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Where Apples Grow on Mass Graves: 4 Stories About Realities of Holodomor
23 November, 2019
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The places where there were previously graves of those who died of starvation from Dzenzelivka have overgrown with an apple orchard, Cherkasy region, November 11, 2019 Photo: Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

At the end of July 1933, writer Bernard Shaw came to the USSR. He did not acknowledge the Holodomor famine and, after return to Europe, told what delicious food he was served in the Soviet Union. 

At that time in Zaporizhzhia, in the Infant House, children were dying every day. Among them was Bernard Shaw – as doctors called the boy – who had been taken to the shelter and died of exhaustion in early August.

READ MORE: Forgotten Pavlohrad Rebellion: Peasants vs Soviet Authorities | For East and West

This is one of the stories that were unknown until recently. In the Infant House in Zaporizhzhia alone, up to a thousand children died during the Holodomor.

Hromadske journalists went to four places where researchers worked to reveal the blind spots of 1932–33 to tell the real facts about the Holodomor.

Dzenzelivka: Apple Trees on Grave Site

“Bodies were carried to the cemetery. I remember a moment when I was running to uncle Yurko or something, it was spring, it was nice and warm, I was running near the cemetery. Where the Holodomor monument is now. Sichkar Ryhorko, a deaf [man], was digging a big pit with other men. They brought women, girls, well dressed, in embroidered shirts, skirts – bloated. They seated them under bushes. And as I was running, Sichkar Ryhorko smiled and said, "They are gathering, they are gathering." I ran further. Outside the grandfather's yard, there was a footpath to the cemetery, I saw a baby was carried in a coverlet, and another by the cart."

Селяни у колгоспі в Дзензелівці, 24 дорослих та 5 дітей, 1934 рік

Peasants in the collective farm in Dzenzelivka, 24 adults and 5 children, 1934. Photo: Mankivskyi Museum of Local History, Dzenzelivka

This is one of the memories of an eyewitness to the Holodomor, Mykhailo Dihtyarenko, a resident of the village of Dzenzelivka in Cherkasy region. In 1933, he was a five-year-old boy. His family survived the Holodomor because he had a cow, his father worked to build a farm and was bringing leftovers from there, and his mother used to go to the fields and collected the potato husk. From time to time it was possible to even help the other villagers.

“As the cart was going, it was carrying a tub to collect what people can give for the schoolchildren. Mother gave sauerkraut, borscht, soup, beetroot as well. And then at school they cooked food from that for the bloated schoolchildren. We had a boy Yashka [who lived] behind the backyards, his whole family died."

Футбольні ворота на території сучасної школи в Дзензелівці, Черкаська область, 11 листопада 2019 року

Football goal on the territory of the modern school in Dzenzelivka, Cherkasy region, November 11, 2019. 

Photo: Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

Seven years before the Holodomor began, a cemetery was destroyed in Dzenzelivka.

I was told this by a man who was a pioneer at the time. The stone from the monuments, which were destroyed, was earmarked for the construction of the farm and the metal for melting,” says local historian Yuriy Dudnyk.

During the Holodomor, people were still buried in the destroyed cemetery. Yuriy found the sites of five mass graves. In total, 533 people died in Dzenzelivka during the Holodomor, he says.

"If one could, he dug a grave for relatives, and those who could not – just left the dead in the cemetery and then they were buried in mass graves. Their depth is shallow, about half a meter."

Місцевий краєзнавець Юрій Дудник розповідає про роки Голодомору в Дзензелівці, Черкаська область, 11 листопада 2019 року

Local historian Yuriy Dudnyk tells about the Holodomor in Dzenzelivka, Cherkasy region, November 11, 2019
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

Юрій показує мапу захоронень жертв Голодомору в Дзензелівці, Черкаська область, 11 листопада 2019 року

Dudnyk shows a map of burial places of Holodomor victims in Dzenzelivka, Cherkasy region, November 11, 2019
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

After the Holodomor, the peasants installed a wooden cross on the edge of one of the mass graves, in a few days the Soviet authorities demolished it and forbade to install anything there. "So that no one remembers the Holodomor," Dudnyk says.

A year later, in 1934, this cemetery was closed and banned from visiting.

Today, a stone monument to the victims of the Holodomor is erected on the site of the cemetery, with an apple orchard, planted in the 1950s, growing throughout its territory, peasants graze goats, and places, where graves used to be, are sometimes visible.

“People know what used to be here. Is it only on the borders of the cemetery that there is now a small part of the gardens. But as long as I'm alive, no one will stumble in here".

На площі захоронень жертв Голодомору в Дзензелівці нині росте яблуневий сад, а селяни випасають кіз, Черкаська область, 11 листопада 2019 року

An apple orchard is now growing at the burial ground of the Holodomor victims in Dzenzelivka, and peasants are grazing goats, Cherkasy region, November 11, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

Дзензелівка, Черкаська область, 11 листопада 2019 року

Dzenzelivka, Cherkasy region, November 11, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

Dudnyk worked for a long time as the director of the regional museum of local history in Dzenzelivka, but did not create a separate exposition dedicated to the Holodomor. A small spreadsheet in the little red room on the second floor hanging among the portraits and bronze busts of Lenin with outdated information about the victims is the only thing in the museum reminiscent of the Holodomor.

“If we make an exposition about the Holodomor, then we have to ask the question: How could this happen at all? I just don't know how to go about it."

A stone monument to the victims of the Holodomor was erected at the cemetery site, Dzenzelivka, Cherkasy region, November 11, 2019
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

Zaporizhzhia: Infant Death House

“Can you imagine that 788 children died in the Infant House during the 1932–33 years. I cannot react to this calmly,” says Anatoliy Peniok, a local historian from Zaporizhzhia and a former worker at the Zaporizhstal plant. His study of Holodomor began in 2006 when he came across a publication that in May 1933, 35 children died in the Zaporizhzhia Infant House.

"I was struck – how did they “die” if they said there was no famine?" At that time, powerful plants were being built in the city, and Dnieper HPP was supposed to start operating. And I started looking for information."

Завдяки зусилля місцевого краєзнавця Анатолія Пенька історія запорізького будинку немовляти набула розголосу, Запоріжжя, 13 листопада 2019 року

Thanks to the efforts of local historian Anatoliy Peniok, the story of the Zaporizhzhia infant house was made public, Zaporizhzhia, November 13, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

At first, Peniok found the Infant House – on the corner of the once central street of Zaporizhzhia named after Rosa Luxemburg. Nowadays it is Oleksandrivska Street, and there is a State Treasury and a veterinary clinic.

Peniok spent all his leave to work in the regional archive. He found even more child deaths every day. Only in May 1933, 110 died, and within a year since November 1932 – 788.

Нині в колишньому Будинку немовлят розташована ветеринарна клініка, Запоріжжя, 13 листопада 2019 року

Veterinary Clinic is now located in the former Infant House, Zaporizhzhia, November 13, 2019. 

Photo: Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

У будівлі, де помирали діти, тепер лікують тварин, Запоріжжя, 13 листопада 2019 року

The building where infants used to die en masse is now used to treat animals, Zaporizhzhia, November 13, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

Peniok wrote down everything: death certificate numbers, surnames, first names, ages and causes of death. Children died from measles, pneumonia, exhaustion, pneumonia, intestinal catarrh, malaria, but not from hunger. All the acts were signed by the same surnames of "health workers of the Infant House" – Kholodna and Filkova.

“These children were being collected all over the city. Look at their names – Dneprostroy (Dneprobuild – ed.) Nina, Stantsionnyy (Station – ed.) Ivan, Podzemelnyy (Underground – ed.) Zhora. They gave a surname depending on where the child was found. There were so many children in the House that the doctors lacked the imagination to invent something original.”

Ulybka (Smile – ed.) Halia, Prekrasnaya (Lovely – ed.) Olia, Slukhniana (Obedient – ed.) Nina, Vernaya (Faithful – ed.) Katia – we read on a separate sheet which Peniok showed to us.

"What kind of an inhuman thing it is to be to just wait for these children to die when they come to you and smile."

У 90-х Анатолій витрачав відпустки на обласний архів, переписував усе — номер акту про смерть дитини, прізвище, ім'я, вік та причину смерті, Запоріжжя, 13 листопада 2019 рокь

In 2006, Peniok spent his leave at the regional archive, where he copied everything - the numbers of the death certificates of the child, surnames, names, ages and causes of death, Zaporizhzhia, November 13, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

Peniok tried to find eyewitnesses who lived near the Infant House.

The only eyewitness to the events at the Infant House was Mariya Sydorenko. She told her niece, Anna, about her memories of being there. Mariya got to the House when she was four years old. Her sister, Nina, died there.

"Imagine, at peak times, up to 10 children could die here every day. Witnesses said there was a pit behind the House. And dead children were dumped there. And when it was enough for a truck, they were taken to the cemetery.”

Очевидиця каже, що у внутрішньому дворі колишньої будівлі Будинку немовлят була велика яма, куди скидали тіла померлих дітей, Запоріжжя, 13 листопада 2019 року

An eyewitness says that in the inner courtyard of the former Infant House building there was a large pit where the bodies of dead children were dumped, Zaporizhzhia, November 13, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

Since 2008, Peniok has repeatedly written requests to the city authorities to install a memorial plaque. He was denied for various reasons: lack of funding; deaths of children are unconfirmed; the city is not a memorial; people work in the building. The plaque was eventually installed in 2014.

Пам'ятну дошку жертвам Голодомору на будівлі встановили тільки у 2014 році, Запоріжжя, 13 листопада 2019 року

A memorial plaque for the victims of the Holodomor was eventually installed in 2014, Zaporizhzhia, November 13, 2019
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

Medvedivka: NKVD, Exchange, Mound

"Anna," a small woman with gray hair introduces herself. She sits on the bed by the window. Curtains on it are thrown on different sides. On the windowsill, there is a stack of yellow newspapers and an icon.

“Halyna Vasylivna,” her son Taras clarifies. "She was called Anna in the village."

Галина Василівна — найстарша мешканка села Медведівка, вона пережила Голодомор, Черкаська область, 18 листопада 2019 року

Halyna Vasylivna, the oldest resident of the village of Medvedivka. She survived the Holodomor, Cherkasy region, November 18, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

На підвіконні у Ганни — стоси жовтих газет та ікона, Медведівка, Черкаська область, 18 листопада 2019 року

A stack of yellow newspapers and an icon on Anna's windowsill, Medvedivka, Cherkasy region, November 18, 2019
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

Halyna, or Anna, is the oldest resident of the village of Medvedivka in Cherkasy region. She was born in 1923 and had three more sisters and a brother. Prior to collectivization, Halyna's father, Vasyl, had his field, cultivated it, plowed the peasants land, raised pigs and sold them. Vasyl’s two older brothers emigrated to America, so all the land belonged only to him.

Halyna's father was not dispossessed, he himself gave the property to the collective farm. But that didn't save his family from starvation.

“There were no wardrobes before, there were chests. And when the girl was about to get married, she was given the chest. My parents had a good chest and that is why we survived the Holodomor.”

Архівна фотокартка сім'ї Анни у 20-ті роки минулого століття, Медведівка, Черкаська область, 18 листопада 2019 року

An archive photo of Anna's family from the 1920s, Medvedivka, Cherkasy region, November 18, 2019
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

Син Анни — Тарас, Медведівка, Черкаська область, 18 листопада 2019 року

Anna's son, Taras, Medvedivka, Cherkasy region, November 18, 2019
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

When the famine began, they took away from the family everything that remained: a cow, a horse, a farmstead of six dessiatines (16 acres). Halyna's parents used to go to a neighboring village and exchange valuables for bread.

"We were always afraid that parents might not come and bring bread."

When nothing was left of the savings, Halyna and her sister began to bloat because of hunger. Parents were saving them by harvesting rye, drying, grinding it and baking fritters for children. The younger sister and brother were taken to the nursery, which was set up at the collective farm.

Тарасового діда — батька Анни — не розкуркулювали, він сам віддав майно у колгосп, Медведівка, Черкаська область, 18 листопада 2019 року

Taras' grandfather (Anna's father) was not dispossessed, he himself gave the property to the collective farm, Medvedivka, Cherkasy region, November 18, 2019.
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

“Children who were starving were brought to our hospital from neighboring villages. And the steward at the hospital harnessed the horses and took them to the cemetery. There were 14-year-old guys who helped turn over the cart and drop the kids into the pit."

Halyna recalls that one man slaughtered his friend and militia came for him while he was roasting meat. And that in the neighboring village a mother stabbed her baby.

In total, 250 people died in Medvedivka during the Holodomor.

Коли почався голод у сім'ї забрали все, що лишилось: корову, коня, шість десятин садиби, Медведівка, Черкаська область, 18 листопада 2019 року

When famine began, the family gave away everything that remained: a cow, a horse, a farmstead of six dessiatines (16 acres), Medvedivka, Cherkasy region, November 18, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

A few years later, in 1935, Halyna’s uncle Mykyta came to Medvedivka from the U.S.

"Grandfather was sick then. He went out into the passage, looked at his brother and fell. Uncle Mykyta didn’t stay there for long. He had time to give away gifts and NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, abbreviated NKVD, was the interior ministry of the Soviet Union – ed.) immediately came for him to send him back to America. My grandmother changed everything my uncle brought for food because the famine continued.”

At the place where the children were buried during the Holodomor, at the initiative of Taras’s father, ground was dug in the 1990s to form a mound, and a metal cross was erected. And at the request of his father, Taras put a small sign next to it, where he painted in white paint: “In memory of the victims of the Holodomor and the repression. People! Be careful! Don't forget! Don't forgive! May they forever be remembered!"

Тарас біля могили батька — Анниного чоловіка Василя, Медведівка, Черкаська область, 18 листопада 2019 року

Taras at his father's grave (Anna's husband) Vasyl, Medvedivka, Cherkasy region, November 18, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

За ініціативи Тарасового батька, на місці поховань дітей під час Голодомору, у 90-х насипали землі і створили курган, Медведівка, Черкаська область, 18 листопада 2019 року

At the initiative of Taras' father, in the 1990s, a mound was created near the place of burial of children during the Holodomor,  Medvedivka, Cherkasy region, November 18, 2019.
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

Kharkiv: Morgues, Cemeteries, Parks

“I knew how bad the famine was in Kharkiv. My grandmother's family lived in Kolomak village. During the Holodomor, they took bread, wheat from them, set fire to their houses. Of the 17-people family, four remained. My grandmother survived because she ate orach,” says Andriy Kis, deputy chief of Kharkiv Bureau of Forensic Expertise.

In 2001, he came to work as the head of the Kharkiv Medical Mortuary and found several stacks of documents in the basement. These were the books of registration of deaths in 1932–1933.

Заступник начальника Харківського бюро судово-медичної експертизи Андрій Кісь, Харків, 12 листопада 2019 року

Deputy Head of Kharkiv Bureau of Forensic Medicine Andriy Kis, Kharkiv, November 12, 2019
Photo: Anastasia Vlasova /
hromadske

Kis found out that the official mortality rates in Kharkiv registry offices were low and that they were removed and changed in 1933 and 1934.

“According to the information contained in the registry office’s books, only two deaths were registered in the children's detention center Komunistka” in November–December. But we take the center’s internal reports and see that in almost two months 80 children have died there. That is, all indicators from registry office’s books can be multiplied by forty."

Bread queues at the hard-currency store. Kharkiv, 1933
Photo from Theodor Cardinal Innitzer Collection (Archdiocese of Vienna Archives). Photo taken by engineer A. Wienerberger. Photo documents provided by professor Vasyl 
Marochko (Institute of History of Ukraine at National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine)

The researcher calls the street where the central morgue used to be a "death street". Every day a lot of people were taken there from the city and from the surrounding villages, and the Kharchosmak club-theater was located across the street opposite the morgue’s gate.

Starving children on the streets of Kharkiv in search of food, 1933.

Photo from Theodor Cardinal Innitzer Collection (Archdiocese of Vienna Archives). Photo taken by engineer A. Wienerberger. Photo documents provided by professor Vasyl Marochko (Institute of History of Ukraine at National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine)

In early July 1933, the morgue was moved to a nearby building.

"The morgue could no longer contain the number of corpses that were brought here. They were taken and taken down this street. And some of them were immediately sent to the cemetery without registering.”

Навпроти воріт моргу, був розташований клуб-театр «Харчосмак», нині — Театр музичної комедії у Харкові, 12 листопада 2019 року

Opposite the morgue gate was the Kharchosmak club-theater, now the Kharkiv Comedy Theater, November 12, 2019.
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

Будівлі самого колишнього моргу вже не існую, на її місці розпочали будівництво і обнесли парканом, Харків, 12 листопада 2019 року

The building where the mortuary was no longer exists. In its place construction began and the area is fenced off, Kharkiv, November 12, 2019
Photo:
Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

It was then that a plenum was held in Kharkiv, where they decided to end the famine. And the number of reported deaths fell sharply. This situation, according to Kis, is unnatural – hunger cannot end in one day. And its causes are not only linked to yield, he believes.

“We still have homes where there are no kitchens. Why? Because they wanted to completely control food. All this had to be regulated through eateries in houses, workshops. And then the norm was 900 calories for an adult, which is three times less than required.”

Харків, 12 листопада 2019 року

Kharkiv, November 12, 2019. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova / hromadske

In 1934–35, parks were erected from several cemeteries that had mass graves to destroy the traces of the Holodomor, and Kis recalls how in his childhood his grandmother’s garden still had crosses.

***

Hromadske thanks the Holodomor Museum for its assistance in preparing this material. The Holodomor Museum sets out to tell a complicated and traumatic story in simple terms. Only by exploring our history and realizing our identity, understanding all the horror that happened 86 years ago, as a generation of conscious people, will we be able to prevent this from happening again.

/by Olesya Bida, Anastasia Vlasova; translated by Vladyslav Kudryk