Cannibalism (1920–1923)

Let us eat my little dead one.

Cannibalism (1920–1923)


In front of me there sits Yevdokiya Yemelyanovna Zhiganova of Kamenki village, Pugachyovsky district. She is 50, and she has been widowed for almost five years. Her face is long, and her chin is sharp, her forehead is furrowed, and her lean face is wrinkled. She has a pointed nose, grey and bright deep-set eyes, and her lips are thin and bluish. Her other daughter Agripina Ivanovna is 18.

This is the horror they relate.

We lived with the peasant woman of Kamenki village, the widow Natalya Fyodorovna Pyshkina, with our whole family: I, Avdotya, daughter Agrafena, son Alexey of 11, and small daughter Maria of 5. Natalya Pyshkina had her own daughter Praskovya of 9, so overall there were six people in the house. And we all suffered from terrible hunger. From spring to winter, we lived on weeds, dogs, and cats. Then, we ran out of everything, and we started suffering, weakening, and swelling from starving. Our landlady Natalya’s daughter Pasha fell ill, and dies three weeks before Christmas. Her mother said to us, “We don’t have anything else to eat; we have eaten all cats and dogs. We are going to die of hunger. Let us eat my little dead one; I have already eaten dead people. They’re OK, eatable.” We were scared by these words but we decided to do it, and we decided to do it because the end was near. Therefore, we ate the girl. In a week, my little son dies, Alexey, of hunger. So we ate him, too. However, your own child is no food, you soul does not take it, and you cry without stopping. My boy died swelled, and blackened, so his flesh was bad for eating anyway. After that, and old woman of 70 asked to spend a night in the house, saying no one else did not want to let her in.

We did not have any meat again, so we had to stay hungry. At night, everything was quiet. The old woman fell asleep.

Agripina interrupts her mother, saying,

Natalya Pyshkina took a knife, and told me, “Go hold the old woman down, we’ll slaughter her, and we’ll have meat again.” At first, I did not want to knife the old woman but Pyshkina threatened me, saying, “Either I’ll kick you out, or I’ll slaughter you.” So we killed the sleeping old woman, cut her up, and then boiled.

How did you slaughter another woman, Alexandra Filippovna Fofanova, aged 40?

Yevdokiya Zhiganova answers,

After we have eaten the girl, the boy, and the old woman, Fofanova, also of Kamenki, asked us to take her into the house. We did not have enough wood for the stove, naturally, so we told her to bring her own wood. And we accepted her.

Zhiganova pauses. Her daughter continues,

Soon after Fofanova came to live with us, our landlady Natalya Pyshkina started talking to us about butchering Fofanova, too, and eating her. By this time, we have lost our fear. At night, Natalya and I went to Fofanova. She woke up, and saw the knife in Pyshkina’s hand. She was very frightened. She kept saying, “What are you doing? You can’t do that.” Nevertheless, we did not have time for idle talk, so I grabbed Fofanova by the hands, and Natalya sliced her throat with the knife. Then we chopped the body up, and put the pieces into a barrel. Then we ate it. When we remembered that we were eating human flesh, we felt sick. Horsemeat or dog-meat would have been better.

The daughter falls silent. The mother looks down without raising her head.

Did your neighbors come asking where the children were?

Yes, they did, the mother Zhiganova answers. And when they asked where our kids were, we said they were over there, on the stove, sleeping because they were ill. There was one girl sitting there, and we had bundled rags there, too, to look like someone else lying.

Both of them are silent again.

And what happened to the landlady, Natalya Pyshkina?

Oh, her, Yevdokiya Zhiganova answers, she fell sick, and died. My daughter and me, we took her dead body, cut it up, and stored. We had five days to Christmas.

Did you butcher the old woman, and Fofanova?

Nah, I did not. the daughter and Pyshkina did.

Did they know you were eating people?

No, Yevdokiya Zhiganova answers, but later, the people could not help noticing. They came and asked us, what did we eat, and where the other people were. Then I fell to my knees, and said that we were guilty in people’s and God’s eyes, we were man-eaters, and we ate five people. Then, they arrested my daughter Agrafena and me, so now we are kept here, in Pugachyov.

Primeval dangerous forces

A month ago, when we read about an “old man” in Dergachi who ate his “old woman,” by melting fat from her, and making meat jelly with her head, we were thunderstruck. The mind of a cultured person, it seemed to us, could not comprehend the fact. It also seemed that the very foundations of the entire cultured existence shook, and we, confused, depressed, and lost, thought there was nowhere else to go any more.

Yet it happened there were still many ways those terrible chimeras were laying in wait for us. After that “old man,” there were mother eating their children; kind people who took orphans “to bring up” only to murder and eat them; and people who stole children with the same purpose in mind. There were rumors, for example, that in the streets of Uralsk, someone murders passers-by, chops their heads off, and “leaves them for relatives to identify” but they carry bodies with them to feed on.

The terrible folk tale of Baba Yaga, who eats children that used to terrify us when we were little, has suddenly come to horrible life. Yet the most horrible thing is that we are no longer terrified by it. When a merry clown sings ditties in the circus about a man eating his wife, we laugh.

Perhaps, some border has been crossed, after all, where we do not have horror any more but only indifference. Like, they ate someone, big deal. They did not eat me. Or, we have a perversion of basic feelings of a cultured person, like, a man eating his wide, ha ha, that is funny.

We seem not to cross the last line, though.

Wait and see, a friend of mine used to joke. We will come to that we invite you to have some tea, and make cutlets out of you, like good friends.

I saw some sinister possibilities in that joke. Of course, my jocular friend would not eat me, or anyone else. But cases like that in the future would be undoubtedly possible, when the bony hands of Hunger grab us by the throats.

If it is quite possible to steal a child, and eat him, why cannot friends eat their friend?

Starvation is terrible, it has always been written in every textbook. However, textbooks are getting old now, and our Hunger is something one cannot read anywhere, even in the wisest books of all.

Hippolyte Taine wrote remarkably about William Shakespeare in his “Histoire de la littérature anglaise.” Taine saw the English Bard’s greatness in his ability to look deeply into the abyss of human soul where the millennia’s heritage is stored. But what are those millennia of human existence, compared to millions years of beastly state? Under the thin shell of culture, there a beast lurks, and its instincts are hold down mostly by society’s mechanical forces. The human nature by itself is that of a madcap, and the man’s corporeal organism is sickly. Our good health and sound mind are just a fleeting luck for us, and a happy chance.  We do not quite realize this because now we are put in order, stewed, enfeebled. Our internal movement is barely adjusted to the movement of the outside life due to permanent cleansing, and alignment. But this adjustment is on the outside only, and the primeval dangerous forces still exist, untamed and independent even when the order rules, and seems to contain them. In a moment of considerable danger, when some turnover happens, those forces erupt and explode with almost the same power as before.

The seven years of war that destabilized the “order” that had existed before it, was the first to awaken those “primeval dangerous forces” in man. The hunger that attacked the very foundations of culture finishes the deed started by the war. A beast is unleashed within a man. People are used to shedding blood in the trenches, and human life has become very cheap.

When the issue of survival becomes crucial, that hungry beast awakened by the global slaughter starts snapping its teeth at its “near and dear.”

As a result, those “primeval dangerous forces” lead to cannibalism.

The Russian hunger with its concomitant brutality is the threatening illustration to the existing culture, and it is the terrible warning to it.

Do not we really exaggerate the stability and firmness of our “ages-long culture” too much if those sever years of war could give an impetus to those “primeval dangerous forces,” and turn humans into cannibals?

They now look for the closest culpable ones for the catastrophe that befell us, and they discuss it with “partiality and anger.” They do not wish to think about the main issue here, the value of the way of life that rests on such feeble foundation that is, therefore, dangerous for the true culture.

The hunger museum

By the decree of the Provincial Commission for assistance to the hunger victims, ion the fall, in Saratov, they established the hunger museum.

The organizers thought the museum would be aimed at two things. It should serve as a secure storage area for all those materials that depict starvation in the Saratov Territory, and the fight with it. Thus, the museum will be an important source for [our knowledge of] those dark years of suffering. But the most important and vital task of the museum is to serve as an incessant alarm clock for the public consciousness, and to call to arms loudly to fight the terrible devastating force that we know by the name of “hunger.”

The museum concentrates different kinds of bread and general food surrogates that feed now the populace of the starving areas.

Even now, there are samples of stinging nettle, orach, birch, acorn, pumpkin and watermelon rind, cabbage leaf, oak bark, white clay, dodder, chaff, burdock, nut wood and birch aments, dog rose, pea straw, and many other types of bread surrogates.

Even to look at some samples, reminding one of horse manure, or black color of some “breads” mixed with sand, or pieces of horse skin in them infuses one with terror, and cries for compassion even to the most hard-hearted.

The analysis of these surrogates’ nutritional value, as compared to actual foodstuffs is graphically presented at diagrams in the museum.

The museum aims at presenting the look of hunger victims in their revealing nakedness, the situations of their lives, in city squares, in dining rooms and shelters, in transit, and on the road. Suffering faces of hungry kids and adults look at visitors from photographs exhibited in the museum, with their bodies emaciated, and bones and ribs sticking out, or, alternatively, swollen. Visitors see mountains of corpses of those poor ones who died of hunger, and there are so many of them that no one can bury them properly, and they have to be placed in “common graves.”

Trying to become the true indicator of the hunger catastrophe in the Territory, the museum of hunger also serves to reflect in an impartial form the shape, and magnitude of the successful governmental, and public assistance to hunger victims. The most striking information of hunger terror are written down on cardboard, and displayed. The museum has large numbers of visitors, sometimes reaching several hundreds a day.

However, no gathered material is enough to describe the scope of this terrible catastrophe in the Territory.

This is why the hunger museum addresses every institution and individual, especially in the areas struck with hunger, to submit those materials they have available, including samples of “hunger” food, as much of it as possible.


Recently, terrible news of cannibalism has been coming to us almost every day. At first, they were singular but the psychosis infects more and more masses. Human flesh is more and more becoming a common food, and the awareness of what one can do, and what one cannot do, is dimmed. The nightmare emerges in the real life, merging with it.

There is no need to comment the fact cited below, for they speak for themselves. Those who will be able not to heed this dire warning that sounds in this brutalization of man will never understand anything.

We repeat—the cases of cannibalism are more frequent now. In the village of Dergachi, they established “the house of cannibals” where they keep several cannibalistic families from the provinces in isolation. In Pugachyovsky district, the regional newspaper had to print the call to fight cannibalism, for hundreds of people stoop to it in the area.

Yet can one describe in words, in mere pitiful words, the entire horror of the things that go on now? Do not all colorful descriptions pale here?

Therefore, we fall silent, and give the facts their chance to speak out.

Pugachyovsky district

In Novo-Krayushkino farmstead, of Novo-Chernigovsky sub-district, the peasant Konstantin Klyaykin had an argument with his wife, and struck her with an iron core. While she was knocked out, senseless but alive, he butchered her, and ate her. When searched, only 8 pounds of meat were found, for he had eaten all the rest.

In Tolstovka village, three families fed on corpses they stole from the cemetery. In Zelenka village of Tolstovsky sub-district, there were 14 corpse- and man-eaters.

In Kardona village, of Khvorostinsky sub-district, the peasant woman Metyolkina and her son butchered her daughter, and fed on her. They also tried to kill her younger son Grigory but did not succeed.

In Ukrainsky and Shmelyovsky sub-districts, human flesh appears in the marketplaces.

In Syostry farmstead, of Smolensky sub-district, the peasant Illarion Plaksin and his wife butchered two children of theirs, to feed on them, and after that, they murdered another 15-year-old boy, and ate him, too.

In Ivantyevsk village, the peasant woman Popova confessed that she had eaten her own child. When searched, two human skulls were found in her house.

Novouzensky district

In Malaya Uzenya village, on the night of February 21, Semyon Rodin murdered local residents, the elderly couple Vasily and Pelageya Bogomolovs. After the murder, he gathered the victims’ blood into a bowl, fried it on the Bogomolovs’ stove, and ate. Upon this, he extracted old man Bogomolov’s liver and lungs, cut them into pieces, boiled there, and ate them. The murderer was apprehended in his victims’ house, and confessed.

In Aleksandrov-Gay village, a mother, aged 50, and her daughter, aged 20, cast a lot who of them should die for they had nothing else to live on. The daughter drew the death lot, and her mother butchered her, chopped up into pieces, and started boiling them. Yet her neighbors entered at that time, and the crime was revealed. This was the third case of hunger-related murder in that village.

Pokrovsky district

In Saltovsky sub-district, in Alexey Chernov’s family, one of the girls was murdered, and the rest of the family tried to eat her.

Khvalynsky district

The peasant woman Shpandynova of Staraya Kulatka village ate the body of her father Yusup Shpandynov.

The peasant Kulyov, weakened by starvation, saw his daughter eating some surrogate cakes she had obtained somewhere. When she was full, she gave some to him. When he ate them, he felt such strength that he was able to stand up. At night, he prepared everything, and hung his daughter.

Volsky district

In Berezinki village, the peasant woman Anna Pylayeva, driven by hunger, butchered her brother Pavel Kurilishin, and ate his body. In the same village, corpses are not buried in the cemetery, and this leads to cannibalism.

 In Pilyushnya village, on March 20, the peasant woman Matryona Savvishna Pokrovskaya lured the neighbor’s daughter, aged 10, into her house under the pretext of wanting to play with her. While playing, she blinded the girl with ashes from her stove, strangled her with the saddle girth, and dragged her into her stove. She then climbed into the oven herself, with an ax, chopped the girl’s head off, buried it in her basement, cut the body into small pieces, and salted some. She boiled another part of the body, and ate them with three of her own children.

Her children told about it to their neighbors, and the enraged crowd of peasants tore the woman and two of her children into pieces, the latter being the boy of 15, and the girl of 12. The third girl, aged 6, managed to survive.

All the above are confirmed facts. What else should one add to them?


Published on:

The mass starvation in Russian Federation’s soviet republics (1920–1923) took about 40 million, and the reason was the soviet authorities’ policies. Bread and grain were confiscated from peasants. About five million died.

V. Povalyayev
N. Arkhangelsky
B. Sokolov
G. Oboletsky

Black Times,
Saratov, 1922

Soviet Photo, 1927

Max Nemtsov

death, transgression