Posts tagged famine

Dana’s Great-Grandmother Experienced the Famine in the 1930s

     Every person in his life has grandparents. For each of us they are very important because they are some piece of our past time life. That is why I chose the story about my father’s grandmother. She was born in 1890 in Western Kazakhstan. In her family, she was the sixth child after five brothers. Her name was Nurzhamal.  She got married at the age of fifteen years old. She did not want great-grandfather to be her husband because she loved another one. In spite of this and her age, she got her first baby and in total had ten babies.

Nurzhamal’s daily life was as a circle, she cooked, looked after her children, sewed ornaments on kiiz that she had done by her-self. Deep inside Nurzhamal wanted to be a poet. Sometimes when she had good mood or was upset, she started to create small poems. While telling about this great-grandmother I pitied not getting a note even just one of her poems. I have learned that my great-grandmother could not write, if she could she would have done it.

Nurzhamal azhe did not remember when exactly but once in Kazakhstan began starvation. In comparing with to the world war she told that hunger was the most terrible feeling that she ever have had. One day to the aul [village] arrived a car from the city and people attacked it asking for a food from those who has been sitting there. It was nice to live in the faraway steppes where they could hunt some animals.

She died after my birth in 1989. The interesting fact is that my mother was telling me about her not father. However, she was old person who understood but rarely joked with my mom. Mother liked to listen from her advices that she gave. Because she was wise and saw a lot of things in her life.

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Hardships of Balnura’s Grandparents

Now I am going to write about the stories, which my lovely grandparents told me. Since my early childhood I spend all my summer holidays at my grandparents’ home. When I was a child I very liked, when my grandmother told me different fairy-tales, especially  Kolobok (Circle Side)”,  Krasnaya shapochka”, (Little Red Riding Hood) “Kurochka ryaba” (Speckled Hen) and other interesting fairy-tales every night, sometimes she told me some stories from her life and her parents’ lives.

My Grandmother is Tatar by nationality, but she had never been in Kazan. Because her parents were forced to transfer to Kazakhstan. At that time, in 1928, the government began to take away money, property etc. from rich people who came to Kazakhstan. And my grandmother was born in 1934 in this country. In that period of time, as we know from history was famine. A lot of people died, it was a very hard time. It is a miracle that some could survive.

Also my grandfather had a hard childhood. All his sisters and brothers, including parents died during the famine, because of shortage of food. They had nothing to eat. As my grandmother told me, people even ate their own children. At that time they had neighbors, who had a 6 years old child, who had played in the street everyday, one day, he disappeared. And when my grandmother’s parents went to their neighbors’ house they saw how the leg of that boy was boiling. As we see, people who are too hungry don’t see if it is their child and they become like a beast or wild animal.

When my grandfather stayed alone, his one far relative took him for upbringing. Even though he was an uncle of him, he forced him to do all the heavy work. He grazed sheep, and did all such works. His uncle was very rich, but even though he didn’t let him to study or to live as a normal child. His attitude to him was like to slave. But his children which were at the same age, didn’t do anything.

My grandfather was really hard working and he strived for knowledge. He learnt to read and write by himself at night, while everybody else was sleeping. Because, if his uncle had known about it, he would have beaten him and treated him worse. He hadn’t any clothes to wear and no foot-wear. In winter he fastened on material and went out. One day he ran away from his uncle. Then he was sent into children’s home where he grew up. After that, he went into the army, then he entered militia school and met my grandmother. Since that time they lived together.

Everything he achieved was with his own work and hands, then he became chief of militia. I am very proud of him. Even it was too hard and difficult, they could resist. I love my grandparents very much. Thank God, now they are alive and healthy. I hope they will live with us for a very, very long time, and every time will give us their useful advice.

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Central Asia and “Soul” by Andrey Platonov


I just finished reading a powerful short story that became a classic in the former Soviet Union. Perhaps because it touched a nerve with the “souls” of those who were struggling in a supposedly “classless society.”  It certainly irked Stalin enough to put Platonov on the black list of Soviet writers.  However, Platonov’s stories continue to surface, even today. 



I appreciate the cover on the front of this “Soul” book which uses the artist Kazimir Malevich opaque painting “Torso in a Yellow Shirt.”  I have run across Malevich’s works before in relation to Ukraine’s Holodomor [Terror Famine] and the devastation of millions of destroyed souls in the early 1930s. 


Platonov masterfully and craftily writes about famine which manifested itself in Central Asia as well without ever once using the words “starvation” or “famine.” [of course those words were verbotten in the 1930s]  I think the translators skillfully brought out Platonov’s Russian nuances into English which will hopefully make this a classic MUST read among westerners.  Please read the following quotes I found intriguing, I’m sure the original Russian is just as gripping.


p. 31 “Chagataev told the old man that he had come from far away for the sake of his mother and his nation.  But did his nation still exist on earth, or had it come to an end long ago?

The old man said nothing.

“Did you see your father anywhere?” he asked.

“No. And you – do you know Stalin?”

“No, I don’t,” Sufyan answered.  “I once heard that word from a passer-by.  He said it was a good word.  But I don’t think it can be.  If it is something good, let it come here to Sary-Kamysh.  This was the hell of the entire world, and no human being lives a worse life than I do.”

“It’s me that’s come,” said Chagataev. “Here I am.”


p. 105 “Then Chagataev gathered everyone together and asked whether they intended to live of their own accord or were they still living merely thanks to such outside forces as food, air, water and habit acquired at birth.  Nobody answered him anything.

Many pale eyes were straining to look at Chagataev, trying not to close from weakness and indifference.  Chagataev felt the pain of his sorrow: his nation did not need communism.  His nation needed oblivion – until the wind had chilled its body and slowly squandered it in space.  Chagataev turned away from everyone: all his actions, all his hopes had proved senseless…”


“…Did there remain in his nation even a small soul, something he could work with in order to bring about general happiness? Or had everything there been so worn away by suffering that even imagination, the intelligence of the poor, had entirely died?  Chagataev knew from childhood memory, and from his education in Moscow, that any exploitation of a human being begins with the distortion of their soul, with getting a soul so used to death that it can be subjugated; without this subjugation, a slave is not a slave.  And this forced mutilation of the soul continues, growing more and more violent, until reason in the slave turns to mad and empty mindlessness.  The class struggle begins with the victory of the oppressors over the ‘holy spirit’ confined within the slave: blasphemy against the master’s beliefs – against the master’s soul, the master’s god – goes unpardoned, while the slave’s own soul is ground down in falsehood and destructive labour.”

p. 109 “Half an hour later he was close enough to see that the entire Dzhan nation was sitting around this fire of quietly burning saksaul.  The nation was singing a song and did not notice Chagataev.  Chagataev listened to this song, enthralled…The song said: 

“We won’t cy when tears come to us,

we won’t smile from joy,

and nobody will be able to reach our deep heart,

which will make its own way towards people

and the whole life and stretch out its hands to them

when its bright time comes,

and this time is now near;

deep in our hearts we can hear our soul,

hurrying to come out and help us.”


p. 149 “Chagataev took Ksenya’s hand in his own hand and felt the far-away, rapid beating of her heart; it was as if her soul wanted to reach him and come to his rescue.  Chagataev now knew for sure that help could come to him only from another human being.


So it would seem that the communist idealist who believed in Stalin because he was essentially orphaned to the communist State, went on a mission to be the “savior” to his meager “pedestrian nation” in Central Asia, extracting it from near extinction.  However, in the end he needed saving from himself and those ideals that had possessed and tormented his life almost to physical death.  Ultimately, he was freed in the end of this short story by love from another desperate soul.

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Diana’s Grandparents Solved their Famine Problem

I. Introduction.

Nowadays young people think less about an elder generation, especially about their difficult periods in life, when they were not so far from death… I have heard and read a lot of stories about different types of difficulties from my relatives and from magazines. Also, there are movies about people’s lives at diverse situations. Many people even do not know about hard times, which are connected with The Great Patriotic War.  Kazakhstan’s famine after and during WWII was a great problem for many people but my grandparents found a solution by getting products from their own garden and own cattle.

II. Kazakhstan before World War II.

Before the Second World War in Kazakhstan, as a part of USSR, a situation was not still and stable. Because after establishing Bolshevism, there appeared waves of repressions. From setting up the Soviet government, concentration camps were being created, where ideological enemies of Bolshevism were sent. The main place was The GULAG, where a lot of innocent people died. “A huge number of investigators were employed to provide the “evidence” to cast victims into the GULAG”, Davies (2004). Most of them were people from the intelligence class. All, according to Tolts (2006), about 110 thousands of people were sent to these camps.

Many Kazakh people in auls did not even know about the situation in the whole country of USSR. They were living in their houses, as they had lived before.  Inhabitants of auls could not communicate with cities and towns; it took a lot of time. From different sources they rarely got news from even the nearest towns. Maybe in other data it was not so bad position, but everything was told to me by my grandmother’s sister. Her name is Sara, she was born in 1937, but as she heard from her parents it was not hard to live before World War II. In that time they had enough food to live well.  They had a lot of lambs, about five cows, several horses. Also, in their place was where they could grow their own vegetables. My Great grandfather took care of everything about that.

III. Kazakhstan during World War II.

22nd of June 1941 Fascist Germany invaded into USSR’s territory. In that seriously hard time, Kazakhstan became an industrial center of Front. Every fifth man was sent to the Front, to fight. It was a debt before each country, to protect it from different enemies. Two young ladies wanted to fight for their country instead of a brother or father, because one of them had no male person in her family.  This girl was Hero of USSR, Manshuk Mametova. There were a lot of excellent persons, from Kazakhstan, who could become a Hero! To fight, people needed food, to get more power everyone understood current situation and tried to help as they could… There was organization “everything for the Front”. They collected everything that people owned. My great grandfather was called to fight in 1942…from this time my grandfather thought about his children and said goodbye.

IV. Effects of World War II.

Few people know that “cost of the 1941–45 war to the Soviet Union was a population loss of 26–27 million people” Hayanes (2003). Economy of the Country decreased, but it was tried to be recovered, “Two other factors in the Soviet economic recovery were also partly a result of her role in the Second World War”, Pethybridge (1983).  Starvation became another problem, which had been caused by war, even though this problem was not spread out all over the World. Because of famine, citizens became sick; shortage of vitamins, different illnesses started to spread out. It was not a great famine as was in 1932-1933, when millions of people died, “the number of famine deaths in Ukraine was 3.2 million”, Ellman (2007).


People in auls lost their cattle, they did not eat well. More often they were eating different porridges. As my grandparent aunt said, she with her little sister (my grandmother) with their mother were left alone. They were needed in men’s help, but there was not anyone who could. And because of that many women started to do men’s job. They had just one cow, which was the breadwinner for them, but one day this cow died, fell into well. After that, they approximately did not eat good, useful meal.  

To feed a young generation, women grew different types of vegetables, who had meat; they tried to share with it.

IV. Conclusion

 In conclusion, even in such hard times, when everything was done for country, when people were sharing with their last things for the Front, people did not die from famine because they had an enormous desire to live and find any ways to feed children. They believed that each citizen of USSR must help to save their Homeland.  Who could not do such things, they simply died.


Davies, R. W. (2004). Book review. (Paul R. Gregory and Valery Lazarev, (2004). The economics of Forced Labor: The Soviet Gulag. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, xviii _ 212 pp.)

Ellman, M. (2007). Stalin and the Soviet famine of 1932 – 33 revisited. EuropeAsia Studies, 59(4), 663 – 693.

Hamzina, S. (2008). Personal interview.

Hayanes, M. (2003). Counting Soviet deaths in the great Patriotic War: a note. EuropeAsia Studies, 55(2), 303-309.

Pethybridge, R. (1983).  Post – War reconstruction. Soviet Union. History Today, 29-32.

Tolts, M. (2006), Ethnic composition of Kazakhstan on the eve of the Second World War: Re-evaluation of the 1939 Soviet census results. Central – Asian Survey  25(1-2), 143-14.

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USSR’s Past Problems, My Students’ Grandparents Solutions

The following excerpts are just some brainstorming my students are doing about their final essay and portfolio project for our academic reading and writing course. Problems aplenty, their grandparents had creative solutions in order to get out from under the burdens of the Soviet regime.  I am looking forward to reading their FINAL PRODUCT!


Russian empire’s system of education – The nature of this problem led to repression and political organization in the early Soviet Union.  The nature of problem is distribution of state money in Russian empire, less of it was spent on education and thus not developed educational system.  Consequently, enormous amount of uneducated “marginal” people and this problem concerned every person and effected every sphere of their living.  Main effect is revolution [1917] and after that fatal because no competition of any competent personnel.  The effect was an absolute fall of science and culture. Natalya


Education – Problems with education with no teachers, not enough schools.  Also, I think it is a problem for Kazakh people because in Soviet period all things were put into Russian language. Many Kazakh people didn’t get hired on jobs.  Many Kazakhs learn Russian language and forgot their own language.  I think some of parents don’t know their mother language because their parents spoke Russian language.  Their solution to survive was to learn Russian. Madina


Education – Some problems in education was overteaching, too much to read in some classes which children don’t need.  In the Soviet time, education was censored.  All pupils learned by only one book and nowadays we can choose our books and the way of learning ourselves.  It was in the whole Soviet Union because the Soviet government made that for “brain cleaning.”  For showing their way of history and showing dictators from good side.  It started from kindergarten and ended in the university, after this education they are believe that only their dictator is the best, only the Soviet Union is the best, etc.

Solution: – Now people only smiling when reminded of these times.  People learn how to think for themselves and how to learn themselves.  Askar


Famine – The topic of my problem/solution essay is starvation and WWI.  I think that is one of the great problems of that period of time because a lot of people died and their families stayed alone without help.  The nature of the problem is unemployment because it was difficult to have a good education in that period and people did not work and died from famine.  It had a great impact on the people and many small children began to work very early.  I think that this problem needed to be solved by the older generation because small children struggled from these problems.  Also, a lot of people died during Great Patriotic War, many people lost their relatives and it was really difficult to stabilize the situation that existed in that period of time.  Nowadays we haven’t so difficult situation, like starvation and I think our great grandfathers did everything for that. Zhanna


Famine after WWII – Nature of the problem is famine after and during WWII.  The main cause is war and approximately all men were taken to war.  Everything was put on women, most products (food) was sent to war places.  This problem was not in the whole country, but mostly in auls (villages) and nearest places to front.  This probably was needed to be solved because many, many people would die.  Finally, if this problem wasn’t solved, then people simply would die, because people first of all needed to eat to survive. Diana


Soviet Living Conditions – All these problems of bad lifestyle, lack of food and clothes, no place to live and long lines to stand in, led to illnesses and depopulation.  Older generations tried to solve that problem by using their own experience, and in my problem solution essay I will use quotes from my grandmother in how she solved these problems.

If no solution had been found, people would have died, so the conclusion is “the strong people will survive.”

All these problems are very important for former USSR, because our older generation suffered from these problems and I want to show it in my paper. Kristina


Broken up families/poor families – Many Soviet women had to bring up their children alone because their husbands had died during the war, famine, etc.  The effects of this is that many children, especially oldest sons didn’t have “proper” childhoods, women had to work harder, also start to do some “man work.”  The fact that there is no man in the family didn’t effect well psychologically on little children as well; women started to emancipate in many fields of life.  Maiya


Soviet repression – I’ll choose the problems which were social problems about gulags and prisons.  During the Stalin’s repression, a lot of people became an enemies of the state because of different causes.  In Soviet period, there are a lot of educated people, “intelligence” they were against an ideology, Stalin’s regime and that’s why the government decided to imprison them.  This problem was extended in the whole USSR.  Many people were imprisoned in gulags and died there.  Then the population was fallen dramatically.  That time was a scary time when people were in fear and always worried about themselves and their relatives. Akbota


Evacuation – People who were relocated during WWII faced new living conditions they weren’t used to.  This problem was caused by evacuation during WWII.  These problems needed to be solved because it was the only way to survive.  If no solution had been found, all the people who suffered a lot, both local people and those who were evacuated would have died.  This problem was very widespread during that time because families were destroyed, relatives were placed in different regions of the country.  But still, they had to be strong to start a new life in a new location. Yelena


Enemies of the PeopleSoviet Union claimed that my grandparents were enemies of the USSR.  They were the elites and came from well-educated and well known families and the communist party wanted to make all the people as equal as possible and started to destroy the elites of Kazakh, to not let them mobilize all the poor and not to educate people to protect their rights and do not proclaim themselves as independent, a sovereign republic from USSR.

The elites of Kazakhs at that time wanted to be free as their ancestors, to establish as Kazakh autonomy country and they could mobilize people to fight for their sovereignty.  But most of the elites were killed by communist party’s representatives and their wives were sent to working camps such as gulag ALZHIR.  But the wives could stay straight even under a lot of problems came and they survived.  They worked hard and helped other people and finally they achieved their goals.  Kazakhstan is independent and a sovereign republic. Aida








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Unedited Versions of TWO More Babushkis Stories

Lidia Timofeevna

When this woman got into the classroom it was obvious that she used to be very active during the Soviet times. This was true as she told us about the being an A+ student in the morning and looking after the cows in the evenings. She was born in the 1939, just before the WWII started and she had clear memories of her father leaving to the front in 1941. It is obvious that her parents were very strong people. They used to live during the hardest times of the history: WWI, Famine of 1933 and WWII.

For the Lidia the WWII ended in the 1941, when there was a big battle very close to the Moscow between Soviet Union’s and Fascist forces. Soviet Union put all its power to win this battle and actually did it. At that time the war was over for Lidia.

Lidia’s father died on the front leaving her mother with 4 girls. In 1946 when Lidia went to the school they had nothing to write on and with, they didn’t have a backpack, no notebooks and no books, they didn’t have a library, but they were happy.

It was clear that although Soviet times were hard, she misses them a lot. She told us a story when she lost a herd and was very afraid of what would be done to her, but people from her village saw these sheep walking without her and put all of them to own yard, so that no sheep would be lost. Lidia says that people were more honest before, but “now their idols became money”. She talked about the friendship that the war created within the country. She said that they were taking blue bread to the school to share it with other classmates.

She had a very successful career in the textile plant and used to be very nervous. She became ill with cancer and had overall 8 surgeries. She said that God helped her to go through everything. Lidia kept repeating during her speech this phrase, which I think reflects not only her personality but the mentality of people in Soviet Union: “Always work with conscience”.


Galina Alayevna

Galina Alayevna was born in 1932 in Ashkhabad, the capital city of the Turkmenistan. Her mother was Russian and father Turkmen. Her mother was sent there to work in the tuberculosis hospital.

Galina has told us a lot about the living conditions during those times. She said that there were no rich people, no differentiation by income. People could be differentiated on the base how close to the party they were, because these people were the ones that got apartments and all other privileges. Others had to live in the “komunalka”, a prototype to the dormitory. Women had only one dress to wear and sometimes no underwear. Her father once presented her mother a chintz shawl; it was a very expensive gift for that time period. Galina describes the life in Turkmenia as very hard. They lived on the backyard of the hospital where mother used to work. Unfortunately her parents got divorced and mother took young Galina to the Orenburg.

When the WWII started Galina was 9 years old, her mother had to work in the hospital, taking care of the injured soldiers, while young Galina was taking care of their home and Grandmother.

Galina graduated from musical school and college and then moved to the Almaty to study and work here. She has worked as a teacher of music for almost 30 years, she started to work in 1951 and until 2005.

Galina’s either uncle or grandfather (she doesn’t remember herself) was killed during the time of repression and his monument is in Ashkhabad city.

I was very expressed by the fact that Galina’s mother working in the tuberculosis hospital at the age of 30 also got ill with this disease. I think that I would never want to work somewhere always being disposed to this disease.

In the end Galina said happily: “I have everything”.

Lidia and Galina had very different life stories, they are different a lot from one another, but what makes both of them similar is their strength. However I am more impressed by their parents, because these are the people who actually were very strong and brave. This makes me think how easy is my life in comparison to what these people had to go through.


by Mahkfirat

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Nurlybek’s Grandma – “Famine’s Life and Death Decision”


I asked my grandma for some interesting story about her life experience so she told me her mum’s story which happened in 1931-32 to one woman.  My grandma was born by 1935 and it was Soviet Union time. By 1942-45 there was Second World War which she still remembers, but in that time she was only 7-10 years old. And as she said that was such an awful time, that the people can not see their good future and everyday hoping that war will finish that very day.

But before the Second World War happened in Kazakh nation was big tragedy and it was the famine. It happened in 1931-32 and during these years in Kazakh land was political repression of Kazakh people and the government of Soviet Union tried to quickly install the ideology and the rules of socialism, when all people are the same. So the government took everything from people especially food, dress, animals and etc. And at the end of this action the Kazakh people haven’t got anything to survive, so by 1931 in nation started famine. Especially when it was winter most of the people died hungry. So, people were so crazy that they even ate grass and mice…  

So, as she remembers in that winter near the village of where her mum lived was one very hungry village. There especially wasn’t any kind of food, drink and dress… And one woman with her small children, who was girl and boy decided to go to village where grandpa mum’s lived. But out side of village was so dangerous with wolves that everyone was so afraid, but the woman ran away. She had a long hard way and when the next village was closed she suddenly heard the howl of wolves. And in that moment she understands that there is no chance to survive with her children. So she decided to leave one of her children behind, which was a girl. So, she left her and continued the trip. At the end, she come to village and cried every day, but she also understood that her son is alive he would continue the decent of Kazakh nation.   

Overall I hope that not ever human society will see this tragedy like famine. And I also hope that our young Kazakh generation will remember that worst time and have respect for the people who died in that time. Because, the fifty percent of Kazakh popularity died during that time…

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