MYKHALKO Mykhaylo Yukhymovych
M. Y. Mykhalko autobiography
I, Mykhalko Mykhaylo Yukhymovych, was born on November 11, 1940 in Demievka district in Kiev. Currently the building where I was born, houses Kiev city branch of “Memorial” Society named after Vasyl’ Stus.
Anticipating events, I’ll tell you that during an interrogation in Lukyanivka prison in 1985, a KGB captain C. asked me a question which I failed to answer : “How come that you, a son of the parents originating from the eastern part of Ukraine, took to printing leaflets with nationalistic contents?” I wonder myself. That is why I’ll try to find the answer in my further discourse.
Now the house where I was born has the following address: Stelmakh street, 6, but at that time it was Zadorozhny alley, 3. We lived in the basement of the same part of the building which now houses ”Memorial”, in the apartment 39. It was the last house in the southern part of the city. Further on there was nothing but fields which stretched all the way to Krasny Tractor village (now the National Exhibition Center is located on the site). So, the geographic location could hardly have influenced my views.
Among the well-known people surrounding me since childhood there was a doctor who lived in a private house nearby. His name was Hursky. He had bushy moustache of Zaporizhzhya Cossack and talked Ukrainian exclusively (only in 2007 I found out accidentally that the doctor was out-of-wedlock son of the composer Mykola Lysenko). Valery Lobanivsky, with whom we used to play soccer, later became another outstanding figure. He lived 300 m from me, in Novodevichy lane and came to play soccer in our ravines. Only later I learned that the “red-head” was the nephew of the first secretary of Ukrainian Komsomol CC. Then he studied in the Ukrainian school #38, but till the end of his days he remained a Russian speaker. I mean, my milieu was not nationalistic, so there was hardly anything to influence me. First secretary of Ukrainian Komsomol CC Boychenko is known to have written a book “Molodist’”[Youth – Ukr.] in which he described the ultimate crush of the Ukrainian communists in 1919.
So, maybe my parents influenced me?
My mother, Lydia Hnativna Luhovska was born in Yalta. At the age of two months she was orphaned and brought to the village of Atyusha in Chernigov oblast’. She was brought up in Ukrainian tradition. Only after her demise in 2001 we found in Crimean archive a church record stating the true year of her birth, i.e. 1910. At the age of 8, mother had to become a servant-girl to earn her living. She had experienced a lot of hardships in her life. With her good memory and sharp mind she absorbed not only abundant folklore, traditions and rituals, but also the church proceedings and services of the orthodox convent where she had lived for some time with nuns. I never heard her using Russian words. Alongside with Ukrainian she knew some Yiddish, which she picked up from Jewish families in Konotop and Borzna, where she served as a maid. I don’t remember her manifesting any nationalistic tendencies, but she never allowed the final “v” be added to my family name Mykhalko [Russified version of the name]. She never showed disrespect to people because of their nationality, although she detested some of their flaws. Once mother happened to be in a Russian village of Shalygino, Sumy oblast’. She was astonished to see the differences between the way of life of Ukrainians and Russians, to hear a talk between a grandfather and a grandson that consisted of nothing but curses and profanities. She could not stand it for more than two weeks and got back to her own village. She disliked communists for persecuting church and believers, for the hunger and Holodomor organized by them and she shared with me a lot of examples from real life. She taught me to be proud of being Ukrainian.
My father Yukhym Andriyovych, was born in 1907, in Altynivka village, in Sumy oblast’. He was a carpenter, loved Ukrainian history and documentary stories about Zaporizhzhya Cossacks. He was from the grain-growers family. They did not have enough of their own land and earned their living working on the leased land. Although they were people of quite average incomes, with little land, they had been subjected to reprisals as “kulacks”. It was unbearably unfair, and it called for resistance. No wonder weapons were found in my father’s home in 1931. For that he had to serve his term at the White Sea-Baltic canal constructing Parandovsky highway. I must ruefully admit that father did not venture to share the stories of those times with me, and I did not have the sense of responsibility for historical truth then. I did not appreciate that I had a chance to learn historical truth from the “horse’s mouth” and pass it on to historians, had I only thought of asking my father, who had directly participated in these event. I remember only that in father’s camp 15 thousand inmates had died and the commandant was executed for that. I also remember that in the camp my father was friends with O. Kulikov – A.Mikoyan’s secretary.
In 1945 died my older brother Serhiy hit by a car in Vasylkivska street. He was buried in Baykove cemetery, not far from the church. Often, visiting my brother’s grave, my father would take me to the historian M.Hrushevsky’s grave where he talked to me about his works and explained why they had been banned.
We had friendly relations with M.Hres’, my father’s compatriot from Altynivka. He lived in Kiev after the revolution, worked as postman on the very street where M.Hrushevsky used to live and brought him mail. Due to frequent contacts they developed good relations. He told me about it while visiting us in the 1950-ies, when we went together to my brother’s and M.Hrushevsky’s graves in Baykove cemetery.
From all the said it becomes clear that my parents had proper foundations for me to be proud of Ukraine and have a good idea of its past and its current problems. The KGBists were wrong in assuming that Sumy oblast’ natives were not able of promoting Ukraine’s interests. My nationalistic/patriotic feelings have grown out of sympathy towards Ukraine, discussions about historic events, checking their veracity right in the family.
The handbooks written in the 1950-ies, that I used as school pupil, provided information about the Ukrainian writers who fought against Russification of Ukraine imposed by the tsarist rule. Everyone took for granted the fact that the soviet power supported Ukrainian struggle against Russification, and overlooked the fact Khrushchov eventually had the handbooks rewritten in such a way as to totally eliminate any mention of Russification.
I attended schools # 110 and #108 with Russian language of teaching, and then graduated in 1965 from the department of mechanization of agriculture of the Ukrainian agricultural academy. I studied together with O.Moroz. All the lectures were in Russian and no one paid attention. But once, when we had a class on a technical subject, i.e. on agricultural machinery, the lecturer Bublik, started his lecture in Ukrainian. Everyone was astonished. It was the first time we heard technical Ukrainian language, and, to our amazement, we failed to understand certain words. At the third lecture the teacher switched to Russian. The audience buzzed with amazement. Then Bublik got red in the face with anger and explained himself “They have got me, the bastards!”
My wish to master technical Ukrainian language persisted. But in real production I understood it was not an easy matter –no Ukrainian surrounding, no technical manuals in Ukrainian.Then I had to admit that Russification was still in place, implemented cunningly, insolently and systematically, at the highest level of governance. The scale of Russification impressed me. I was astonished to hear Lviv workers of a plant ask me to switch to Russian: “Sorry, but we do not understand technical terms in Ukrainian, that you are using We love Ukrainian language, but all the technical paperwork is Russian only”.
The daughter of aforementioned M.Hres’, Maria Hres’, assistant of professor Kolomyichenko, a specialist in ear, nose and throat diseases, often visited us with her husband, the writer O.Savchuk. I shared with them my concerns about Ukrainian technical language and asked their view on the future of Ukrainian. I remember how stunned I was with the writer’s answer:”Ukrainian language is doomed to extinction”. On seeing my surprise he clarified, that a language cannot exist without development. Everyday Ukrainian language is more or less developed, which is not the case with other aspects of language. Science and technology are moving ahead while the use of Ukrainian is very limited, so that new terms are coined not by the people, but by the institute of philology by way of inventing new Ukrainianized words. The language is poorer as compared to other languages, and, therefore, cannot compete.
I think the explanation given by O.Savchuk is the key to my further treatment of the language and to my search of ways of putting an end to Russification. Otherwise eventual ousting of Ukrainian language will lead to dissolution of Ukrainians within the bulk of Russians. That is a life-long dream of the Russian imperialism. Unfortunately significant portion of Ukrainian population fails to understand it. They believe erroneously that to ensure immortality of the language it is enough to use it on everyday basis. In fact the continuity of the language is possible only under the premise that it is used by the entire population in all the domains of the human activity. Russification is opposed most fervently by the completely Russified Ukrainians, who have sensed that current situation threatens the very existence of Ukrainian nation. Noteworthy some KGB officials that interrogated me in prison quite sincerely could not understand the reasons underlying my underground operation. One of them confessed: “Yesterday, after talking to you I dropped by a book-store to check on your statement about alleged Russification of Ukraine. I report to you that the shelves are bending under the weight of Ukrainian-language books. Therefore I believe your claims are groundless”. In my answer I asked him to find some technical manual and bring it to the next questioning. He failed to do so, and then I told him about the secret Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of the USSR “On stopping publishing technical literature in the national languages”.
After my father’s death in 1975 the feeling of impossibility of getting the past back became even more acute, as well as that of the necessity to hurry up in fulfilling my plans. I did not write down father’s memoirs and nothing could be done about that. From various sources I heard some pieces of Ivan Dzyuba’s “Internationalism or Russification?” We were naïve enough to believe in restoring the justice with respect to Ukrainian language, because Lenin promised in 1919 that no Russifiaction would be imposed. In 1978 I wrote proposals to the draft of the new Constitution and brought them to Moskovsky district executive committee. They refused to accept them under the pretext that they “had submitted the entire documentation earlier”. I took them to Kiev council executive committee and for half a day they were ping-ponging me from one office to another. Finally an official advised they had already submitted the report and suggested I appeal to the Supreme Rada of the Ukr.SSR. After many tribulations I managed to submit my proposals. When I did not find any of my proposals in the newly adopted Constitution of 1978, I understood other methods of opposition should be used. I started printing pamphlets and posting them around the city. At that time Kievites liked to post all sorts of ads, about selling and buying apartments and other things. To divert the attention of the authorities I started my leaflets as commercial ads, hiding the essence inside. For instance, “FOR SALE. The destiny of the Ukrainian people, their language, culture, national interests has been for sale for 325 years. Ukrainians! Fight Russification, don’t allow Moscow colonizers to ruin
Ukrainian language”.”SELLING a typewriter to type the leaflets against the Russification of Ukraine”. “WILL exchange first secretary of the CC of the communist party of Ukraine comrade Shcherbitsky for P.Shelest. Other possibilities acceptable, but the candidate should not be a bootlicker of Kremlin”.
Some portion of my leaflets I sent by mail to the people who did not know me, mainly to the students in their hostels, hoping that they would share them with their roommates. Apart from the leaflets I typed appeals to the renowned figures of Ukrainian culture, treated by the colonizers exactly according to T.Shevchenko’s sarcastic recipe from “Caucasus” poem …”Why not throw your own bread back to you like to a dog…”, buying them with official posts, trips abroad, royalties, apartments, publications of their books and other bonuses. [My point was]: take what you can, but do not neglect your duty to Ukraine.
One of my appeals was mentioned in the court verdict of 05.03.1985. It was addressed to poet I.Drach. A copy of it was found at my place during the search of 14.09.1984. At that time I worked in Irpin’, at the construction materials works as an engineer in charge of ventilation equipment.
Every month I had to go on business trips all over Ukraine. In Kiev I printed my leaflets on a special device, dissembling it after work every time and hiding its parts in the attic, in the summer kitchen or chicken coop, as I happened to live in a private house. Noteworthy, my printer was not found during the search. On my business trips I used to take its parts with me in a backpack, among other equipment I needed for my work. I disseminated the pamphlets in the electric trains after passengers left at the last stop, quickly placed them on the seats. I also placed them on the desks in the university halls, or behind pictures making them look like a plain piece of paper, put them into mailboxes and also used many other tricks.
My ways of guarding secrecy: my coworkers knew nothing – I bought tickets to another coach to travel apart from them. For example, we had to go to Zaporizhzhya. I took the leaflets to Kharkiv, distributed them in a train, take a train to Zaporizhzhya and meet my colleagues there, as if I came together with them. After work was done I invented reasons to avoid spending time with them and went out to place the leaflets into mailboxes; I used to send letters to Kiev in the envelopes addressed by other people. I imitated hand injury and people helped me. Leaflets presented a most powerful weapon. Moscow de-nationalizers of Ukraine were more afraid of the printed word than of actual gun. That is why, focusing on leaflets, I might have ignored other means of struggle, and I would remain virtually invisible for a long time. But I lacked a rigid self-control. My wish to be as instrumental as I could in the struggle against enemies of Ukraine made me get myself involved in political discussions, cutting short anti-Ukrainian pronouncements. I operated in the area limited by my own rule – no harm to anyone, even to an enemy, only persuasion. But sometimes for the benefit of our cause I had to participate in operations that I would not dare to make public in the nearest future. This side activity sealed my fate – I had to be arrested, but I was lucky: sometimes my long legs saved me and sometimes people did. I remember with gratitude a waitress in a town restaurant who whispered to me: “Get out of here right away by the back door. They will come for you in a moment. I heard my colleague calling secret service – she is their informer. I am a believer myself and I don’t want to take a sin upon my soul - that is why I am letting you know”. I tried not to get anyone involved into clandestine activity. My relatives did not know anything but sympathized with me. I had to explain to my mother once and again what I was doing in the attic.
Once a big board with untruthful information appeared in Chervonoarmiyska street. In a trolleybus I heard passengers’ negative remarks. “So take it off” was my advice. After a week the big board was still there, annoying people. I was fed up with it and I moved to the attic as usual, as if to sleep there. When everyone else was asleep I got down by the ladder, took last trolleybus to the board, reached it and covered it with black paint using big brush.
I also risked my life campaigning among the new recruits gathered at recruitment office of Moscovsky district, in Patrice Lumumba street. I taught them how to behave to avoid Afghanistan, because Ukrainians did not have to die to defend Moscow imperialistic interests.
For several years during the days of Remembrance of the dead, I paid tribute to M.Hrushevsky placing Easter eggs painted blue and yellow on his grave. I wanted it to become an all-Ukrainian tradition. During my last visit in 1984 I noticed 2 persons who were inconspicuously observing me at 10 m distance. No doubt, they were KGB men. I had to anticipate the worst – arrest, that is. But out of carelessness I did not hide my archives or stop participating in discussions and kept engaging myself in the activities secondary to my operation.
It has become a ritual with me to attend market, cemetery and ethnographic museum during my business trips. In Yavornitsky museum in Dnepropetrovsk I copied the text of the Cossacks’ letter to the Turkish sultan and transformed it into a letter to the first secretary of the CC of the communist party of Ukraine V. Shcherbitsky” stressing the Russifiaction of Ukraine. Only many years later on May 7, 2010, I learnt accidentally that the letter had made such a storm in KGB, that a special group was formed to identify the author. Noteworthy, all-Union search was announced. KGB officials erroneously assumed that the letter had been sent from abroad.
It is also noteworthy that KGB operatives in charge of neutralizing my political activities continued their work even after I had been discharged from prison: they followed me, made photos and videos of the functions and events organized or attended by me. My comrades in arms and I are grateful to them because willy-nilly they became our chronographers.
At numerous rallies I met a lot of officials with pro-Ukrainian attitudes, who were unhappy with current situation in the independent Ukraine. More than once I heard complaints: “We are certain that life in Ukraine would have been totally different and justice would have prevailed had you and your comrades ruled it instead of this pack of rascals, concerned only with their own material well-being”. But it took place later when battle for Ukraine was finally won. We still had 7 hard years to go. Although the phantom of arrest was looming over me, it still came as a surprise to me. I was arrested on the morning of September 14, 1984, when I was leaving the premises of the hospital № 11, to which I was sent by the military authorities for pre-recruiting medical tests. I should have been suspicious of being sent there by the first recruiting office instead of the second. Obviously, KGB was aware of my operation, and in the hospital they were fabricating witnesses to testify in court against me. They knew I would go in for converting new recruits, who stayed there with me. Besides, KGB wanted to arrest me outside of my home so that I would not obstruct the search. I knew what I was facing starting my clandestine activity. My innocent relatives heard knocking on the door at 8 in the morning and opened it only to see the entire militia squad in the courtyard. There were also some plain clothes men among them. The search lasted till late evening. They brought 4 cesspool pumps to combine their hoses and reach the latrine which was far from the road. The neighbors related that the officials also guarded the crossroads around the house. My mother bravely faced them. She had the experience of both soviet and German searches, round-ups, collectivization, occupation and other anti-Ukrainian acts, she grasped the situation immediately, and, smart and observant as she was, (I always envied her that) took control. Due to her no illegal literature, documents or other incriminating evidence was found during the search. The basement door in one of the rooms was covered and later she managed to hide some stuff in other places. The things taken away were piled on the truck in the bags. Three days later they came to do another search and found a niche with some leaflets on the attic. Among them were some materials they had been hunting for, but did not expect to find in Ukraine – “The Zaporizhzhya Cossacks’ letter to the first secretary of the CC of the communist party V.Shcherbitsky”. I remember a bewildered major who hurried to see me in the pre-trial cell in Irpin’ to ask “How could that ever occur to you?” showing me a bunch of my leaflets. Unlike my mother my sister took the search my detention very hard. She was all covered in spots because of the nervous breakdown. My 14-years old nephew, although not understanding a thing, helped the women – my mother and sister – to hide the belongings of his uncle, who turned out such a poor conspirer.
Signing Helsinki agreement, Brezhnev on behalf of the USSR took the obligation not to persecute the dissenters. That is why article 187-1 was added to the Constitution to mislead European powers in their estimation of the dictatorship, i.e, to make them think something had improved. In fact it was used to punish the opponents even more severely. Under the said article the longest term for imprisonment was restricted to 3 years. (Article 187-1 «Deliberate dissemination of the false information, discrediting soviet state and social system” was introduced into the Criminal Code of Ukr.SSR on 9.11.1966; amended on 12.01.1983; invalidated on 14.04.1989. – Ed.). My actions, though, evidently, deserved a longer term of imprisonment, and KGB could not allow me to go free after such a short term. That is why article 222, p.1 was also added – «Possessing weapons» and some more “militia” articles related to my work as an engineer on my business trips. Hence my term could be increased. That is why I was put into a pre-trial cell not in KGB prison, but in Irpin’ where I worked.
After I was moved from a pre-trial cell in Irpin’ to Lukyanivka jail in Kiev, the days of uncertainty started. I spent them in Lukyanivka cell N 408 for threesome. I was upset for having allowed them to catch me and thus failed to perform my duty. First imprisonment is the hardest because you lack experience, the isolation is so depressing that a crow seen in the sky touches you beyond words and makes you crave for freedom. The cell actually houses 4 inmates but is referred to as “threesome” because the fourth person is invariably a KGB rat. And the investigators hurry up to do their job before other inmates become aware of that – it is their chance to fill in the gaps in the protocols, if an inmate lets his tongue go loose and provide the incriminating evidence still missing after the search.
I was first questioned after spending a month in the cell –probably they were putting in order evidence collected during the search.
The whole group of investigators came to meet me. I was surprised to hear that I was suspected even of creating an underground women’s organization at the national scale – I had too many women’s addresses in my address book. Investigators definitely lacked logic in their deliberations –naturally, as a bachelor I met an infinite number of women during my numerous trips. These meetings had no consequences, but each address was checked up diligently. Investigators had to go all the way as far as Sakhalin. I believe the USSR spent huge money to supply my political biography with all the data. Colonizers of Ukraine never spared money to fight their enemies.KGB recruited gifted people to work with them. I understood that earlier, after, while in hospital, I tried to involve a smart recruit in my operation. “So, how do you like our staff? – an investigator asked. – A smart boy, right?” But smart as they were, they erred: the request for my personal file was sent not to the Institute of municipal economy, but to the Institute of the national economy. They received a frightened response that they never had this employee on their payroll. I found it out studying my file before the trial. Well, KGBists are usual people, so I took proper stand with them, explaining not the threatening aspects, but just my persuasions. My convictions were based on truth, so there was always a chance of someone empathizing with them.
The trial took place 6 months after the arrest, on 05.03.1985. It was held in Kiev municipal court building in Volodymyrska street, 15. I remember 6 guards surrounding the bench where the defendants were sitting, probably, to screen them from the witnesses. My relatives told me, that a man who had led the search followed the proceedings from the audience. I asked why the doors to the hall had been locked, considering that it was an open trial. “Not to detract the court!”.
I made a mental note of KGB carnivorous nature. They had enough witnesses to have me nailed, but still they forced a boy Ivan Zinenko – a relative of mine - to testify about my alleged verbal propaganda. They did to set my family against each other. The court gave me three years of imprisonment. Two years for possessing ammunition were dissolved in the longer term.
Was everything in my political activity exposed? Surely, no. A lot of side affairs were hard to put a finger on and brand them as “nationalistic”. Thus, to popularize Ukrainian language, I organized the manufacturing of enameled trays with the texts of the Ukrainian folk sayings on them.
The economic component of my clandestine operation against Moscow “Russifiers” was only logical – a weak enemy could be less harmful. That is why I recommended Ukrainians to support the so-called pilferers movement that consisted in stealing everything that could be carried out from their workplaces. USSR fascinated with the idea of the world revolution, completely neglected the well-being of its own citizens, because huge money was spent on the support of 150 communist parties and armed conflicts all around the world. Hence “Grab what you can or tomorrow it will end up abroad”.
The trials under “militia” articles dragged on for long 22 months in Lukyanivka prison. The guards had to bring me periodically to Irpin’ (court, lock-up), to Bilychy penitentiary facility YUА–45/75. But instead of giving me the additional term of 11 years they managed to give me only 3.5 with 3 former years included in that (under the decision of the last court that tried me). In fact all the efforts of the authorities to smash me for my patriotism were reduced to nothing. Everywhere I felt empathy towards my pro-Ukrainian views. Even the prosecutors and judges ignoring KGB pressure gave me somewhat longer terms that would “absorb” the shorter ones. I remember how during a questioning a KGB officer was upset that at the meeting the working team of my enterprise refused to condemn my clandestine activity. Instead of passing condemning decision my colleagues requested the texts of my leaflets.
I also remember a threesome cell No 53, Katerynynsky block of Lukyanivka prison. The radio was broadcasting Hnatyuk’s song. We were only two in the cell. And then the rat who had to fish information out of me could not contain himself any longer:”Mykhaylo, you oaf! Leave your damn checkers alone, listen to a song – Hnatyuk is singing just for you!” The song went as follows: “Ukraine, my Ukraine, I live only for your sake!”
How did I behave in prison? I used any opportunity to write an appeal for pardon. “I understand my wrong-doings. I will not repeat them again”. I left so many things unfinished outside. So I had to get back there to complete them. But, even in prison, I continued my propaganda among inmates. And instead of pardon, I was summoned several times to the prison warden colonel Yahodenko who warned me: “My operatives report everything to me, Mykhalko, hold your horses, or you will end up in a prison inside the prison and never see freedom again”. He was referring to the article 183-3 («Repetitive contempt of the administration’s instructions of the correctional labor facility”, adopted under Andropov’s rule on 23.09.1983.– Ed.).
I was released under the amnesty in October 1987, but I still felt the persecution –no one would hire me as an engineer. That is how I ended up in Holosiivo forest – I found a job of a tinman in Agricultural Academy where I had obtained a degree earlier. The site acquired symbolic meaning over the next years – in 1988 I witnessed the destruction of forest which was cut down to make room for the new construction. So I organized the green movement for the protection of Holosiivo forest. This movement became very important component of the political life in Ukraine and accelerated the coming of independence in 1991.
Now I am the head of the environmental organization “The Holosiivo forest rescue union”, I am also a board member of “Zeleny svit” environmental association. In 1988 I initiated the formation of Green Party as an alternative to the CPU. It became official in 1990. I was awarded an order “For Service to Ukraine”.
November 15, 2010.