|Discovering Your Ukrainian Roots
UNDER THE AUSPICES OF UN VETERANS ORGANIZATION
|Interview #3 : The Soviet Dragon
Everybody worked well and had a good income.
Q: Do you remember what life was like before the Bolshevik revolution?
I don’t remember life before the revolution because I was born 7 years after it, but I
know about it from my mum.
Q: Was life better before the revolution?
My mum told me that, of course, it was better. Everything was cheap and there was
no poverty; they were well-to-do and had everything. They could buy whatever they
Q: So, what do you remember about the Great Famine?
That is what I remember most vividly: In 1930, we were dispossessed as kulaks, they
took away everything. And in 1932, they came to drive us out of the house. At first
they wanted to tear the house down, but father was still alive then and went to the
district authorities to complain, so they left the house.
All the same, they drove us out because they stripped the house of its windows and
doors, and tore out the stove. We children were small, and poorly dressed, so we
weren’t ready for that. It was December already and there was snow on the ground.
Our grandma, father’s mother, lived nearby so we, small children, went there and
stayed with her for a while. Only she didn’t want us; she was of difficult nature. So, we
had to go to our elder sister who lived close by.
We stayed there for a long time because there was no other solution. Then the time
of collectivization came. The Soviets took away all grain that people had, everything.
Special squads were going around with metal rods prodding everything around
searching for the grain. And they took everything, even the grain that was in pots.
Q: Did anyone from your family die because of the famine?
Father. He died in the labor camp in Moscow – Volga canal. He was taken there and
died from starvation.
Q: And did anyone from your family die in Ukraine?
In Ukraine, some people from our village also died from starvation. At that time, a
highway to the west was being built, and people went to work there. As payment, they
were given some bread, I don’t remember how much. So they walked there, and were
brought back dead on stretchers.
Q: When your father was taken to the camp, what happened to your mother?
When our vegetable garden and everything were taken from us, we had nothing to
eat, so she went off in search of making a living. At that time, people were leasing
land from the forestry to grow potatoes. By then we were already living at my sister’s,
and the potatoes we had dug up were in a heap. But then a squad came and took
away those potatoes. At that moment, something happened to my mum: she wasn’t
herself. She was grabbing us children and throwing us on top of those potatoes so
that the squad couldn’t take them. But they took them all the same, even the potatoes
that were in the stove. We hid some in the corner, but they found those and took
Q: I know my next question may be very difficult for you to remember, so I
appreciate that you are willing to talk about this. What is your most vivid
memory during the Stalin’s time?
This was in winter when they came and removed the windows, doors and pulled out
the stove. We were little children: Sashka, my brother, was three years old and I was
six. This is how we were driven out of our home.
Q: Is this the worst memory you have? Do you remember anything else?
I remember a lot, but it’s hard to recall everything at once. Mostly, I remember the
constant looting — those squads going around looking for something to grab, taking
anything they could lay their hands on, even clothes. When we saw through the
window that a squad was coming, mum would say: “Everyone, put on some more
clothes so that they can’t take them.”
Q: How long did this continue?
In 1934, when I had already started school, it all stopped, because there was nothing
left to take.
Q: What is your most vivid memory during the Hitler’s time?
When the war was about to start, there was a feeling among the people that it was
coming and that the end of the dragon’s era may come soon. Folks were praying for
the deliverance from the dragon. That’s what the people called Soviet power — the
Q: So there was hope that the Germans were going to free the Ukrainians from
Q: So, did you feel betrayed when the Germans came and did what they did?
That must have been very difficult, when the very people you thought would
save you ended up being even worse.
When the Germans came, they showed their negative side. They also started looting,
robbing, beating and killing. Once there was an incident when some Germans were
staying in our house. I was out and came home in the evening. I came in and one of
the Germans pointed his carbine at me. Someone had messed with his car, and he
thought it had been me. He was about to shoot me, but mum dropped to her knees in
front of him and saved me.
Q: How old were you then?
Well, it was around 1942, so I was 17.
Q: Was it worse when Hitler was in power?
No, it was better, because our house and land was given back to us. It was somewhat
freer. People were given their land back, and they started working, growing
something and weren’t hungry any more. They had everything of their own – their
own bread and they were able to keep pigs and cows again.
Q: How did these events in Ukrainian history affect you and your family?
They affected us, of course, because my elder brothers were at the front: they were
in Russia, and we stayed here in Ukraine. The family was broken apart.
Q: Were you angry at the Soviets or the Germans? Did it make you angry at the
people ruling your life? Did you try to fight back or did you feel helpless?
Communist and Fascist ideas are the same — based on violence and injustice. So to
tell them apart was very difficult because they are so similar. As for fighting, we did
what we could. As the eldest in the family, I was sent to build the highway started back
under the Soviets. Then the Germans came, and they needed to finish this road
because almost all their war supplies came through this way. This was the central
road, so I was sent there to work there. Once when I was ordered do something I
couldn’t do, I left and went home. But they caught me and beat me up.
Q: Would you say that these events shattered your family?
Yes, Stalin was the first and Hitler second. Hitler finished this process.
Q: What was the best thing about your life during Soviet times?
When I left the army and started working, things it got better. I had enough pay to
make a living and wasn’t in need any more. I left the army in 1950. After the war, I had
served in the far north, at the shores of Alaska.
Q: Did you fight the Germans during the war?
I should start from the time when we were liberated. Our troops came in 1944 and all
the older men were taken in to the army at once, straight to the front. But for us (the
younger ones), recruitment was later. We were taken to do the junior officers
courses. When I finished this training, I found myself at the front — in Poland,
Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Germany.
Q: What did you do during the war?
During the war, I did what people do – they fight. I had to liberate Ukraine. We freed
Ternopil, then Krakow in Poland. I was in the infantry rifle unit. We launched attacks
and took up defensive positions.
Q: Did you see any of the concentration camps?
Yes, Auschwitz in Poland.
Q: Did you free some of the people from it?
We freed Auschwitz when the SS had already fled. There were still a lot of prisoners
left there – women and men. They all were Europeans: Poles, Belgians and Dutch.
These people were taken to the hospital at once. There was one man from Latvia
who showed us around the camp.
Q: Were they mostly Jewish people?
Jews were there, but they weren’t the majority.
Q: How many people were freed?
I don’t remember how many, maybe several thousand. When they were in this
hospital, they would go out for a walk to the river, the Wisla. So we could see them
near the riverbanks, because we had military exercises there. We saw them very
often, talked to them.
Q: What condition were they in?
They were haggard. They were given a lot of food to eat, so they recovered quickly.
Q: Did it feel good to save these lives?
Of course, they were meeting us and hugging us.
Q: I asked what was the best thing about your life during the Soviet times. So, I
also want to ask — what was the worst thing?
The worst was the collectivization. Since I was living in the country, this was the most
terrible. People were robbed and everything was taken away from them. They were
being sent to the North, put in those train cars and driven away – hungry, poorly clad
and barefoot. They were taken there and told to settle in the North — Archangelsk,
Komi, and Siberia — to cut lumber. It was easier in Siberia, since it was more lived-in
then. In the far north it was hard – freezing.
Q: Do you think that the Soviet era destroyed the Ukrainian way of life?
Everything was being done against Ukraine: everything was taken away, even seeds
– all to destroy Ukraine. After the war when we started to rebuild the economy, there
were a lot of decorated “Heroes of Labor” in Siberia – our Ukrainians. They were
exiled there to become heroes.
Q: If the Soviet era was so destructive, why are so many people nostalgic about
it? What is the secret?
It was propaganda — people couldn’t say a word against the regime. Everyone would
shout “hurray!” around slogans and portraits of the leaders. Every word against them
meant an arrest and conviction.
Q: Did some people like life under the Soviets?
Those were people in power who enjoyed numerous benefits. They got good jobs
and salaries. They were using institutions and shops that were closed to the general
public. They got into universities without contest.
Q: Have things have improved in Ukraine since the end of the Soviet era?
It could have been better, because many Communists have remained in power. So
they haven’t able to change things much for the better. Many of them are still in
power even today.
The Baltic States have progressed much more and substantially improved the
standard of living thanks to the banning of Communists from the state service. And
here, there will be no improvement as long as Communists are in power. What they
are doing today is sabotaging things to worsen the situation in the country so that
they can come back to power. Sure, Ukraine has become a bit more democratic, but
First, we should have gotten rid of the Communists (in power). If the President were
braver, he would have initiated the question of banning this bandit party. Communism
and Fascism are equally bad – they destroy people.
In general, life is now better than under the Soviet regime, because one can disagree
Q: Do you believe the tradition of corruption comes from the Communist era?
Yes, everything comes from them. Everything was built on bribery. You couldn’t solve
a problem without a bribe — to get a job, get into a university or pass an exam. It all
Q: What can young Ukrainians learn from the history of Ukraine?
I believe that all our problems came from disunity. One part of the population
supports the Communists, another for someone else, so there is no united front.
Q: If you have one message to leave for future generations, what would it be?
To remove the Communists from power and put their leaders on international human
rights trial, as was done to the Fascists at Nuremberg; to teach those criminals not to
hurt their own people.
Q: If there were one thing you could change about your life or life in Ukraine,
what would it be?
I would cleanse the elite of parasites — all this scum that robbed Ukraine and
continues to do so. If we cleaned up the political class, equally, everything would
improve and everyone would feel that. Ukraine would go the same direction as other
post-Soviet countries — Czechoslovakia, Hungary and others— have taken since the
liberation from “the Dragon.”
Q: What is your hope for the future of Ukraine?
I think it can`t last like it is now for long. My mother’s words come to my mind. She said
that my father read the books about the future of the world. The Soviet and modern
times were rather accurately depicted there. There it was written about the ban of the
Communist Party and about Communists having nowhere to run from prosecution.
So, I am waiting for that to come true. So far, everything has come true.
Q: That’s all I wanted to ask you. I want to thank you for your honesty, your co-
operation and your courage to talk about these things. I think your voice speaks
for many others who feel the same way. I am doing this project, because it is
time for the world to know the truth about what you lived through.
Unfortunately, not everybody who wanted the world to know about Stalin’s crimes
lived to see the day when they could tell people about what happened.
This third interview was conducted in Vinnytsya,
Ukraine on April 20, 2008. Evgeny Zhovmyr
interviews his father, Ivan Mefodievich Zhovmyr
(age 84), about his childhood during the Great
Famine of 1932-33 and life during the Soviet Era
of the 20th century.
Q: What can you tell me about your life in the
It’s very hard and difficult to talk about life in the
20th century because it wasn’t a life — it was
torture. If it hadn’t been for that murderous
Bolshevik revolution, there could have been life. My
father was hardworking, and the family was
hardworking. We had land and everything needed
for farming. The farm was good, the harvests were
good and brought a good profit. The family was big,
so there were enough people to work the farm.
Evgeniy's father, Ivan
Evgeniy and Ivan Zhovmyr