When I was a little boy, I used to sit on my grandmother’s lap. She would tell me something, and I would stroke her grey hair, running my finger along the wrinkles covering my grandmother’s face. Sometimes my fingers bumped into nodules in the lobes of her ears, hard as pebbles.

“Grandma, what are these pebbles?”

“Well… I used to wear earrings there…”

“And why don’t you wear them anymore?”

“Those earrings are gone, and I don’t want others.”

I didn’t care when I was a kid. When I grew up, I asked what the story with those earrings was. It turned out to be banal and strange at the same time as our life is.

“In 1929, commissioners from the district came to us to organise a collective farm. They said that everyone should become its members, so everyone joined,” the grandmother said.

“And kurkuls [higher-income farmers considered class enemies in the Soviet Union] as well?!”

“What kurkuls?! There were no kurkuls in our village.”

“Were there the poor, the members of the Committees of Poor [Soviet local institutions bringing together impoverished peasants to advance government policy]?”

“Of course. There were a few drunkards in the village, the have-nots, so they formed the Committee of Poor.”

My grandfather gave horses, a cow and farming equipment to the collective farm and started to work there himself. Like everyone. In 1930, an order came from the district to expel several class enemies from the village. A head of the village council decided for some reason that he was craftier than the Soviet government. He made a list of his relatives and acquaintances, ordered them to disappear from the village and stay somewhere until the campaign was over. He also promised the “newly-appointed kurkuls” to take care of their houses until they returned. My grandfather and grandmother were put on that list and went with their children all the way to the North Caucasus to work in German colonies where there were no collective farms yet.

The head of the village council reported to the district that all the kurkuls had fled and that there was no one to be expelled. But the Soviet government couldn’t be outsmarted! The village council head was told that the government did not care a jot where the class enemies had hidden. The plan is the plan: if you are told to expel a required number of kurkuls, this should be done! If those kurkuls are gone, make lists of others. Therefore, the second group was not alerted and immediately expelled to Siberia. None of them returned to the village and it is unknown what happened to them. When the campaign ended, my relatives in the Caucasus received a letter that they could return to the village.

They returned in the autumn of 1932, just when grain and other food were taken from the peasants… Still, they had to eat something. Grandmother and her sister went to a stubble field to gather spikelets. The Soviet Union acted according to a principle: may it all rot so that people do not get it.

“When I and Sekleta were gathering spikelets, an overseer from the collective farm was riding a horse and beating us with a whip” – grandmother said – “and when the famine began, he was the first to die,” she added with a dash of uncharacteristic malevolence.

My grandmother, who was usually reserved, had a sudden rush of zero tolerance when it came to the “famine” as she called 1933. For example, she never greeted a neighbour across the street. I asked why, and my grandmother fended off:

“Maria’s three children died during the famine, and she survived.”

“How did you survive?” I asked.

“We survived because we kept together and took care of each other. We used to gather something in the field, and we brought some foodstuffs from the Caucasus… Anyway, my grandfather began to swell from hunger by the spring… I had gold earrings, big ones, resembling crescents. Grandfather presented them to me for the wedding. So I went to a Torgsin store, gave them my earrings and they gave me a bag of flour. So, we managed to live up to spring. And only pebbles remained of the earrings. In memory of those days…”

Bread in tableIndeed! In 1931, the year before the Holodomor in Ukraine began, the Soviet government created Torgsin (All-Union Association for Trade with Foreigners) network of stores “taking care of workers’ interests.” However, Torgsin’s main clients were Soviet citizens who sold precious metals and stones, antiques and currency at discounted prices to get food and other goods. Torgsin flourished during the Holodomor in Ukraine when people were selling their last property. It was then, on 29 June 1932, that the All-Ukrainian Torgsin Office was founded. During the lean year 1933, the number of Torgsin stores in Ukraine increased manifold: from 74 stores in January to 263 stores in October. And when the peasants were robbed of the last things, the Office was closed quietly.

The scale of the Bolsheviks’ “gold rush” corresponded to the number of murders by starvation. In 1931, the Soviet Union received 6 million foreign currency equivalent roubles through the Torgsin system, in 1932 – 50 million, in 1933 – 107 million. Of these, 75.2% were precious metals. In 1932, Torgsin of the USSR “harvested from the population” 21 tonnes of gold worth 26.8 million roubles and 18.5 tonnes of silver worth 0.3 million roubles, and already in 1933 – 44.9 tonnes of gold worth 58 million roubles and 1420.5 tonnes of silver (people must have sold their baptismal cross) worth 22.9 million roubles. My grandmother’s earrings, given to the Bolsheviks’ Moloch to redeem her husband and children from death, were somewhere among that “gold scrap.”

It would be possible to feed all the hungry for the money the Soviet Union earned on crosses and earrings. So, let today’s lawyers of the Moscow rulers not lie about the 1932 crop failure. There was enough money, and bread was sold abroad. In 1932-1933, Moscow exported 1.7 million tonnes of grain. It was then, during the Holodomor, that the vile nature of the Soviet Union became fully apparent: looting. The living gave their earrings and wedding rings to get a piece of bread, and the dead were cynically deprived of their baptismal crosses.

And those, who shout that famine was not only in Ukraine, should be reminded that on 22 October 1932, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of the Bolsheviks sent two emergency commissions headed by Kaganovich and Molotov to the North Caucasus and Ukraine “in order to speed up the collection of grain,” i.e. to seize bread from peasants and organise reprisals. The commissions were sent to the North Caucasus and Ukraine, not to the Tambov or Riazan regions. That is, the bread was seized in the areas inhabited mainly by Ukrainians.

At the same time, at the end of 1932, the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of the Bolsheviks issued a resolution to stop the policy of “indigenisation,” i.e. the policy of Ukrainisation of Kuban which also suffered from man-made famine. Ukrainian schools, the number of which was nearly 300 at that time, editorial offices of Ukrainian-language newspapers, and cultural institutions were closed. Instead, aggressive Russification of the region began.

No matter what clothes Moscow togs itself up in, it always remains an empire with Ukrainians sticking in its throat. Moscow’s Ukraine-hating policy fully manifested itself in the early 1930s. Launching the trial of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine in 1930, within which 474 Ukrainian intellectuals were convicted, passing the Law of Spikelets of 1932, seizing all food from the peasantry and fencing off stations and large cities, creating Torgsin, carrying out the policy of Russification of Kuban region, resettling people from Russia to extinct Ukrainian villages are all parts of a single criminal chain. It was not enough for the Soviet Union to kill Ukrainians, it wanted to rob and dishonour us. Make survivors dumb slaves with no memory, no language, no dignity.

Up to the present day, Moscow strives that everyone forgets about the horrors of 1932-1933 and does not recognise this crime. This will not happen! We will not forget about thousands of peasants declared kurkuls and sent to starvation, extinct villages, unborn children, Russified Donbas and Kuban regions.

And I also won’t forgive them for leaving pebbles in my grandmother’s ears. I sincerely hope that those earrings stuck in the craw of the villains involved in that crime. As, in the end, most of them were shot down by their colleagues, along with all sorts of Communist Party officials who became “victims of Stalin’s reprisals.”

Oleksandr Matsuka, diplomat, former UN Secretariat officer, Chief of the UN Security Council Secretariat Branch (2012-2016)

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