Holodomor: Memories of Ukraine’s silent massacre

Eighty years ago, millions of Ukrainians died in a famine that many label a genocide by the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin. As Ukraine prepares to embark on its annual memorial events, the BBC’s David Stern finds that memories of the massacre are undimmed for many.

Nina Karpenko, an energetic 87-year-old, demonstrates what it took to survive Ukraine’s Stalin-era famine, known as the Holodomor, or “death by hunger”.

Some cheap cornmeal, wheat chaff, dried nettle leaves and other weeds – this was the essence of life during the horrific winter and early spring of 1932-33 in Ukraine.

As Ms Karpenko tells her story, she kneads the ingredients into a dull green mass, adding water and a little salt, which she then fashions into a patty. She calls it bread, though it barely fits this description.

Then she spreads wax shavings on a pan to keep the patty from sticking and burning, and places it in an oven.

Ms Karpenko’s father died early on. His legs swelled up and he expired when trying to consume a small amount of food – a common occurrence among those close to starvation.

Her mother walked 15km (nine miles) to a nearby town to see if she could obtain something to eat for Ms Karpenko and her brother and sister. She exchanged her earrings and a gold cross she wore around her neck for about 2kg of flour.


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