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Kyiv Archivist Discovers Ersatz Bread Samples From Ukraine's 1932-33 Famine

"The sample of the farmers' bread is attached. I don't know the ingredients of this bread. This sample is for you to know," Oleksiy Sorokin wrote in his note.

KYIV -- Samples of ersatz bread from the Stalin-era famine that Ukrainians call the Holodomor have been discovered among criminal records in Kyiv, shedding new light on the 1932-33 calamity that killed millions of Ukrainians.

The discovery of the records by an employee at Ukraine's Central State Archives of Public Organizations also includes two notes written to "future generations" by a Kyiv church choir conductor who ultimately was sent to the gulag in Siberia for saving the scraps as evidence of what Soviet authorities were calling "bread" in the midst of "terrible hunger."

Oleksiy Sorokin was a 55-year-old music teacher and choir conductor at a church in Kyiv in 1932 when he wrapped one of the scraps in a note and hid it in his home.

"Here is a sample of bread that was consumed by farmers in the spring of 1932," Sorokin wrote in Russian that year. "In Kyiv, we still have some bread and are not yet dying of hunger. But we don't have enough to eat. The hunger is terrible."

"The sample of the farmers' bread is attached. I don't know the ingredients of this bread. This sample is for you to know," Sorokin wrote in his note.

In a second note, dated March 15, 1933, Sorokin described more details about the Holodomor and included another scrap of ersatz bread.

"In the spring of 1933, hunger hit all the Kyiv residents so hard that we used anything we could find for food," he wrote in the 1933 note. "Instead of bread, we baked flatbread from acorns and potato peels with other additions. I've left that kind of bread for future generations so they would know. How terrible this hunger is! Horrible!!!"

The notes Sorokin wrapped the ersatz bread in were held as evidence of his "anti-Soviet crimes."
The notes Sorokin wrapped the ersatz bread in were held as evidence of his "anti-Soviet crimes."

'Liquidating Kulaks'?

Ukrainians and historians widely view the Holodomor as a man-made famine intentionally caused by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and his central planners as an act of genocide aimed at wiping out a class of Ukrainian peasant farmers.

It stemmed from the forced collectivization of agriculture and grain procurements under Stalin's first five-year economic plan from 1928 to 1932.

Some historians say the main cause of the famine in Ukraine, one of the major grain-producing areas of the Soviet Union, was the seizure of crops by Soviet authorities who sent the food to other Soviet republics.

Evidence uncovered by researchers like British-American historian Robert Conquest shows that Stalin and other Communist Party members had ordered land-owning farmers across the Soviet Union, known as kulaks, "to be liquidated as a class."

Famine also struck Kazakhstan, the North Caucasus, the Volga region, the South Urals, and Western Siberia in 1932 and 1933.

WATCH: Eighty years ago, in 1932-33, Soviet authorities took all the grain from Ukrainian villagers and left them with nothing. More than 3 million people died in the resulting famine.

Starving To Death
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Ukraine and at least 15 other countries officially recognize the Holodomor as an act of "genocide."

The United States has labeled it as a "criminal act of the Stalinist regime" against the people of Ukraine. The U.S. Senate in 2017 also adopted a resolution declaring that "Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-1933."

But most Russian historians, noting that other ethnic groups also suffered from the famine, have stopped short of saying the Holodomor was engineered to kill Ukrainians.

Tickets To The Gulag

Olha Bazhan, director of Central State Archives of Public Organizations of Ukraine, says the scraps and Sorokin's notes were found last week. She says the discovery was made by an archivist who was analyzing declassified records from 35,000 criminal cases during Stalin's rule that involved residents of Kyiv and the surrounding region.

"Samples of that kind of bread have never been discovered," Bazhan says. "These are absolutely original samples of bread that have been dated precisely."

In fact, the scraps were nearly a decade old when they became evidence in a criminal case that resulted in Sorokin being "exiled" to the Soviet gulag system in Siberia.

Sorokin was arrested on suspicion of "disloyalty to Soviet society" on June 26, 1941 -- just days after Nazi Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union under the code name Operation Barbarossa.

Soviet Interior Ministry officers found the notes and ersatz bread during a search of Sorokin's home in Kyiv, filing it away as proof of what they called his "crimes against the Soviet government."

The man-made famine of 1932-33 killed million across the Soviet Union.
The man-made famine of 1932-33 killed million across the Soviet Union.

Sorokin was 64 years old when he was sent to Siberia. He never returned, and there are no known records about his fate in Siberia.

However, his name is listed in the archives as one of the hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens exonerated during the 1980s when their convictions during the Stalin era were overturned as illegal.

"Neither his relatives nor researchers have come forward to ask for information about him," Bazhan said.

Bazhan says further research into Sorokin's background reveals that his only child, a daughter, died about a year before his arrest -- leaving him no successors.

"We will try to find indirect successors because we know that he had a sister and a brother," Bazhan said. "But it's clear that this find is Sorokin's message to all of us."

Meanwhile, Bazhan said Sorokin's ersatz bread scraps will be studied by scientists to determine their exact ingredients.

Written by Ron Synovitz, with reporting by Anastasia Mahazova of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in Kyiv