Голодомор 04/07/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
Tags: agriculture, collectivization, communism, economics, famine, genocide, history, holodomor, kiev, kyiv, pechersk lavra, politics, stalin, tourism, travel, ukraine, ussr, vichnoyi slavy, walks, wandering
Gilded domes swam in the pastel horizon, a suspended backdrop for obelisks and towers. Vichnoyi Slavy Park had been ransacked by Disney prospectors intent on contorting accepted standards of perspective. The cluster of monuments, basking in a rolling sea of lawns manicured by legions of Scottish groundskeepers welcomes you as an amusement park and leaves you reeling from the price of admission.
Walkways ran thick as people dared the approaching tempest to steal what sun pierced blackening clouds. Visitors were casual, staving off heat exhaustion with shorts and summer dresses, but none violated the carefully cultivated grass. Considering the gravity of our surroundings adherence to rules as submission to respect was sensible, yet no reverence was paid to any of the edifices and conversation wasn’t a somber affair. Abandon walkways and sculpted concrete benches at your own peril. Cops at Le Jardin du Luxembourg would agonize over disturbing a picnic before gently chastising offenders. It was anyone’s guess what cops in Kyiv would do.
Tourists come to gape at Pechersk Lavra, an enclave of Eastern-Orthodox churches complimenting the network of caves which have served as a monastery since the 11th century. St. Anthony accidentally founded an ascetic movement upon returning home from Greece. His teachings inspired disciples to invade his subterranean warren. His attempts at pious isolation drove him down river to build a new underground habitat, but the zealous adoration of acolytes led to architects being brought in from Constantinople who littered the land with temples. Today relics and the mummified remains of notables relent to the scrutiny of paying guests willing to adopt the appropriately misogynistic attire.
Less fascinating to travelers is the obelisk hovering over a tomb for unknown soldiers. It was erected in 1957 to honor defenders of Kyiv, which probably excludes anyone killed during clashes with the Red Army. We slipped past a statue memorializing fighter pilots and found a clearing hidden from the walkway. As had been arranged the previous day Janice tried to check in with Vlad only be rebuffed by enraged recordings while growing winds tore leaves from their branches.
A ramp led beneath the Ottoman-inspired tower adorned with Ukrainian tridents, flames and sculpted wildlife. Administrators of a military history museum had optimistically produced signs which included English of a variety, yet just enough to suggest descending would yield nothing but confusion. The pathway leading away from the tower was interrupted by a simple sculpture– sheaves of golden wheat locked beneath steel bars.
Numbers are and will forever remain unknown. They range from two million to ten million deaths attributed to starvation at the beginning of the 1930’s. Academics squabble but Ukrainians call this The Holodomor, a genocidal act of forced famine against the ethnic Rus perpetrated by Stalin to pacify a growing national identity and open lands to ethnic Russian expansion.
Ten years prior Herbert Hoover convinced a reluctant congress to deliver food aid to Russia. The Volga Valley had experienced a massive crop failure in a country crawling from the devastation of world war. What infrastructure survived the eastern front was further mangled by civil war, leaving relief supplies languishing dockside or in train yards. Swaths of people from the Urals to Kazakhstan were stricken with typhus, horses that hadn’t perished were eaten and the Baltic Sea froze in an exceptionally cold winter. The fledgling Soviet republic very nearly collapsed.
Circumstances had changed dramatically when hunger began to afflict Ukraine. In 1921, when the world was fighting to save millions in Russia, western Ukraine was ceded to Poland as part of the Treaty of Riga. Populations shifted and the Ukrainian government courted academics and artists to come east. When Stalin succeeded Lenin attitudes shifted and party battalions were dispatched to collect writers and professors for the Gulag. By 1929, Stalin’s Year of the Great Breakthrough fantasy which imposed collectivization, the Ukrainian communist party was no longer trusted and Russian cadres had seized control.
Administrators, not agrarians, became responsible for food cultivation and distribution. Exceptionally demanding grain requisitions unseen in Russia were made while indigent farm communities were declared kulaks and blacklisted. The harvest of 1930 was understandably disrupted, resulting in even more stringent demands on farms and more severe penalties for failing to meet them. Houses were torn apart by Soviet brigades searching for food caches and it was declared a capital crime to withhold grain from collection.
Famine was widespread by 1931, to which the Soviet government responded by sealing the borders. Grain quotas continued to climb, party brigades continued to tear apart farms in search of stray food, executions grew. By 1932 movements were further restricted by the institution of internal passports, preventing the rural population from heading into the cities. Swaths of farmland collapsed as collection parties, lacking an understanding of agriculture, stripped villages of even seed crops. Doctors weren’t allowed to declare starvation as a cause of death. Reports of cannibalism spread.
The harvest of 1932 had been an improvement, a success awarded by even higher quotas for 1933. Demands were so great because grain prices were falling in the European market and Stalin depended on exports to fund his push for industrialization. As people starved a backlog of crops were rotting in train yards, unable to be sold. Life wasn’t easy in the Volga, but deaths and arrests were most severe in Ukraine and in Ukrainian enclaves of the Caucus borders. Russian and Caucasians were shuttled in to replace the decimated population and to power the factories which would come to define the region.
Skies had darkened and the winds now carried rain. Contemplation fell victim to survival as we cast about for any place which could offer shelter from the coming deluge. Statues of starving children watched with hollow eyes as we sprinted across a busy street towards an open bar.