Ukraine’s Great Famine memories fuel resentment of Kremlin
Resentment of Moscow in Ukraine has deep historical roots. In the Great Famine of the 1930s, as many as four million Ukrainians died during the forced collectivisation of farms by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The BBC’s Fergal Keane has been to the eastern city of Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, and met some of the last survivors of the famine.
They rushed to bolt the door and lock the windows of the little wooden house. It trembled from the battering of the men outside. Petro Mohalat, now aged 95, remembers the first food raids in the winter of 1932.
He was five years old when the communist “brigade” arrived in the village. His grandmother told the children to hide anywhere they could.
“It was very scary. The brigade had pitchforks and they came to every house searching for bread,” he recalls. “They used crowbars to come inside. Then they went to all the barns trying to find any buried bread.”
Acting on the orders of Stalin, Communist officials seized food and prevented peasants from leaving their villages to search for supplies. They were being punished for resisting the forced collectivisation of farms.
Ukraine calls the deaths of an estimated four million people in the famine of 1932-33 the Holodomor – killing by starvation.
Now, amid fears of a Russian invasion, memories of what Ukrainians suffered at the hands of the Kremlin fuel resentment of Moscow.
“My father had to give everything to the collective farm – our cow, horse, even our bucket. My mother was very angry,” says Mr Mohalat.He lives in a cottage near the village of Kovyyhi, about 60km (37 miles) from the Russian border, along a narrow path thick with snowdrifts where the fields darken as the light falls. To the remaining survivors of the famine, this is a landscape of ghosts.Oleksandra Zaharova, aged 98, remembers the constant hunger, the desperate search for food, and the faces of the dead.