SKALYCH (POKUTNYK), Semyon Fyodorovych


(b. 09.10.1920, the village of Dovha, Drohobytsk region, Poland (now part of the Lviv region)

Religious preacher, twice a political prisoner or imprisoned for his faith

Skalych was born into a family of poor peasants. He received only 4 years of school education, then worked as a farm labourer. From the age of 16 he has been disabled and moves around on crutches (from bone tuberculosis). From 1942 he was the secretary of the Ukrainian “Prosvita” [“Enlightenment”} Association. He worked in a reading room and later in a school

On 29 December 1945 he was sentenced by the Military Tribunal of the Carpathian military district under Articles 54-1”a” (“Treason against the homeland”) and 54-11 (“involvement in a counter-revolutionary organization”) of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR to 10 years deprivation of liberty. He was accusing of keeping publications of the OUN-UPA (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Resistance Army), although he himself was not active in the national liberation movement. He served his sentence in the labour camps of Kazakhstan (Balkash). For refusing to work in the quarry, and for his religious sermons, he was subjected to ferocious punishment and beating. He was sentenced to a further 5 years in the camps and 10 years exile “for sabotage”.  His reading of the Gospels, his protest hunger strikes, and continued refusal to work led to his being put in a psychiatric hospital. “the torments he went through during that 10 year sentence would have been enough for a great martyr saint…. A greater crime than that which was inflicted on Skalych I did not see in the camp” (V. STUS). He was certified mentally ill and freed in 1955, after which he returned to his home village.  Being disabled, he was not able to work on the collective farm and for the sake of the pitiful earnings he gathered herbs in the Carpathian mountains for those who wanted to sell them.

From 1964 Skalych became part of the movement of “Pokutnyki” [“Penitents”], which had arisen at the beginning of the 1950s in Western Ukraine as a “rather specific folk version of a Ukrainian messianic movement” (V. STUS).  “Pokutnyki” believe that the new coming of Christ has already been, that there is a new Gospel on earth, and consider the village Srednye in the Carpathian Mountains to be the sacred place where the New Rome will appear.  The movement of “Pokutnyki” spread, in the main, in the region near the Carpathian Mountains. Skalych devoted himself to preaching the Word and wrote prayer books for children.

He was arrested on 30 January 1980 by the Prosecutor’s office in Drohobych and charged with “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”, “creation of a group presenting a hazard to the health of citizens” and “attempt to encroach upon the individual”.  During the search, approximately 700 poems written by Skalych of a religious-nationalistic nature were removed. 70 of these were deemed to be anti-Soviet. On 19 August that year he was sentenced by the Lviv Regional Court under Articles 62 § 2, 209 § 1, 26-1 § 1 and 42 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR to 10 years deprivation of liberty and 5 years exile, with the designation of particularly dangerous repeat offender and confiscation of property (which he did not in fact have, since even his home had been flooded by the reservoir).

He spent three days in the special regime camp ZhKh-385/1 (Mordovia), and was then on 16 October transferred to the special regime zone VS-389/36-1 (Kutchino, Perm region). For a year in Kutchino he did not wear prison clothes, remaining in white, then he ripped off the breastplate with his name, and when it was burned on with chlorine, he cut a hole out of his jacket to remove it. For religious reasons he did not acknowledge his surname (and called himself Semyon Pokutnyk), and therefore was not prepared to sign any documents and was deprived of the possibility of buying extra food, and did not write letters, addresses or complaints.  Due to his disability he could not work, but he would not accept anything from his cellmates, unless as an exchange or for doing something for them. He behaved with absolute dignity with regard to the administration, and to his fellow prisoners – as a Christian. He spent his time praying for his people and considered that, after the destruction of the monastic order it was political prisoners who now fulfilled that role.

From 13 March to 14 May 1981 he was held in Lviv for “re-educating”, however his convictions could not be shaken. Between 1981 and 1987 he was hospitalized in camp VS-389/35 (village of Vsekhsvyatskaya) due to problems with his heart, kidneys and a stomach ulcer.

In July 1982 an article by the Chairperson of the Council for Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers of the USSR, Kuroyevdov, was published in “Literaturna gazeta” [“Literary newspaper”] with defamatory comments about the “Pokutnyki”, and Semyon (Skalych) Pokutnyk himself.

He was released on 8 October 1987 on the ruling of the Chusovsk city council from 06 October in connection with his chronic medical problems.

Following Ukraine’s declaration of independence, the “Pokutnyki” began to acknowledge their surnames, received Ukrainian passports and registration. Semyon Skalych lives with fellow believers who have provided him with a home. He is seriously ill.


V. Stus. Iz taborovoho zoshyta [From the camp notebook]. // Vikna v pozaprostir. K: Veselka.— p. 225. Also in: Vasyl Stus. Works in four books, six volumes.// “Prosvita“. V. 4, p. 502.

The KHPG archives

V. Ovsiyenko