Philipovna: Daughter of Sorrow (MiroLand)

Written by Valentina Gal
Review by Janice Ottersberg

Valentina Gal tells the story of her mother, Vera Philipovna, living through a cruel time in Ukraine’s history. We follow Philipovna from the age of six in 1930 until 1933, learning through her young eyes the inhumane tactics Stalin used to force Ukraine to bend to his regime. We also see the culture and traditions that the Ukrainians are trying to hold on to through this time. Starvation was used to force the peasants into the collective farms known as Kolhosps.

Philipovna is an orphan sent to live with her mother’s sister Auntie Xena, her uncle, and six cousins. While the peasants are being coerced to relinquish their farms to the Kolhosps, Philipovna’s uncle refuses. The family’s grain harvest is confiscated, along with all other food sources, then all their farming implements and horses are taken away. Even the neighbors who have joined the Kolhosps begin to suffer when the harvests don’t meet unrealistic quotas and the harvest is shipped out, leaving nothing for the villagers. As the community is terrorized by Party leaders sent to oversee the area, people disappear and are shot for minor offenses. Starvation, disease, and death are rampant. When Philipovna witnesses one more brutal beating in her school, she speaks out against the regime. Her life is now in danger. Auntie Xena, determined to protect Philipovna’s life, secrets her away to in an orphanage. Here the conditions are equally atrocious. The Comrades in charge struggle to keep starving, diseased children alive with little to no supplies, food, or medicine.

This is a hard story to read, sorrowful and unrelenting in the inhumanity inflicted on the Ukrainian people. Not many survived, and it is hard to imagine how the Ukrainian people fought to survive under such extreme conditions. This book is a loving daughter’s memorial to her mother.