A Soviet newspaper has expressed gratitude for Western aid to victims of a famine in the 1920s that was earlier denounced as interference in the affairs of the young Soviet state.

"The total volume of international aid was 35.5 million pounds of food, which saved at least 3.5 million people from death," the weekly Argumenti I Fakti said."A feeling of gratitude for the saving of those lives should be engraved in the memory of the people," it said.

The weekly said some 35 million people, mostly living around the River Volga, were hit by famine from 1921-1922 and an estimated 5.2 million died despite the foreign donations and Soviet aid which saved a further 3.3 million lives.

From the time Josef Stalin came to power, the Soviet media denounced the foreign aid as interference, if it mentioned it at all. The famine was caused by neglect of the land in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and ensuing civil war. Some reports said people resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Stalin's forced collectivisation of the land from 1929-1933 produced another famine in which several million people died.

Argumenti I Fakti said that as soon as the first famine started in 1921, Moscow appealed for food aid but Western governments demanded the repayment of debts incurred by the Tsar which the new Communist government refused to pay.

Until the end of 1921, aid came only from foreign charities such as the Quakers but later Western governments got involved, it said.

The weekly also quoted from the memoirs of an American, U. Gekker, who came to the Soviet Union to help famine victims. He became a Soviet citizen in 1925, was executed in one of Stalin's purges in 1938 and was posthumously rehabilitated in 1957.