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In Ukraine, the war is reviving the specter of a devastating Stalin-era famine

#Ukraine #war #reviving #specter #devastating #Stalinera #famine

For Maria Goncharova, a 93-year-old survivor of the devastating famine that ravaged Ukraine in the 1930s, the invasion of Russia raised fears that the nightmare of famine could repeat itself.

Scarred for life by Stalin’s campaign of forced “collectivization,” when confiscated grain and other foodstuffs starved millions, this elderly lady still hoards everything for fear of losing it.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the sky above their small, light-blue house in Cheremushna, a village in the eastern Kharkiv region, has been riddled with missiles, and the war brings back some horrific memories.

“We only survived by cooking a potato and some flour every day,” says Goncharova, who has a red kerchief over her hair and has three chickens in her small garden.

Her tiny monthly pension of 2,000 hryvnia means every penny counts as everything is cooked on her wood stove.

The Russians “have already stolen a lot of grain from us and can take everything,” she sighs and crosses herself.

– The Holodomor –

Known as “Holodomor” – Ukrainian for “starvation” – the famine of 1932-1933 is viewed by Kyiv as a premeditated genocide by the Stalin regime with intent to wipe out the peasantry.

“Food was used by the Soviet authorities to achieve their goals by killing those who defied their authority on a large scale,” said Lyudmyla Grynevych, a historian who heads the Holodomor research and education center.

The Holodomor has long been a major sticking point in Russia-Ukraine relations.

Moscow dismisses Kiev’s account, placing the events in the broader context of famines that have devastated regions in Central Asia and Russia.

And the current conflict has only fueled fears that history could be repeating itself, as Russia’s attack on grain stores and its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea exports sparked accusations that Moscow is once again using food as a weapon of war.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen made the allegation in Davos, and earlier this month Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidency, accused Russia of “trying to recreate the Holodomor” by shelling agricultural areas.

“The 1930s are a good place to draw parallels, because that was also an attempt to destroy what we would today call the Ukraine political entity,” says Grynevych.

“Ukrainians’ grain was confiscated and starved, and then the Soviet authorities sent some grain, but only to those who agreed to join the collective farms,” ​​she said, referring to the huge Soviet agricultural cooperatives.

– A sign for every family –

Kharkiv, located more than 450 kilometers east of Kyiv, was the first capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1919 to 1934.

At that time, the area was considered one of the 23 most fertile regions in the entire Soviet Union.

Around the village of Cheremushna, where Goncharova grew up, “a third of the residents died during the famine,” says Tamara Polishchuk, who runs a museum dedicated to the Holodomor.

But even then, not all deaths were registered because the procedure was “suspended,” said Polishchuk, who has researched the issue extensively.

For her, every family in the region is shaped by the memory of the devastating famine that the USSR tried to eradicate for decades and that Ukraine was only able to commemorate on its own after independence in 1991.

Goncharova proudly shows off the supplies she put away and proudly says she “still has a little bit of everything.”

“Many countries are helping us. They bring us things and give them to people. But God only knows how long this will go on,” she says, before sitting down on her porch under the shade of a walnut tree.

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