Very Reverend Mychajlo Diachenko

The Very Reverend Mychajlo Diachenko was born on 17 August 1922 in Khutir Shevchenko, Cherkasy Region and lives in Stockport, Great Britain.

My father and mother had four children: Marusia, Oksana, Anna, and myself Mychajlo.

When Ukraine was briefly independent between 1918 - 19 my father helped establish Ukrainian schools and was a Schools Inspector. After the end of Ukraine’s Independence in 1922 we fled to Kosoroteva in the Donetsk region, because of persecution. It was less repressive there, the authorities did not ask so many questions. My mother died of tuberculosis in 1924, but my father remarried.

Stalin wanted to collectivize the farms in Ukraine. My father built a house, had a smallholding, grew his own food and had livestock. He was classed a ‘kulak’ - a well to do person, an enemy of the Soviet people. In 1930 they found and arrested my father, interrogated him but later let him go. In 1932 my father was re-arrested and sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment and his citizenship was taken away from him for 10 years. I did not know where the prison was because in those days if you asked too many questions you would also be imprisoned.

In the autumn of 1932 they confiscated our house and all our possessions. A detachment came to our house and took everything - food from the table, seeds for sowing next year’s crops, foods that were drying near the fire and food to feed us during winter. They even took the boots that I was wearing. They pushed metal rods into the thatched roof of our house to make sure we were not hiding any grain. They poured paraffin into the river so we could not catch fish to eat.

We were taken away on a sleigh to Khutir Lukiv in the Donetsk region. In that village there used to be a German colony but they were deported back to Germany. There were empty houses in the village and we were given a large house to live in. There was nothing inside but a blanket. There was nothing to heat the house with and 1932 was a very cold winter.  My stepmother, three sisters and I slept together under one blanket. We were forbidden to return back to our village. We searched the fields for the odd potato, crushed stones from fruits and other roots. My sisters caught sparrows to eat. Just before Christmas it became so intolerable that my step-mother decided we would go back to Kosoroteva village. We could live there no longer.

We returned against orders by foot to the village hoping my stepmother’s godmother would help us. We found our house. It was taken apart - there was nothing left except for the walls. It was that type of a year. People were so desperate. We went to my stepmother’s godmother’s house but she was not there. We later heard she was taken to Siberia. We broke into the house and found that it was empty except for a bed and a couple of blankets. My sisters went out to find what they could. We made bread from the chaff of wheat and a few grains of wheat that we could find. 

Two days before Christmas in 1932 there was an amnesty and my father was released from prison. My father returned home in a terrible state. He was black and blue from being tortured. He had bruises all over his body. The three wounds he received during the Great War had opened up and he needed food and medical attention, but where could he receive it from? My sister Oksana died of starvation aged 16 just after Christmas in 1933. My father lived until the Saturday before the feast of the Holy Trinity. I remember I was sitting on a wooden bench and my father died with his head on my lap. I was only ten years of age. It was a terrible time.

In this way they forced the kulaks to work in the collective farms. We were not allowed to gather what was left from the harvested wheat fields for fear of being shot.

There was one family in the village that exchanged some flower to make bread but it was mixed with chalk. They made a flat cake and after eating it they all died.

The worst time was in spring of 1933. However, an old man helped me. He gave me a piece of makukha to eat (what was left from sunflower seeds after they had been pressed). He told me I should go to the town as it is better there. I had an aunty in the town so I went to find her. I searched for my aunty but could not find her. I shouted ‘Aunty Maria’ but did not know her surname. People laughed at me, Maria was a very popular name. I lived by myself all year. Eventually my aunty Maria recognised me in a market near the station at Sartana. She took me to her house in Marijpol and asked me to live with her family.

I do not know how I survived those two years. It was a miracle.

The Very Reverend Mychajlo Diachenko