Two Brigham Young University professors are spearheading an effort to build a food bridge between Utah and the Soviet Union, which is facing a serious food shortage this winter.
"This is a crucial winter," said Alan F. Keele, associate dean of the honors program and a German professor. "If they have a bad winter and nobody can get food . . . I think the stability of the Soviet Union will be gone and they will have total anarchy and chaos."Keele is working with BYU professor Don Jarvis, a Russian professor, to raise food and monetary donations that will be distributed in the Soviet Union through officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU colleagues there.
Peter Serdiukov, a visiting professor at BYU from the Kiev Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages, is trying to arrange for a Soviet transport plane to come to Salt Lake City to pick up donated food items.
Monetary donations should be sent to Russian Relief Fund, care of Don Jarvis, 1256 Locust Lane, Provo, Utah, 84604.
The food shortage is so serious that there is the possibility of widespread famine, particularly among the elderly and children, who are unable to stand for hours in long food lines, the professors said.
According to news reports, most of the Soviet Union's fall harvest was lost to bad weather. Food supplies are also imperiled by poor transportation routes, inadequate storage and processing facilities and a devalued monetary system, which has prompted farmers to refuse to sell produce to the central Soviet government.
That could lead to a civil war and emergence of a "strong man" leader, much as it did in Germany during the 1930s, Keele said. He was spurred to action in part out of frustration about the unwillingness of the United States government to lend immediate assistance to the Soviet Union.
If the United States "can help them over the hump, show them a vote of confidence, it will tell them that the way to get along in the world is to put their own house in order, that we are behind them and want to help them," Keele said.
Serdiukov said the food shortage is due to Russia's "very inefficient economical system, which collapsed, in fact."
"People are not starving now," he said. "They have food rationed . . . but what is discouraging is the coming winter, and people fear hunger starting in January or February because this is when supplies will wear thin and transportation will be bad because of the weather."
He agrees with Keele that "hunger is a very sure instrument in moving a country back to dictatorship and poverty."
Olga Smolyanova, 19, is visiting Utah for six months as a guest of BYU professor Richard A. Heckmann. Her family lives in Moscow.
"I got a letter from my brother just a couple of days ago," she said. "He said that for the first time he saw an absolutely empty store. You can't find eggs and milk and things like that."
Smolyanova, who has been in Utah since Oct. 6, said working people "who can't stand in lines for hours don't get food." Food available in private markets is too expensive for average citizens, she said.
"I've never seen anything like this before and it gets worse everyday," she said.
Germany has led the way in providing assistance to the Soviet Union. The German Red Cross sent 35 tons of emergency food and supplies, and a German telethon raised $4.25 million to be used in relief efforts. Much of the food sent by Germany is from emergency reserves in Berlin, gathered over the years to prevent shortages from another Cold War blockade, according to news reports.
Now Keele and other BYU professors hope Utahns will join that effort.