Borys Ivanovitch Antonienko was 6 in 1932 when famine raged through the Ukraine, the breadbasket republic whose current drive for sovereignty could presage the final breakup of the Soviet empire.

For lack of food, Antonienko went blind before the year was out. In all, more than 10 million people died of starvation in the years 1932-1935 as Josef Stalin brutally enforced his policy of turning private farms into state collectives.In the vastness of Russia, Stalin's thugs quickly suppressed resistance among farmers. But to the southeast, the Ukrainians continued staging revolts that enraged the dictator.

As the oppression worsened, hundreds of musicians who played the pandora - a traditional Ukrainian stringed instrument resembling a guitar - began walking from village to village to boost the spirit of the revolt.

Eventually, Stalin found a way to silence the singers.

In 1938, he organized a meeting of some 500 pandora players and singers in the former Ukrainian capital of Kharkov. They were rounded up and executed.

"I was a boy in that time and I learned about it," Antonienko told United Press International. "They were finished off in a deep ravine."

Antonienko decided to follow in the footsteps of the pandora players and learned to play the instrument. But he had to wait more than decades to be able to sing in public any songs about the famine.

He believes his country is free enough now and he is no longer afraid of arrest.

Crowds surround him in the Kiev metro when he begins his famine song, which he introduces by saying, "I am singing truth to you."

The verses describe the terror:

"Young Communists in leather jackets raided villages and took grains to the last seed from them.

"They told farmers to implement the ideology of Stalin, under which all people will be hungry."

Stalin selected the Ukraine in 1929 to provide an example to the other republics of his policy of swift industrialization - in this case, by turning big private farms into state enterprises and killing their owners.

The collectivization was accompanied by iron discipline. Soldiers and police had the right to shoot on sight anyone who attempted to "steal socialist property," meaning food.

Witnesses say police fired at starving children who tried to pick up grains of wheat from the fields.

It is estimated that not less than 10 percent of the Ukrainian population, some 5 million to 7 million, perished in the famine.

As the result of the destruction of the big farms, which also supplied all of Russia, another 3 million Russians died.

The collectivization campaign was followed by a Communist attack on "Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism" accompanies by mass arrests, secret trials and long prison terms for the suspects in concentration camps.

By 1933, the Communist Party had declared Ukrainian nationalism the main threat to communism and by 1938, nearly a million people in the Ukrainian republic had been imprisoned, sent to concentration camps or shot.

Now, with the Soviet Union rapidly breaking apart, some of the strongest calls for independence are coming from the Ukraine.

An international conference in Kiev at the end of September, with some 20 historians from the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy and independent famine researchers from the Ukraine, condemned the man-made famine as genocide.

Jar Slavutych, a scholar of Ukrainian descent from Alberta University in Canada whose family suffered in the famine, said the farmers who died were "the backbone of the nation."

Drawing on 15 years of research, Slavutych has compiled a list of 250 prominent writers starved to death or killed by the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB.

In the metro station, the passersby, many of them elderly, drop coins into a leather bag in front of Antonienko as he sings of the period of oppression.

"Those Communists who raided the villages could be compared with the Nazi SS," one man said.

"It was a period of a slave kind of fascism unheard of in the whole world," said another.