RUDENKO, Mykola Danylovych


(b. 19.12.1920, village of Yurivka, Luhansk region – d. 01.04.2004, Kyiv)

Prominent writer and poet, philosopher, human rights activist and founder of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG), former political prisoner

Rudenko was a small boy when his father, a miner, was killed in a mining accident in 1927. His mother, left with three children, decided to work on the land and within a year already had a horse, cow and a couple of oxen. The whole family worked very hard, however a year later they had to hand it all over to the collective farm which his mother began to work in. 

The memory of Holodomor [the Famine of 1932 – 1933] remained with Rudenko throughout his life.

He began writing verse in his childhood, and some of them were published in Pioneer organization newspapers. He won first prize and a scholarship from the Ministry of Education which enabled him in 1939 to enter the Language and Literature Faculty of Kyiv State University. He also entered the Party after finishing school, at the mine where his father had worked.

At university he studied for only two months. In 1939 he was called up to the army (he concealed the fact that as a result of an accident in childhood, he had sight in only his right eye).

On 4 October 1941 in the first battles near Leningrad, Rudenko was seriously wounded by an exploding bullet, which shattered bones of the pelvis and entered his spine. He was in hospital for a year, with the doctors holding out little hope that he would ever walk again. Yet he did walk and was even appointed political instructor for a hospital for the front, however he couldn’t sit through a lecture and therefore, upon leaving the army in 1946, did not return to university. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star, of the Great Patriotic War 1st class, as well as six medals.

After his first collection of poems “Z pokhodu” [“From the march”] was published in 1947 he was accepted into the Union of Writers of Ukraine (UWU).  He worked as executive secretary for the publishing company “Radyansky pysmennyk” [“Soviet writer”] and was also editor of the journal “Dnipro”, secretary of the Party committee of the UWU and a member of the Kyiv City branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU).

Rudenko’s creative work included many collections of poems, as well as novels, in particular “Viter v oblichya” [“The Wind in one’s face”] (1955), “Ostannya shablya” [“The Last sabre”] (1959) and “Orlova balka” [“The Eagle’s ravine”] (1970s) and science fiction novels “Slidamy kosmichnoyi katastrophy” [“In the path of a cosmic catastrophe”] (1962) and “Charivny bumerang" [“The Magic boomerang”] (1966).  He also wrote a poetic work “Khrest” [“The Cross”] in 1976 about Holodomor of 1932-1933.

He first spoke out against the existing system in 1949 when, under the guise of criticism of “cosmopolitanism”, certain Jewish writers were attacked. In order to try these writers, Rudenko as secretary of the Party committee of the Union of Writers was expected to provide negative assessments. He, a gentle and amenable person, was firm in refusing which did not admittedly have any impact on the fate of those being targeted. On the other hand, in autumn 1949, an attempt was made to exclude Rudenko from the Communist Party, supposedly for certain irregularities, but the meeting decided to confine itself to issuing a reprimand. From 1950 Rudenko was to hold no official positions, having in this way voluntarily rejected all the privileges of the Soviet establishment. “I was a real Party person for a long time - he later said in an interview – I long retained a deep belief in the great task of the Communist Party, and was a faithful Stalinist.  I wrote a lot of poems dedicated to the ‘leader’, there was even one poetic epic about Stalin”

The denunciation at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) of “the cult of Stalin” was a devastating shock for him. Rudenko himself dated the beginning of his engagement as a dissident from his speech at the plenary meeting of the board of the Union of Writers of Ukraine (UWU) in 1957 where he accused Soviet officialdom of a policy of Russification of Ukraine, of having created a cult around Stalin and its possible revival. In 1960 he wrote a letter to Khrushchev in which he addressed the need for reform of the existing State system in new circumstances. Changes were needed first of all in the administrative machine where the Party should not decide on all issues of the economy) and the electoral system. This was the result of thinking which had led him to conclude that it could not be a matter of Stalin alone if a paranoid sadist could for so many years head the Party and State. That suggested that the ideological basis of the State was in some way flawed.  Well aware of the likely personal consequences, Rudenko was over a period of 14 years to send many letters to the Central Committees of the USSR and of the UkrSSR warning of the danger for the Soviet Union if the Party apparatus did not reshape itself on democratic principles. All these years he was kept under close scrutiny of the KGB (being following, having his phone tapped, and so forth) On 14 March 1973 Rudenko address a letter to the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, with copies to the KGB and the UWU, complaining that bugs had been planted in his home and demanding that they be removed immediately.

Thus, as early as the beginning of the 1960s, Rudenko was convinced that the annihilation of millions of Soviet people had not been due to Stalin’s character, but to failings and errors in Marxist theory.

His study of Marx’s “Das Kapital” convinced him that Karl Marx’s ideas were fundamentally wrong – in their understanding of the theory of surplus value.  This is created not by the over-exploitation of the workers, but by solar energy (photosynthesis), combined with the labour of the farmer and of his cattle on the land.  Rudenko later developed this view of the issue in his philosophical work “Energiya progresu” [“The Energy of progress”  which he completed in 1974. He managed to get the work passed to Andrei Sakharov (via Zoya Krakhmalnikova) and later met and discussed his ideas with both Sakharov and Valentin Turchin in Moscow. Sakharov suggested making the book more accessible for the wider reader in order to publish it in samizdat. This was how the work “Ekonomichni monolohy” [“Economic monologues”] was written and began being circulated in samizdat in 1975. 

At the beginning of the 1970s Rudenko became friendly with Oles BERDNYK and supported him when the latter’s books stopped being published. From 1972 Rudenko’s books were also no longer published.

In 1974 Rudenko was expelled from the CPSU for his “metaphysical distortion of Marxism”, and in 1975 from the UWU. He had to sell his car and dacha and find work as a night watchman.

At the beginning of the 1970s Rudenko became involved in human rights work, including defence of national rights. He was in close contact with Moscow dissidents and was a member of the Soviet section of ‘Amnesty International’. On 18 April 1975 he was arrested on the grounds of his human rights activities however still at the investigation stage he was included in an amnesty to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Victory given that he had fought in the Second World War.

While applying for an extension of his pension as a War invalid, he was in February and March 1976 tricked and forced into undergoing a psychiatric examination. It was only thanks to the decency of the doctors that he was not thrown into a psychiatric hospital.
Following discussions with P. GRIGORENKO, O. MESHKO, O. BERDNYK, L. LUKYANENKO, I. KANDYBA, O. TYKHY, M. MATUSEVYCH, M. MARYNOVYCH and N. STROKATA, on 9 November 1976, in the flat of Andrei Sakharov in Moscow, Rudenko held a press conference for foreign journalists in which he announced the creation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG).  On that same evening, a brick was thrown into Rudenko’s flat which was on the second floor in Koncha-Zaspa near Kyiv. O. MESHKO, who was staying in the flat together with Rudenko’s wife, Raisa RUDENKO, was hit in the shoulder. This was the KGB form of “salute” to mark the formation of the UHG.  The UHG Declaration and Memorandum No. 1 were soon published, with the section “Typical violations of human rights” giving details about Holodomor of 1932-1933, about the repressions of the 1930s, the crushing of the Ukrainian Resistance Army (UPA), the repressions against the Shestydesyatnyky [Sixties activists], as well as a list of political camps and Ukrainian political prisoners.

From 23-24 December 1976 a search was carried out of Rudenko’s home during which 39 US dollars were planted. On 5 February 1977 Rudenko was arrested in Kyiv and taken by plane to a pre-trial detention centre  in Donetsk where a case was launched against him and O. TYKHY. The sanction for the arrest of the arrest of the leaders of the Moscow, Ukrainian and Lithuanian Helsinki Groups, Yury. Orlov, Rudenko, O. TYKHY and T. Ventslov had been given by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU on the request of the Prosecutor General of the USSR R. Rudenko and the Head of the KGB Yury Andropov.

The trial was held between 23 June and 1 July 1977 in the “Lenin room” of the office of “Zmishtorg” in the town of Druzhkivka in the Donetsk region, the “procedural grounds” for this choice of location being that O. TYKHY had been born there and lived nearby. The sign was removed from the office, and witnesses after being questioned were taken away. One of the witnesses for the prosecution was Professor Illya Stebun whom Rudenko had once defended against charges of “cosmopolitanism”. 

Rudenko was sentenced to 7 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years exile under Article 62 § 1 of the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”). Publicist articles, literary works, as well as spoken remarks, were deemed slanderous, although the court confined itself to a mere statement to this effect. For example, with regard to the “Energy of Progress”, the verdict said that the work “is antagonistic in nature and presents fabrications which defame the Soviet State and social order”.  In this work Rudenko “tries to denigrate the revolutionary achievements of the Soviet people and its avant-garde – the communists”. “In his literary works Rudenko, from his hostile nationalistic position, makes his characters express slanderous lies about the Soviet State and social order”. The verdict presents no actual proof that Rudenko had sought to undermine the Soviet system.

In accordance with a special directive issued by Holovlit[1] of the Ukrainian SSR and by Glavlit for the USSR, in 1978 all works of Rudenko – 17 titles in all - were removed from circulation (from libraries and from bookshops).  

Rudenko was first taken to the Mordovian political labour camps, No. ZhKh-385/19 (the settlement of Lesnoye), and then No. ZhKh-385/3 (the settlement of Barashevo).
On 5 May 1978 Raisa RUDENKO held a demonstration near the Lenin Library in Moscow with a banner reading “Free my husband, the War invalid, M. Rudenko!”.  For her active involvement in the UHG and because of her defence of her husband, she was arrested on 15 August 1981 and sentenced under the same Article 62 § 1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code to 5 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years exile. She was taken to the women’s section of ZhKh-385/3 in Barashevo. 

To avoid husband and wife being in two parts of the same labour camp, Rudenko was transferred in September 1981, the day after his wife arrived, to camp no. VS-389/36 in Kutchino, the Chusovoi district of the Perm region. 

At first, as a War invalid (second group), he was not made to do hard physical labour.  However, for taking part in prisoners’ strikes and ripping off his prisoners’ label, he was often thrown into the punishment isolation cell or punishment cell.  The head of the camp told him that he had “lost the right to be called a War invalid (second group)”.  His invalid status was changed to third group which meant that the administration could force him to do hard physical work.

On 5 March 1984, Rudenko was transported to his place of exile in the village of Maima, in the Altai Mountains Autonomous Region, where his wife joined him almost three years later, having served her sentence.  They were both released from exile in 1987, but it transpired that there was nowhere to return to: their Kyiv flat had been confiscated by the authorities after the arrest of Raisa RUDENKO.  At the end of 1987 Rudenko and his wife left for Germany and then went to the USA. Rudenko worked for the stations Radio “Svoboda” [Radio Liberty] and “Holos Ameriki” [“Voice of America”].  In 1988 he was stripped of his Soviet citizenship. He headed the External Representation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, and later the Ukrainian Helsinki Union.

In 1988 the Philadelphia Educational and Scientific Center declared Rudenko “Ukrainian of the year” for his unwavering commitment to defending the national rights of the Ukrainian people and their culture. He was a member of the PEN-club. In 1990 he was elected a full member of the Ukrainian Free Academy of Sciences (USA). In the same year he was awarded the Ukrainian Vynnychenko Cultural Foundation Prize.

In September 1990 Rudenko returned to Kyiv. His citizenship was reinstated and he was fully rehabilitated.

In 1991 he went blind in his right eye, however six months later his left eye which had seen nothing for 63 years opened.  
In 1993 Rudenko was awarded the State Taras Shevchenko Prize for Literature for his novel “Orlova balka”.  For his enormous contribution to the development of Ukrainian culture and for his human rights activities in 1996 he received the Order “For Services”, grade III.
Rudenko was a member of the Ethics Commission of the Ukrainian Republican Party (the party formed on the basis of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union).  From 1997 he was a member of the Christian Republican Party.

In 1998 his memoirs were published under the title: Naibilshe dyvo – zhyttya. Spohady [The greatest miracle is life itself. Memoirs], as well as his economic work “Energiya progresu”.  

Mykola Rudenko. Naibilshe dyvo – zhyttya. Spohady. – Kyiv – Edmonton – Toronto: Takson, 1998.— 559 pages.
Mykola Rudenko. Energiya progresu. Kyiv: Molod, 1998.— 528 pages.
L. Alekseeva. История инакомыслия в СССР. /  The History of the Dissident Movement in the USSR. – Vilnius – Moscow: Vest, 1992, pp. 27, 29, 30, 256.

M. Heifets. Ukrayinski sylyety [Ukrainian silhouettes] – Suchasnist. — pp. 153 - 179 (in Ukrainian and Russian; also: Pole vidchayu i nadiyi. [Field of despair and hope]. Almanac. – Kyiv: 1994,  pp. 273-295

Г.Касьянов. Незгодні: українська інтелігенція в русі опору 1960-1980-х років.  / G. Kasyanov.  Dissenting voices: the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the resistance movement of the 1960s to 1980s — Kyiv:  Lybid, 1995.— pp. 59, 137, 160-163, 173.
А.Русначенко. Національно-визвольний рух в Україні. / A. Rusnachenko. The National Liberation Movement in Ukraine.  – Kyiv: The O. Teliha Publishing house, 1998, pp. 210-212, 218, 219, 223, 245, 262.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Group. On the twentieth anniversary of its creation. — Kyiv.: URP, 1996.
Ukrayinski Pravozakhystny Rukh [The Ukrainian Human Rights Movement] - Baltimore -- Toronto, Smoloskyp 1978.

“Visnyk represiy v Ukraini” [“Bulletin of repression in Ukraine”] -  External Representation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. – New York, 1980, No. 5.— p. 13; No. 7.— p. 9; No. 9.— p. 12; No. 10.— p. 11.
“Visnyk represiy v Ukraini”. External Representation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. – New York, 1981, No. 5.— p. 6; No. 9.— pp. 5, 12.
“Visnyk represiy v Ukraini”. External Representation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. – New York, 1984, No. 1.— p. 14; No. 3.— p. 8; No. 4.— p. 11; No. 5.— pp. 11, 15, 16; No. 6.— pp. 8, 11.
Information bulletins of the Ukrainian Public Organization to promote the implementation of the Helsinki Accords.— Baltimore – Toronto: Smoloskyp, 1981, issues 1978-1980 — pp. 10, 15, 22, 25, 36, 40, 47, 71, 72, 74-77, 79, 105, 110, 116, 128, 170.
’Khronika tekushchykh sobytiy’ [’Chronicle of Current Events’] (CCE). - New York: Khronika

 1976, No. 39.— p. 77; No. 42.— pp. 21-22; No. 43.— pp. 44, 45, 52, 86-87.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1977, No. 44.— pp. 5, 6, 17-20, 28, 111, 112-114, 117-119, 122, 125; No. 45.— pp. 21-22, 24, 59, 60, 65, 90; No. 47.— pp. 96, 126, 127, 130, 131, 139, 146, 149, 154.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1978, No. 48.— pp. 19-20, 22, 54, 57, 72, 75, 94, 167; No. 49.— pp. 20, 25, 95; No. 50.— p. 78; No. 51.— pp. 15, 17, 19, 55, 56-57, 106, 173.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1979, No. 52.— pp. 114, 131, 132; No. 53.— pp. 69, 70, 72, 157; No. 54.— pp. 57, 58, 134; No. 55.— pp. 7, 8, 26.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1980, No. 56.— pp. 16, 141; No. 57.— p. 59; No. 58.— p. 74; No. 60.— p. 81.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1981, No. 61.— pp. 73, 99; No. 62. — pp. 29, 62, 63, 71, 144; No. 63.

I. Rapp, V. Ovsiyenko

[1]  Holovlit, in Russian – Glavlit, stood for the Main Administration for Literary and Publishing Matters, but was basically the official censorship body. (translator’s note)

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