National Press Club

Grandson tells of journalist's exposing Soviet-caused Ukraine famine

November 30, 2011 | By Peter Hickman |

The grandson of Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist who exposed the Soviet Union's man-made "Holomodor", a famine that killed six to 10 million people in the now former Soviet republic of Ukraine and neighboring areas in 1932-33, presented a behind-the-scenes look at his grandfather's reporting on the tragedy at a Nov. 21 Newsmaker.

Western journalists were restricted by the Soviet government, but Nigel Colley told how his grandfather, then a 28-year-old stringer, defied Soviet censors and military to get into once-fertile Ukraine, visiting ghost towns and interviewing famine survivors and other witnesses. Colley's captures the story in his book "More Than a Grain of Truth: the Biography of Gareth Jones."

Jones filed stories describing how millions of peasants were starving to death while the Soviet regime exported grain to the West, according to Colley. His reports appeared in American, British and German newspapers, but were dismissed as "scare stories" by Western journalists based in Moscow, who Jones said were "keen to maintain favor" with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's government.

"Other journalists didn't want to displease the Soviets, but Gareth was brave enough to expose Stalin's atrocities when no one else would," Colley said.

Colley's book also recounts that two days after Jones' stories were published, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Walter Duranty, New York Times Moscow bureau chief from l922 to 1936, wrote a denial under the headline "Russians Hungry, But Not Starving." In his article, Duranty accused Jones of "hasty judgment" based on "inadequate evidence."

Duranty also, with what Colley calls "great sophistry," wrote: "There is no actual starvation or death from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."

Colley also presented copies of photos and notes Jones took during his time in Ukraine.

He also dedicated the Newsmaker to his mother, Siriol Colley, who died the day before he appeared at the Club. Colley said she was also involved in uncovering the truth about the Soviet-caused Ukraine famine and felt she would have wanted him to proceed with the news conference.