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Authors: Miron Dolot

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BOOK: Execution by Hunger
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With the reports on the competition over, the meeting proceeded with the next point on the agenda: personal reporting. Every member of our Hundred had to appear before the assembly and answer the questions of why he had not yet joined the collective farm, and when he intended to do so.

These meetings usually lasted all night, and on Sundays, all day. Hungry and terrorized, the villagers quietly listened and obligingly answered the multitude of questions, but stubbornly stood their ground. Nothing could move them. At least that is what they thought.

But the Communist officials were not ready to give up their ground either. They were waging a war, and they knew that where one tactic did not work, another might. And this was precisely what happened.

At the end of February and the beginning of March 1930, the officials appraised the situation, regrouped their forces, devised new tactics for the offensive, and then delivered a smashing blow.

One Sunday, we learned that, except for Khizhniak, Khomenko, and Comrade Judas, all the Hundred's functionaries, including those of the Tens, Fives, and all the other subunits throughout the village had been reassigned. Some of those whose subunits were not among the first in meeting the collectivization quotas, were assigned to the neighboring villages. At about the same time, some functionaries from neighboring villages and towns arrived in our village. In strange surroundings, these farmer functionaries became more aggressive.

About this time, the village Party strategists introduced a new tactic that we called “dog eat dog.” Those farmers who were previously considered kurkuls and those who had been persecuted in one way or another and were still living in the village were reinstated in the good graces of the Communist officials and engaged in active work for the Party and the government. These tactics worked even better than the officials had expected. The farmers were told that they deserved to be shot, but they were being given a chance to prove themselves worthy of living. What they had to do was to help the Party and the Government to collectivize the farmers. Of course, if they proved themselves worthy, they would be accepted into the collective farm also. And so these so-called kurkuls became staunch activists, for the desire to prove themselves “worthy” drove them to become merciless executors of Party policy.

Moreover, since they were farmers, they knew the psychology of their fellow villagers, and therefore were the most capable in devising new ways and means of forcing their fellows to comply with Communist policies and demands.

I
DO NOT remember very much about my father, for I was only three when he died in 1919. But I clearly remember his funeral. A Red Guard stood at his deathbed. He wore a red cap, and in his hands he held a huge rifle with a bayonet fixed to its muzzle. He stood motionless and silent, like a granite statue gazing ahead into empty space. Later I was told that only when someone moved closer to the deathbed, or showed an intention of uncovering the dead body would he move, raising his rifle and uttering strange words. My brother thought that he and all the other strangers in uniform did not speak our language.

There were many people out of doors that day, people I had never seen before. I remember that they wore red caps, were dressed in uniforms, and had come on horseback.

My father's body was laid under the icons on a bench which stood in the east corner of the living room. I remember that we, his children—my six-year-old brother, my baby brother, and myself—were brought trembling to the bedside to bid our farewells. Although I could not see my father because he was in a sealed coffin, I was told to say good-bye and kiss him anyway. Someone lifted me, and I remember pressing my lips on the spot where father's head was supposed to be. I also remember that my mother and all the other people—relatives and neighbors—lamented and sobbed. But I did not cry. Those strangers with the red caps, guns, uniforms, and horses held my interest more than my deceased father.

As time went by, and I grew older, this scene often flashed through my mind, arousing my curiosity. I wanted to know what had actually happened on that day, and yet mother always managed to avoid my questions. She told me that he died; but she never said how he died.

It was not until one evening, when we returned from one of the village meetings at which the kurkuls had been denounced as the “enemies of the people,” that my mother decided to tell us the truth.

My father's farm was hardly big enough to support his growing family and to satisfy the state's demand for ever-increasing taxes. He had only about fifteen acres of arable land; never more than one horse, a cow, a few pigs, and the usual flock of domestic fowl. He never had hired hands, for he would have had no use for them. He did everything himself and enjoyed it; he even would often work for other farmers, or in the towns during the autumn and winter.

Nevertheless, he was a success in his own realm. Raised in the changeless traditions of the country people, he was an industrious and untiring individual. His small farm became a model for many other farmers in our neighborhood. He transformed it into what might have been called a market garden. He managed it so well that he always had some sort of fresh fruits or vegetables to sell in neighboring towns.

After working hard during the week, on Sundays he would load his one-horse wagon with various agricultrual products and go to the market. In this way—by sacrifice and sheer industry—he managed to accumulate enough money to build a house and the necessary auxiliary buildings, a clear indication of his limited prosperity. With this his social status changed. He became one of the most respected individuals in the village, and consequently, was elected head of the village shortly before the Communist Revolution. This position was an honorary one, for he received no payment from the government, but it brought about his death.

One day in 1919, a few days after the Communists had reoccupied Ukraine, my father was arrested, taken to the county seat, and put into prison. He was labeled “a servant of the old regime,” “an exploiter of the poor,” and “bourgeois-nationalist,” for he advocated independence for Ukraine.

This happened so quickly and so unexpectedly that mother was more confused at first than frightened. She was confident that the arrest was a mistake. She knew that no one would harm her husband, a fine man, deeply religious and honest, who worked hard and was always ready to offer his help to anyone. My mother was sure that the jailers would soon realize what kind of man he was and set him free.

But this never happened. The next day, when she went to visit him, she was told that he was dead. Despite her intense grief, her first thought was how to get her husband's body out of the prison, and how to properly bury him. She managed to do both. For some unknown reason, my father's jailers permitted her to take his body home, but only under the strict condition that he be buried without public participation, and his coffin never be uncovered.

My mother had no choice but to accept these conditions. The body was taken from the prison to our home by a small Red Guard detachment.

While telling us this, my mother was calm and composed, as she had always been. She was a most remarkable individual; I seldom saw her cry. In those troubled and lonely years that followed my father's death, she worked in the field, ploughed the land, and harvested the crops. She cared for our domestic animals, kept the entire household wisely, and affectionately cared for us. Through all those years, we heard few complaints from her lips. On the contrary, she appeared to be happy and witty. She encouraged us to be good, and to study hard in school. She laughed and prayed with us, but alone, she was sad and melancholy.

From the time of my father's death, fear dogged my mother's every step. She was afraid that at any moment she would be denounced as the wife of an “eliminated enemy of the people,” a charge that would have been fatal to the four of us.

For eleven long years, she labored under that fear, always having to be very careful in her speech. During those years, she had to appease many people in order to avoid quarrels or other frictions which might have resulted in denunciation. Indeed, she lived in a lonely and dangerous world.

Mother would have preferred not to tell this story at all, for she did not want us to grow up embittered by the murder of our father. She was convinced that he had been tortured and murdered in the prison. Her reticence disappeared only after that particular meeting during which the extermination of the kurkuls, as the “enemies of the people” had been declared. She felt the coming of the end and believed we were now old enough to know the truth.

 

After we had recovered from the shock of hearing the story of our father's death, we remained at the table and talked about the recent events in our village. We finally went to bed after midnight. As soon as we had put out the lights, we heard an energetic pounding at the front door. The knock was repeated, and a stranger's voice demanded that we open the door.

“The Bread Procurement Commission,” a voice announced from outside.

We already had heard about the notorious deeds of this commission, and we rushed to comply with their demand. But before we could, there was a crash—the strangers burst into our house.

It was dark, and my mother went to light the petroleum lamp.

“Surprise is my weakness! Ha, ha, ha,” said the voice that had commanded us to open the door. “I am just delighted to see you! But where are you? Ha, ha, ha…”

It was Comrade Khizhniak.

When Mother lit the lamp, we saw that four men, two women, and one boy, the messenger, were standing in front of her. One of the men held a rifle as if he were expecting a rabbit to hop out from under the bed. We knew all of them personally.

Comrade Khizhniak was drunk, and his lips and jaws moved slowly in a stutter. He could not stand up straight. We were frightened, and instinctively my older brother and I moved closer to our mother.

“How do you do, comrades?” Mother said in a trembling voice.

Comrade Khizhniak stepped closer to her.

“A lot of water has passed under the bridge since we last met each other,” he blurted out. “Isn't it sweet to get an unexpected night visit, eh?”

“Glad to see you, comrades,” Mother continued, regaining her strength and confidence. “What can I do for you? Please sit down.”

The lamp hung in the east corner of the living room. In the farmers' tradition, this corner was a sacred place. Icons hung there on the walls. From the ceiling hung an icon lamp with its ever-burning oil as a symbol of light. A piece of blessed bread lay on one of the icons as a symbol of God's generosity. We faced Comrade Khizhniak and his commission from this corner. My brother Serhiy stood at my mother's left side, and I stood at her right.

Comrade Khizhniak seemed not to have heard what Mother said; he stretched out his hands with the intention of embracing her. She stepped back, and he grabbed her in a shameless way. She slapped his face with all her might. “Swine, get away from me,” she cried.

Quickly, Comrade Khizhniak grabbed for his gun. I quickly jumped in front of Mother, and Serhiy grabbed Khizhniak. A shot was fired. The bullet hit the icon, and the glass splintered.

The shot was so unexpected that all seemed paralyzed. A woman member of the commission, gazing at the broken icon, started to cry. My younger brother screamed at the top of his voice. I tried to comfort my Mother as Serhiy wrestled with Comrade Khizhniak, who was trying to shoot again. Comrade Judas, probably drunk also, fell on his knees in jest, and mumbled something as if he were praying.

Then an old farmer member of the commission shouted, “Quiet! We came here on official business!”

Comrade Khizhniak stopped wrestling with my brother and put his gun back into its holster. He then turned to the old farmer:

“You will leave the thinking to the horses; they have bigger heads,” he sneered in a low voice. “Just whose business are you talking about?”

Then he approached the old man and looked at him contemptuously.

“I'm the business here!” he suddenly roared. “Do you hear me? I'm the business here! No one else! Keep that in your stupid, dirty, lousy old head!”

The old man hesitated; he wanted to say something but it was all in vain. Comrade Khizhniak continued, this time speaking through clenched teeth.

“Look at him,” he continued, as he turned to the commission's members, pointing at the old farmer with his finger. “He came here on official business…. Isn't that interesting?” Then he again raised his voice. “I repeat; this is my business! I'm the representative of our beloved and dear Party and government here! I am—”

“I only wanted to—” the old man started to say something.

“Shut up!” Comrade Khizhniak interrupted him. Then after a moment of silence, he gave the warning:

“I'll get even with you sooner or later.”

Comrade Khizhniak was a member of the Communist Party and the chairman of the Hundred's commission. He had complete power within that Hundred. To oppose him was to oppose the Party and the government. No one, except his superiors, might interfere in his activities. Shouting louder and louder, he warned that he would shoot down anyone who opposed the will of the Communist Party and that of the government.

After a while he turned to my brother Serhiy.

“You are a strong lad, eh! You are a very strong lad, indeed,” he said. “Our beloved fatherland needs strong fellows like you. Isn't it a great fortune to have such a strong young generation?”

He then turned to the man with the rifle, signaling him to step closer. Then he turned to my brother again.

“Well, well,” he continued in the same manner. “Our socialist fatherland needs strong people….” Then, taking a dignified pose, and in a haughty military manner, he pronounced:

“In the name of our beloved Communist Party and our people's government, I declare you under arrest for physical assault on an official representative of the Party and government while he was performing his official duty.” He then ordered the man with the rifle to take my brother into his custody.

My mother could not hide her despair. Crying, she attempted to hold on to Serhiy with both hands, but being too weak to struggle against four men, she fainted. When she regained consciousness, Serhiy was gone.

A few minutes later, after mother came to, Khizhniak continued his “business” as though nothing had happened. “Well,” he began, “as you already know, we came here on a serious business matter. On official business, as our comrade has said,” he smilingly nodded to the old farmer. “And, indeed, it is very serious.”

Mother rose to her feet and brushed back her hair.

“Before you start your official business, whatever it is, I demand a warrant for the arrest of my son,” she said in a clear voice. We were all amazed.

“I'm only a helpless widow,” she continued. “You can do what you want with me, for I do not have any strength to defend myself. But as long as I am alive, I protest against your intrusion into my house.”

Such a protestation was unheard of. The punishment for saying such things was a sentence of life imprisonment or death. No one would even think of demanding permission for arrest or search from an official.

Mother's demand touched off hysterical laughter from Comrade Khizhniak and his lieutenants. Then he moved closer to us.

“Look, sister, don't try to scare me. No one can scare me. I've been in tight spots before…”

When Mother tried to say something, he interrupted her. He hinted that he knew what had happened to her husband, and that it would be no trouble to do the same thing to her.

“I know what you mean,” Mother said, without changing the tone of her voice. “Nevertheless, as a citizen, I demand justice and my rights.”

“Now,” he pointed the gun at us: “Now, most loyal and patriotic citizen, you are under arrest. You, too!” He pointed at me with the gun, laughing. We were ordered to turn toward the wall and stand there.

The commission started its official business of searching for something. Comrade Khizhniak, still playing with his gun, seemed to like his business very much. He even looked inside the stove.

After they finished their search in the storage room, Comrade Khizhniak went into the room where Mother kept her clothing and relics in a locked trunk. We soon heard a shot.

Mother and I ran into the room. Comrade Khizhniak was opening the trunk. Not bothering to ask for the key, he destroyed the lock. Mykola, my younger brother, was crying in the corner behind the bed.

BOOK: Execution by Hunger
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