Catastroika by Charles Rammelkamp

By Lynette G. Esposito
Published by Apprentice House Press, Charles Rammelkamp’s Catastroika presents clear visions of Russian history in poetic form presented with fictional scenarios that reflect truths.  Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Border Crossings says:  These poems will open your eyes to rulers, revolutionaries, and the people caught between them,
For example, In Kiev Pogrom, 1905 on page fifteena graphic picture of circumstance is presented.  The four-stanza poem details the brutal unrest in Russia.
             The killing and destruction lasted three days
             as many as a hundred Jews killed,
             property destroyed—factories, shops, homes
             The historian, Simon Dubnow, called it
             Russia’s Bartholomew’s Night.
After setting the scene of destruction, the last two lines personalize the situation by switching from a general picture to a personal narrative.
            For me, just about to turn eleven,
           both beaten by mobs to bloody pulp and bone,
           it was the death of Uncle Lev and Papa
           that made up my mind to flee to St. Petersburg.
This technique of going from the general situation to a specific one, brings the reader into the situation of real fear.
Strannik on page twenty, opens with a calm tone but progresses almost into insane anxiety as the narrator prays before the mother of Jesus.
               Papa settled down, built a house
               on the family farm
               for his growing family,
               Praskovia giving birth to four
               in rapid succession
              though the first, a boy,
              only lived a few months,
              reminding Papa
              of his own brother, Mischa,
              making him wonder
              if he were being punished
              for not obeying the Virgin.
At the end of the poem, the wife, weeping with her husband, tells him to do what is right; to find his soul. He must go.  Where is he to go?  The poem does not answer.
Catastroika on page one hundred fourteen brings together the voice of the book in dealing with anti-semantic issues.  The poem talks of the exodus of talented Jews to Israel, The United States and elsewhere from Gorbachev’s Russia.  The last stanza of four clarifies.
                   But if life is improved under Gorbachev,
                   the general situation’s deteriorated,
                  Jewish leaders fearing Jews will be blamed,
                  the usual scapegoats.
The volume is divided into nine sections alternating with the names Sasha a fictional person and Maria, a real one. It contains one hundred and seventeen pages of poems that vary in length.  The subjects appear to be well researched and an acknowledgement page and glossary is included for those who want to fact check.
Rammelkamp has a remarkable ability to humanize dire situations with a clear insight into message.  The poems are not an easy read, but I enjoyed the view Rammelkamp presented even if it wasn’t pretty.
The book is available from
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

The Holodomor: A Genuine Genocide


By Aly Flaig

There is no valid reason for the Holodomor to not be viewed as a genocide. The arts of and about Ukraine during Stalin’s ruling help depict what most of the world now views as genocide. Even now, there are scholars who disagree about the categorization of the Holodomor, and Russian and Ukrainian officials who try to erase it to hide the atrocities Stalin committed, but the signs of genocide are clear.

Many scholars that Rebekah Moore writes of who argue that the Holodomor was not an act of genocide, do not disagree about Stalin’s malice. They concur that Stalin wanted Ukrainians dead, but instead of causing a human-made genocide, they argue he simply took advantage of environmental resources, or lack thereof. Some of Alexander Motyl’s scholars coincide, arguing that Stalin’s collectivization of the peasantry grew excessive. The International Commission of Inquiry into the famine concluded that “the Soviet authorities, without actively wanting the famine, most likely took advantage of it once it occurred to force the peasants to accept policies which they strongly opposed” (Moore). All but two commissioners failed to interpret the act as genocide. Another point they make is that since Kazakhstan fared worse than Ukraine during the famine, and since the famine travelled outside the Ukrainian border, then it was not a “concentrated” attack against exclusively Ukrainians (Moore). Lastly, Ukrainians in urban areas were granted a little more provisions than in the rural parts, therefore they argue that it was an assault on the peasantry, not Ukrainians as a whole, but the stages of genocide and the depictions of life during the Holodomor, show a different argument.

The ten stages of genocide are described as predictable, and the route the Holodomor took is not an exception (Stanton). Propaganda plays a damning role in various stages. Classification is the establishment of “us” versus “them.” In the Holodomor’s case, “us” is Russia and “them” is Ukraine. In the movie Bitter Harvest, Stalin exclaims “I told you to crush them. Damn those Ukrainians!” His hatred for Ukrainians is stark in the movie. Russia circulated propaganda depicting Ukrainians as irresponsible and incapable of ruling themselves, therefore denoting their inferiority as a group to Russians, who propped themselves on a pedestal of faux superiority.

Propaganda is used in the symbolization stage as physical ways to distinguish “us” and “them,” such as offensive caricatures. Discrimination is the governing of a group’s rules and laws, particularly ordering the Ukrainians to surrender their food to Russia. The denouncement of their cultural identity, such as taking away icons, as seen in Bitter Harvest, is discrimination by suppression of identity. In Eugenia Sakevych Dallas’ “My Childhood,” she states, “A million souls were crucified/The rest conveniently Russified” and “My parents were arrested/Their identity stripped.” Those who lived were subjected to their culture and identity being erased to reluctantly assimilate with the Russians for their own survival. Moore describes it as “an assault on Ukrainian nationalism.” Former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, continued the practice decades later. “Yanukovych’s assault on Ukrainian identity… has focused on education, culture, language, and history” (Motyl). His Russo-centric regime replaced the pro-Ukrainians ones at colleges and universities, specifically history, a culture’s basis of understanding their identity (Motyl).

Stalinist propaganda portrayed Ukrainians as cannibals, denying them the opportunity of arguing their humanity, bringing next the fourth stage: dehumanization. The fourth stage is a harbinger for further, much more devastating problems because once a group is compared to vermin, or animals, or even cannibals, it is not probable for their innocence to be realized, causing the other stages to occur rapidly.

The organization stage involved Russia using troops to fear-monger Ukrainians and seize their grain, using force and threats. Poetry about the Holodomor show depictions of an organized group with arms terrorizing them. “The communists from Russian lands formed into dangerous bands” from Halia Dmytryshyn’s “Through the Eyes of a Child” speak of food being taken by bands under Stalin’s orders. It is obvious in Bitter Harvest that the famine was not because the food would not grow, but because all the food was stolen.

Hate speech and more propaganda was used to cause polarization, the sixth stage, and fabricated an illusion to the Russian people that Ukrainian deaths were insignificant. Stalin’s plan for how to eradicate Ukrainians came to fruition in the preparation stage. Agricultural products were seized. Food and livestock were taken or killed, and anyone who harbored them were arrested or murdered, making the access to food nearly impossible, Stalin’s plan all along. “Take all their food,” Stalin orders in Bitter Harvest. “Not just their grain. Everything. Close the food stores and banks. Transport the food out.”

Persecution plagued alongside the famine, and Ukrainians were identified and cornered off, this eighth stage making way for the next. Borders of Ukraine were closed, and long-distance travel was banned so Ukrainians could not travel elsewhere in search of food, the rest of the world was left unaware, and international aid was unable to help (Moore). “Close the borders. Keep them in. Don’t let one of them leave.” Stalin does not have many lines in the movie, but they are all incriminating, those lines being his order of condemning Ukrainians.

The ninth stage, which was happening in lesser numbers throughout, reached its peak: extermination. The human-made famine killed more than ten million Ukrainians, and then afterwards, denial, the final stage, concluded the evidence of genocide. Stalin’s government lied throughout, saying the famine was the Ukrainian’s fault that the harvests were bad, and the death toll was minimalized. In his poem “Extermination by Hunger,” Nicholas M. Latyshko refers to the famine as “artificial,” and Eugenia Sakevych Dallas directly claims it as an extermination. Former president of Ukraine even tried to erase it when he deleted the link to a page about the Holodomor from the official presidential website (Motyl). Yanukovych’s Party of Regions is based out of a Russian speaking, Communist sympathizing region, where the streets are named after Stalinists (Motyl). That is a Communism-red flag. Ukraine was dragged backwards in time as Yanukovych silenced discussion of the famine. Soviets and assured that it was an “emigre delusion” (Motyl). The first accounts about the Holodomor came in the 1950’s from the survivors who fled to North America, who wrote about the atrocities they endured, but even Western scholars denounced them as “rabid anti-Communists (Motyl). It was not until the 1980’s that the West could no longer ignore the reality of the Holodomor.


Moore, Rebekah. “‘A Crime Against Humanity Arguably Without Parallel in European History’: Genocide and the ‘Politics’ of Victimhood in Western Narratives of the Ukrainian Holodomor.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 10 Sept. 2012

Motyl, Alexander J. Deleting The Holodomor: Ukraine Unmakes Itself. World Affairs. Sep/Oct2010, Vol. 173 Issue 3, p25-34. 10p

Stanton, Gregory H. “10 Stages of Genocide.” Genocide Watch, 2016,


Aly Flaig began writing fiction but has turned her attention to gender and sexuality, humor and satire, and commentaries and essays. She is currently studying at Bridgewater College.