After the Second World War Ukraine was devastated: 28 thousand villages, about 30 thousand kolkhozes, Sovnarkhozes, machine and tractor stations were ruined. Agriculture of the republic was ruined. There were not enough people capable of working. Many men died during the war; demobilization from the army was still going on.
The mechanisms of the Famine
According to the instructions from Moscow, the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR and the Central Committee of the Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) of Ukraine in the decree signed on July 4th, confirmed the annual plan to turn in to the state 340 thousand poods (5440000 tons) of grain from the harvest of 1946. In spite of persistent requests of the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) of Ukraine M.Khrushchev, this plan was not reduced by Moscow, but rather Ukraine was obliged to stick to it and to fulfill the plan as soon as possible.
The Soviet government was not satisfied with all the grain being taken out from kolkhozes, Sovnarkhozes, and subsidiary farms, so according to Prodrazvyorstka grain was also confiscated from crofts of peasants. It was planned to expropriate 3 million poods (42,2 million kg) of grain in 1946. In order to confiscate the grain, which for many farmers was the only hope to survive, different repressive measures were used.
The Stalin policy of confiscating grain was the main cause of the Famine of 1946-1947 in Ukraine. Workers of the system of state procurement were empowered with special authority to conduct requisitions. All materials collected by them were directed to the courts where they were investigated very fast. Heads of the kolkhozes, who before turning in grain according to the plan were giving some to producers of bread as their payment, were repressed.
High authorities prohibited for the heads of collective farms to pay workers with 15% of bread for their workdays and sale of bread on the market before the plan of state procurement was fulfilled. The authorities warned against “the danger of anti-Soviet tendency” connected with “wasting of bread”, and its “illegal” distribution. Stalin was not satisfied with the situation so he “strengthened” the Ukrainian authorities by replacing M.Khrushchev with L.Kahanovych, who was “elected” as the first secretary of the Communist party of the Central Committee (of Bolsheviks) of Ukraine on March 3rd, 1947. M.Khrushchev held the position of the head of the Ukrainian SSR Council of Ministers.
State authorities headed by L.Kahanovych continued repressive grain confiscating policy. Ukrainian authorities were regularly informing Stalin about the situation. L.Kahanovych, having enough knowledge concerning the agricultural situation, was always cynically emphasizing that “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism” is to blame for all problems of Ukraine. The Stalin authorities among other reasons why the plan to collect the set number of grain was not fulfilled mentioned those peasants and officials who suffered from occupation and “were influenced by hostile ideology and needed re-education”. The grain issue was the main one during discussions at the meetings of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) of Ukraine. In such a way legal robbery of villages was organized.
In the society soaked with totalitarian violence, grain confiscation was the main repressive factor and the major cause of the Famine.
The main category of “crimes” that the heads of kolkhozes were brought to the trial for, were “derangement of harvesting work”, “sabotage of collecting the grain”, “waste of the agricultural products”, “wrecking” etc. Farmers were repressed the most. Peasants had to pay enormous taxes. Having to work in the kolkhozes without any days off, peasants were deprived of the possibility to work on their own land. They had to pay taxes for each fruit tree, for each pet. Being unable to pay high taxes peasants were forced to cut down fruit trees and to kill their animals. Natural striving of people for being owners on their own land was seen as “holdover of the capitalism”. In spite of the drought, supply of products from farms was not reduced. Judicial bodies were working at full capacity to punish peasant for not paying taxes.
Because of the repressive policy, practice of grain confiscation, demanding high taxes from peasants, not full payment or absence of payment for workdays, export of bread and other products, the government of the Ukrainian SSR created a hard hungry situation. The Moscow center was always demanding from Ukrainian authorities to take more strict measures to catch up with the grain collecting plan and to make sure that every kolkhoz and Sovnarkhoz is fulfilling its tasks, even though they knew about hard situation in Ukraine.
Begging became a common sight that was widespread in villages, railway stations, towns, and cities. Many children and elderly people, as well as women with little children were walking from house to house, asking for some kind of food. But Ukrainians, first of all those who lived in villages, received from government only repressions instead of help. Having deprived peasant of bread, state administration received food through the system of secret supplies.
The majority of starving Ukrainian peasants were doing all they could to save themselves. They had to eat grass, tree bark, all kinds of surrogate. People tried to survive, collecting spikelets on fields that belonged to “kolkhozes”. Peasants grinded grain using hand-made millstones and baked scones, pencakes, and such… But the government deprived people who were starving even of this possibilityowing to the notorious Stalin’s “Law of Three Spikelets” enforced in 1932 and the new decree issued by the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) of the USSR on June 4th, 1947 on criminal responsibility for stealing state property and on improving security of private property.
Provisions taken by force from Ukrainian starving villages were sent to different regions of the USSR. Ukraine was the main supplier of grain to Leningrad, the main supplier of vegetables to Moscow. Bread was exported to the number of regions in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. A lot of bread was exported abroad. In 1946 about 1,7 million tons of grain were exported from the USSR to European countries that also suffered from drought. For example, 969 thousand tons of grain, 60 thousand of other food products, and 50 thousand head of cattle were exported merely to Berlin. Over the period of 1946-1947 2,5 million tons of grain were exported to Albania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland, France, and other countries.
Help of Western Ukraine
From the beginning of 1946 a large number of the hungry from their own initiative headed to Western regions of the republic where a few kolkhozes were established, where peasants gathered good harvest, and where subdivisions of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army were mounting resistance to the export of grain. Appeals made by the UPA urged peasants to help the hungry; hundreds of thousands of people came there for help.
Farmers, workers, peasants who came to western Ukrainian villages were exchanging their belongings for bread, porridge, potatoes, or buying food with money, and then were coming back to their families. Some of them were hired to work either temporarily or permanently. Peasants from Western regions were saving from starvation not just Ukrainians, but also starving Russians from Voronezh, Kursk, Orlovsk, Kaluga and other regions of Russia, as well as Byelorussians and Moldavians. But population of Western Ukraine was also suffering from forced collectivization and repressions, and in some regions also from famine. The most severe famine was in Chernivtsi region, where in the first post-war years collectivization was more widespread than in other regions, and mortality rate was exceeding birth rate.
Child mortality rate was very high. In eastern, central, and southern regions of the country there was also stiff resistance to extorionating actions of the state. The OUN and UPA were counteracting repressive measures in western regions, not allowing taking away all food from peasants. 906 various UPA actions were fixed in 1947, armed conflicts and struggles with subdivisions of Ministry of Home Affairs – Ministry of State Security, armed party and state officials who were taking away bread from peasants. But despite of serious resistance to confiscation of bread, the repressions were still a common sight. Regime was violently suppressing any kind of protest. Post-war famine was a large-scale repressive action against population. Hundreds of thousands of the starving were saved from death by peasants from Western Ukraine.
Consequences of famine
Famine hit a village the most. On June 1st, 1947, 1 million 74 thousand 314 people who suffered from dystrophy were registered. Famine provoked massive orphanhood. Saving their exhausted children from hunger, starving peasants were bringing them to cities and leaving them there hoping that kids would be taken to an orphanage. Even though there is a complex of causes of the famine, its spread and massive character, confiscation of bread from peasants was the most important.
The famine reached its culmination point in the first half of 1947. During the times of widespread confiscation of bread the famine in Ukraine killed (according to the data of various researchers) from 100 thousand to 2,8 million people, mainly Ukrainian peasants-farmers. In many areas the famine lasted almost till the end of the 1940s. The famine brought death mostly to those who lived in the south: Ismail, Odessa, Kherson, Mykolayiv Zaporizhzhya regions. Those who lived in Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kirovohrad regions were also locked in deadly embrace of the famine. People who lived in villages and cities of Vinnytsya, Zhytomyr, Kamyanets-Podilskyy, Stalino, Voroshylovhrad, Kharkiv, Sumy, Zhytomyr regions were also suffering from hunger. People found themselves unprotected in the face of the system that led them to starvation, dystrophy, and death. The famine hit some regions of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Belarus, Moldavia, but repeatedly Ukraine was hit the hardest.