My mom (born 1919) grew up in the Volhynia area (150 kilometers west of Kyiv). Back then, it was home to a mishmash of cultures. Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and German farmers got along with each other, living side by side. They spoke each other’s languages, their children played with each other and they all dealt with the same fickle weather. The rich earth of the area didn’t care who was harvesting its grain. The wind blew, the rain fell, the sun warmed them all equally.
|From painting in a small Koresten, Ukraine museum
True, they might have worshipped in different churches, spoken different dialects in their homes, had different wedding customs and recipes, but they didn’t need weapons to solve those differences. It was Stalin and his secret police (OGPU, later NKVD) who can be credited for creating conflict in the tiniest settlements, or amongst families. After the forced expulsions (my grandfather went through two expropriations, first in 1915 during the Great War, then again in 1930), then the 1917 Revolution and its ensuing civil war, there were a few years when the area was relatively peaceful. Those were the good years when my mom had a happy, but brief, childhood. The storks delivered babies, the windmill was built, there was a local church community. Communism, at this point was not a threat, but a support. The Soviets encouraged German peasants to build their own schools, churches and even a seminary for their pastors in Heimtal, near Zhytomyr. (I got to wander through those red brick ruins when I visited back in 2004). In A Biography of No Place, Kate Brown writes, “By 1926 there were eleven officially chartered minority regions in Ukraine, and nearly 300 nationally autonomous villages.” (page 20)
After Lenin died in 1924, however, communist idealism was gradually replaced by Stalin’s ambition. The 1929 decree to liquidate the kulaks forced collectivization upon the family-minded peasants and violently broke up my mom’s home. Suddenly, there were enemies everywhere. German farmers were now labelled tight-fisted, or kulaks. After collectivization and the first Five Year Plan had been implemented, Stalin turned paranoid and started killing everyone around him. The assassination of Stalin’s close friend, Kirov, marking the beginning of the Great Terror/Purge. My German-speaking grandfather, was executed in 1937 as an enemy of the people under Article 58. His crime? My grandfather only wanted to leave the country and rejoin his orphaned children.
And now we’re in 2022. Putin wants Ukraine to be part of his Russian family. He loves Ukraine so much that he will kill them all to keep them in his sphere of influence. What would King Solomon advise? Kill a child so that no one can have it? And those in Russia who oppose him are threatened with 15 years imprisonment.
Putin, Stalin, Hitler. Madmen again attacking the defenceless. No wonder the soil of my mother's home near Zhytomyr is so red. The red granite bleeds once again.