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Jones: The man who knew too much
Peasants in Ukraine
Jones's slide shows the early signs of famine in the Ukraine in 1931

The diaries of the man who revealed the facts of Stalin's 'terror famine' of 1933, are to be put on public display.

Gareth Jones, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, travelled across the Ukraine documenting the story of millions of starving peasants.

Although Jones's claims were disputed at the time, the UN has recently recognised the imposed famine as a crime against humanity.

Jones's papers are on show at Trinity College Library until mid-December.

Gareth Jones
Jones gained first class honours in French, German and Russian

An ambitious journalist, Gareth Jones had already worked as foreign affairs adviser to the former prime minister, David Lloyd-George, and had seen Hitler installed as Germany's chancellor, before leaving the UK for Russia in March 1933.

He planned to investigate the rumours that peasants in rural parts of the Ukraine were starving to death in large numbers because their food was being requisitioned for city-dwellers.

The area was off-limits to westerners, and while most international journalists worked from Moscow, toeing the party line, Jones slipped over the border into the Ukraine.

A fluent Russian speaker, he spent the month travelling around the villages, meeting peasants and writing copious notes about the suffering he witnessed first-hand.


Jones's scrawled diaries make shocking reading. Wherever he went, people were begging for bread. One peasant told him that no amount of roubles could buy food, because there simply wasn't any food: "We are ruined," he told Jones. "We are the living dead."

Nigel Linsan Colley on Gareth Jones

Another said: "They are killing us. People are dying of hunger."

Jones noted that 30 per cent of the population had died of starvation.

This period in Ukrainian history from 1932 to 1933 became known as Holodomor, or 'death by hunger'.


At the end of March 1933, Jones left the Ukraine for Berlin where he filed his report, describing the situation in graphic detail, to newspapers in both the UK and America.

He was branded a liar by the Soviets, but perhaps the most damning condemnation came from an American journalist.

Walter Duranty was a Pullitzer prize-winner writing for the New York Times. His opinion was well-respected at the time and he claimed Jones's evidence was flawed, that he had spent too little time in the Ukraine, and had met too few people.

Duranty published his own article claiming that the Russians were indeed hungry, but by no means starving.

One or other interests concerned probably knew that Mr. Gareth Jones knew too much of what was going on."
David Lloyd George

Jones defended his claims in another New York Times feature, criticising other journalists' reticence to relate the truth of the situation.

"They give 'famine' the polite name of 'food-shortage', and 'starving to death' is softened down to read as 'widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition'."

Rory Finnin, a lecturer in Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge explained: "Most of the journalists wanted to keep access to the Kremlin and this was a story that the Kremlin did not want to touch, so some of them just ignored it while others actively denied Jones's report.

"Duranty called it a 'scare story', but Jones was telling the truth - that millions were dying."


Publicly discredited, and banned from returning to Russia, Jones and a companion travelled to Mongolia to investigate the expanding Japanese empire.

It was here that the pair were captured by bandits and, after 16 days, Jones was murdered. His colleague was set free.

The events surrounding the death of Gareth Jones, aged just 29, are unclear, although many believe that the Soviets were involved.

Jones's passport photograph
Jones's passport shows Foreign Office stamps from his many travels

Finnin, however, said: "We don't have any documentary evidence to suggest anything, but certainly the circumstances of his death are a bit strange."

After Jones's murder, Lloyd-George said: "That part of the world is a cauldron of conflicting intrigue and one or other interests concerned probably knew that Mr Gareth Jones knew too much of what was going on.

"He had a passion for finding out what was happening in foreign lands wherever there was trouble, and in pursuit of his investigations he shrank from no risk. I had always been afraid that he would take one risk too many."

Order of Freedom

Historians still debate the reasons behind the famine in the Ukraine. Was it a deliberate attempt to quash Ukrainian nationalism, or caused by Stalin's Five-Year Plan during which time almost all farmers' produce was requisitioned for urban areas or export?

What isn't up for debate is the fact that during 1932 and 1933, millions of Ukrainians starved to death. The exact number will probably never be known, but conservative estimates put the deaths around the four million mark.

Finnin said: "The famine afflicted the Soviet Union but particularly the Ukrainian Republic. Most historians now believe that between three and four million died in the Ukraine alone and hundreds of thousands in North Caucasus and the lower Volga regions."


In the Ukraine Holodomor is formally recognised as an act of genocide and Gareth Jones was declared a national hero. In November 2008 he was posthumously awarded the Order of Freedom for exceptional services to the Ukraine, which include the promotion and defence of human and individual rights.

Jones's great-nephew, Nigel Linsan Colley, who has been researching the story said: "I think he was a hero. These diaries probably represent the only independent, western verification of, arguably, Stalin's greatest atrocity."

More on Jones

The Living, a documentary detailing the Ukrainian terror-famine of 1932-1933 premieres at the Arts Picturehouse on Friday 13th November at 7pm. Made by Serhii Bukovs'kyi, The Living was the winner of the 2009 Grand Prize of Geneva.

Gareth Jones's diaries are on show at the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge from 13 November until mid-December. For details of the library opening times, visit the Trinity College website.

Finnin said of Jones's writing: "These diaries, discovered by chance in 1990, really give voice to these peasants who have been lost to us for so long."

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