Emaciated woman in heavy coat and work boots stands near a factory in Ukraine
- Williams, Whiting, 1878-1975, Photographer
- Media Type
- Item Types
- Newspaper illustrations
- In the original photo, we see a tall thin woman standing, as if waiting, near a modern, new factory building. She is wearing a heavy coat, although the man behind her is simply wearing a shirt and summer white shoes, and others in the distance are also not heavily dressed. Her tall work boots are like those worn by the women workers seen in PD206.
The cropped photo in Answers shows only the figure of the woman, deprived of any context. Thus shown, it appears to be a photo taken in the winter and we do not know whether the location is urban or rural. In context, however, the incongruity of the heavy coat worn in an industrial setting in August most likely indicates that she is a worker living in such dire straits and limited space that like the homeless, she must carry or wear her belongings everywhere, including her coat and industrial work boots. Furthermore, if she is suffering from starvation, the coat may give her comfort even in warm weather.
Context:The situation for Urban Residents and Industrial Workers, 1932-1933
While Stalin’s genocidal policies were decimating the countryside, most urban residents and industrial workers were suffering from severe housing shortages and varying degrees of relentless hunger and malnutrition leading to increased mortality.
Once Stalin consolidated power in the mid 1920s, he set in motion his massive industrialization program. All industry would be run by the state, and agriculture would be industrialized as well, via collectivization. To implement this unprecedented transformation, 400 new industrial plants were built in Ukraine alone during the first 5 year plan (1928-1932), some on a massive scale. The Dnipro hydroelectric plant – the largest in Europe at the time, huge steel and aluminum plants, and the Kharkiv tractor factory, were among the most impressive of their type in the USSR. However, by the end of 1932, all of agricultural production and most of the industrial production was removed from Soviet Ukraine’s control to that of Moscow.
Large numbers of people left the countryside to work in the new industrial centers of Ukraine. The number of urban residents nearly doubled between 1920 and 1933, resulted in severe housing shortages and crowding in the cities and nearby industrial sites. This problem was at best met with rapidly, shoddily assembled apartment buildings – but just as often with minimally functional shelters and huts that workers had to improvise themselves outside the cities. In the Donbas, for example, 40% of workers had less than 2 sq. meters of living space per person. At the construction site of the Dnipro Dam, the crowded and unsanitary conditions created significant health issues with inadequate medical care to address them. Outbreaks of smallpox, typhus, and other diseases further weakened workers and their families and increased mortality. In 1929, the State instituted food rationing, which became increasingly restrictive through the Holodomor years.
Stalin repeatedly warned of an imminent threat of attack on the USSR by outside capitalist powers, and workers were driven to perform to the utmost when convinced that their efforts were part of war mobilization. Whiting Williams quotes miners that he first met in 1928 asking him when the US would attack the Soviet Union. Ultra high achieving workers were celebrated as heroes. The calls to patriotism and pride were used to offset the State’s ever-increasing failures to meet the basic needs of the proletariat. The average worker was surviving on wages that were decreasing in buying power throughout the period, wages that could hardly buy a warm coat, let alone supplement hunger rations. Furthermore, anyone rightly or wrongly accused of some form of neglect could lose their all-important food ration cards or housing, or be blacklisted from other employment, or even exiled to remote labor camps in the Gulag.
Although numerous strikes and other disturbances occurred during this period, eventually many workers responded to the grinding poverty and unfulfilled promises by engaging in the more passive forms of resistance, such as widespread theft from their places of work, frequently changing jobs, and decreasing productivity.
Sources: Subtelny, Liber, Kuromiya, Osokina, p.93, Rassweiler
- Photo taken August, 1933.
This photo was later published with the first of 2 articles by Whiting Williams in a London weekly titled Answers: “My Journey Through Famine-Stricken Russia,” February 24, 1934, p.16.
The original photograph and the published version are both shown here.
See Related Features menu to link to the article.
- Caption on back of photograph: “One of the weaker ones whose very life depends on, not the present crop but the present harvest.”
Caption under photo in Answers: “A real ‘hunger-marcher’ a woman, reduced by famine to skin and bones, ‘snapped’ in Soviet Ukraine.”
- Date of Original
- Date Of Event
- Local identifier
- Whiting Williams
- Language of Item
- Copyright Statement
- Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
- Recommended Citation
- for original: “One of the weaker ones whose very life depends on, not the present crop but the present harvest.” [Container 1, Folder 9 ] PG 89 Whiting Williams Photographs, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH. Retrieved from: http://vitacollections.ca/HREC-holodomorphotodirectory/3634045/data
for published version: Williams, Whiting. “My Journey Through Famine-Stricken Russia,” Answers (weekly). London, February 24, 1934, p.16. Retrieved from: http://vitacollections.ca/HREC-holodomorphotodirectory/3634045/image/4224400
- Location of Original
- [Container 1, Folder 9 ] PG 89 Whiting Williams Photographs, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH.
- Reproduction of images is restricted to fair use for personal study or research. Any other use requires a contractual agreement with the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH. Contact the Society directly at:
- Reproduction Notes
- Reproduced by contractual agreement with the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH.