Nigel Jones

Why Ukrainians fear the Russians

A placard in Kiev depicts Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Russian president Vladimir Putin (Getty images)

The Ukrainian word ‘Holodomor’ meaning ‘death by hunger’ is not as well known in the West as the word ‘Holocaust’, but it should be. In 1933, a decade before the Nazis began to deliberately murder some six million European Jews, Stalin’s Soviet regime starved to death – equally deliberately – some four million men, women and children in the Ukraine.

That this epic crime has largely disappeared from public memory, mostly forgotten except by historians and the Ukrainian diaspora, is partly down to the second catastrophe that overwhelmed Ukraine in 1941-45 with its invasion and conquest by Hitler’s armies. This terrible episode was also successfully covered up and concealed from the world by both Stalin’s regime and its western apologists. The shining exceptions were two brave British journalists: Gareth Jones of the Times and Malcolm Muggeridge of the Manchester Guardian.

Jones – whose story was told in the 2019 movie ‘Mr Jones’, starring James Norton as the intrepid Welsh-born reporter – made three journeys through the famine-stricken Ukraine at the height of the Holodomor. Here’s what he saw: 

‘I crossed the border from Great Russia into the Ukraine. Everywhere I talked to peasants who walked past. They all had the same story: ‘There is no bread. We haven’t had bread for over two months. A lot are dying’. The first village had no more potatoes left and the store of buriak (beetroot) was running out.

Eventually, the starving Ukrainians resorted to cannibalism

‘They all said: ‘The cattle are dying. Nechem kormit. There’s nothing to feed them with). We used to feed the world and now we are hungry. How can we sow when we have few horses left? How will we we be able to work in the fields when we are weak from want of food?’

‘Then I caught up with a bearded peasant who was walking along.

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