SNEGIRYOV, Heliy (Yevhen) Ivanovych
(b. 14.10.1927, Kharkiv – d. 28.12.1978, Kyiv)
Writer, film director, author of samizdat
Snegiryov was born into the family of the Ukrainian writer and playwright, Ivan Timofiyovych Snegiryov. He graduated from Kharkiv Theatre Institute, and then lectured on the history of literature and theatre in the Kharkiv Academic Dramatic Theatre.
He began publishing in 1954 with several collections of short stories and novels.
From 1956-57 Snegiryov was in charge of the department of literature and publicist writing in the newspaper „Literaturna Ukraina“ [“Literary Ukraine”]. He worked as chief editor and director and was a member of the Party bureau of the Ukrainian Study of chronicles and documentary films.
In 1966 Snegiryov made a documentary about a commemorative gathering at Babi Yar to mark the twenty fifth anniversary of the tragedy where the Nazis murdered thousands of people, mainly Jews. Those gathered were addressed by Ivan DZIUBA, Viktor NEKRASOV and Vladimir Voinovych who had come from Moscow. The film was confiscated the very next day and Snegiryov was “demoted” to the “rank and file” directors. He was virtually stopped from making films however he did continue to publish his work.
It was his short story “Narody meni try syna” [“Bear me three sons”] which brought Snegiryov popularity. The story was published by A. Tvardovsky in “Novy mir” [“New world”] which had already become semi rebellious. Years later this story was to be translated into many languages and be published in the “Anthology of best European novellas”.
In 1974 Snegiryov was asked to write a damning article about his close friend, the writer and front-line soldier (in the War), Viktor NEKRASOV, once laureate of the Stalin literary award but now in disfavour.
He categorically refused, after which he was expelled from the Party and from both the Union of Writers and Union of Cinematographers, and lost his job.
Snegiryov had already then begun work on this “lyrical-publicist study” with the title: “Naboyi dlya rostrilu (Nene moya, nene)” (“Ammunition for the execution (Mama, oh, Mama)”] The book was about the so-called “ULU case” (the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine), started by the GPU (the same as NKVD and Cheka) in 1930 for the purpose of destroying and sending to the camps the elite of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, as well as a million or two villagers and workers. There was a bitter joke current at the time: “Opera ULU – the music - GPU”, (since the trial was held on the stage of the Kharkiv Opera Theatre). The book is a study based on the testimony of witnesses and prisoners and provides convincing evidence of the genocide of the Ukrainian people by the communists. It is an absolute indictment not only of Stalinism, but of communism itself. With immense difficulty Snegiryov succeeded in getting it smuggled out to the West, where it reached V. NEKRASOV who, at the request of the author, published it in the journal “Kontinent”. In the preface to the book, Snegiryov, well aware of what he was risking, writes: “Take this book into your hand, my brother, Ukrainian abroad and know that in the homeland of your ancestors, on your native land, things are very bad. Very.” (March, 1977)
Snegiryov began to be subjected to round-the-clock surveillance. Yet he went further: he travelled to Moscow to the dissident and ex-general P. GRIGORENKO and asked for permission to call a press-conference for foreign correspondents in GRIGORENKO’s flat. Having discussed it with his wife, the general turned down the request of this unknown Kyiv writer and director (possibly fearing provocation). Snegiryov was persistent and came again. Although there were informers stationed on each floor, P. GRIGORENKO called correspondents of leading western media outlets with accreditation in Moscow. At the press conference, in front of television cameras, Snegiryov read out open letters to Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev (before sealing the second letter, he put his passport in the envelope, stating that he was renouncing his Soviet citizenship. “All your new Constitution is a lie, an absolute lie!” he wrote to Brezhnev.
The end was inevitable. On 22 September 1977, on Tarasivska St. in Kyiv, Snegiryov was arrested and taken to 33 Volodymyrska St. (the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR). During the interrogations he was brusque with the investigator (whose last name was Slobozhenyuk), and declared a hunger strike. Walking about the prison courtyard, on 7 November (the anniversary of the “October Revolution”), he yelled out to the entire prison: “Let’s mark the anniversary of October with a hunger strike! Join me!” He was not flung into a punishment cell, but the guards tied him up and on the 9th day of his “dry” hunger strike, force fed him with meat stock through a tube.
Throughout all of his period of imprisonment, the investigator tried to persuade him to sign a letter of “heartfelt recantation”, but Snegiryov only smiled.
At the beginning of 1978 Snegiryov’s state of health sharply deteriorated (with old complaints – coronary deficiency and haemorrhages in the retinas of both eyes - becoming aggravated). On 2 March Snegiryov was admitted to the prison hospital. There his condition deteriorated still further, with the lower part of his body paralysed. His suffering is impossible to conceive not having read his “Prison diary” which miraculously found its way out of the prison and was published in Canada thanks to the “Fund in defence of Heliy Snegiryov” (Toronto), organized while he was still alive. The result was that under torture applying modern medical means – “a recantation” under the title “I feel shame and condemnation” was signed. Paralysed, Snegiryov was taken on a stretcher from the sinister building on Volodymyrska St. to No. 14 Kyiv City Hospital (Zhovtneva). In his “Prison diary” he writes: “… I read and signed the idiotic recantation “I feel shame and condemnation”, scarcely read, hardly able to see anything because of the pain, everything was blurred …”
The recantation was published in the newspaper “Radyanska Ukraina” [“Soviet Ukraine”] right on 1 April – like an inept First of April joke. Virtually nobody believed that it had any meaning.
Snegiryov spent the last months of his life at the Zhovtneva hospital in the company of an old “Spidola” which, through the radio waves of “BBC”, Radio “Svoboda” [Radio “Liberty”], “Voice of America” and “Deutsche Welle”, told him about himself. He was always in the company of “planted” patients (the hospital room, like the cell on Volodymyrska St., was for two) with highly sophisticated bugging equipment set up and smooth young men in white coats mooching about in the corridors and on the stairs. In fact those close relatives and friends who dared visit him (and such “kamikadze” were few) were allowed to see him.
Snegiryov, close to death, almost unable to move and drained, at 51 looking like an old man, was very moved to learn that in the West he had been named in the first five Soviet dissidents, led by A. Sakharov and P. GRIGORENKO.
Heliy Snegiryov died in the night of 28 December 1978 in a hospital bed. Against his last wishes, his body was cremated without an autopsy. During the cremation, Kyiv crematorium was surrounded by an increased contingent of KGB agents: even dead they feared him.
His ashes are buried in the Baikove Cemetery in Kyiv, in the main avenue.
He was posthumously reinstated in the Union of Writers of Ukraine in 1989.
H. Snegiryov. Naboyi dlya rostrilu. Kyiv: 1990.
H. Snegiryov. Roman-donos (Vytrymky) [Novel-denunciation (Excerpts). – Kyiv: Knyzhnyk, 1992, №3. pp. 13-18.
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. 150-151.
А.Русначенко. Національно-визвольний рух в Україні. / A. Rusnachenko. The National Liberation Movement in Ukraine. – Kyiv: The O. Teliha Publishing house, 1998, - p. 214.
V. Solovyov, Y. Klepikova. Yury Andropov. – St. Petersburg, 1995.— p. 161
Khronika tekushchykh sobytiy’ [‘Chronicle of Current Events’] (CCE). - New York: Khronika, 1977, No. 47.— pp. 32-34, 130.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1978, No. 48. — pp. 23, 25; No. 49. — p.92.
CCE.— New York: Khronika, 1979, No. 52. — p. 14-18.
I. Rapp, F. Snegiryov