SHEVCHENKO Oles’ Yevhenovych
author: Vasyl Ovsiyenko
V.Ovsienko: On October 21, 1998, in Oles’ Shevchenko’s office at Sichenvoho Povstannya str., 6, in OUN headquarters, Vakhtang Kipiani is filming on video Oles’ Shevchenko’s biography related by himself, while V.Ovsienko is recording it.
O.Shevchenko: Oles’ Shevchenko, born on February, 22, 1940 in the town of Skvira, Kyiv oblast’. My ancestors were Cossacks. My father has a certificate testifying that he had been born in the Russian empire as “Cossack Yevgeniy, son to the Cossack Stefan”. My ancestors on the father’s side were from a Cossack settlement of Semipolki, near Brovary (Kyiv oblast’).
My biography is very common. Although Skvira was considered a town, as a kid I used to walk around barefoot. For the first seven years of my life I have trodden the dirt roads, knocking down thistle-heads and developing my national identity, so that I first felt Ukrainian in the town of Skvira. Later we lived in different towns and villages. My father moved around a lot because of his occupation. Majorly, I spent my school-years in the Brovki village in Zhytomir oblast’. Our school was located in a very beautiful building, which used to be a part of the Maksim Rylsky’s uncle’s estate. The palace stood in the oak-wood, and the school was in the palace. I will never forget the fragrance of 150-years’ old oaks. The wood had a lot of young oaks, too. These things stick to the memory for ever.
So, from the village to Kyiv University. When I first arrived in the Kyiv University, I found out that all the disciplines were taught in Russian. My inner being protested immediately: why should I, Oles’ Shevchenko, study in a foreign language in the main educational institution of Ukraine, named after Taras Shevchenko? I kept asking professors that question. Sometimes funny things happened: a professor of logic would begin her lecture in Russian and I would ask “Can you logically explain this paradox?” She started trembling all over, then switched to Ukrainian, and after the lecture she retired to the dean’s office. There she collapsed and I was summoned by the secretary of the party organization Suyarko. He yelled at me so hard that his spittle flew around within three meters’ range: “It is Ukrainian language you want, isn’t it? Go to Canada, you’ll find your Ukrainian there!”
I asked the same question during other lectures as well. A professor said “OK, let’s vote”. And she asked those in favor of Ukrainian language of teaching to raise their hands. Five students, me among them, did. Twenty five were in favor of the Russian language. That is the way it used to be. My only alternative was just to skip the lectures which were not delivered in our language. Several times the issue of my expulsion from the university arose, but as I was one of the best students, I was not expelled, God be praised.
V.О.: Please, specify, when did you study and what your department was?
О.Sh.: I began my studies at the school of journalism in 1960. So my first protests date back to 1960.
We used to congregate at Taras Shevchenko monument. Afterwards each of us was questioned separately: why did you go there? It was the time of our political maturing. The 1960-s are known as the “shistdesyatniks” era. I did not belong to that generation, but rather to the generation of the 1970-s. We were growing up yet during 1960-s.
Alongside with V.Moroz’ works, which we read in “samizdat” format, and other books, Ivan Dzyuba’s “Internationalism or Russification?” was of utmost importance. It created a new impetus for the Ukrainian national liberation movement. I. Dzyuba’s contribution to the cause will remain in the [Ukrainian] history forever.
In early 1972 another “grim reaping”of the Ukrainian intelligentsia started. My friends and I were trying to devise a strategy for further operation. The “shistdesyatniks” would go to battle with the “open visor”. They were inspired by the “Khrushchev’s thaw” and wished to prove that they had nothing to fear, because they propagated nothing but truth and justice – they were sincerely sharing their ideas and making them public. We, on the other hand, arrived at the conclusion that the time was not right to negotiate openly with the occupant, with the enemy. The underground operation was in order.
We used various methods in our activity: publication and dissemination of “samizdat” books and leaflets. We revived the publication of the “Ukrainian bulletin” and I became a member of the editorial board, as well as my bosom friend Vitaliy Shevchenko, a Kyiv journalist. We edited the “Ukrainian bulletin”. The main message was to show that despite all the arrests and detentions the bulletin would be published by someone. We wanted to make clear that the Ukrainian idea could not be stifled by the arrests.
A bit later Moscow Helsinki Group was set up (May, 12, 1976. – V.О.), and Ukraine followed the suite (the UHG was set up on November, 9, 1976. – V.О.). As opposed to the Moscow Group, our human rights organization was all-national. Oksana Meshko, now deceased, had offered me to become a member. I agreed to participate unofficially to be able to do the job. We understood that the official members would be under close surveillance. I kept certain documents on me, and then brought them to Moscow. I visited general P.Hryhorenko’s place and the residences of other Moscow colleagues – Helsinki Group members.
Later I found out that my whole flat, with corridor and all, was drilled through and bugged with tiny microphones at the time. So everything was heard, and the telephones were bugged as well. I was shadowed at all times, as well as my wife and even kids. Then a neighbor moved into the flat above ours. He started the installation of the new wardrobe and had to take the floor baseboard off. Underneath he found a hole and a cable leading to my apartment. He came to see me and asked “Is it some kind of radio you installed, or what? I was installing my wardrobe and saw a cable”. I said: “All right, let’s go and take a look”. But I arrived half an hour later. The neighbor was totally bewildered. He showed me a length of cable, without any mike attached. “Here you go – he said – just the end of the cable”. I suggested I would take that wire with me. But he got scared and pleaded with me not to do it: “No-no-no. Don’t do that, for God’s sake”. But I had my pliers with me and I cut a small piece of the cable. I still have it. It will be in the museum once we have one.
All these developments resulted in my arrest. It happened on March 31. I was staying in Kyiv city hospital № 3, at P.Zaporozhets str., for the aggravation of my duodenal ulcer.
V.О.: And the year was1980, correct?
О.Sh.: Yes, March 31, 1980. A KGB sub-colonel Petrunya, the warden of Kyiv KGB isolation detention center, came to the hospital. I was summoned to the doctor’s office. Petrunya told me they had to take me right away and ordered to collect my belongings. My things were brought to me, but some things were still missing. I said: “There was some food left. I have to go and fetch it”. “All right, we’ll accompany you.” He went back to the patient’s ward with me. It was winter. My food was left in the balcony, between the double doors. I opened the doors (and it was on the sixth floor…), and suddenly it occurred to him that I might want to jump off the balcony and flee. He pushed me aside from the door and said rudely “I’ll get what you want. What is it you have there?” That is how it happened.
It was about 10.00 am when they picked me up. They brought me home in their “Volga” car. It turned out they had been there earlier and wanted to search the apartment, but my wife refused to let them in. And she made children stay at home, too, so that they would not open the door. So they had to fetch me in order to get into the flat, as I was the one with the keys. They presented the prosecutor’s warrant for the search, which subsequently lasted from 10.00 am to 12.00 am.
They found no incriminating materials in my flat, so they could not press charges immediately. Nevertheless, I was taken to KGB cellar, stripped and frisked thoroughly. The file read that I was arrested on April 1, instead on March 31. Berezovsky was the head physician of the hospital ward. He wrote a note dictated to him by the KGB men: that I had been discharged for the regime violation, specifically, for drinking alcoholic beverages. The note was attached to my file. When later I approached the concentration camp doctor complaining of the stomach pain, he retorted: “No wonder, you’ve been drinking. Here is the note to the effect that you have been even discharged for drinking alcoholic beverages.” At some point our concentration camp ВС-389/36 (Kuchyno settlement, Perm oblast’) was visited by colonel Honchar. I was summoned to the warden’s room to talk with him. But I turned my back on him and announced that I would talk only after that faked note was taken out of my file, and the person culpable of writing or ordering it duly punished. Only on such conditions I agreed to talk. I was taken out.
I got a big surprise in the camp. It turned out that all my preconceptions with respect to the imprisonment were totally wrong. I thought it would be difficult to stand isolation. But in the camp I found out that a person endowed with the gift of thinking, capable of using his intellect, cannot be isolated from the world at large, because due to one’s thoughts one stays connected to the world at all times. One is constantly thinking, so there is no isolation. But the punishment itself consists in permanent physical and mental torture. For example, imposed through work. Lyonya Lubman had bad legs, so he was assigned to work, where a lot of standing was required. People with poor vision got the job which required a lot of staring. Due to my job I had swollen arm all the time. When I got up in the morning I would feel that my right arm was twice thicker than my left arm. They would give me ten injections and ten electric therapy sessions for the arm. But then I returned to the same job. I cannot meet the norm. Hence I end up in the disciplinary cell. So you strive to meet the norm, because it is much worse in the disciplinary cell.
On September 4, 1981 my arm was swollen and I caught bad cold, my nose was running. I visited the pharmacy. They gave me some pills and sent me to work. I arrived at my working place and brought a sweater with me. Captain Rak – maybe, you know him too – said “Convict Shevchenko, you violate the dressing rules. No sweaters permitted”. I said: “I am sick. Look, I’ve got some pills to prove it”. “No, you take the sweater off”. I said: “But I cannot, I have a bad cold as it is, and it will become even worse”. The guards took everyone to the production zone, and I stayed behind. Then captain Rak and ensign Nekrasov twisted my arms behind my back and took my sweater off. But my arm hurt and by the time I arrived at work it was all swollen. I could not work, because my task was to place 13 pieces under the press quickly – we were making electrical irons – and press the pedal with the foot. But I could not perform the task and was just sitting there. Myroslav Marynovych at the next machine-tool asked me “Why aren’t you working, pan [sir-Ukr.] Oles’?’ It was our polite mode of address: formal “You” and “pan”. In Russian we would use “gospodin” [sir, mister – Rus.] Mr.Viktor Nekipelov and Mr. Myroslav Marynovych were my closest friends in the camp. So Marynovych asked why I wasn’t working. I showed him my arm. Then everybody quit working and announced the strike against violence towards political prisoners. The aforementioned captain Rak and ensign Nekrasov took me to the doctor’s office. There I was examined and the certificate was written down:”No traces of violence found. Malingerer.” Right from there I was sent to the disciplinary cell for 15 days.
After seven days the deputy warden of the zone sub-colonel Fedorov came to my cell and ordered me to go and do the repairs in the ensigns’ latrine”. “No – said I – I am not going”. I used to talk to him with my face averted to the wall. “Seven days in detention! Out!” After that I was kept in the disciplinary cell without going out to work.
Time permitting I will share three episodes of my life so that my biography is complete. The first moment was the most strenuous from the physical point of view. The second episode was the toughest psychologically, while the third provided me with the most euphoric experience, the acumen of pleasure. Here are the three episodes.
The first was the hardest to stand. The zone was yet on strike. The inmates were put into the disciplinary cell in turns, because the cell was too small. I was accused of organizing the general strike. So they decided to make an exemplary case. Naturally, all Ukrainians in the concentration camp were penalized with Kyiv KGB blessing. Everything was coordinated with respect to each and every individual prisoner. I spent seven days, and then seven more days in the disciplinary cell, without ever leaving it.
The disciplinary cells are of two types: when you are taken out to work from a cell, you receive meals every day. If you stay in the cell you are fed once in two days. Sub-colonel Fedorov used to give orders to the kitchen personally… My friend from Riga Antanas Sterlyatskis, who had worked in the kitchen, told me: “Oles’, I am sorry, but I could not do anything, because Fedorov would come in person and order what food goes where”. They fed me nothing but thin broth. It contained a half-potato and a spoonful of flour, so it would not be too clear. That was all the food I received once in two days.
Thus I have beaten the all-Union record, staying permanently in the disciplinary cell without leaving, and eating only every second day, for 66 days. The guys got in touch with me by means of our inside “wireless”… Every cell has that hole. When you need to relieve yourself, you take the lid off. It is a toilet pit, right under the cell. If you shout into that hole, the inmates in another cell take the lid off and notwithstanding the smell, can hear you. That is how we communicated. So, around day 35 they asked me: “How are you doing?” Thirty five, then forty days. They kept asking me all the time “How are you doing?”- they were concerned. Finally I was fed up with that and I told them: “Guys, do me a big favor – ask me whatever you want, but forget about my well-being. Stop asking me how I am”.
An Estonian Viktor Niytsoo, imprisoned for four years, joined me in the cell. He was placed there before his mother had to come for a visit, and he asked me to tell him how I was feeling: “Probably, - he said – I will also have to spend a lot of time in the disciplinary cell.” By then I have spent in the cell quite a lot of time. I told him: “You know what my major concern is? I have a big trouble sitting”. The thing is no more muscle is left and you are sitting right on your bones. You are sitting on that stool without any support or back, right on your bones. It hurt a lot, and so I told him.
The worst tribulation happened on October 30. I was placed in the disciplinary cell on September 4, so it was almost two months by then.
V.О.: Of what year?
О.Sh.: Of 1981. October 30 is the Day of the soviet political prisoners, universal strike. Prior to his incarceration in the disciplinary cell Viki Niytsoo had a visit from his mother. He managed to hide a note wrapped in cellophane on his body. When an inmate meets his family he extracts that “cellophane pill” and gives it out to the visitors. That was the way to send information out of the camp. And he asked me: “Oles’, are you going to participate in the universal hunger strike on the political prisoners Day?” I responded: “Viki, anyway, I am fed only every second day and the thirtieth is my feeding day. If I go on strike, I won’t be eating for three days in a row”. He said: “But Oles’, I have put your name on the list. If you don’t do it I will become responsible for disinformation”. “Of course – said I – no way, Viki, for you to be charged with disseminating disinformation. I am writing down my own statement”. We asked the sentry for paper. Both Niytsoo and I wrote a statement announcing hunger strike on October 30.
Three days later when my thin soup was brought to me, I stood up to fetch it, but fell before reaching the peep-hole. I fell full-length on the floor, being so weak that I could not get to the door. An ensign on duty was from Vinnytsya. So he brought me some cubes of sugar and handed them to me with Viki’s help. I started sucking the sugar and felt the warmth feeling my veins – it was glucose, after all. So that lump of sugar saved me. It was probably the hardest moment from the physical point of view.
The toughest psychological test occurred after I was moved to another cell after spending 66 days in the disciplinary cell. Now we were four in the cell. I was assigned a place on the upper bunk. In the morning, when I woke up, the wall was covered in ice. I tried to stay as far from the wall as I could, but when you fall asleep you might touch that frosted wall. It was very dangerous. A nurse was brought into the cell to give me injections. They examined me – my heart needed some boost. They prescribed heart-strengthening injections. The nurse, sent along with some guards, pierced me just once (and I was right from the disciplinary cell.) A bruise immediately set up, because she had missed the vein, she could not find it. She tried again and failed once more. Then she started crying. The doctor ordered her to give injections into my thigh. So she would come and inject me into the thigh, for about ten days. After that they came to fetch me with “all my belongings” and sent me straight to Perm and then, by direct flight, to Kyiv.
It was before the New Year of 1982. On Friday the sub-colonel Honchar told me: “Your wife, unfortunately, is in the hospital; her condition is terminal. The doctors say she will not make it home. She has an incurable disease. So, your children remain on their own. Of course, the Motherland will not let them alone. They will be placed in an orphanage. The Soviet power will take care of them. You will lose the apartment, obviously, and the children, too, if you do not take the necessary steps. But if you want to be in your own home with your own kids, then think about it. Write a petition to the respective bodies, with due repentance and a promise never to engage in any activities in the future. Thus you will be able to stay with your kids.” I said: “Give me time till Monday”. So I had been thinking from Friday till Monday. He came back on Monday. I told him: “I cannot accept your offer. Let God’s will be done.” That was my answer.
It was the hardest moment psychologically, coming up with this decision. I was offered an alternative. And this alternative was described to me vividly and cruelly. Later, still hoping to break me and have me change my decision, they brought my two daughters and my elderly mother (a tiny, slim lady with shaking hands). My mother said: “Oles’! Look, my hands are shaking, how can I take care of them; I am barely capable of caring for myself. Think about us”. Then I asked the kids: “Now, kids, do you want to have a father, or a useless rag in lieu of father?” My elder daughter Mechyslava answered: “Father”. So I concluded: “This is my final answer”.
Right after that I was taken on a transport, not by plane this time, but by train. For the umpteenth time I was passing through the transit prison in Kharkiv, staying in the same death row cell in the basement. They used to take me out for half-an-hour walk…They had a shooting cell there. When taken out for a walk I made a wrong turn. The guard asked: “Where are you going? Hold on, your time has not arrived yet. You will still have a chance to go right. So far you go left”. And the sentry that stood guard at the death cell once opened the peep-hole and asked “What were you convicted for?” I answered: “I am a mere journalist. For nothing”. He said: “Baloney, and more baloney. People are not placed in a death cell for nothing”. That it how it was.
Having been through the worst, I had no fear staying in the death row cell. The main thing was to overcome the fear, not to let it get hold of you. I remembered my camp mates who all went on strike for my sake. How could I betray them all, even for the sake of my own children? God is omniscient. That was my hardest psychological choice.
Now let us get to the instance of my utmost joy, the happiest moment in my life. It was August 24, 1991. I am short of words to describe my feelings. Definitely it was the state of elation, of euphoria, never to occur again within the course of life. God be praised I did not fall dead on the spot of this elation, of euphoria, because I was pretty close. It was some kind of inebriation…The dreams of the whole lifetime…Not only my lifetime – the lifetime of the nation! The nation which became liberated! It was the day of the utmost joy, of the highest ecstasy.
Things went better after that. Several days later, while at 11, Bankivska streetthe doors of the offices of the Communist Party Central Committee were sealed up, I was presiding on behalf of the Ukrainian Republican Party over a rally in the October Revolution Square. It was not yet renamed to Independence Square. I proposed the new name for the square on July 16, 1990, at the rally dedicated to the Declaration of the state sovereignty. Several thousand people participated in the rally and everyone raised their hands to vote for my proposal to change the name of the square. Then it was done with the help of the Kyiv municipal council, which was predominantly democratic at the time.
Over a year later, in late October 1991, I was conducting another rally at Independence Square, when Yuriy Zbitnev, who used to sit next to me in the Supreme Rada, approached me. He said “Oles’ Yevhenovych! Look what I have brought you!” I turned to take a look – he was showing me the red banner with hammer and sickle. He explained: “Right now, with my help this banner was taken off the peak of the CC of the CPU building on 11, Bankivska street. I have come to hand it in to you as the representative of the Ukrainian Republican party.” I took the banner and announced into the loud-speaker” This is the banner from the CC of the CPU building!” Everyone shouted: “Hail!” People ran to me. Some wanted to tear it apart or to set it on fire. But I held it firmly and announced: “No, we are not going either to tear it or to burn it!” And continued: “This banner will be held forever in the museum of the Ukrainian Republican party”. And I gave it to a fellow party member. I have never seen the banner after that and I do not know whether it had been preserved. I believe it had, but I do not know where it is now.
Soon after that major Shaposhnikov who, alongside with Yuriy Zbitnev, was in charge of sealing the CC of the CPU offices, went hunting with the group of the Ministry of Interior officers. He perished there in what was described as a tragic accident – shot into the back of his head. “Stray bullet” – his colleagues claimed. Major Shaposhnikov was an active participant in all our public events. In 1988-89 I was the head of the Kyiv branch of the UHG and used to preside over all our public events. And major Shaposhnikov would always give a warning: “You are violating public order”. How many minutes have we got? Five more? Enough time to talk.
I recollect the first demonstrations in Kyiv, organized by us, the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. It was at the time of the elections to the Supreme Council of the USSR in 1989. But before that we held another manifestation on behalf of the Ukrainian cultural studies club. We prepared slogans and went to Khreshchatyk street on April 26, 1988 – the second anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The authorities were aware of our intentions; we did not hide the fact that we planned a manifestation to commemorate the Chernobyl tragedy. The authorities alerted militia and KGB. In the central streets militia officers and plain-clothes men were planted everywhere. The October Revolution Square was cordoned off. The road-building machines and equipment was taken out into the streets on purpose, as if pavement repairs were that urgent. It was just an official pretext to ban demonstration – allegedly, the Khreshchatyk street repair was in progress. The manifestation was stifled. We had only several minutes to present our slogans: “Referendum on the NPP!”, “We do not want white spots!”, “We demand the shutdown of the Chernobyl NPP!”, and others of the similar nature. All of them were environmental, with no political agenda attached.
However, a specialized militia unit (commandos were not used yet), was there to suppress any public manifestations not sanctioned by the communist authorities. A militia bus was brought forward, even several buses. People were seized, thrown to the ground, dragged by their limbs and hair and packed into the buses. On seeing that I climbed to a platform behind the trees, at the corner of the Square and Khreshchatyk street, just opposite Trade Unions building. I procured the text of the Constitution and started reading aloud the article about citizens’ rights to free meetings, demonstrations and rallies. No sooner had I finished reading than they seized me with the Constitution and all, twisted my arms behind my back, and dragged me into the bus. In militia precinct of Lenin rayon we were all frisked by force and our names were taken. We were made to strip, supposedly, for the medical examination, but, in fact, as a means to humiliate us. Other people were let free around midnight, but I was left behind. The next day a judge was brought right to the militia precinct. The name was Durytsky, if I am not mistaken. He ordered 15 days in detention for me. I was taken to Darnytsa, to a special facility for the detainees condemned to 15 days of imprisonment. I was locked and kept there for 15 days, on a bunk bed. Fleas were rampant even during the day-time.
V.Kipiani: Mr.Oles’, could you give us a brief description of your activities starting with 1987? You mentioned you had been the head of the Kyiv UHG branch, but prior to becoming a parliament member you worked in the “Ukrainian biochemical journal”.
О.Sh.: I returned in May 1988.
V.О.: I wonder what your liberation was like.
О.Sh.: It was initiated by Gorbachev. Remember, first Gorbachev gave an interview to “Humanite” newspaper, claiming that there were no political prisoners in the USSR, but only criminals in custody. But as it happened, on December 8, on the eve of the International Day of Human Rights (The UN General Declaration of the Human Rights was adopted on December 10, 1948), a Moscow writer and worker, dissident Anatoliy Marchenko died in a concentration camp during the hunger strike.
V.О.: What year was it?
О.Sh.: It was December 8, 1986. The wave of protests all over the world followed – Gorbachev did not tell the truth, the dissidents there were and political prisoners too, and they were dying in captivity. Gorbachev had to act to give weight to his statement. At the end of 1986 he ordered Andrey Sakharov’s return from his exile in Gorky. And in early 1987, the discharges of other political prisoners, specifically, Ukrainian, started. They were asked to write a statement “not to engage in anti-soviet activities any more”. May be some people did write it. Others would write something else, or not write anything at all.
I was approached several times. By then I was staying in exile in Kazakhstan, in a desert settlement of Zhaskayrat, Miyaly rayon, the center of Guryev oblast’. It is plain desert. In some seasons the roads between Zhaskayrat and Miyaly are not negotiable by the transport. And a small plane was used to commute between Miyaly and Guryev. Then from Guryev to Ukraine or to other places larger planes would fly. So during the first months of 1987 I was visited there several times; they demanded I would write a statement. I refused stating “I will not write this. Let those who put me in prison discharge me. If not, I will persevere as it is”.
The last visit was from the oblast’ KGB bosses. The local chief told me “Well, put something down. Whatever you want, just write it down”. I wrote: “I promise that upon my release I will be even more active in my public and political operation based on the principles of transparency and democracy”. It did the trick. They let me free.
On my way back I visited Viktor Nekipelov in Moscow. He was very sick by then. Upon receiving an invitation to move to France he went there together with his family. But I still have had a chance to see him before that. I also saw other Russian dissidents, Larisa Bogoraz, in particular. At the time the Crimean Tatars had their manifestation, demanding return to their land. We signed a group letter in support of their plea. I was happy to get involved in the public and political life immediately and to put my signature under another anti-soviet document.
In Kyiv no one would give me job. I have visited all the publishing houses, editorial offices and everywhere officials referred to downsizing, telling me: “Come back later, or, even better, leave your phone number and we will get in touch with you”. It was the usual formula for rejection. No one would have me.
Eventually I found a job as a digger in the Podil archeological expedition. The archeologists were digging Podil and they needed work force, i.e. the men who would dig deeper and deeper with their shovels. It was a very hard job; I dragged a collapsible stool along, because I had to rest every 10-15 minutes. Once a KGB major Chipak came to the digging site and asked me to climb outside. I did.
It happened after I have sent a protest to the CC of the CPU. I wrote that in my understanding my discharge was the best proof of my innocence and of the illegality of my conviction. I was released before the end of my term, so I had to be restored at my work place, in my specialty. I am a journalist, not a digger! If it is not feasible, then send me back to serve the rest of my term. This was the essence of my petition to the CC of the CPU. So the KGB major came to meet me in response to it. “Come out. What do you want? What about returning to your former work place?” I told him: “If you help me to get my job back I will treat it not as a gift, but as a repayment of your debt, so I will owe you nothing. First of all I will go to see the director of the institute under which the academic “Ukrainian biochemical journal” is published and advise him that I would adhere to the principles I enumerated in my statement prepared in exile – that I would be even more active in my public and political operation, using all the opportunities provided by my work in the academic journal”.
No sooner said than done – I went to see Academician Lyashko, the director of the institute and I related our talk with the KGB major to him. But probably he received the recommendation to take me back. He said: “I have only one request to make. Please do not do anything within the walls of the institute. Do as you please, but outside the institute environment”.
Anyway, in 1987 we founded the Ukrainian cultural studies club. It was the first public association addressing the issues of culture. We conducted lectures for public discussing “white spots” in our history, culture and art. In fact it was political activity –the elucidation of the “white spots” of Ukrainian history under the soviet regime. We were warned several times, orally and in writing; I was summoned to the prosecutors’ offices of all levels. I received a written notice that I could be convicted under the same article – “the anti-soviet activity” - that had been applied with respect to Sakharov prior to his exile in Gorky. Nevertheless, I kept going. Moreover, a year later, in 1988, on Chornovil’s recommendation, at the constituent meeting I was elected the head of the Kyiv branch of the UHG. We became even more active after that.
Naturally, there is no way to tell you everything, but I cannot omit an episode related to our operation within the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. In July 1988 the Ukrainian Helsinki Group announced a series of hunger strikes, demanding the liberation of the political prisoners who were still held in captivity: L.Lukyanenko, B.Klymchak, Yu.Badzio…It was initiated by the Kyiv branch, and then the Lviv branch got involved. I do not remember, Mr. Vasyl, have you been released by that time?
V.О.: I was in Urals yet. I was set free on August, 21; M.Horbal’ – on August 23, I.Kandyba – on September, 9.
О.Sh.: So, we announced the picketing of the October Revolution Square demanding the liberation of the political prisoners. We planned it for the afternoon, around 4.00 pm. But in the morning, we, the UHG activists were caught in different districts of Kyiv, in the stores, in the streets, at home, or on a trolley-bus, captured and detained with no explanation, pushed into the cars without plates and taken outside the city, so that we would not be able to make it back by the afternoon.
V.О.: Where were you taken?
О.Sh.: They caught me at Entusiastov street. We stepped out of my flat – Pavlo the philosopher, I.Sokulsky’s wife Orysya and I. We headed towards the bridge leading to the “Ukrtelefilm” TV studio. Suddenly a car came to a halt behind us, two young men grabbed me by the arms and threw me into the back seat. My companions shouted: “What are you doing?! You bandits!” The car hit the Chernyhyv highway at amazing speed. I noticed that the militia officer at the road booth tried to stop us waving his baton, but probably they showed him something, because he just saluted and let us through. I was held by the throat so that I could not cry out or even move. They held me like that for the whole duration of the trip along the Chernyhyv highway. Then we turned into the forest – there was a military tank unit deployed there. We passed it and went towards the river. An unfinished bridge was crossing the river. We approached the hills over the river, about 100 m from it. “Get out!” I did. There was a ravine in front of me. A man told me: “Go down there! Your mates are waiting for you!” I understood that once I get there I would never make it back. I did not turn my back but continued facing them. “Now, tell me, what is it for?” – I asked. One of them looked at the river, then approached two others and whispered something to them. They stepped aside and started negotiating something, pointing at the river once again. There was an angler down there. They stared at the angler and then without a word climbed at the car and moved on.
An acquaintance met me a year ago and told me: “Mr. Oles’, you cannot even fathom what I know about you!” “What is it?” “I was at a party with a retired officer, a former militiaman. He was made to resign. After a good drink he confided that he had been charged with the task to do you in, but he had disobeyed. In this company of drunkards he said: “Well, I understand. What kind of politician was he? What sort of politician? You see, I could not do it. Just could not do it, no way”. And related the whole story I have just told you. And my acquaintance put all that down, and asked me”Is this how it really happened?” – “Absolutely”. Only he had heard it not from me, but from the one who had to liquidate me.
When I related this story at the Writers’ Union “round table” (within totally unrelated context), a writer mentioned: “It should be published”. I retorted: “What do you mean, published? To give out the name of the man? Can you imagine how grateful he will be for that? Retired though he might be, he still could be penalized. He had to resign, which was punishment enough for disobeying the orders. And now I will reveal his name in media for having saved my life?” That was my reaction, but if you need the details, ask Hryts Kutsenko.
Each of us has similar stories in store. Thank you very much for your attention.
V.Kipiani: I first learnt about you under most unusual circumstances. My relative’s husband worked in the “Ukrainian biochemical journal”. I do not remember his last name, because he was not a direct family. His first name was Vadim and he was an artist. A big guy, who came from Russia. I have been collecting newspapers for many years and he brought me “Holos vidrodzhennya” [Renaissance voice – Ukr.], if I am not mistaken…
О.Sh.: Right, “Holos vidrodzhennya” was the first UHG newspaper.
V.Kipiani: And he said – in Russian, as he was from Russia – “I know Shevchenko. He works on our editorial board. Not a bad guy. But we were advised not to talk to him. So I don’t.” He was not enthralled, but not taken aback either. “It is his own business”. It was interesting and unusual: to work on the same board with such people. “We were told, like, to stay aside, so we do”.
О.Sh.: I remember the guy, I do (laughs).
V.Kipiani: Not dangerous but undesirable.
I am making the movie about you under “Memorial” aegis. We managed to find money for the equipment. It is a good camera, of the new generation. We make these biographies of the people who can tell us about themselves, so that later we would not have to ask others to tell about those years. You know better how it was. You quoted here several names. Tell us about Anatoliy Marchenko. You mentioned your beds were one next to the other.
О.Sh.: I was taken on a transport from Kyiv and brought to the zone No 37, not 36. Zone 36 had been dispersed by that time, because the Ukrainian presence was very strong there: M.Marynovych, M.Rudenko, myself; B.Veduta, who had disappeared right after his discharge, was a strong personality, although not a politician. Later we were interrogated with respect to his potential whereabouts. B.Veduta told me: “As soon as I am set free, I will go abroad”. I asked :”How?’ he said: “I have a corridor.”
V.О.: I know Veduta too. But recently I haven’t heard from him, no one knows where he is.
О.Sh.: He said:”I have a safe passage through the southern border.” He did his military service in the Central Asia. [The phone called and phone conversation followed].
The camp No 37 was divided into two zones – the big one and the small one. There was common production zone. Marchenko stayed in the big zone, which held forty inmates. I was in the small zone, with twenty political prisoners. Can you fancy that? A concentration camp for twenty inmates! The arrangement made it easier to control us. I was together with Yu.Orlov,G.Yakunin in my small zone. What am I driving at? You know that every zone had its own “locomotive”, the biggest shot, whose word used to be decisive. In our zone No 36, where were held with M.Marynovych, it used to be Sergey Kovalyov, but we never met him. After that it was Viktor Nekipelov. After Viktor Nekipelov it was M.Marynovych. When we were dispersed, I ended up in the zone 36, where Yu.Orlov was the man. He was under the most severe pressure. Eventually he was taken to Perm prison. I was second in command after him. Then I found out what it was like to be the leader in the zone.
V.О.: Responsible for other people.
О.Sh.: Correct. And permanent unconceivable pressure. But there was an interesting moment. Yu.Orlov,G.Yakunin and I were held in the neighboring cells. And we worked in different shifts, eight hours per shift. We had to remain on all fours, turning the lever for eight hours on end and making wire nets. A journalist, an academician, a priest would be turning it for eight hours. (Laughs).
V.О.: The soviets flew into space, but the lever had to be turned manually.
О.Sh.: Right. By the academicians and priests.
V.О.: I am not quite happy with Vakhtang – his time is limited, one hour only. And I could keep going ad infinitum. I am always sorry that many things remain untold. If you have time and inspiration, Mr.Oles’, I can stay and we could continue. Do you have time?
О.Sh.: Our financial manager is waiting in the office.
V.О.: Al right. Thank you then. I hope we live long enough to record more stories.