The BBC's respected Arts and Media correspondent, Nick Higham, travelled to Nottingham today to meet up with and interview Holodomor survivor, Maria Volkova.

The "Today" programme on 24 September (0600-0900 hrs and then on BBC i-player for the next 7 days) will run a piece linking the Royal Shakespeare Company's excellent production of "The Grain Store" to an interview with the author of the play and an extract of a first hand account of what it was like to live through the Holodomor with Maria Volkova's testimony.

The author of this short article sat though Maria's interview.  She became particularly emotional at one point as she recollected the day that her father was "trapped" into selling an old bike to buy a bucket-full of grain to be able to feed his family.  Indeed she vivdly remembers how on the following day, when she awoke on an extremely bright and sunny day, that she found her mother crying... When Maria asked what was wrong, her mother simply replied that "they've taken father away".

Overnight Maria's father had  become an "Enemy of the State".  His crime?  Selling his push-bike for a bucket of grain.  He sold the bike in the morning and the NKVD came and arrested him that night.  He was taken to Moscow to work forced labour on the construction of the Moscow-Volga canal...never to be seen alive again by his family.  The grain that he had bought on that fateful day was also confiscated and he remained an Enemy of the State for at least as long the Soviet Union existed.

Yet Maria's father wasn't the only one that had been trapped in this way.  People were so desperate to get food that they would simply do anything to eat.  Everybody was prepared to sell their posessions in return for a little food or grain. Rumours continuously abounded that small amounts of grain could be purchased here or there. The local population succumbed.  But it was, of course, a trap.  And the Soviets would come (again and again) in the dead of night to arrest the "criminal", confiscate the grain and re-use it as bait for the next victim.

Maria's story is just one of many that lived through the 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine during which millions died through forced starvation.  She still sees the very vivid images in her mind - like film-footage - as she recounts her own traumatic story.  No photographic or documentary evidence is required to prompt her in any way.

She can still see and taste the strands of roots of burdock, weeds and grass that she had eaten over 75 years ago to survive.  She can also still see before her eyes the counless dead bodies, the bloated children, the forced starvation... 

She is a living testimony of fortitude having lived through the horrors of systematic annihilation inflicted upon her, her family, her friends and her own nation by an inhumane and totally ruthless dictatorial Soviet regime.  Millions died or suffered during the 1932-33 Holodomor!

The least we can all do today is to do our utmost to ensure that those victims are all remembered in person, one by one, as individual human beings and not, as Stalin would have wanted us to remember them, as a mere statistic!


Ukrayinska Dumka


Great Britain The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain has many branches throughout the country. Select a branch below to find out more information.