Anastasia Ostapiuk

Anastasia Ostapiuk (nee Zhuravel’) was born in 1923 in the village of Kropyvniya, Novohradskiy sub-region, Zhytomyr region, in Ukraine. She was interviewed by Bohdan Ratych and Victor Andrusyshyn in April 2008 and lives in Manchester, Great Britain.

"I was born into a village family. I was 10 years old when the Holodomor took place in 1933. I remember 1932 well and the years before. My father was a bookkeeper in the collective farm and village council. He counted the work days, when people came with information about what they had done in the fields, how much they had reaped or whatever, then that was translated into a working day or one and a half days, and that determined the amount of bread you received. I know from a photograph that my mother showed me that my father had been in Petliura’s army. That’s what my mother said…and she hid that photograph so that no-one would know. And no-one knew, not even us.

"Then the famine started in the village. People got very little food, because they were not given money or anything else for a working day. They just measured what you had done and gave a little grain or something, but they didn’t give bread any more. This was the beginning.

"But, a little later, people began to fall ill from hunger. They ran away, they didn’t know what to do, they ate everything they had in the house. And the komsomol brigades came to search the houses, to see if there was anything left in storerooms or somewhere else, if you had a religious picture or a cross on the wall. The komsomol did what they wanted with the people and no-one punished them… they searched the houses once a week. If they found something cooking on the fire, some soup or borshch, then they took it and poured it away on the ground. It was as if we had to die, as if we were marked out for death. This was in 1931-32.

"My father, seeing these difficulties, left his work in the village council and asked for a horse so that he could plant potatoes (in the collective farm). He ploughed a furrow in a big field with the horse and a plough and behind him people planted potato then others covered the plants. And sometimes, he would take some potato, dig it in and mark the place with a small stick. And at night, when it was dark, he went out on his knees so that no-one could see he was going for the potatoes. When he took potatoes, we had soup the next day with the potato and some other sort of plant. We ate anything we could because it was spring and nothing had grown yet.

"Later in 1932 my father died – he didn’t have enough strength and died. First he became very thin. None of us had enough to eat, father worried and his lungs became inflamed. The hospitals didn’t even take people in so he died at home. He called me and said, “Daughter, you’re the oldest, look after the little ones…”

"I was the oldest in the family. Then there was Ludmila, who became blind and died from hunger. Then there was Sonya. Sonya survived and Yevhen, the youngest, survived. Now to say how we lived after that. My mother went around the garden and picked horseradish, because it was spring and green leaves were coming out. She took the horseradish, cleaned and grated it, then she took leaves from a tree – mother knew what could be eaten – dried the leaves, mixed them with the horseradish and baked biscuits or pancakes. She gave them to us to eat and went to work.

"Our neighbours were called Khomenko and they had a full house of children. I saw with my own eyes how each morning a waggon would come to collect the dead from houses. So Khomenko, the father, died. The mother ran from the house and said, “Wait, don’t take him, because my son will be ready tomorrow. Let them at least lie together.” Because they threw all the dead into a single grave. You know, there was such  misery that it’s impossible to describe…

"There was one family where everyone had died except one son, called Matviy. The leaders of the collective farm built a small wooden shed in the farmyard. They took potato there and locked Matviy in – he slept and lived there. He cooked the potato for the horses, so that the horses had something to eat and could work in the fields. Then they would take the potato – and it smelled so good! The children crowded to the potato shed and begged – like bees round a hive.  He couldn’t do anything, because they locked him in, unlocked the door, took away the cooked potato, brought fresh potato, then locked the door again. But there were small holes and gaps in the wood that we looked through and sometimes he would push some potato through for the children. That was all he could do.

"When it was harvest time, it was a real tragedy. Many ears of wheat lay in the fields. We would go along the paths and hide in the bushes. When we saw there was no-one around, we would collect the wheat in our aprons and run home quickly. Because every field had two guards on horseback with sticks. If they caught anyone, they would beat them…

"Our village was large. It had a school with a large orchard where apples and pears grew, but no-one could pick them because they were taken and given to someone else. I remember that once, my mother gave me some sort of pastry to eat at break time, but I was scared that if the other pupils saw me, they would report it to the teacher. She would tell her superior…  So I told my mother that I couldn’t eat it – I had asked to go to the toilet and had thrown it into the hole. I was scared that my mother would be arrested and tried. They would take mother away and then put the children into an orphanage. So even children were scared of each other.

"Mother would stand the four of us in a line each morning, then she would take a small religious picture – where she hid it, I don’t know.  But she would put it out, and we would repeat “Our Father”. Mother told us all, “For the fear of God never tell anyone at school that your mother has taught you this.”

"I remember when I went with my aunt Olha (mother’s sister) to another village to see if we could get something or trade something. When the train stopped at the station, there were children lying all around near the tracks and begged (for food) but those in the train had nothing to throw them through the window.

"There was a good, big harvest in 1932-33, but when the grain was collected in the storehouse, they said that the government needed help and then they loaded wagon after wagon with sacks (of grain), placed a red flag and went to Novohrad to hand everything over to the government. So the harvest didn’t help anyone, because nearly everything went somewhere, for someone, while people were suffering from hunger. It was impossible, but see – God is good and we survived.

"The communist government was so terrible, they wanted to break the Ukrainian people so that they wouldn’t believe in God, but only in Stalin. Such a government – may God never allow the same in any other country… because its horrific… They spoke so nicely at the meetings – that everything would be better, that it would be heaven – but it was very different. Famine scythed down everyone who lived on Ukrainian land – Poles, Germans, Russians. In our village, I think about three-quarters of the people died… this is God’s truth…"

Anastasia Ostapiuk - a survivor of the Holodomor