Perhaps more than any other post, my recent post on the forced famine in Ukraine has really remained with me. When thinking about people living in impossible situations (picture Iraq or Syria), I try to put myself in the position of a father sending his children off to school, not knowing if they will return safely; of a husband seeing his wife off to market, carrying the same burden of possible finality; of the breadwinner living in a place in which the economy has been destroyed.
The following – taken from the author of the book Bloodlands – has struck me and is what has stuck with me:
First weeks of 1933: with starvation raging through Ukraine, Stalin closed the borders of the republic such that the starving couldn’t flee, and closed the cities such that the starving couldn’t beg. As of 14 January, citizens were required to carry internal passports. The sale of long distance tickets to peasants was banned.
No food left to requisition, so none left to eat. No way to flee. Nothing left to do but die…in place.
In Soviet Ukraine in early 1933, the communist party activists who collected the grain left a deathly quiet behind them…Ukraine had gone mute.
The stillness: bodies barely able and eventually unable to move…yet alive…for a while longer; the body automatically consuming first its fat, then its muscle; fathers unable to do anything to provide or protect.
The lifelessness: there are no cats or dogs – all have been eaten; the birds have been scared away because to remain meant to be eaten; the livestock and chickens gone long before.
The silence: not a creature was stirring because there were no creatures left to stir; not a human was stirring because there was no energy to move – all energy was diverted to the body automatically consuming itself.
People in Ukraine never considered cannibalism to be acceptable. Even at the height of the famine, villagers were outraged to find cannibals in their midst, so much so that they were spontaneously beaten or even burned to death.
The author wrote of the cannibalization by permission – the mother telling her children to make a meal of her remains after she dies. He also wrote of the pre-meditated cannibalization – killing the infant in order to eat.
I think about people stuck in such impossible situations. I always try to put myself into the frame of mind that says I must not make ethical judgments when impossible choices are the only ones offered. This doesn’t mean condoning, it doesn’t mean to suggest what I might do in their place; it means accepting the impossibility of the situation.
But sometimes getting into this frame of mind is harder than at other times. I can mentally get there with the first type mentioned; not the second.
Enough of that.
Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.