Traditional Ukrainian tapestries, family photos and pastoral scenes on cheap posters cover the walls of her cottage warmed by a wood-burning stove. The only record of her tragic past are her birth certificate and her memories.
In her 102 years, Liubov Yarosh has survived three famines, including the 1932-33 “Holodomor” when — under Joseph Stalin’s orders — Ukraine’s farmers were stripped of every grain they produced, to feed Moscow’s industrialization and suppress Ukrainian nationalist resistance.
“There was nothing to eat then. We ate linden leaves… and nettles. We used to grind these wild plants into flour, bake with it, and eat it. That’s what we ate during the famine,” Yarosh tells CNN from her home in the village of Khodorkiv, in the Zhytomyr region, around two hours’ drive west of Kyiv.
At 13 she saw her older brother and sister perish in what was Ukraine’s worst mass starvation. “I was completely swollen. My legs were swollen, my arms were swollen. I was so sick. I thought I was going to die,” she says of her own suffering.
Back then the Kremlin sought to rid Ukraine of independent farmers, of its language, its history, its artists and its independence.
Many believe what Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to do now has startling similarities.