Watch This Malcolm Muggeridge Documentary on Ukraine, Then Add Your Voice to His

A determination not to run with the crowd can be a means of alleviating future similar sufferings of a nation’s people.

Alexander Wienerburger, “Hunger Drives the Farmers to Migrate,” 1933
Alexander Wienerburger, “Hunger Drives the Farmers to Migrate,” 1933 (photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

One of the greatest gifts from God has been the grade school friends I made in parochial school who are some of my very best friends decades later in life.

As I write, it is unknown how the current standoff between Russia and Ukraine will be resolved. And yet an email from an old school friend from Immaculate Conception Grade School reminded me of how longstanding the conflict is between the two countries. My school friend’s email encouraged me to watch the award-winning documentary Harvest of Despair on the Great Famine in Ukraine from 1932-1933. Moreover, the documentary itself reminded me of the insight and courage of the English journalist and Catholic convert Malcom Muggeridge. 

I first became acquainted with Muggeridge through my love of St. Teresa of Calcutta by reading his book, Something Beautiful for God. It was his search for the truth that brought him to confront Mother Teresa on her faith in the Church that I most admired. Her words written to him later in a letter are documented by Muggeridge in his book:

I don’t know why, but you to me are like Nicodemus, and I am sure the answer is the same — ‘Unless you become a little child.’ I am sure you will understand beautifully everything if you would only ‘become’ a little child in God’s Hands. Your longing for God is so deep, and yet He keeps Himself away from you. He must be forcing Himself to do so because He loves you so much — as to give Jesus to die for you and for me. Christ is longing to be your Food. Surrounded with fullness of living food you allow yourself to starve. The personal love Christ has for you is infinite; the small difficulty you have re His Church is finite. Overcome the finite with the infinite Christ has created you because He wanted you. I know what you feel — terrible longing with dark emptiness. And yet He is the one in love with you.

In listening to Muggeridge in Harvest of Despair, I see a man who had the courage to look for the truth and stand for it. Despite many differing opinions at the time, Muggeridge documented the Great Famine in Ukraine in the 1930s. The attempts of the Soviet government could not sway him to deny the fact of the severe starvation of the Ukrainian people. Years later after his poignant conversation with Mother Teresa, Muggeridge would end his struggle for the fullness of faith by becoming a Catholic. But he was clearly on his way by showing such concern for the Ukrainian people in the 1930s, that he would be deterred neither by the articles published by other writers, nor by the opinions of world leaders which denied the truth and the justice due to the people of Ukraine. 

So many of us are praying for peace at this time, but are we also concerned that there be established a lasting justice for the Ukrainians with regard to the Russian government? Is there an insistence that Ukraine never be surrounded by so much military might again, particularly so openly and for so many months as has been happening? Like Muggeridge, I don’t want to be a Nicodemus and just pray a private prayer for peace. I want to know more about Ukraine’s history and encourage others to understand the tactics used by Putin’s Russia today. I want to have the same will as Muggeridge did to stand in the light and make known the truth. 

The documentary Harvest of Despair is hard to watch. Can it really have happened that a country known for its agriculture was caused to starve in protest of its enslavement by the totalitarian Soviet government? And what country should ever be surrounded on so many sides as Russia surrounds Ukraine’s borders today? I believe that Harvest of Despair needs to be viewed by Catholics with a concern that their fellow men never be bullied in this manner again.

In our hurry to put past foreign problems behind us, are we in too big of a rush to get all the facts and get to the bottom of understanding the situation, as Muggeridge did, on Ukraine? Are we fully aware of Russia’s intimidating and controlling tactics used today? Russia has used this same ruthless manner of bullying and manipulating the people of another country not only in parts of Ukraine but also in Syria over the past few years. Like Muggeridge, maybe a prayer to Mother Teresa to see the truth in U.S. foreign relations can be a good remedy to looking at the “finite” instead of the larger, bigger picture of international affairs and their ramifications. 

As little children of God, Muggeridge, together with the survivors of the Great Famine in Ukraine, tells the truth of what he saw in Ukraine in the 1930s, and not what he wanted to see. On his way to accepting Christ — the Way, the Truth and the Life — Muggeridge and the other experts in Harvest of Despair describe the horror of starvation documented by multiple photographs. Their testimonies are the hope that a determination not to run with the crowd can be a means of alleviating future similar sufferings of a nation’s people. Muggeridge and all of those maintaining the truth were shining a beacon of light on a horrible situation so that it could be made better in the future once the information could be published more openly in 1985.

Let’s be a Malcolm Muggeridge — a lone voice but one growing in love for Christ through charity for all his people. 

Pope Francis: ‘The West Has Taken the Wrong Paths’

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