Notes of Solidarity is a new daily series of mini-essays, poems, and reflections on the Russian war on Ukraine by some of Wales’s leading literary figures. Here, Adam Somerset recounts the power of Gareth Jones’ reporting on the Holodomor, the Terror-Famine which lasted in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933, killing millions of Ukrainians.
The grand ground floor space of Aberystwyth’s Old College holds a memorial that is unique. It is the only plaque of historical tribute in the world to be written in the three languages of Welsh, English and Ukrainian.
On 2nd May 2006, it was unveiled in the presence of the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Ihor Kharchenko. The Ambassador called the figure depicted an “unsung hero of Ukraine”. In November 2008 this graduate of Aberystwyth University was awarded the Ukrainian Order of Merit at a ceremony in Westminster Central Hall. The award was made by Dr Kharchenko, on behalf of the President of Ukraine, for exceptional service to his country and its people.
In this time of atrocity, Nicola Sturgeon is reading Red Famine by Anne Applebaum. Chapter 14 of the book is titled ‘Cover Up’, a large part of it devoted to Gareth Jones. Applebaum opens with Gareth Jones catching a train from Moscow to Kharkiv. He slips off the train at an earlier stop and walks 40 miles to be witness to the Holodomor, the famine made in Moscow to starve the people of Ukraine.
The reports that Jones sent out to the world resound:
“I walked along through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread. We are dying’….I tramped through the black earth region because that was once the richest farmland in Russia and because the correspondents have been forbidden to go there to see for themselves what is happening.
“In the train a Communist denied to me that there was a famine. I flung a crust of bread which I had been eating from my own supply into a spittoon. A peasant fellow-passenger fished it out and ravenously ate it. I threw an orange peel into the spittoon and the peasant again grabbed it and devoured it.
“’We are waiting for death’ was my welcome. Go farther south. There they have nothing. Many houses are empty of people already dead,’ they cried.”
The Russian Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov had been interviewed by Gareth Jones in Moscow. After the dispatches were published Litvinov banned him from ever entering the Soviet Union again.
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You can follow all contributions to Notes of Solidarity from Wales Arts Review here.
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