Mining employees on their way to work in the Donetsk coal mining region
- Williams, Whiting, 1878-1975, Photographer
- Media Type
- Item Types
- Newspaper illustrations
- In the original photograph, Williams presents a glimpse of Horlivka, the major center for coal mining in the “Donbas”. According to the article caption, the men and a woman are on their way to work. The older man in the foreground is carrying his own lantern that he will take with him into the mines. The men’s trousers appear very tattered. The woman’s skirt is frayed, and her left leg appears stained. It looks like she is carrying a book or ledger. Perhaps she is employed as a bookkeeper in a mine office.
In the illustration as presented in Answers, the woman, the male worker in the mid foreground, and much of the industrial setting behind them are cropped out.
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.17.
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: “Coal miners in Khorlovka, Donetz basin, Ukraine, USSR.”
Caption under photo in Answers: “Miners going to work in the Donetz coalfield. Although manual workers are given preferential treatment, their conditions are often desperate.”
- Date of Original
- Date Of Event
- Local identifier
- Whiting Williams
- Language of Item
- Geographic Coverage
Latitude: 48.33576 Longitude: 38.05325
- Copyright Statement
- Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
- Recommended Citation
- for original: [caption ]; [Container 1, Folder 9 ] PG 89 Whiting Williams Photographs, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH. Retrieved from: http://vitacollections.ca/HREC-holodomorphotodirectory/3634047/data
for published version: Williams, Whiting. “My Journey Through Famine-Stricken Russia,” Answers (weekly). London, February 24, 1934, p.17. Retrieved from: http://vitacollections.ca/HREC-holodomorphotodirectory/3634047/image/4224386
- 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.