TYKHY Oleksa (Oleskiy Ivanovych)


(b. 27.01.1927, the farmstead of Yizhivka, Kostyantynivka district of the Donetsk region – d. 06.05.1984, the prison hospital of the Perm political labour camps)

Teacher, founder of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, author and distributor of samizdat; consistent and uncompromising in his resistance to Russification. Twice a political prisoner, he died in the labour camps

Oleksa Tykhy was born into a peasant family. He studied first at the Zaporizhye Agricultural Institute and at the Dnipropetrovsk Institute for Transport Engineers, then graduated from the Philosophy Department of Moscow State University. He worked as a teacher in schools in the Pryazovske district of the Zaporizhye region and in the Kostyantynivka district of the Donetsk region, teaching physics, maths and Ukrainian language, as well as on a building site and as a fireman.

He was first arrested in 1948 for criticism of the only “candidate” as Deputy, but was released after a “preventive talk”.

Until the next arrest he worked as the head of studies in a secondary school in the settlement of Aleksiyvo-Druzhkivka. On 15 February 1957 he was arrested over a letter he sent the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) protesting against the occupation of Hungary by the forces of Warsaw Pact countries, and also for “anti-Soviet agitation” and “slandering the CPSU and Soviet reality” through his critical comments about Soviet schools, made at a teachers’ conference on the restructuring of schools. He was sentenced on 18 May 1958 by the Stalino (now Donetsk) Regional Court under Article 54-10 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”) to 7 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years deprivation of civil rights.

He served his sentence in the Mordovian political labour camps, Camp No. ZhKh-385/11, the station Yavas, Zubova Polyana district.  There he worked as a joiner on a power-saw bench.  From 1958 – 1959 he was held in the Vladimir Prison. He was released in 1964.

Having returned, since he was not allowed to work in his field, he worked as a fitter, a fireman and as a brick firer. His work was in shifts and he had the opportunity to visit friends from the camps and human rights activists, and he also circulated samizdat material. 

During this period he wrote several articles on the Russification of Donbas, on the woeful state of the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture in Donbas, as well as articles on the problems of the Ukrainian village (in response to an article on rural problems in “Literaturna gazeta” [“Literary newspaper”]). In an article on the Ukrainian language and culture in the Donetsk regions from 1972 Tykhy supported the collective form of management, yet suggested nonetheless giving more freedom to those working on the land. The appalling state of the Ukrainian language and culture, as well as the forced policy of Russification, were the themes of a letter he wrote to the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada of the UkrSSR in 1973.  He circulated all of these documents through samizdat.

He put together a collection of quotes by prominent people entitled “Mova narodu. Narod” [“The People’s Language. The People”], as well as a dictionary of the Ukrainian dialect of the Donbas area.  While living in the most Russified (and therefore Russian-speaking) part of Ukraine, Tykhy’s language was a model of pure literary Ukrainian.  He spoke correctly, disarming his hearer with a gentle smile.  He combined an iron will with the rare qualities of extreme tolerance and willingness to accept others and kind-heartedness.

On 15 June 1976 during a search of his home, a text of the collection “Mova narodu. Narod” was removed. Tykhy himself was held for two days “on suspicion of having robbed a shop”.

On 9 November 1976 Tykhy became one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG).  He was arrested again on 4 February 1977 and charged under Article 62 Part 2 (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”) and Article 222  “illegal possession of firearms”) of the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR  The second charge related to an old German rifle sealed up with clay from the War found during the search in the attic of his shed.  The trial of Oleksa Tykhy and Mykola RUDENKO took place between 23 June and 1 July 1977 in the town of Druzhkivka in the Donetsk region.  Tykhy was accused on the basis of the articles “Ukrainske slovo” [“Ukrainian word”], “Dumky pro ridnu movu” [“Thoughts on our native language”], “Silski problemy” [“Rural issues”], “Rozdumy pro ukrainsku movu ta ukrainsku literature na Donechchyni” [“Reflections on the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian literature in the Donetsk region”], the texts of the Declaration of the UHG and the Memorandum No. 1 of the UHG, the latter two Tykhy having taken part in discussing and signed. The court did not prove a single fact of defamation of the Soviet political and social system in Tykhy’s articles and utterances, restricting itself to the statement that he referred to “the supposed Russification in the Donbas area”, still less did they provide any evidence that he had aimed to undermine the system.

He was sentenced by the Donetsk Regional Court to 10 years special regime labour camp and 5 years exile, being declared a particularly dangerous repeat offender.

He was sent again to the Mordovian political labour camps, this time Camp No. ZhKh-385/1, the settlement of Sosnovka. 

He took an active part in the protest actions of the prisoners and signed collective letters and appeals. In  April 1978 he began a hunger strike which was to last for 52 days. In the summer of 1978 Tykhy and V. ROMANYUK produced a document with the title “Istorychna dolya Ukrainy. Lyst ukrainskykh politvyazniv. Sproba uzahalnennya” [“The Historical fate of Ukraine. A letter from Ukrainian political prisoners. An attempt at an overall view”).  In it the authors proclaimed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be the highest principle for the co-existence of all peoples and nationalities, distanced themselves from the politics and practice of the CPSU both with regard to the national question, and in terms of its treatment of the concept of democracy. In the section on the historical fate of Ukraine, the consequences of the joining of Ukraine to Russia were examined, and the wish for Ukraine’s future independence expressed. In the section “Possible forms of resistance”, the authors proposed passive resistance in the form of resisting Russification, preserving their language and traditions, refusing to do military service beyond the territory of Ukraine, and maintaining a healthy style of life.  Concluding they wrote: “One does not need to break the law.  It is sufficient to use the laws proclaimed by the Constitution of the USSR”. 

In October 1978 Tykhy began a new hunger strike and was moved into a solitary confinement cell. The doctor refused to treat him.

On 18 April 1979, into the seventeenth day of another hunger strike, Tykhy suffered an ulcer haemorrhage.  He was only taken to hospital after 18 hours with blood pressure of 70/40, since the Head of the Camp claimed that Tykhy was pretending. The surgeon, Skrypnyk, demanded before operating that Tykhy make a written renunciation of his previous activity, in response to which Tykhy accused him of blackmail. “Your life will be short and full of pain”, the doctor told him. It was a week after the operation before Tykhy regained consciousness.

In January and February 1980 Tykhy was held in a punishment isolation cell with only short breaks for around 40 days. He was punished, the administration said, for ripping off his breast tag, for not getting up when those in authority entered, for refusing to work and for having a bad influence on other prisoners.

From 27 February to 1 March 1980 all the prisoners of the special regime unit, including Tykhy, were moved to the Perm political labour camps, to Camp No. VS-389/36-1 in the village of Kuchino, Chusovoi district of the Perm region. One prisoner died during the journey. In the camp Tykhy was on many occasions punished for not fulfilling his work norm, for refusing to shave off his moustache, for protest hunger strikes and other reasons. He was kept in a cell-type punishment block for 6 months for ‘violations of the regime’, and again went on hunger strike.

From 1983 Tykhy’s health began to deteriorate rapidly.

Oleksa Tykhy died in a cell in the Perm prison hospital on 6 May 1984.  His son was not permitted to take his father’s body.

On 19 November 1989 the remains of Oleksa Tykhy, Vasyl STUS and Yury LYTVYN were brought back to Kyiv and reburied in Baikove Cemetery.  More than thirty thousand people attended the ceremony.


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CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1978, No. 48.— pp. 21, 22, 68, 69, 72, 167; No. 49.— pp. 20, 24.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1979, No. 51.— pp. 51, 58, 86, 106; No. 53.— pp. 70, 82, 83.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1983, No. 63.— pp. 42, 175.
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I. Rapp, revised and supplemented in July 1998 by V. Ovsiyenko