seized by the [security] ‘organs’.” [161]

But the improved registry services were an indirect cause of yet another tragedy that befell the peasantry shortly before the war. These were the same bloody purges as in the cities. Investigations were started, secret informers gathered information, and “cases” were initiated and duly prosecuted all the way to liquidation. In other words, another human layer was being stripped off. A good example is the indictment brought against one Vasyl Kokhan and his co-defendants:

Before the 1st of May, 1928 in the village of Koloshchyna, unknown persons put up a leaflet of c.[ounter]r.[evolutionary] nature near the village Soviet. The leaflet said that colonizing Ukraine, Soviet Government has been plundering the peasantry and pumping out all grain thereby dooming the peasantry to poverty and starvation. As a conclusion, it was proposed that the peasants boycott campaigns of Soviet Government, whether of economic or political nature, in every possible way; in particular by hindering the village administration from celebrating the May Day holiday. It has been ascertained, as a result of an intelligence operation using [secret] agents available in the village that in the village of Kolonshchyna there is a group of young people who received secondary education in Kiev, harbor vehemently chauvinistic views and have been trying, in every possible way, to rally [other] young people sympathizing with chauvinistic ideas around themselves with a view to engaging in organized c. r. work. [162]

Relating a similar episode in the Kuban area, a memoirist remarked: “This affair furnished a pretext for arresting and deportating the flower of the youth of Mariental and the environs.” [163]

Of great importance is the study of the toll of the Famine and Stalinist purges at the level of individual villages. Mykola Taran has published lists of people starved to death in the village of Hrebinky in the Bila Tserkva area and nearby rural communities. In Hrebinky itself registered deaths numbered 106, in Maryanivka 209, and in Sokolivka 97 [164]. It has been briefly mentioned in the press that the priest of the village of Zavadivky, Cherkassy Region, kept a private record of deaths from hunger – his 1933 tally was 201 [165]. An interesting attempt to investigate the tragic history of the village of Stayky, Kaharlyk District, Kiev Region, was made by T. Hryhoryeva. By October 1997 she had unearthed archive documents and investigation files concerning 32 victims [166]. This number does not include those who died of hunger. As regards M. Rozhenko and E. Bohatska, they gathered information not about all arrests but only about executions. But their lists cannot be exhaustive even within these limits, for they were unable to study all such cases. Nevertheless, they make it abundantly clear that after the Great Famine, which took millions of lives in Ukraine, another wave of death swept through the countryside – a wave of terror. At least 154 people from Bila Tserkva were executed by firing squad, 85 (an incredible number!) from a small village of Zelenky, Myronivka District, 73 from the long-suffering Medvyn, 57 from Irpin, and so on and so forth. [167] Thus, as we have seen, the externimation of Ukraine’s peasantry proceeded systematically, in logical stages. Here, too, the Communists were consistent – in their own way.


132. K. Marx and F. Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party," K. Marx and F. Engels, Tvory, Vol. 4, Kiev, 1959, p. 414.

133. See: V. P. Danilov, "Diskussiya v zapadnoy presse o golode 1932(1933 gg. i demograficheskoy katastrofe 30(40-kh godov v SSSR," Voprosy Istorii, 1988, No. 3; S. Maksudov, "Diskussii na Zapade o poteryakh sovetskogo naseleniya v epokhu kollektivizatsii," Poteri naseleniya SSSR, Benson, Vermont: Chalidze Publ., 1989, pp. 213(236.

134. VI konferentsiya Instituta po izucheniyu SSSR, p. 102.

135. CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 6, No. , Sh. 60.

136. ZATONSKYI, Volodymyr (1988(1938), in 1918 chairman of VUTsVK, later member of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Military Council, People's Commissar for Education, etc. Liquidated in 1938.

137. I. Bilas, Represyvno-karalna systema v Ukrayini 1917(1953, Book 2, p. 96.

138. A. Didkovskyi, Zbirka spohadiv i statey, Clifton, N.J., Publ. by the author (400 copies), 1966, p. 12.

139. Ibid., p. 13.

140. Letter to the author of April 17, 1999.

141. CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 6, No. 285, Sh. 96.

142. A. Solzhenitsym, Arkhipelag GULag, [Vol.] I(II, p. 37.

143. W. Churchill, Vtoraya mirovaya voyna, Vol. 4, Moscow, 1955, p. 493.

144. K. Kazdoba, Zametenyi shlyakh, Munich, Adelaide, 1974, 367 pp.

145. A. Perkovskyi, "Pro demografichni vtraty Ukrayiny u 30-kh rokakh," Visnyk Mizhnarodnoyi Astsiatsiyi Ukrayinistiv, 1991, No. 3, p. 24.

146. V. Petrov, Diyachi ukrayinskoyi kultury, p. 27.

147. A. Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., [Vol.] III-IV, p. 44 Author's italics.

148. CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 6, No. 285, Sh. 144.

149. "Na chernuyu dosku!", Sots. Vestnik, Jan. 31, 1923, No. 3 (49), p. 12.

150. CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 6, No. 285, Sh. 27.

151. Ibid., Sh. 63.

152. Ibid., Sh. 163.

153. Ibid., Sh. 105, 112, 178(179.

154. BERLIN, Nikolay Osipovich (b. 1886) ( Dep. People's Commissar for Supplies of the Ukr.S.S.R. (since Feb. 10, 1931; resolution of CC Secretariat ( CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 6, No. 281, Sh. 174), later People's Commissar. Member of RSDLP (Menshevik, 1905(07), Internationalist (1915(17), Bolshevik since 1920. Education: Paris University (abandoned before graduation). Spoke German, French, and Ukrainian. Main occupation: office employee. Delegate to 10th and 12th congr. of CPU(B) (CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 1, No. 443. Sh. 21). Late in 1933 proposed that a consignment of nonsterile canned food stored in Mariupol be released for consumption. Proposal turned down by the CPU(B) Politburo Dec. 13, 1933. (CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 16, No. 10, Separate folder, Sh. 213).

155. MELAMED, Isaak Semenovych (b. 1897) ( head of Kharkiv Grain Procurement Dept. (since 1928), later All-Ukr. GPD. Member of Jewish Soc. Labor Party (1918), Bolshevik from 1919. Education: elementary. Main occupation: accounts clerk. Spoke Ukrainian and Yiddish. Delegate of 3rd All-Ukr. Conf. and 12th Cong. of CPU(B) (CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 1, No. 444, Sh. 31).

156. CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 6, No. 285, Sh. 166.

157. A. Sakhno, Shchodennyk "kontrrevolyutsionera," Kiev, 1999, p. 78.

158. Russian State Ethnographic Archives (RSEA), F. 1562, Rec. 329, Coll. 132, Sh. 6. See: Ye. M. Andreyev, L. Ye. Darskii, and T. L. Kharkova, Naseleniye Sovetskogo Soyuza, 1922(1991, Moscow, Nauka, 1993, Sh. 46. The tally of deaths from starvation calculated by the authors exceed the official figures of the U.S.S.R. Central Statistical Dept. by 63%.

159. CSAPAU, No. 45504 FP, Box 729, Sh. 92.

160. CSAPAU, F. 1, Rec. 6, No. 30, Sh. 71 (top).

161. I. Kozub, Doba i dolya, p. 258.

162. CSAPAU, No. 63257 FP, Box 1730, Sh. 7.

163. H. Kubanska, op. cit., p. 38.

164. M. Taran, Rozipyate selo, Bila Tserkva, 1995, pp. 36(52.

165. F. Lyudnyi, "Sumnyi reyestr svyashchenyka," Holos Ukrayiny, 1999, July 8, No. 123 (2125), p. 6.

166. T. F. Hryhoryeva, Arkhivno-slidchi spravy yak dzherelo dlya perevydannya bahatotomnoyi "Istoriyi mist i sil Ukrayiny," Arkhivno-slidchi spravy represovanykh, Kiev, 1998, pp. 4(8.

167. M. Rozhenko and E. Bohatska, op. cit., Book 1, pp. 496(497, 523(524, 500(501, 515.