SICHKO Petro Vasyliovych
author: Vasyl Ovsiyenko
P. Sichko: I was born in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast’, Dolyna rayon, the village of Vytvytsya, on August, 18, 1926, in the peasants’ family. The family was big and comprised ten persons: two sisters, six brothers, father and mother. Everyone is dead by now, I am the only survivor. I do not remember my father’s and mother’s dates of birth. My oldest brother Stepan was born in 1911. He studied theology, getting ready to become a priest. But after being beaten up by the Polish gendarmes he felt sick and died. Tadey was born in 1918, Adam in 1919, Ivan in 1920, my sister Eva in 1921, my brother Yosyp in1924, another sister was born in 1929, and I in 1926.
I received primary education in my native village. We had a man who prepared boys and girls for the gymnasium – the teacher Volkovetsky. After his coaching I was able to enter the 6th grade of gymnasium.
At the time it was Poland; we were a nationally conscious family, especially my brother Stepan, the one who wanted to be a priest. He was Stepan Bandera’s friend, and this latter would visit us often. Especially when marches on Makyivka were organized, students from the whole Halychchyna would spend a night in our house. And Stepan Bandera would come, too. They all would be out of the house and gone to the foot of the mountain before police arrived.
That was the atmosphere I grew up in.
In 1942 I joined the Youth branch of the OUN, took the oath of allegiance. It was under the German occupation that my underground operation started. My first task was to get the youth network organized, and I did it.
In 1942 I entered the 6th grade of Lviv gymnasium with the Ukrainian language of teaching. There I proceeded with my clandestine activity. In 1944 the OUN Command sent me to the Carpathian mountains for the military training UPA – West “The Deer” in Rozhanka. They have two localities of that name there – the Upper Rozhanka and the Lower Rozhanka. Certainly, I faced a lot of obstacles and difficulties there, but I managed to graduate from the school in November 1944. After that we were ordered to return to our respective localities. I was sent to Yavoryny, close to Sloboda Bolekhivska. I was one of about two hundred graduates – the Shield’s sotnya (military unit of one hundred men – Ukr.) and the Colt’s sotnya. I was in the Shield’s sotnya. But at that point a misunderstanding occurred. We were trained in the handling of weapons by an Osetinian Katzo. At the evening roll call it turned out Katzo was missing – so it was assumed he had run away. Well, we received the immediate order to retreat. Our sotnya was the first to retreat, with the other sotnya to follow. The headquarters were within this second sotnya. Pol’ was the school commander. We retreated and the next day we heard some shooting. I was on duty at the time. I had to stand guard near the guelder-rose tree during the night, and at daytime the post was at the different place. At dawn I saw the Moskals (Russians – derrog. Ukr.) so close. The soldiers were riding in 33 trucks. So, we heard the sounds of shooting coming from the site where our school used to be. May be the Moskals assumed there was a hidden guerilla camp there. Later we heard we had been betrayed. When the second sotnya, headed by the commander had to retreat, the Polish gendarmes arrived and announced that Katzo had been killed in Sloboda. Then the commander ordered the second sotnya to postpone retreat till the information about Katzo’s death is verified. Turned out it was another fighter, not Katzo, who had been shot. In the meantime Katzo had brought the whole army – the 33 trucks from Vroda village and as many trucks from the other side, i.e. from Sloboda Bolekhivska. At Mess time they surrounded the school site. About twenty graduates perished there, the school commander Pol’ among them. The gendarmes’ commander was also shot there – we learned about that later. So we had to get away from danger as best as we could. We had to meet in the Black forest. I was sent to the Cutter’s detachment as the political officer of the sotnya, and later moved to the Blessed’s Kourin’( military unit –Ukr.) under the same detachment.
When serious round-ups began, the sotnyas started their retreat towards the border. I had an opportunity to join them and go west, but somehow I could not accept such a possibility. So, I shall leave Ukraine and go abroad, while my people will stay behind? And I made up my mind not to retreat, but to stay in the Ukraine. I had a secret meeting with UHVR representative M.Slyusar, was issued the fake ID of a soviet citizen. He had the ID of a resettled person from Poland. At that time Ukrainians were resettled from Poland. It was our duty to organize the underground network among the university and technical institutes’ students as well as among the secondary school pupils. The group was called “The Organization of Fighters For Free Ukraine” (OFFFU).
First, I started my studies in the Philology department of Lviv University. But soon I was called to the personnel department- they wanted to arrest me there. I hurried out of the office, heard some shots behind me, but somehow made it down the hall and out into the street…
Later, using different papers, I entered Chernivtsy University. There I also studied at the Philology department, Chair of Ukrainian language and literature. I was already at the third year of studies when the catastrophe (due to betrayal) happened. So I was arrested in Chernivtsy on February 12, 1947. I remember a messenger from the field came to see me. We talked through the whole night, almost did not sleep. He brought me some orders, I duly reported to him, and fell asleep just before dawn. And I dreamt I was in my native village trying to get to my house, but three guys were drowning me. I was struggling away from them and from the water and woke up at my own gateway. I was deeply impressed with the dream. In the morning I related it to my colleague – a student from physics and mathematics department, who shared the flat with me.
I went to the university. The first lecture was on West-European literature. After that a secretary came in and announced I was wanted in the rector’s office. And the office was in the other building. I felt deep in my soul something was not right. Nevertheless, I collected my notes and went out of the building. And outside I see the three guys, just as I saw them in my dream – wearing embroidered shirts, pants and boots. That is the way our lads in Halychchyna used to dress at the time. They approached me: “Your last name?” “What do you care about my last name? Who are you? Go to the dean’s office if you will and seek information there”, I replied. Then one of them procured an ID: “We are from the [security] bodies, so-and-so. You are under arrest”. Two of them showed their revolvers and stood by my sides. The third stayed behind to prevent my potential escape. Had I tried it, he would have shot me on site. He showed his revolver, too. They told me: “Let’s go through the city. God forbid you try escaping. As you see, we are all armed and the bullet will stop you in no time”. They brought me to the jail. There, according to prison rules, my buttons were cut off and my trousers’ belt was taken away. Someone from Lviv, one of the traitors, was there – he peeped through the small window to confirm my identity. They took away my notes and threw me into a solitary confinement cell, then offered me a supper. I refused saying “No”. In the evening I was summoned to the office. The three guys I’ve met before were now in military uniforms so that I could distinguish their ranks: a major, a captain, a senior lieutenant. There was a passenger car waiting already. They looked at me, then immediately took me to the car – the jail gates were open. One of them sat on my right side, another – on my left side, and the third one – in the front seat. We were passing Chernivtsy streets. They warned me once again: “God forbid you try anything –you won’t even have time to jump out of the car”. We arrived at the railway station and they told me: “See, now we’ll go to the train coach – and showed it to me. This live fence is all made up of our men. You will go to the coach passing them. So do not try escaping, you’ll get a bullet”. It is staged like this – there are people around, public at large, but no one is aware that someone had been arrested.
We stepped out of the car, passed that live corridor and ascended the coach. It had compartments and 25 guards in it, plus my three companions, who used to wear the embroidered shirts, but now were wearing uniforms. I was brought into a compartment and ordered to undress, leaving only the underwear on and lie down facing the wall. “If you need to use a restroom tell us without turning your head”. When I was taken to the toilet, two guards stayed at the doors, while the doors remained open.
On the way I kept racking my brain: where are we going? By the direction of travel I could surmise we were moving towards Stanyslaviv. We passed Kolomya - no one let me off the train, we passed Stanyslaviv – no, it was Bolekhiv, a station close to my native village. I understood we were going to Lviv. In Lviv we waited for all the passengers to leave the train. Then I was taken out too and handed over to another group of guards – now they were 7 instead of 3. So these 7 escorted me. I asked for permission to get cigarettes, because I was aware already that I was being taken to jail. I had some money on me; it was returned to me after the frisk. They said:”Go ahead, please”. Then the cheap cigarettes “Tysa” were sold by one-hundred cigarettes’ packs. I asked for one pack in the kiosk, because that was all I could afford. The vendor, though, gave me six or seven. I said: “I do not have enough money for those”. But he replied: “I see where you are heading, sonny. Take them. I don’t want your money”.
We stepped out of the station to the left. There was a truck waiting there. I was ordered to lay face down, and they covered me with a tent. They sat on the side benches while we went through Lviv, do not know where. When they let me out, I understood we were at Pchelynsky street, where the main investigation office for the Western Ukraine was located.
Prior to arrest I was dressed nicely. My father bought me a handsome winter coat with astrakhan collar and a beautiful astrakhan hat. When I was taken to the building, investigators would come out of their offices. I heard the words spoken behind me “Why, Stepan Bandera’s deputy is so young! Such a young man!” So, they greeted me as young Bandera’s deputy.
I was taken to a room on the second floor. It had two windows, with a guard at each window and more guards in the hall. They did not tell me anything, just handed me in to the new guards. I wanted to talk to them to find out what was up. But they just shouted [in Russian]: “Shut up! No talking allowed!”
Then the door opened. A girl in the Ukrainian folk costume entered and asked: “Would you have breakfast, my friend?” Indeed, I have not eaten for twenty four hours. So I told her: “Yes, please, bring me something”. Several minutes later she brought me two buns with butter and a cup of coffee or cocoa – I do not recall – and invited me to sit at the table. When I sat at the table, I saw my photograph under the glass. It was labeled “OFFFU”. Then I understood…
After I’ve had my breakfast, an investigator arrived shortly: “Well, let’s go”. He took me to a room down the hall, and there they started a non-stop “conveyor-belt” interrogation. For three days and nights I was kept in a chair, not allowed to get up from it. They would bring a pail, I would relieve myself and they would take it away…
V.Ovsienko: So you were twenty five at the time. What a psychological torture it must have been for a young man!
P.Sichko: Now you understand what “conveyor-belt” investigation is, why they would keep me like that for three days and nights. Now and then I would collapse with fatigue. They let me sleep for half an hour or so, then wake me up and put abrupt questions to me. They said other students were arrested too and give their names. But I got hold of the situation immediately. They showed me the originals of my clandestine writings. I could not question their authorship. Sometimes it happened so, that I would sit in the library with desk in front of me covered with Lenin’s and Stalin’s works, writing my own secret papers. I became aware of one rule: whatever you said first, stick to it, without changing anything. I anticipated their asking me about my foreign connections.
I knew a secret password, but they did not know about it – I managed to throw the evidence into the toilet pit. When a messenger used to come from Lviv to see me, we had to exchange three secret passwords. He says a word – I have to respond with my own. Then he calls a number, and I would supply another. Even if these calls and responses worked, we had to check the third one. In my case it was a rouble bill torn in half. Each of us had one half of it. Only if they matched we could talk. During the frisk they did not find it on me, and later I threw it into the pit.
After these three days I was taken to Lonsky street. It was in the evening. A sub-colonel who brought me there – I don’t remember his name, but he had that typical Jewish face – laughed maliciously when he delivered me to the jail in Lonsky street. The door screeched and opened. “He said:”Here is OFFFU for you, your Ukrainian Chief Liberation Council”.
They fingerprinted me, with all that rigmarole…Then I remember the following…I’ve never been to jail before…I was taken to the long halls, every few steps I saw iron doors with bars, opening and closing. I was taken to the basement, where a sergeant major was waiting for me. There was a fire burning and a big cauldron. The sergeant told me: “Get undressed, we’ll boil you”. And I really thought they would burn me or something. I stripped and he said:”Get washed”. It was only then that I understood it was a bath. He switched the water on and I washed. Then my clothes were returned to me after the “disinfection”, but both my hat and my collar were totally crumpled.
I was taken to a solitary confinement cell. A small cell, may be one meter wide and meter and a half long. No windows, no nothing, only a niche with light bulb over the door. I genuflected and started praying. Looking on the wall I saw about twenty scratches and a line under it “Probably tomorrow they will shoot me”. That was the inscription. And nothing more. I noticed another inscription on the door “Ivan Stolyar”. We had legalized a member of the Regional leadership. He was my compatriot, by name of Ostap Vitvitsky. The aforemention UHVR representative Myron Slyusar issued him an ID with Ivan Stolyar’s name on it. He knew that person very well. This leadership member studied at the preliminary training course of the medical institute. So I saw the inscription on the door “Ivan Stolyar”. And the date showed that he was in the same cell the day before. So I started thinking: God knows what happened to him, either he was shot or what…I heard two students talking in the hall – they were being taken somewhere. I recognized a voice. For two weeks after that no one approached me, I stayed in my solitary cell.
V.Ovsienko: In the tiny one?
P.Sichko: There I spent only 24 hours. Then I was moved to another cell, but stayed there alone for two weeks. I was getting used to it. There was a toilet pit there. I learned to use it to talk to other cells’ inmates. That was the necessity of life.
Under the law investigation is to be conducted during the daytime, i.e. the working hours, but there everything was topsy-turvy: at about ten the diesel engine starts to produce loud roaring and people are taken for the interrogation. The cell would be opened: “Prisoner so-and-so”. Although they are perfectly aware there is no one, but me inside. They would take me to the second floor – there was a long corridor, with the rooms on both sides. It was like an abattoir with all the sounds of people being tortured – one could hear old men crying, old women lamenting, young girls and boys screaming, infants wailing… A prisoner is taken out of a room, but he cannot use his own legs to walk. He is all swollen from the beatings. He is dragged on his belly, hollering in inhuman voice… They made me turn to the wall immediately. Just fancy, me, a boy of twenty, entering that hell…
Actually, they did not mug me on the first night. The investigator just put my name down and started pacing the room, smoking. Half an hour later he asked “Patronymic?” Such a long pause it was, for me to have enough time to become aware of all the tortures going on around. So on the first night that was all - just filling out the papers and questionnaires. But after that Sodom and Gomorrah broke loose. I could have been easily broken like so many others, but I kept praying. God would somehow give me strength – the more they tortured me, the more silent I became. I just turned into a stone, you see. And they torture you so that you faint right there of all the beatings and come round only when you are back to your cell, to see a doctor or someone near you.
V.Ovsienko: And how did they torture you?
P.Sichko: They hit one all over the body. Put needles under the nails; put one’s fingers between the doors, treat one with electric current. Or you can be taken to a corner with water dripping on you, and you cannot move. At the beginning it does not feel that bad, but eventually… But the most usual thing was for them to take aim from the door and kick you with their feet, on the back and in the face. Or they would take a club and beat you with it. These were so cruel tortures that I am at a loss for words to describe them.
But God somehow gave me strength to survive. I did not possess a lot of secrets at the time. I would ask myself sometimes: why couldn’t I be a common cow-herd? Why am I tortured and mugged for alleged foreign contacts? Well, they never learned anything from me. I’ve passed through all the rounds of the soviet prison system, but they could put nothing but my student’s activity on me. They did not know I was an OUN member, a UPA officer. Actually, a certain Bereza was brought for a confrontation. He was from the Eastern part; we studied in the military school together. I recognized him at once, but he said “No, that guy was not among us there”.
There were other things, too. You are alone in the cell. A girl in Ukrainian folk costume enters the cells, hugs you and is about to kiss you saying “My friend, you are so young and handsome, to heck with all that ideology, what use do you have for it?” She starts criticizing all that and then “Sign this, we’ll work together. I agreed to collaborate myself”. I told her: “You, treacherous girl, leave me alone!” They also imposed psychological pressure on you. You are put into a cell with the window. There is a balcony on a house on the opposite side of the street. Students, young girls would come out, read something, play the fiddle, and have wonderful time. And then that girl comes in…
After the investigation I signed this “two hundred” paper. I remember the cherry trees were in blossom. When I was taken to the room, some of the blossom was blown insode by the wind. I was waiting for the verdict of death at the time. I did not know capital punishment had been banned. I used to think: “My God, shall I ever have a chance to sit under a cherry tree again?” And through all these tortures and anticipation of death, I would get on my knees and pray to the walls, as if willing them to testify to the Ukrainian people that the boy, although tortured severely, never became a traitor. He betrayed neither his friends nor the Ukrainian people…Well, God let me survive and tell the truth.
Now I would like to digress slightly from my biography. Recently a memorial sign, and then, a monument to the victims of Stalin’s terror were inaugurated (at Stepan Bandera’s street). I asked to be given the floor, because those present in their speeches referred to Kravchuk, and were generally talking out of turn. I was really upset when Malytsky, who headed the Prisoners’ association, refused to let me speak. And after the monument had been consecrated, political prisoners were also allowed to speak. They made beautiful speeches, but not a single one would talk to the point. And I could see the window of my cell from the site – with no bars on it any more – the place, where I was tortured, where I prayed to the walls on my knees. Then the deputies – S. Khmara, Y. Kendzior - arrived and were given the floor immediately, them being deputies and all. I submitted a note, asking for three minutes only. My speech would have been so different from the rest. I wanted to describe all these sufferings, all these tortures, because by coincidence I happened to be in this very jail twice – first time in 1947, when I was very young, and, second time in 1979, when we were placed there together with my son Vasyl for our participation in the UHG. I was desperate to speak up at that event, but they never let me. Anyway, I digress from my story.
When you sign the “two hundred” – referring to the article 200, - it means the investigation is over. Three officials came from Kyiv, persuading me to collaborate. They promised to give me the opportunity to graduate from the university. If I am afraid of being killed here in Lviv, or in Chernivtsy, they promised to arrange for my studies in Kyiv. If I feared staying in Ukraine, they guaranteed my studies in Moscow University. So what was my answer? I told them: “You know about my views, (they’ve seen a lot of my writings), you’ve looked inside my soul – and that is the way I am. I do not have a right to betray my people and myself. I value my dignity in this confrontation with an enemy. Because the enemies love the betrayal, not the traitor…”
Young as I was, I really wanted the enemies to appreciate that they were dealing with a person who had free choice. I told them I would not step aside from the road I have chosen. Then they responded in Russian: “Too bad you were not brought up under our system”. Which meant I would have had the honor of working with them. I’ll switch back to Ukrainian here as it is difficult for me to proceed in Russian. “As things stand now– they continued – we’ll put you under such conditions, that you will not have a slightest chance for development, and all you prior knowledge will be good for nothing”. And I thought: Who can kill my thought? Till then I used to have an outstanding memory. For example, after reading a page in a book, I could render it literally to the word. Well, I might have changed a word or two. True, it would disappear from my memory as easily. Now, on the other hand, if I have to learn by heart even one line, it is very tough! But back then my memory was unusually strong.
Eventually the trial took place. I did not know that capital punishment was replaced with 25 years. I prayed getting ready for death, prayed to my silent witnesses the walls so that they could testify before the Ukrainian people on my behalf. –The trial lasted for three days. Hearings were held right there, in prison.
V.Ovsienko: Do you remember the date of the trial?
P.Sichko: It was June, 23 – 26, 1947. During the hearing I behaved in a way which would not allow my enemies to rejoice for having broken my spirit. It was only when the verdict was announced that I found out the death penalty had been banned. I was told I deserved the capital punishment, but got 25 years instead…I was overcome with joy, as if I had been reborn. Well, I said to myself, so far so good, I have not perished in prison yet. Before that, you know, I was getting ready to die.
Now I recollect an episode from the investigation. A student, one of my subordinates, testified that whenever I happened to be in Lviv, I would summon students to her apartment and would threaten them with a revolver I always allegedly kept at hand. When I used a typewriter, I would, supposedly, put a cloth of felt under it, to muffle the sound. This testimony was nothing for me, but what about the direct confrontation? I was called and placed at the table. She was placed on the opposite side. The first question: “You see a girl in front of you. Tell us how long you have known her?” My answer: “I see her for the first time”. Then they ask her the same question and receive the same answer. But earlier I have seen her signed testimony. They grab me by my clothes and drag me out. I heard her, screaming behind the doors – she must have been beaten severely.
After she had had a good beating, I was brought back and placed on the same seat, with her opposite me. Then the same question was put to me, i.e. whether I knew her. My answer is the same, i.e. I see her for the first time. But she, when asked the same, proceeded, weeping: “Excuse me, my friend, I cannot stand the torture – I do know you”. But, trust me, I feel no rancor towards her.
On the road to the camp
When we were already at the halting place (they had a big cell there, for 260 people; we lay down in six rows) the guard called me to the basement. I saw my girl there, who hugged me immediately. She resided in Lviv. She said:” I volunteered as a kitchen hand, to peel potatoes. I wanted to bring you something to eat and cigarettes, too.” And then she asked: “You are not mad, are you? I could not stand it”. I was not mad at all. I could see she could not take it anymore. So we talked and then she said:”I’ll ask for permission to work in the kitchen tomorrow, too. My mom brings me something every day”.
However, the next day we were to be put on a transport already. We saw the “commission” in the courtyard. You are to strip naked. In one corner there are girls, also examined. But they, at least, have some blankets or cloths to cover themselves, while we have none. So we stand there stark naked. I see my girl holding a big sack of dried biscuits, probably to give it to me. But our transport escorts would not let her approach – God forbid! Not allowed! So there are more and more of us and we are moving towards the gate. She keeps asking the guards and they keep refusing. The transport commander was standing on the porch, so I told her:”Tell the commander that your brother is being deported and you want him to have these biscuits”. She ran to him, he gave his permission and stood there observing the siblings’ farewell. She placed the sack on the ground, we hugged each other, she wept, and, you know, I started weeping, too…Meanwhile the dogs started barking at the gates. The gates opened, we heard the shouts of “Girl, step aside!”, while we were ordered to put our knapsacks on and march forward.
While we marched through Horodetska street in Lviv I could have a look at the room where I used to keep my revolver, a machine-gun, two grenades (because one could not drag them around all along). The window was broken at the time of police-up. It was sort of covered with planks from the courtyard side.
Well, I forgot another important thing. I was not supposed to surrender alive. I had a capsule with poison sewn into my tunic on the left side. The order was in case of arrest – let it never happen, with God’s help … Why was it planted there? So that, once in hand-cuffs, you could bite it and take the poison. Well, I felt very courageous, because, you know, you cannot have your revolver with you at all times while listening to the lectures at the university. I used to have it on me rather often, but sometimes I did not have it. So it was the poison. Once I went out to the field, got absolutely wet under severe rain and had to change in the dormitory. I took my tunic with poison off, and put on someone else’s tunic. Well, if I had my own tunic on me, I would certainly have… In Chernivtsy I surely would have…To take one’s own life like that… It was meant for the situation when you can take no more tortures. But, as the saying goes, with God’s help I managed. Till today I am grateful to God and I have a moral right (because I know that many people had to succumb – but God helped me) to advise others if they are in the wrong, or do not do their job properly, how to do it right.
Then the GULAG tribulations began. First we were transported to Kemerovo oblast’. I recollect this moment. In a transit prison in Abgur, Kemerovo oblast’, while we still did not know where they were taking us, the gate suddenly opened and we were taken in according to the documentation. I had a prisoner from the Eastern part of Ukraine, condemned to 25 years, in front of me. A captain started reading his name – God in Heaven! It was the captain’s own father, condemned to 25 years!”Father!” – He exclaimed. And the father responded with “My son!” Then the captain undid his holster and shot himself in the forehead. You see, he could not bear the pain of it. He fell to the ground and the gate closed. The father fainted and was taken to the medical office on a stretcher. In 15 minutes the gate opened again, with a different person registering prisoners. I don’t know what happened either to the captain, or to his father - whether they stayed alive.
Shodrovo camp. Hunger.
It was probably July of 1947. We - about three and a half thousand men from Lviv transport – were taken to Shodrovo camp. We had to cover many kilometers on foot, spending nights in stables. There was indeed a camp set in Shodrovo by that time, but it consisted of a fence only. We had to construct the barracks ourselves. I want you to understand that by the next spring only 300 people remained alive out of three and a half thousand. Hunger and privations… People were dying of common dystrophy. The rules envisaged some meager rations. We, the political prisoners, were kept together with the common criminals. For them the prison was like home. They stole sugar butter, some fat or meat from the kitchen. We were left with nothing but water and a bit of gruel. The statutory 500 g of bread could easily fit in one hand, and sometimes we did not get even that.
We were plainly on the verge of dying –, lying in our barracks, 300-400 men to each, succumbing to common dystrophy. And what about the medical unit? It was just another long barrack with plank beds and some dirty rags; no mattress, no pillow, no nothing. You are just expiring lying on your own rags. Why was mortality so high? Later a doctor explained to me what elementary dystrophy means. It has three stages. The first stage includes dramatic loss of weight, but if otherwise healthy person is supplied with food, he would live. The second stage means further loss of weight, but a person is still alive. But at the third stage barely one or two men out of a hundred will live, even if provided with the best possible care. There are no fats left in the body. And what is noteworthy, some fats still remain in the extremities, and before a person dies these fats are transmitted to the body, so that a man seems normal. How do I know that? We had a Jewish medical assistant, later hacked to death by the criminals. Then [the authorities] started looking for someone to register the patients coming to the medical unit. They remembered I used to be a student and called me. They had two physicians-prisoners there, Hungarians Peterfalvi and Yousval. Peterfalvi was the leader of the national liberation movement in Hungary and had two degrees – as a doctor and as a priest. At some point they were sent to Africa, where these two specialties were needed. This Peterfalvi was the head of the medical unit, and beside him there was Yousval and I. I liked working with Peterfalvi because he did not know Russian well enough, so we communicated in German. My German was quite fluent after the gymnasium. We had absolutely no medical drugs. Peterfalvi could only pretend he was treating his patients. He ordered me to mix some lime with the water in one jar, then he would take another jar with salty water. The third jar contained some coal to make the solution black. A patient would come and he would tell me: “Give him a spoonful of this medicine”. People were on their last legs, but only 30 persons a day were allowed a sick leaf – that was the norm – and no more, no matter what. Even if one was running high fever. At the morning roll-call three more persons could be excused from work, so sum total was 33 persons, no more. The doctor pretended to treat them: sometimes I would proffer lime water and he would shout it was the wrong medicine and I should the patient another. And the poor soul would thank us and drink the stuff without the slightest idea of what it was.
On the third day I was registering the sick, when an inmate came complaining of the stomachache. The doctor told me: “Order him to take his sweater off”. I did. He opens his sweater and we see an axe. Peterfalvi started trembling all over, because a medical assistant had been hacked before me, and the “patient” says: “Let’s step out and talk.” He presented me with an ultimatum: “Every day we will give you the list of ten persons for the sick leaf. We will not come for examination. We will switch people on the list and you will give them sick leaves. If not, your head will roll just like the other medical assistant’s did”. I answered:”You know it is not up to me to decide”. The whole medical unit was headed by a hired woman, a Russian by the name of Podperalo. Personally, though, she was nice. And there was a German, Iansen. So Peterfalvi and I told them what had happened seeking their advice. She said immediately: “Take their lists and obey, because these criminals will surely kill you”. But my heart was bursting with sorrow: lots of our honest boys were dying, and meanwhile…
What were the cold and the hunger like? First I was a member of the burial team. We had to take corpses out. Every day at least 15-20 people died, but there were some days when we had 50-60 bodies. The scariest thing was to go to bed at night. You know, during the day you are moving around, dizzy as you are – one was so weak that a wind could blow one off, just a living skeleton. It felt terrible going to bed, but nothing doing – the night would come, the signal will sound, you’ve got to go to bed. So we would help each other to the upper bunks, one by one, then they would drag us up, and finally with the prayer we fell asleep. What was so scary about it? You wake up in the morning and Mykhaylo on your right side is dead, and Ivan on your left side is dead. You call out for Stepan. Three or four boys on the left are nothing but corpses, three or four on the right side the same, but you are still alive somehow amongst these bodies. You know it is easy to relate, but in fact it was horrible.
I am at a loss for words to tell you how our boys were buried, how it was done. First I was on the team that dragged the bodies to the entry. We used some kind of barrows, like boxes. You put that body, naked as the day one was born, into the barrow and take it to the sentries. A guard comes out with a bayonet and pierces the corpse’s heart with that bayonet several times, so that a living soul would not be taken out of the zone, God forbid. And it is winter time; the body is cold as a stone. Inmates from Karaganda related they had had a different method there – the body would be struck on the head with a hammer, till the brain spills out. Then that naked body in a box was taken away. There were trenches dug outside the zone, so the bodies were piled up there over the winter, not covered with earth or anything. It was only in spring that they would be covered with earth and taiga trees would be planted over them. Even now in the course of construction some remains can be found. There is no point in trying to go through the medical reports, because the doctors were ordered to put down “heart infarction”, or lungs disease or some other sickness as the cause of death, to make this death look ‘natural’. Thousands of people died like that. That’s the terrible existence we led.
At the beginning we received no parcels, no nothing…The first parcels, to Lithuanians and Latvians mainly, started arriving in 1948. Once I received a parcel from the Western Ukraine. But all these thieves would be waiting right at the gate. You just get you parcel out and they take it away. You can only watch them feasting on it. Sometimes they would throw you a cigarette butt or a piece of fat, like to a dog. So I chose a different way to gо about it. By that time I was in the medical unit and certain Bisun from Lviv was chief accountant. There was Mykytyn, too. So together with Bisun we organized seven or eight guys. We went to the sentries’ premises to pick the parcel up. Once I was out the guys made a close circle around me. And the accountant’s office was about 7 meters from the premises. So we ran into the office, barred the doors with an iron crow-bar, sat down and ate the contents of the parcel, leaving nothing but a tiny bit of tobacco, which I managed to take to the barrack.
Watching people die was terrible. The medical unit was in a long barrack. Beds had no bedding. Peterfalvi would tell me exactly who dies when. We were passing the beds and he would point out: “This one is going to die in an hour, that one at this time, and the next one at that time”. There was a guy from Kolomya. Peterfalvi said:”Let’s get to this boy, he is going to die now”. We approached and I said: “My friend, the doctor wants to know how you are”. And he replied (I remember his embroidered shirt): “My friend, I believe I will come back to Uk…” and never finished the word “Ukraine”. He closed his eyes and died. Then Peterfalvi pointed at another man: “Go to him, he is going to die now, you will see what his death looks like”. The dying man started mumbling something in German. I asked him how he was, and he said: “Oh, doctor, I feel very well. I believe I’ll be free again to return to my wife and”… and made the sign of “hara-kiri”. Because it was his wife, who had put him behind the bars. And that is how he died, with his arm raised.
Noteworthy, some fats still remain in the extremities, and before a person dies these fats are transmitted to the body, so that a man seems normal and feels quite well in the last moments of his life. But even this person is given the best care possible, he will die anyway, because at the third stage of the elementary dystrophy the stomach cells are changed already. A person defecates with blood only, nothing but blood comes out of the body.
Why was the death so horrendous? I will be frank with you. It happened to me, too – incontinence. You are lying down on your bunk bed and you need to go to the toilet. Sometimes you make it to the door and then you feel the stream flowing out of you. And sometimes you feel it immediately upon waking up. Not a big deal, but the whole camp full of men stank terribly. The clothes saturated with urine won’t dry. Sleep was peaceful only once in ten days, when we got molasses. It is some kind of sugar production by-product. You should have devoured it at once lest it is taken away from you. Sugar has this property - if you eat it before going to bed you will not wet yourself. But then everything started anew.
The lice were eating us without mercy. The bath was extremely primitive. You had just one jug of water for all your needs. Although it was taiga, the water had to be imported in the barrels.
Besides we had to do the tree-felling, constantly hungry on the meager ration. The productive norms were undoable. I never managed to meet the norm. The outcomes depended on type of trees – more if the trees are thicker and less if they are thinner. In this latter case one is given only minimum ration, i.e. 300 g of bread in the morning and some watery broth.
Another thing comes to mind. The camps were predominantly in the woods. So we had to fell trees. First goes a special team strongly guarded. They would cut through an opening of about 5 m wide. They would install watch-towers with soldiers on them. Within three days all the grass in the clearing was eaten, leaving only dry ground. It was not just wild onions or something, we would eat plain grass. A sub-colonel, who had been a partisan in Russia, taught us to make a kind of cake. You tear off the bark, grill it a bit over the fire, cut into tiny squares and eat it. When one is hungry the stomach cannot digest that stuff, so people suffered from bloody diarrhea. Sometimes you would be returning from work and you have a diarrhea fit. The guard won’t let you go, God forbid. So we hold each other by the elbows on both sides, and then it was possible to unbutton the pants and defecate just like that.
That’s the way it was, so cruel and savage rules. Lot of people died of hunger. First there were several thousands of us, then less and less. The barracks were becoming emptier and emptier. You know how scary it is to have 40-50 corpses every day. We talked about nothing but food. I permanently imagined a good potato full of flavor. Or we would fantasize: we are taken to the foot of the hill and the hill is made of bread. And for punishment you have to eat your way through the hill to the other side. Even in the forest, chewing that bark, you would have these silly dreams: a casserole of potatoes just appears in front of you – what a joy! The brain does not let through anything not related to food – only food, from morning till night. Thus people fall asleep, then die…But the criminals had the time of their lives. They devoured all the fats and meat included in the rations. They just played cards and kept control over everything. Horrendous things would happen, even my recollections scare me.
I am sorry: I wrote a book “Stalin’s prisons, transports, camps, amnesty”. Once I was discharged, I started writing it. Some people would spend the whole ten years in the same camp – they were taken to a camp and stayed there till the day of liberation. I, on the other hand, had it even noted in my papers, have been through 150, or may be 200 camps. Sometimes they would take me to a camp and then to another, because I would not be admitted to the first one. Or they would send me forth after 3 or 4 days in one camp. It was terrible. At the beginning, you see, we were not used to these things. But by the time only about 300 of us were left out of three and a half thousand, I have developed some kind of defense. I became convinced I had to survive. I started to understand the criminal world better, and I knew I would come out of this hell. I’d like to mention here that under harsh circumstances people who used to be indigent outside the prison, i.e. peasants and workers, remained human, while those used to luxury completely lost their human traits once faced with these scary conditions. I would use the word “beasts” to describe them, because they were ready to devour you, to kill you, to do anything to survive. The word of the day was “You die today and I tomorrow”. No notion of conscience at all. Once again I want to reiterate that people acquainted with hardships of life outside the camps preserved their human dignity, but those who lived well became unbelievably vile. And bit by bit common people were learning more about the criminals and would not give up that easily.
Now I’ll tell you how they used to take us to fell the trees. A team of prisoners with the sentence of 25 years were escorted by four guards. Prisoners who had to serve 10 years were escorted by 2 guards. Two dogs accompanied men. We arrive at the work site. We hear the signal for dinner. It means we are to go to the clearing for a roll-call. Once I left my axe, which I used to cut off the branched, in a tree stump. Suddenly a man came to it and – bang! He hacked his own hand off! Then the next…Then I grabbed my axe and won’t let it go. That day about 10 people hacked their hands off. Altogether about one hundred men did it to be admitted to the medical unit. Why? Because food was better there and people were excused from work.
My friends died before my own eyes…I remember felling the trees. A man asks: “Where shall this fir tree fall?” – “This way”. Nearby two professors were doing the same. They engaged in scientific calculation as to the angles, sine and cosine. They ended up felling it in such a way that the branches completely covered and injured one of them. You need an inside feeling for that sort of things…
Now to our dinner. 500 men are brought together, checked and ordered to sit down. Out of these 500 roughly two or three persons met the norm and were issued a 1-1 or 2-2ration. What did 1-1 stand for? Additional 100 g of bread, 100 g of oatmeal; 2-2 meant 200 g of bread and 200 g of oatmeal; 3-3 - 300 g of bread and 300 g of oatmeal. Now, imagine these 500 men sitting there, while these two, three or four men are served the dinner. They sat facing us, they brought spoonfuls of porridge to their mouths and the rest 500 could feel the taste it in their mouth – this is the hunger reflex.
To stop hand-cutting authorities started putting the “cutters” to the isolation cells instead of the medical unit. As soon as the hand stump would heal they were made to carry clay in a barrow. Four one-handed men would take a barrow while the fifth was loading clay on it with the trough. One man was a tailor, so he cut his foot off, saying: “my trade is in my hands”.
You know what was the most precious item in the canteen? A heel of the loaf. I’ll tell you what it is. When the loaf is cut into portions of 200g each, the middle part is not as valuable as the hard part, because the crust takes longer to eat it. You drink rare soup in one gulp, but you take the piece of bread to your bed, you lie down and you take in the smallest bites, or, rather, pecks. You are happy indeed at that moment... These two or three bites were our happiest moments. That is what our food was like.
I recollect more stories, too. I was in Toga then. There, too, you would come hungry, are given out a bowl of that rare soup and the notorious 200 g of bread. Do not dare to stop even for a second – if you have not finished your bread and soup before reaching the exit – you are kicked in the back or boxed on the ears, and the meal is thrown away. There was a special container where you were supposed to throw the soup slops. And you are famished, dying with hunger…You would think that a hungry man would finish his bread as soon as possible. No. If you don’t have time to finish your soup you pour it right on yourself, so that later you can suck the rags, while the taste is still there. Because the guard is kicking you, you have to let go of the bowl.
It happened in Toga. The zone was divided into two parts: penal and general. I was in the general zone. We had a commanding officer there, whose name I do not remember. He was all red in the face, like an executioner. This camp was in the middle of nowhere; he would get us together, all in a line and start preaching to us: “The soviet power brought you here not to work, as we do not need your work, but to have you suffer. You’ll die here and your bones will be buried among these hills”. Under the rules he was not allowed to enter the zone with weapon, but he felt so important that he would disregard the rule and come into the zone armed. Now, an inmate, more dead than alive addresses him: Citizen commander, my food was stolen!” He turns around: “What are you talking about? By whom?” And the inmate hacks him with an axe. The officer went sliding down the stairs, trying to get hold of his gun. Then the prisoner hit him once again on his arm and tore the gun away from his hands. Several men joined him and, armed with the gun and an axe, they barred themselves in the isolation cell. High authorities had to come and negotiate the whole matter. Only then the inmates let go of their arms.
How we were taken back into the zone? You come from the forest all wet after the whole day’s rain, you cannot hide from it – and anyway you are stripped at the sentries’ post; you stay naked just as the day you were born, with your rags thrown into the mud, they frisk you, making sure that you, God forbid, would not bring a nail into the zone. And anyway, someone managed to bring the whole axe in and use it…When we were taken out of the camp in spring – these 300 survivors – we left the grave of that commander behind. It was decorated with a star and I said: “See, you promised we would be dead and buried in these hills, but horse-radish will be growing through your teeth this spring. And I am walking out on my own legs”. Everything is in God’s hands…
At the time political prisoners were kept in the camps together with civil offenders and criminals. Later, in OZERlag and in the camps of extremely severe regime, we were separated. I just mentioned our passing by the commander’s grave and what I said looking at it, considering that he was already deep under the ground.
Transits were horrible too. Everything was governed by the “suits”, like in cards. It came from the criminal world. The thieves would group according to the suits. These transit points were the scariest places of all: while you stay in a camp you adjust somehow, come to know people, while on a transport and in the transit points everyone can settle their personal accounts. God forbid, you did wrong somewhere – you will be killed, death is just lying in wait for you.
Correspondence was not allowed, so my family did not know whether I was dead or alive, or shot in the prison. In theory the letters were allowed, but they never reached the addressees.
Eight times I announced dry hunger strikes – without water, without anything. I protested against things…That’s why it makes me so upset to see my former friends-prisoners now debating in the Supreme Rada, in the strangers’ home, without any protests…
Tayshet. OZERlag. Hunger strike
After Kemerovo oblast’ in 1949 we were transported to Tayshet camps, the so-called “OZERlag”s. The name was an abbreviation for the “camps of extremely closed regime”.
V.Ovsienko: I see...And where were they?
P.Sichko: At Tayshet road. First I was taken to the “Km105” camp. Only political prisoners were kept there. I would like to tell about one of the eight hunger strikes I have been through in the “Km106” camp. From there I was taken to “Km109” camp. So, back to the hunger strike. That is what happened. Once taken to the camp I was asked at the entrance” What are you, where do you belong – a thief, a banderovets [Bandera’s supporter –Rus.], an informer?”
V.Ovsienko: Meaning your “suit”?
P.Sichko: Right, the “suit”. I’ve chosen “banderovets”. Then I was immediately sent to a certain Kochergin’s team. He was finishing his 15 years’ term. That Kochergin came to me and said: “Sonny, you are in my team, will you go out to work tomorrow?” And I told him: “No, I do not go to work, because this is the camp of extremely closed regime. And I was sentenced to the imprisonment in the regular correctional camp. Here I am isolated, deprived of correspondence, it is killing me morally, I am not going to work”. And he goes:” I’ve dragged other “dukhariks” out to work, so I’ll cope with you as well’.
V.Ovsienko: Аnd what does "dukharik" stand for?
P.Sichko: Well, sort of “high-spirited’, from “dukh” [spirit –Rus.] Meanwhile the boys shared that three guys from Ternopyl had been killed in the isolation cell of this camp. They told me:”God forbid, you announce a hunger strike, and that will be the end of you, they will kill you”. Nevertheless I went on hunger strike. I ate my breakfast and that was my last meal. The guards came running; they twisted my arms, put the handcuffs on me and took me to the sentries’ premises. There the commanding officer banged his gun on the table: “We’ll kill you like a dog. We killed guys tougher than you. The taiga law rules here”. And he opens the door and kicks me out. Outside the guards are reciting a ”prayer ": “Attention, inmates! One step to the left, one step to the right is considered an escape. The guards shoot without warning”. The prisoners call back:”Clear!” Then a guard comes to me and orders me to take a barrow. No. Then the head of the convoy came running and wanted to strike me on the face. I caught his arm in the air, twisted it and brought him close to me. The soldiers started shooting their machine-guns, tumult broke up, the garrison commander arrived and, after some whispering between them, ordered: “Now, march!” But the boys lacked solidarity here: they had to take me inside, but I ended up in the last “threesome”. We had to march four kilometers to the field. I kept waiting for the sounds of shots sent after me. But somehow they did not shoot. We arrived at the work site. A guard called me allegedly to help him start a fire. But I understood he wanted me to step outside the site boundaries so that he could shoot me. So I said:” I am not coming”. Then he gave his machine-gun to another guard, jumped into the site and started dragging me out. Then I told him: “Look, you don’t even know who I am”. For killing a prisoner they were granted 2-3 weeks’ vacation, for good service of whatever. So I proceeded: “OK, you will get that 2-3 weeks’ vacation, but you will be eaten up by your conscience. You don’t even know me”. He said: “All right, I won’t shoot. But you get to work”. And other inmates are afraid of carrying barrows with me, because they are aware that I can be shot any moment. Such things happened before. There was the teacher Zinchenko, from the Western Ukraine. He was arrested in Yugoslavia. He said: “Petro Vasylyovych, I will carry it with you”. We worked till evening, and then I had my supper. But after that I announced a silent hunger strike till death, leaving a written message. One message was brought to the camp commander, the other – to the “operative’s” office, the third – to the medical unit head, and the fourth remained with me.
It was morning again. I lay down naked. Roll-call. No one came to fetch me. After the roll-call, morning check-up. Everyone was checked and about 12 men led by the camp commander arrived. It was the first day of winter in Siberia. They asked why I would not go to work. But I was on silent hunger strike, so I said nothing, just kept showing them my paper and pointing at the commander and at the head of the medical unit, to let them know that they had their own copies of the same statement. “Get ready". I got dressed and these 12 men escorted me to the isolation cell. It was halfway under the ground. And it was snowing hard, and there was a blizzard. They threw me into a cell one meter per a meter and a half. They opened the door and threw me on the concrete floor stark naked. And they put a slice of bread and a bowl of soup in front of me. I was hopping on that concrete, and then I just crushed in a corner and felt I was freezing to death. It lasted for the whole day.
At five I still felt alive, but I wondered whether I could use my leg or arm. I was like numb all over. After five an officer came accompanied by other commanders, they opened the door and shouted: “Get out!”But I could not move. Then the guards came and carried me to another cell, where a stove was burning. The doctor, who was there, started massaging me and stretching my legs and arms that had gone numb.
After the stretching they threw me into the cell with the burning stove in it. What did the cell look like? It had a bed attached to the wall and unfastened at 10.00 pm. At 6.00 am you had to get up and the bed would be chained to the wall again, and you will be pacing that concrete floor for the whole day. As I announced silent hunger strike they started sending my friends to persuade me to stop it. They would bring a handful of sugar – “Take it or you will collapse”. But I kept silent and would not say a work either to them or to the guards. On the fourth day the operative officer called me to his office. When they are asking questions and you keep silent, they get terribly mad. He told me: “Praise God no war starts. We brought you all here to OZERlag, to the closed camps to make your killing easier in the event of war”. That is, not to look for us in several camps. On the eighth day of my hunger strike I felt my belly stuck to my back, because it was a dry strike, I did not even drink water. My mouth was burnt and my lips split, and I started seeing sparkles and stars before my eyes. So what did they do after seven days? They put me on a stretcher and brought me to the barrack, right to my own bed. And they left me there. Just fancy: a bunch of friends who start calling me: “Petro, quit, for God’s sake. Have some sugar.” I would not respond.
So on the ninth day they put me on a stretcher once again and took me to the bath-house. There I vomited several times, while they were washing me, so weak I was. Then they took me to the medical unit. They let everyone else go to get rid of the witnesses. And they tried to force-feed me. I was still struggling and wriggling. They have a special kind of fork they put into your mouth. Because if a person is determined to die you cannot put this tube into his mouth – he will just bite it off and suffocate. So I kept struggling not to let them put that fork into my mouth. I was bleeding from my nose and from my mouth. Twice they had to change my bedding. But then they tied my legs to the bed, like that, and twisted my arms behind. Once I was tied it was pretty easy to put the fork into my mouth and then introduce the tube. It hurts a lot, feels like you are collapsing and suffocating. They poured about a liter and a half of liquid into me and brought me back to bed.
Then the head of the medical unit arrived. She was the commander’s wife and had the rank of a captain. She asked the doctor: “So, had the boy been fed?” – “Yes, he had”. And I am there all drowned in sweat, with my eyes closed. She approached my bed, assuming I was asleep. Set on my bed, took out a cloth and started drying the sweat off my face, saying: “Poor boy, poor boy”. It was such a blissful feeling, having a woman mop my forehead and feeling she was sorry for me. No one was sorry for anyone there. Thus it went on for two weeks. After the first force-feeding I started eating. Two weeks passed and I was sent back to camp, but I was not allowed to go to the morning roll-call or anywhere else. I had to stay in the room where they dried the felt boots. It was divided into two spaces. I stayed in one and the guards brought my food there. I was not allowed any visitors either to avoid any contacts. Altogether I have had eight such strikes and protests. That is why it hurts a lot to see my former colleagues sitting in the Supreme Rada, in the strangers’ government, with hammer and sickle over them. Hey, could not they announce some protest? Had I been there I would have gone on silent strike immediately, till the hammer and sickle come down.
In OZERlag I was also switched from one camp to another, I’ve been through a lot of them. I had no correspondence with home. Now I want to share another story.
I ended up in a camp where supposedly a criminal boss held all the power and authority. Well, there is a camp commander, but he is the real boss…And I was given his name, Ivan Pavlyuk, allegedly from Odessa. Well, in fact he was not from Odessa, but from Zhabye, the Hutzuls’ region. I wanted to meet that Ivan, but the opportunity did not present itself. I was let out of the zone by then, but I did not go out to cut the trees. For several days I stayed in an isolation cell, off work. Suddenly the door opens, a thief in a Boston suit and shirt over his pants, holding freshly ironed bedding, comes in. He was taking the bedding to his cell, but was caught on his way and put into isolation cell. And he goes in his jail-talk: “Sons of bitches, you, so-and-so, I would devour you bastards alive”. Then he started knocking on the wall to find out who the neighbors were. In the next cell a certain Ivan Pakhar was held. “Oh, - said Pakhar – and who is there with you, Vanya?” I understood it was the thief in charge of the whole camp. – “Oh, just some horned devil”. The criminals called everyone outside their circle “horned devils” or “little devils”. It was supposed to be degrading. He turned to me: “Where you from?” I retorted:”Ivan, aren’t you ashamed to call your own brother-Hutzul dirty names?’ (I pretended I was from his village). At that moment the doors opened and I was taken for the transport, leaving him behind, while he kept asking “What?...How?...
I was transferred to the “Km120” camp, to “BUR” – abbreviation for extremely severe regime barrack. I was all alone in it. Very unpleasant. At night they switch off the light and come in with their flash-lights. They could easily strangle me, I’ve heard of such occurrences. And you never know whether they are after your hide or what. A week later that thief Ivan joined me. He was not only an honored thief of the camp, but also controlled the Tayshet road. Meanwhile the guys received a parcel. They sat down to eat it, distributed the fat, and offered him a piece. It was a huge offense for him – as a boss he was entitled to the whole parcel, so that he could say what goes to whom. But by that time he was aware of the fact that our guys used to stick together and counteract the criminal world. He heard them saying “And this slice goes to Petro in solitary confinement”. So when I was let out for the exercise next day he approached me greeting me nicely and apologizing.
The authorities told me they did not need my work, but did not want everyone to point at me as the only inmate who shirks his duty. “You will have your grub guaranteed, but just go outside with everyone else”. I consulted with the guys and they agreed: “Come out with us. Much better than suffering in the cell alone”. They made a cot of sorts, where I could sleep.
In the meantime Ivan understood that in “Km120” camp men from Halychchyna had some authority; they stuck together, lived in a neighborly fashion, sang songs. He got envious, although he was living in a cabin with six men serving him, cleaning his boots, bringing him food etc. – and started persuading me to come and join him in the cabin. I sought advice from my boys: “I have to learn their language and ways of the criminal world. I shall go”. But we made a contract with him.” Look, Ivan, while I am staying here with you there should not be a single killing or theft in the camp”. And he gave me his word of honor.
For the whole nights on end he would be telling me how he, a Hutzul, came to Odessa, how he became a thief, infiltrated the criminal world and gained authority. It was his confession, of sorts. Once I remember a thief came running: “Uncle Vanya, do we have your permission to cut a banderovets down?” – for having hit someone while felling trees. Had he ordered:”Go ahead”, the other one would have to obey. But he said: “Go back, I’ll be there in a minute to sort things out”. Before he left I pleaded with him:”Ivan, God forbid it comes to killing, order must prevail”. And he said:”Everything will be all right”.
I remember another occurrence. As it was St.Peter’s day, the boys procured me a sick leave from the hospital. I stayed in the cabin and did not report to work. On his return Ivan asked me: “Why did not you tell me it’s your saint’s day today? I would not have reported to work either. I heard it from the others, so I came back”. While we were talking, the door opened and an inmate in charge of washing the floors reported:”Uncle Vanya! Someone stole a down blanket from a Latvian”. This blanket arrived in a parcel, just the previous day. And uncle Vanya goes in that talk of his “The sons of bitches, I’ll have them eaten alive”. Well, I don’t know how they managed it, in our section of the zone, too. But I had some premonition, looked under his mattress – and the blanket was right there. I gave him a meaningful look and left the cabin. He promised me there would be no theft in the zone! I did not know who the perpetrator had been, but the blanket was right there, under his mattress!
After the meal I came back. Ivan was lying on his bed. I lay down also. Then the guy who is on duty opened the door once more and reported: “Uncle Vanya, the down blanket was found; someone put in into the dryer on the stove”. And he goes: “That is good. Otherwise I would have killed them and eaten them”, or something to that effect. When the man left, he told me: “Look, Petro, I did not have to do anything myself, because I am their boss. All I had to do was to order them – and the blanket was delivered. But I could not help it. Just fancy some Latvian covering himself with the eiderdown blanket! But when you slammed the door, I made my way out through the window, not to be seen by anyone, and put that blanket into a stove. I knew that the guy on duty would find it, before starting the fire.
We stayed there two weeks only before the next transport. There was a rumor that we were taken to a transit location, from which we would be sent to Kolyma. Then Ivan said: “Shall I travel on with our guys?” And I told him: “The whole area knows you. You are the honored thief of the Tayshet road. You proceed with your own, but we’ll keep in touch. You will let me know if anyone is to be killed or robbed. We will go out to use the latrine at the same time, and exchange information there”.
We came to the transit point of Tayshet road. He was greeted by the whole criminal world led by Batul – the honored thief of the whole Soviet Union. Uncle Vanya was saluted like a minister. His servants carried six or seven bags – he used to have six or seven Boston suits. They immediately started their council or “convention”. The transit point was overcrowded, and we already fell asleep in the barrack. Ivan stepped out as if to go to the toilet and I followed him. He reported:” Too bad, Petro. The convention decided to rob you and to kill Kostenyak”. We were a company of six friends then, with Slavko Kostenyak from Ternopyl being one of us.
You see, what is to happen can’t be avoided. Slavko Kostenyak was arrested as far back as 1942. When he was in a transit camp in Altay a Jewish thief Korzubiy tore his shirt apart and robbed him of his suit. Slavko then promised him:” We’ll meet again. You will pay for it”. In 1943 he escaped from the camp, returned to Halychchyna, and then to Yugoslavia and England. He had been in many foreign countries. Upon his return in 1945 he joined the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and was arrested. He got 25, 5 and 5. He was brought with a transport to one of the camps. On opening the door he saw the thieves, playing cards, Korzubiy, who had taken his clothes in 1942, among them. He did not say a word to other inmates, went to the kitchen where the fire wood was chopped, took an axe, entered the barrack and announced the death verdict. They had one hundred opportunities to jump at him, the whole gang of them, but they were caught unawares. He reminded the culprit of 1942: “That’s it. High time for retribution". And in one stroke he hacked his head off, like a head of a cabbage. Then he went and reported on himself saying: “I hacked a man to death”. The capital punishment was abolished then, so they just added some more years to his 25.
So this Slavko Kostenyak is here with us in a transit camp, and the criminal “convention” comes up with the decision to rob us of our clothes and to kill Kostenyak. But he is one of us and we have to defend him. So I went through all the barracks seeking help. Despite the fact there were many compatriots there, not many would stand up to battle. We were just six of us ready to fight. Our arms consisted of two razors and one dagger – despite all the frisks we managed to bring them inside by ruse.
So I went. There were prisoners sentenced to penal colonies. They were let out of the barracks only at 4.00. I first assumed they were criminals, because of their tattoos. One had it in the form of an angel holding a baby. I talked to the man and he answered in Ukrainian: “I am in charge of the transit zone”. He was Slavko Dovbush. I explained that one of ours was to be killed and the rest – robbed. He said: “I come out at four o’clock; I’ll go to the convention and give the respective orders”. At four o’clock they step out, and I cannot recognize him. Inside he was sitting undressed, while now he is wearing “moskvitchka”. He was of low stature, smaller than me, and he beckoned me with his finger: “Hey, boy, why are you not coming to me?” He was accompanied by 20 other guys. He was convicted of seven murders in the camp; Babiy from Ternopyl – of four, Tsymblyuk from Nadvirna – of three. They also had a doctor, by name of Mykola Ukrainets, among them. That one had not killed anybody, but was considered “hot- tempered”, so to speak.
So we came to the section. Everyone started talking to him: “Slava, Slava, Slava…” He inquired how things were, and they told him that the convention had decided to do Kostenyak in for killing Korzubiy, and to rob some guys, too. Then he pointed at me and said: “Here, these guys are in the barrack number seven. I forbid you to rob them or to kill Kostenyak. As to the rest of the zone inmates - do as you please”. Anyway we stayed awake for the whole night and put out the sentries to keep watch. No one ever bothered us, however.
The next day we were due for the transport. Each train coach had 80 people, and as the fate would have it, I, the only one of our company, ended up in a coach with the criminals, specifically, with Batul – the honored thief of the Soviet Union, and Ivan – the honored thief of the Tayshet road. I started praying in my soul, but I cannot refuse as I’ll be shot on site. The orchestra is playing; we are loaded into the coaches. I curled in a corner with my backpack, expecting to be strangled or killed any moment. What can I do on my own against the whole criminal world? But Batul stood up and addressed me: “Petro, choose a seat to your liking”. I thought he was baiting me and responded: “No, I am OK where I am, does not matter to me”. He looked around and ordered one of the thieves: “Now, “weg” from the seat". The man jumped off and said: “Lie down here, Petro”. And then I witnessed their “session” or “convention” for the first time. I was the only banderovets present. They were discussing their strategies with respect to our destination. I told them point blank: “We are taken to Vanyno bay”. And there are about 24 camps in the area. We were to be taken to Kolyma. And that is what happened.
It was a pandemonium broke loose. At nights the zone would be attacked because they had a lot of stool-pigeons, i.e. the thieves turned informers …Slavko and I lived in the one part of the barrack, while Batul and Ivan stayed on the other side of it.
“Feliks” boat took us to Kolyma. It was the year 1949, prior to 1950, as I stayed at Tayshet very shortly. In three weeks it took us to reach Magadan 320 people were killed, so it was Sodom and Gomorrah in its own right. The trials kept going on: a man could prove himself a hero in a camp, but here the criminal “convention” would decide his fate.
V.Ovsienko: From what you are saying it seems like there was no one but thieves on the boat. What about the guards?
P.Sichko: You see, the guards had no access to where we travelled –down in the hold, stowed there. The guards are up, it is totally a different world. Their only care is that no one jumps overboard into the sea. But in a prison the prisoners take control.
Upon arrival we started dragging the corpses out. We were sent to the transit camps. That was the gateway to Kolyma, its camps and our life there. Tough stuff. It would be a long story to relate all that. Let’s take, for example, Arkagala or Bytygichag – the so-called Death Valley with its castrite- uranium mines. That’s where uranium and castrite were explored. The first prisoners sent there in three months developed the silicosis of lungs.They were taken to a hospital for a short time and then they died. And do you know how they were buried? There was a crater 300 m deep. A dead prisoner was brought there and thrown into the crater. No grave, nothing to look at.
There the so-called “mastyrka” was my only salvation. It would take long time to explain, how I applied different types of “mastyrka” so I’ll just share one episode. I had first category, which meant that I would be sent to the castrite-uranium mine. I applied the stuff to my leg and ended up in the central hospital. Later the hospital director Sofia Korotkova visited the hospital. She was about 38 at the time. First I did not spill the beans about the true nature of my injury, but eventually…She used to pray fervently, she was very pious. She bought food for the seriously sick with her own money. When we started trusting each other I did not need that simulation, which was detrimental to my health, any longer. She came to love me as her own son and used to start her daily hospital rounds with my ward. She would come inside, sit on my bed, tell me what she had seen in her dream and I would explain the meaning of it. Then she would put on her white coat and start the round. I got used to seeing her first thing in the morning. But one morning I waited for her in vain – Sofia Pavlivna never arrived. She came later, in her white coat and in tears. She told me:”Sonny, you are sent with the transport. There is nothing I can do.” She also told me I was being sent to “Elgenugol’”, some 500 km into the Kolyma territory.
The orderly went to look for my clothes. The guard was hurrying me up:”Quicker, quicker!” The guards wanted to take me away, but Sofia Pavlivna, being the director, ordered me to come into her office. Once there she started reciting the prayers “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” and “Hail Mary” in Russian and I repeated after her in Ukrainian. When we were done she approached, blessed me with the sign of cross and kissed me as mother would kiss a son. (I was 24 at the time, and she – about 35-38). “God be with you” were her parting words. The guard intended to take me away, but suddenly I remembered my dream and I told her: “Sofia Pavlivna, I have not related my last night’s dream to you”.
But first I will tell you how she ended up in Kolyma. Her husband was also a doctor, at major’s rank, while she had the rank of captain. Her sister also studied in the medical institute and every year came to visit her during the summer break. And she got involved with her husband. Once, after the sister had graduated from the institute, Sofia Pavlivna found a note on her working desk: “Farewell, we love each other”. By that time she had had two kids already. One boy was hit by the car and died, so only one remained. She left her son with her mother and went to Kolyma. There she became the head physician so that she could help everyone.
Despite the guards’ curses we went back to my ward and I showed her the written account of my dream. Just before dawn I dreamt that Sofia Pavlivna was sitting in an armchair and a small boy is undoing her braid (she wore long braids). And the boy said: “I know your name is Sofia which in Greek means “wisdom”. You are wise but God gave you another name – Maria, because you are good to the sick. And your last name will be changed from Korotkova to Nazarova”. I had that name “Nazarova” in writing. So I related my dream and explain it to her: “Soon you will marry a man by the name of Nazarov”.
I left and spent two next years in Arkagala, which was a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah all in one. From there I was transported back to Magadan to find my Sofia bearing the name of “Nazarova”. She had had a son whom she called Petro after me. I never saw Nazarov himself. He also had served a 10 years’ term, used to be an ambassador in China, and, after discharge became the director of the tannery. Just fancy, dreaming the man’s name!
I had a lot of such dreams. For example, in Kolyma, I knew exactly when my father died. Let me recollect another episode. I kept applying that “mastyrka” to avoid being sent to the mines. It was before I met Sofia Pavlivna. And I dream that I am coming home, crossing the dam, and I notice that the fence surrounding my house is falling down. Then I see candles burning and I hear the funeral incantation. My father came out in the white linen garment, with grey beard. We lay down at the eastern side, and my father was retelling something. I did not remember the words, but I remembered my father blessing me with three signs of cross and kissing me on the forehead. I woke up all soaked in sweat, and my first thought was “My father died”. I received no letters from home, but I had a feeling I had attended his funeral. For two days and nights I kept praying and saying my farewells. I imagined my father lying there or being taken to the cemetery.
In December I was sent from Magadan to Arkagala and on my way had to stay in a transit barrack. We used to sleep on the floor, because the barrack was big enough to accommodate a lot of prisoners. Those who went out for the supper, returned and said: ”Look, the letters have arrived and the commander in charge of cultural/educational work seemingly read your name”. I grabbed my overcoat and ran to the canteen, where he was already putting aside a stack of letters. I gave him my name and told him that the boys have mentioned something about a letter addressed to me. He was a humane person, undid the stack, ran through it and found my letter. I returned to the barrack, took my overcoat off, the guys surrounded me – why, I have got a letter from Ukraine! And I started reading. On the first page my sister was writing as follows: “Dear little brother! Just fancy how happy we were to receive a letter from you [and learn] that you were alive!”
So when did it happen? When they took us via Vanyno bay, from where we had to be taken to Kolyma…And it was not the way it is now, when a prisoner is allowed a book, some paper and a pencil to write. At the time we were forbidden to have anything at all. But still people managed to hide a pencil stump between the seams of the clothing, and some cement paper too. So I used that cement paper to write down that I was alive and kicking, that probably we were taken to Kolyma, so that they should write directly to Kolyma – just my name and the name of the city – Magadan. I made a small triangle of that paper and threw it through the bars. Outside civilians used to work and some kindly soul picked up me letter, put a stamp on it and sent it. Can you imagine what a great joy it had brought them?! Because they still did not know whether I had been killed or shot in Lviv prison.
V.Ovsienko: What year was it?
P. Sichko: It was 1950, and I have been serving my term since 1947, so for three years they had no news about me at all.
V.Ovsienko: Аnd what is “cement paper”?
P. Sichko: A sack where cement was held. I had just a small slip of that paper. With a pencil stump I wrote [a letter], made it into a triangle – and off it went through the bars. So that is what my sister wrote in the first page. I moved to the second page and the very first sentence caught my attention: “I inform you, my dear brother, that our dearest person, our own dad is no longer among us.” Tears started pouring from my eyes unbidden. All my friends wept too. I was getting to the end of the letter where she described the funeral, how father had said his farewell to me, left me with his blessing and passed away. She quoted the date of his death. And then suddenly I recollected the dream I had had in the hospital, about my father dying. I had put down the date of the dream and hidden it inside my boot. A year or a year and a half passed since that date. I took the slip of paper out of my boot and checked the date. It was the very day of his death! I do not remember that date now. But can you imagine the distance between Kolyma and Dolyna rayon – and the dream so vivid, so specific! When I suffered a lot my intuition was very sharp, now it has become somewhat duller. After all, my life is different now.
Now let me tell you a story from the times of Helsinki Group operation, for which I was convicted. Certain Ivanov was preparing my case in Lviv. I asked that Ivanov: “For how long have you worked as investigator?” He answered; “For thirty years”. And I told him: “You know what? I know exactly what you are going to ask, even before you open your mouth”. He said:”But it is not possible!” Then I said: “To convince you I will tell you not only the date, but also the exact hour at which my son Vasyl’ was taken to the Lonsky jail”. He repeated: “”But it is not possible!” So I gave him the day and the hour. Then he countered: “The officer on duty told you that”. He was immensely impressed. I went on: “You know perfectly well that KGB always provides two guards and they are switched so that the same men, God forbid, would not meet in one shift. And one cannot even open the peep-hole without the other present”. Then he said: “Must have been a woman who distributes meals that told you”. Because there was such a woman. I said: “You know perfectly well that two guards stand on her both sides. I only wanted to show you that I am clairvoyant”. During the investigation I did not sign a single document; I did not care a damn. They were like criminals to me. Did not sign a single paper, so that if they wanted to frame me or accuse me of something they would not have my corroboration. And there is another story related to the same investigation. About four men came into the office to discuss my situation and then they sent for me. Had it happened later they might have assumed that one of them had spilt the beans. Because I told them what they had just been talking about. You see? Now I still have that gift, I can see through a person, but it is not as strong as it used to be at times of suffering and tortures.
V.Ovsienko: I can relate to that myself. While in a Mordovian camp, I witnessed my father’s demise. In my dream, I mean. I won’t go into the details but that gift of “seeing” really develops under certain conditions. With lack of any other communication the spiritual connection strengthens. But let us get back to Kolyma.
P. Sichko: In Kolyma I was sent to the so-called “settlement” in 1956. They also referred to it as “colony”. At that time they passed a decree, that if a spouse comes to a prisoner, be it imprisoned man or woman, both spouses sign a paper and are allowed to live in a settlement in Kolyma, under the condition that they would report to the authorities two, three or four times a month.
V.Ovsienko: Was the work compulsory there? Could they leave or could they not?
P. Sichko: Yes, the work was compulsory. They would be assigned to a certain place and could not leave, or even move to another place in Kolyma. For the violation one was locked up again. And I’ve had enough of it…Well, it is another long story. I met a girl from Halychchyna, by name of Stefania Petrash. She eventually became my wife. She was a political prisoner too, but discharged before me, as she was sentenced to 10 years, and I – to 25. So she was free already.
In Magadan I was moved from one camp to another one, which lay in a valley. I looked down into the valley and saw my girl going somewhere, accompanied by a guy, tall and handsome as he was. So they were walking through the camp. And I was just let loose, so I walked around unshaven. God forbid anyone approaches – the sentries from the towers start yelling that they would shoot. There was a garage, however, so they placed themselves between the cars, so that the sentries would not see them. My girl just stood there, and the guy addressed me: “My friend, do you know why I am here? I used to know Steftsya at the time of our underground operation. I am free now, so is she, I want to marry her, considering that you will never be set free anyway!” That is what he said to me…And although I was indeed sentenced to 25 years, my heart ached terribly. I answered: “You know what, my friend? As long as I have a living cell in my body, you will not take her for a wife. Only over my dead body you will get her”. And then she genuflected…Yes, my wife-to-be fell on her knees, her arms put together like in a prayer, and she says: “Petrus’, I brought him here so that he would hear it himself, because he does not believe me. Yesterday he came to see me…If I had to wait for you for the rest of my life, I would not marry anyone else!” Then he turned and went away quickly. And, you know, we were separated by the barbed wire fence, by the stretch of land between us…So we just stood there and that was all.
Nevertheless, as the fate would want it, she became my wife. She was free already. But I did not confide even in my friends. I told them that we had been married before the imprisonment, but actually she was my girlfriend. She went to the main office; then I was summoned there and told them that she was my wife, that it was a clandestine marriage and that explained the absence of papers. Because she was an unmarried maiden according to her papers, and a maiden she actually was. Then we were allowed to settle at “Km72” post. She vouchsafed for me as a free person and I was set free. Mind you, I was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment, 5 years in exile, and 5 more of disfranchisement. But meanwhile we live at Km72 settlement.
V.Ovsienko: So, it was 1956, wasn’t it?
P. Sichko: Yes. You know what kind of wedding we had? We had no priest, no celebration. We took the pinkies of our left hands, drew some blood and swore in blood to be true to each other. And we were absolutely convinced that we would have a son. Both her father and my father bore the name of Vasyl’, so we would name our son Vasyl’. Eventually my wife got pregnant. We believed she still had two weeks before birth (And we were absolutely positive it is a son). On Sunday, at dawn, I wanted to go to Magadan to visit my wife in the hospital. But before that I had a dream. I saw myself in my own home, with my wife sitting on the stove-bench and handing me a tiny baby, all clothed in black…The thing is, while still a young girl, my wife embroidered a beautiful shirt with bright colored threads on black background. The girls did not have proper threads or yarn there, so they pulled the threads from cloths, wherever they could. It was very hard job, but she managed to collect so many threads that they sufficed to make such a wonderful shirt for me. I admired it a lot.
So, what I saw in my dream was a small boy in my shirt handed to me by her, with the words: “Here is our son Vasyl”. I take him and I boast to my mom: “Look, mother, what a son we’ve got!” At that I woke up and went to Magadan, although it was two weeks too early for delivery. On my way I dropped by some friends and we came to the hospital together. They were already congratulating me on the birth of my son Vasyl’. You see? We dreamed about him, we saw him a fighter. When we bathed him for the first time, a volume of “Kobzar” was lying nearby; we lit a candle and said the right prayer. We blessed him to continue our unfinished struggle. And indeed he grew up just as we wanted him to be.
It was already the beginning of Khrushchev’s “thaw”. At the beginning my term was reduced by 10 years and then I was summoned to the court and discharged, but forbidden to settle in the Western part of Ukraine. It used to be like that. When I was summoned for the review for the first time, one of the board members was Jewish. At the time dozens of thousands people were liberated in Magadan and Kolyma. So he read my verdict which said that I had been fighting against the soviet power and he announced that my term was reduced to 15 years, so I still had 5 more years to serve…When I heard that verdict and became aware that I was still in custody, I’ve torn my shirt on my chest, threw it at the judges and shouted: “That is how you tore my young life apart, you scoundrels!”
Soon after Vasyl’ was born I was summoned to another court in Magadan. The man who read my verdict this time sounded friendly, like “this youth dedicated his life…” So I was set free, but not allowed to come back to the Western Ukraine.
V.Ovsienko: When did this second hearing happen?
P. Sichko: Around February of 1957. It was held in Kolyma, in Magadan. I lived at Km72 post, in a settlement called Stekol’ny.
In the native land
I did not get the so-called “wolf ticket”. But a friend of ours, a guy from Volyn’, once released, went to Zaporizhzhya. He married a girl from Eastern Ukraine, who worked as a supervisor in a plant. He wrote to me: “Petro, you shouldn’t suffer there – come and join us; you will find a job in the plant, where my wife is a supervisor”. So I asked to be sent to Zaporizhzhya oblast’, the town of Tokmak. Meanwhile Easter was approaching. I told them at the hearing that I would go to Ukraine anyway. And it was the time of the Hungarian riots, so they said: “If you do it you are sure to get five more years”. Well, I used the paper they gave me only in the last moment – when I went to get my tickets. You enter the office where you get the ticket and certain amount of money for the journey. I told them: “Look, I was supposed to go to Zaporizhzhya oblast’, because my brother is there. But yesterday I received a letter advising me that my brother had moved to Dolyna, Stanyslaviv oblast’” So without much ado the man just crossed out what was written there and wrote over it “Correction valid” and “Dolyna, Stanyslaviv oblast”. He issued me the papers and I ended up not in Zaporizhzhya, but in my native land…
Can you imagine for how many years I have not seen my mother! My two brothers lived in Dolyna. When we arrived they came to the station to meet us there. I recognized one of them, Yosyp, born in 1924. He took our three-month ‘old son from my wife, while another man grabbed my valise. We entered the station building and I asked Yosyp: “How come our brother Ivan did not come to greet me?” And Ivan turned out to be the very man that took my bag. He was born in 1919, and we have not seen each since 1941, when he was recruited to the soviet army. He started crying: “Petro, but it’s me, Ivan! Don’t you recognize me?” So we hugged each other and even passers-by would shed a tear, because everyone knew where we were coming from.
And the meeting with my mother was like this. God Almighty, just fancy me going along my native Vytyvytsya, approaching our home and my mom coming out…Oh God, mom looked so small, stooped and elderly…She ran forward, weeping, to take me into her arms…
Everyone was ready for our homecoming. We arrived just in time for the Holy Week and brought a young child with us. My father was dead by that time, so we cleaned up all the graves and by Easter I celebrated four holidays. The first one was my return to Ukraine, the second – joining my family, the third – Vasyl’s baptism and the fourth – the Easter itself. You know, such tremendous joy, we sang, we opened all the windows. On the second day of Easter we went to visit my wife’s family. She was from Halychchyna rayon, village of Zalukva.
Upon our return, God help me, my mother met us with tears in her eyes and related that militiamen had visited her in the meantime, inquiring why I had not reported to them immediately. They told her we were to get out of the village right away.
The head of the village council, a lady, accompanied me to Bolekhiv. Just to remind you, the Hungarian events were unfolding at the time. A man was chased out of Podberezhzhya, ordered to leave. The militia chief compiled a protocol and wanted me to sign it as a witness. I just waved him aside: “Why, are you nuts? I have been through slams and tortures, and never signed anything. And now you want me to sign this? God forbid!” He got real mad, so I thought he would never register me. But somehow he did, so I was sort of restored in my civil rights. Our son Vasyl’ (who is not alive any longer) was growing up. He was really the son we wanted to have – a politician, a fighter.
I managed to find a job as a dispatcher and continued with my studies. First I planned to return to the philology department, but they would not take me back. So I passed the entrance exams to Lviv Polytechnic Institute, correspondence department “Economic management of machine-building and light industry”. Oddly enough, they let me study till the last year when the diplomas were issued. Then they told me: “You have a choice – either you get the diploma and collaborate, or you stay without diploma and, respectively, with no higher education”. Then I rejected the diploma, telling them: “No way. I am still the man I used to be. If you have charges against me, go ahead and sanction my new arrest. But you will never see me consenting to collaborate”. So they did not let me defend my diploma, disqualified all the exams I had passed, and then for “poor academic performance” had me expelled.
Later the same scenario was applied with regards to my children – neither Vasyl’ nor Volodya were allowed to study. As Jawaharlal Neru used to say, intelligentsia brought up by the occupants is the first enemy of its own people. Almost everyone graduating from the high school had to sign their plea of allegiance. Another thing is that probably not everyone actively collaborated with them
So, Vasyl’ was coming of age, and from the very beginning he was a very smart boy. Since the first and to the last grade he used to have only excellent marks.
V.Ovsienko: Аnd what about Volodymyr?
P.Sichko: Our second son was born later, when we were in Ukraine already, on July 26, 1960. Our daughter Oksana was born on April 10, 1963. So we had three kids already. And that is how my life turned out. I was not allowed to obtain higher education, but I held the office for which I was frequently reprimanded: “How come you work as the head of the planning and manufacturing department?” And I worked there only due to my own brains.
Let me share an episode with you. I worked at the time as the senior economist of the planning and manufacturing department. And the planning and manufacturing department was headed by the woman who was the secretary of the party organization. Despite her higher education, she was an illiterate person. In fact, I was the one who did the entire job in the department. When I returned from my studies in the institute, I was responsible for all the accounting. So my sense of honor rebelled. How was it possible? I found the relevant instructions and showed them to her: look, what the senior engineer’s job description includes. A senior engineer had a salary of 130 roubles, while the head of the planning and manufacturing department had 170 roubles, i.e. 40 roubles difference. So the tumult started and the head of the planning and manufacturing department of the whole company Westfit came to resolve the issue. He started persuading me to continue with the book-keeping, because otherwise the work won’t be done, and he said:”Petro Vasylyovych, she will be reimbursing you. You will sign the pay roll as usually, but she will take your salary, and you – hers.”And she is also pleading with me…And I go like this: “You know what? You recognize my contribution only when the time for quarterly financial reports come. But you, as the head, are entitled to sign the paperwork, not I. It will be a violation of the Labour Code and I am not going to commit that violation”. Then the trust head Trygubenko had to go to the oblast’ party committee secretary and plead with him. This latter gave his order to the rayon party committee, and that is how I became the head of the planning and manufacturing department .
But I want you to have a better idea of how I felt at the time. For example, I used to walk to my work, as there was not public transportation yet. On my way I used to pass a hospital. Within about 50 m there was no one around. And the chief of the KGB was going in the opposite direction, to his work. He passed me, and then suddenly stopped: “Petro Vasylyovych!” I stopped too. “Why don’t you say “hello” to me?” My response was “Why would not you greet me first? I am older than you. But without a greeting it feels like a mere dog just passed me”. He thought he was such a big shot…True, after that he always greeted me on his way. Had I signed their papers or been dependent on them in any other way…But as things stood I did not care a damn. Although in high managerial position, I used to go to church with my children. When it was time for carols, we would start in our home and then go caroling to the neighbors. After these occasions I could not even talk and was able only to sign the documents at work. Thus, under the system, I managed to stay true to my mode of life. Former political prisoners and conscientious people grouped around me. But when the kids have grown up, they thought they could get to me through the kids. My wife and I, however, were unanimous in our thinking. My wife was a strong-minded person. I will give you one example. When it was time to defend my diploma, KGB got hold of me and demanded that I sign my consent to collaborate. They held me for several hours, but I kept refusing point blank. Then they promised: In that case we will expel you”. – “So what?” I came home and related the whole incident to my wife. And just fancy the moral support I’ve got: my wife hugged and kissed me, saying “Good for you, Petro! Our honor is priceless for us! So what? We’ll throw our stuff into a backpack and off we go!”. A different wife might have said: “What have you been thinking about? You are graduating from the institute; you have a good position – what the heck do you want?’ But my wife was just like myself, we were one. So they devised another scenario: to buy me through my kids.
As an excellent student, in 1974 Vasyl’ was admitted to Lviv University, department of journalism. Probably he even was a Komsomol member. But when he was submitting his documents, the members of admission board saw in his papers that he had been born in Magadan. So they asked him: “How come you were born in Magadan?” He replied: “My parents went as shock workers to build communism - that is why I was born there”. What a laugh we had over that! He said: “look, dad, how easy it is to make people happy!” And we were happy that he managed to submit his documents. Then Vasyl’ got his first excellent mark, then the next, and another one! Once I was waiting in the hall, when the secretary peeped out and called a professor. It was the last test for Vasyl’. And she did not know I was his father. I heard her saying: “A certain Vasyl’ Sichko is taking his test now – God forbid you give him even “three” [satisfactory mark].” Because he has got three excellent marks already, so he should be admitted with just a “four” or even a “three”. So my Vasyl’, although he was perfectly prepared (I do not recollect what subject it was), is given “two” [the lowest mark] and had to work in my company for a year. I took him to work with me. Next year, in 1975, Vasyl’ went to Kyiv to apply to Kyiv University where no one knew him. He was admitted to the department of journalism. He passed all the tests with the excellent marks, with only one good mark. He became a student and was even chosen as one of the 10 students to be coached in foreign journalism.
Once I had a business trip to the Ministry of local industries and stayed in Vasyl’s dorm for the night. Vasyl’ just came back from a Komsomol meeting. At the meeting they awarded the prizes for the best students’ newspaper. The paper had an editorial board but actually the whole work was done by Vasyl’. The rest would only add a word here and there. But when these honorary diplomas were distributed, everyone’s name was read aloud – but for Vasyl’s name. He came back in tears and said: “Look, dad, that’s how it happened. I came to the chairman and asked why I had been omitted. He answered:”Vasyl’, I don’t know, your name was the first on the list, but the party organization secretary said:”You do not know who his parents are. His name cannot remain on the list”.
Vasyl’ finished his first year of studies, but in the second year they faked the papers, showing that he failed to meet academic goals and he was expelled. Vasyl’ protested – he renounced his soviet citizenship and handed in his Komsomol membership card. I was in Kyiv when Vasyl’ went to hand in his card and soviet passport. I was sitting there, looking at the building and wondering whether my son would come back. Vasyl’ did.
Ukrainian Helsinki Group
And then it started…HelsinkiІ group was active already and Vasyl’ got involved in it. I was not a member myself at that time. In Dolyna the teacher of English was the first to enlist; he was a former political prisoner too, Vasyl’ Striltsiv was his name. He taught Vasyl’ at school, Vasyl’ used to be his pupil. He became the Group member as early as December 1, 977. Vasyl’ joined in February 1978 and I – in April. Then the Helsinki Group counted twelve members. We started our operation. You know how the documents were written and signed. I want to relate an episode from that time.
I still worked at the plant. I prepared the specifications for the production of a very rare electronic device “АYA-1031”, which was manufactured only in Georgia, Bulgaria and at our works. No one could present these documents in Kyiv, because I was the only one who prepared them. The head of the planning department of the whole trust went, accompanied by the chief engineer, and they had no choice but to take me along. By that time I was in the Helsinki Group already, and felt completely invincible. They bought me the tickets to go with them. But I was not dumb – I was fully aware that I would be followed. I purchased another ticket, leaving their ticket behind. I went to Kyiv, met with Oksana Meshko, left some documents with her and then proceeded to Moscow, to see Nina Strokata-Karavanska.
V.Ovsienko: In Tarusa?
P.Sichko: Right, in Tarusa. I remember compiling a protest with respect to Vasyl’…I used to sport a beard that long…When I entered a bus, some elderly lady, who really deserved to have a seat, would jump up on seeing an ancient bearded man and offer: “For Goodness sake, be seated, grandpa, lest you keel over!” So I would be seated.
From Moscow I had to go to Tarusa to see Karavanska. The passenger car drivers used to give people a lift for money, so one of them agreed to take me, instructing me: “Look, I will get you there. But if militia stops us tell them you are my uncle”. I agreed, but thought, “Oh, man, had you known what kind of uncle you were taking with you, you would not only reject my money, but would have paid me thirty times more, only to be rid of me.” But everything worked out all right. When I visited Moscow I dealt with the Jews. Although I am Ukrainian, and told them the truth, they used to take me for a Jew. Well, I look a bit like one…No matter how hard I tried to explain myself, they riposted, “Never mind, Petr Vasylyovych, don’t tell us, we know…” It was on our way to visit Sakharov.
Later, when our leader M.Rudenko was arrested and O.Berdnyk became the head, he used to visit us in Halychchyna, and, specifically, in Dolyna. By the way, he had a gift of predicting how long one would live. He made these predictions for my wife, for Vasyl, my daughter and me. He told my wife she would reach the age of 70-71, but he told Vasyl’ that he would live to be 40, and then his life might continue… He guessed it right. He had that sort of gift. We used to visit Oles’ too. Then we led such exalted life. I appreciated my membership in the Helsinki Group. It helped me to feel I was not alone. We signed the documents, listen to “Liberty” station broadcasts. I was so inspired that I felt ready to go through any tortures and sufferings to stay on the right track. I was elated to be among the people who soldiered on. At that time the Helsinki Group was the only organization of that sort, it streamlined our struggle for freedom and national self-identification. It had a huge impact on common people. I want to say a few words about Oksana Meshko. She was a real woman-warrior.
V.Ovsienko: She wrote about herself. I heard her essay “Between life and death” on “Liberty” program in the early 1979, prior to being locked up.
P.Sichko: Yes, she managed to have it written down. Just one anecdote – she came to see us and stayed for the night. And suddenly militiamen in a car arrive claiming they wanted to take her to the precinct, for a “talk”. And she asked: “But who are you?” – “We are from militia”. – “And have you got any warrant?’ – “None”. – “Then I don’t care a damn about you! Away with you, you scoundrels!” Before they provided a sanction for her arrest, my wife helped her to get out through the back doors and run away. One valiant lady she was.
Volodymyr Ivasyuk was assassinated. On May 22, 1979 his funeral took place in Lviv…Striltsiv, my son and I were summoned to Ivano-Frankivsk KGB. They held us there for the whole day not offering us any reason for the summons. There was just some kind of idle talk. On our way back we dropped by Raisa’s house. She was the wife of V.Moroz, who lived in Ivano-Frankivsk at the time. We had our supper speculating on what that summons might have meant. Only when we were already on the bus we heard people whispering that in Lviv the moskals had killed Volodymyr Ivasyuk, had hung him. For the Palm Sunday, around April 10, we planned going to Lviv. We went there with Vasyl’. There was no need to ask for directions to Volodymyr Ivasyuk’s grave, as we could see incessant flow of people towards it. When we arrived I was somehow mistaken for Volodymyr Ivasyuk’s father, and Vasyl’ – for his brother. Vasyl’ was wearing a Hutzul coat. They showed us a burnt fir-tree – all wreathes placed on the grave on June 9-10 were burnt; people still were talking about that crime. A funeral service was held. Vasyl’ spoke up. He swore at Volodymyr’s grave, referring to the enemies who kept destroying our fighters, our friends: “I swear, my friend, to dedicate my whole life to the struggle for Ukraine”. I spoke after Vasyl’. And there were a whole lot of plain-clothes men there. But the crowd accompanied us all the way to the bus station. It must have been several thousand people.
But then we had to take a bus, and that whole bunch of people would not follow us. Near militia ward the bus came to a stop. We were certain to be arrested immediately. But probably we were Moscow “charges” already, so they did not dare to arrest us without a sanction from Moscow. We stayed free till July 6.
I will allow myself a small digression here. In 1989, in the Teacher’s Center of Kyiv, the 40th anniversary of Volodymyr Ivasyuk was celebrated. (Born on 4.04 1949, buried in Lviv on 22.05 1979. – Edit.).The meeting was presided over by a writer S.Pushyk from Ivano-Frankivsk, or may be, by someone else. Through the whole celebration Volodymyr Ivasyuk’s friends keep talking about him, but no one mentions where he lives. No one mentions the fact that he had been cruelly assassinated, that he had been deceased for years! They celebrate the 40th anniversary, describe him as talented and gifted person. At the beginning I asked to be given the floor. Pushyk promised. Meanwhile the celebration was coming to its end; Ivasyuk’s father was also present, but they are afraid of letting me speak. Just fancy how scared that intelligentsia was, to be celebrating Ivasyuk’s anniversary for two hours, just like that…
V.Ovsienko: With no one mentioning the way he died…
P.Sichko: Right, going on and on, how talented he was to have written such and such song. But I never get to the floor, and the whole thing is coming to an end. Then I stood up, right from the audience, and asked the audience, not the presidium, to say a word. And I was given permission. And I threw a bomb into the hall, clarifying that he had been assassinated, recollecting the funeral and our visit to the cemetery with Vasyl’. Many of those writers were still alive at the time. The Kyivites surrounded me saying: “Man, have the fear of God! You will be killed right away, you will never leave this hall alive.” One woman, however, who resides here in Kiev, at the Embankment, took me by the arm and said “Petro, if they are going to kill you, they might as well kill me too…” Let me check this woman’s name – here it is – Daria Dryha. We were very anxious, but, thank God, we made it – first by the subway, and then by bus, reaching her home. We were not killed. But what was the level of fear, how scared people were! So much for the celebration. Later I visited Ivasyuk’s father in Chernivtsy. His mother was paralyzed on the left side. By the way, she had been in charge of ideological matters in the oblast’ party committee. She wept telling me: ‘I believed so much in the system, I worked for its benefit, and now it hurts so much – it destroyed my son. I am unable to take my revenge on the system. So helpless I am”. That is what situation was like.
And Vasyl’ became a victim of their crimes even prior to his arrest: once he rejected his soviet citizenship, he was placed into a psychiatric ward. Just out of the blue – they came to his home, with militia and all – and took him to the psychiatric ward. There he was kept and diagnosed with schizophrenia. I went to Moscow to declare a protest. But these bastards had us all registered there. When I entered the public reception office in the Supreme Council and stated my name, she pushed the button and after some fumbling produced a file containing the whole information about me, my entire life story. I forgot who the chief psychiatrist was, it escapes my memory… (О.Churkin - Edit.) He said:” Make him accept the citizenship again and we will invalidate the diagnosis, because the soviet psychiatry considers the rejection of citizenship schizophrenia.”
We continued fighting. Persecutions at my work place began. I was dismissed from the office of the planning and manufacturing department head and demoted to the position of 6th category worker. I was told that in fact I would continue working in my planning and manufacturing department, but a woman with higher education from Odessa had just arrived and would be appointed the head. I considered all that from the legal point of view and announced a strike. I remember it as vividly as if it happened today: I am going to work, making jokes on my way. It was about 6 km walk to the plant. People would ask me “How is it going, Petro Vasylyovych?” – “Well, I am going to work, but actually, to the strike”. I had the whole paperwork ready, I entered the director’s office and put my strike declaration on his desk. Then I went to the trade union office, left another copy there and returned home. In half an hour the rayon and oblast’ KGB and the whole bunch of lawyers started the uproar. From the legal point of view I was right, because they had committed a violation: I had never been reprimanded for my work. No kidding, I always exercised integrity in my operation, which had been always well-coordinated. Thus the head of the personnel department was forced to rewrite my job record, to include the decisions reflecting my penalties.
V.Ovsienko: You mean, retroactively?
P.Sichko: Exactly! They invalidated and destroyed the former record, and rewrote it, faking the whole list of my alleged infringements, to substantiate my dismissal. And they prepared an order with my supposed reprimands and penalties….They assumed I did not have the earlier order in my possession. Actually, when I submitted my strike declaration that new department head, the young woman from Odessa, was not aware of all these developments, so she gave me her own copy of the order. When the order was rewritten the whole trade union organization had to convene. They summoned me, but I ignored the summons and never went. Our house was standing on a high river bank; we used to go down the hill by sledges with Vasyl’.
A month later (probably, Moscow disagreed with their decision), I was restored at my workplace. Do you understand? The same people in the personnel department ask me for clarifications: “Petr Vasylyovych, tell us honestly, what it means. We received an order from Moscow to reinstate you in the office”. So I was taken back. Another person, sent by the party committee, was occupying my office, but they found me another desk, near the door. I went, however, to my former place and got to work proper way. And do you know how many violations they committed under the soviet system? I only abode by the law. When they tried to persuade me to sign something I always referred to an applicable law. Meanwhile my strike became known to the whole world. It was the first precedence of such a strike in the Soviet Union. They did not know how to assess it, because no one ever went on strike under the soviet system; it was strictly forbidden.
And here I was, having spoken up at Volodymyr Ivasyuk’s funeral…Oh, yes, they tried to persuade me before that. It was like this. I was going to the oblast’ center and met a man right on the threshold. On my way back I was told that a man had come to see me and promised to be back the next day. Well, we kept working on our accounting issues with the head of personnel department. Suddenly a man enters and wants to shake my hand: “Hello, colleagues! Petro Vasylyovych!” I answered: “Please have a seat, I’ll finish my conversation with the head of personnel department and be right with you”. I did not know this “colleague”. So he asked: “Do you know who I am?’ “No”, - I answered. – “I am the new head of Dolyna rayon KGB. And he gave me the summons to Bolekhiv, different rayon. My wife was not at home at the time; she was sent to some professional upgrading course to Poltava. He said the summons said something about the military commissariat, but in fact it was to KGB that I had been called.
My appointment was in the late afternoon. I entered the building and saw them locking the doors behind me, one after another…Then the head of Ivano-Frankivsk KGB says: “Do you know, Petro Vasylyovych, why we called you?” I answer: “No. You tell me.” – “We want to extend a hand of friendship to you.” – “Friendship meaning what?” – “Well, you will be working with us, you have authority, people respect you. And if you want your son to be restored in the university, you should collaborate with us. And we shall even overlook Yaroslav Galan’s assassination.” But I said: “No”.
You see, they disseminated the rumors. I was imprisoned in Kolyma in 1949, when we heard that in Lviv Yaroslav Galan had been hacked to death (22.07 1902 - 25.10. 1949. - Edit.). A special investigator came from the city of Khabarovsk to talk to me. He threatened me with consequences – 5 more year of imprisonment - for obstructing justice and perjury. First request: “Tell us, how you killed Yaroslav Galan”. I responded: “You have my rap sheet in front of you, and it shows that I was imprisoned in [the year] forty seven, while Yaroslav Galan was killed in forty nine. In forty nine I was already in jail in Kolyma. I wonder what kind of an axe I should have used, so that it would fly all the way from Magadan to Lviv, enter Galan’s flat and chop his head off?” – “Right, it is an inconsistency of some sort”. He closed the folder and ended the interrogation. So they tried to use the same trick again and accuse me of assassinating Yaroslav Galan…
So the head of the oblast’ KGB says: “We will even overlook Yaroslav Galan’s assassination”. I advised him to read “The chronicles of disquiet” by Yuri Smolych. It is all there. (« Radyanski pysmennyk», К., 1968, p. 243-246. - Edit.). How his wife (Hanya Henyk . - Edit.) took him to the border, how she became a student in Kharkiv, how she was arrested. How afterwards the Bolsheviks would not trust him, how they made him work in the radio station “Ukraina” during the war. It was then that he became aware of that distrust.
V.Ovsienko: Right, in mid-seventies I was serving my term in Mordovia together with the priest D.Lukashevych, whose son was shot [for being involved] in Galan’s case. His son Ilariy, a student, was shot for the alleged assassination committed together with Stakhur. And another son, Myron, who had absolutely nothing to do with anything, was shot just like that, while the father got 25 years in jail. The Bolsheviks killed Galan themselves and then framed Ilariy Lukashevych and Stakhur to make them guilty. So were you framed too?
P.Sichko: I was. Moreover, the lecturers would come from the oblast’ party committee; Dolyna residents were herded into the hall and the lecture was delivered, branding Sichko as an assassin. Even at the time of my third imprisonment in Kherson, the investigators would bring the inmates together and tell them: “You know who this man is? He killed 500 soviet citizens! He killed Yaroslav Galan!” And one of the criminals retorted: “Hey, look. Had he killed even a single soviet citizen you would have had him shot. What kind of bullshit is this? It’s all lies.”
V.Ovsienko: Let’s get back to the story of your arrest.
P.Sichko: I was at work, when they came to arrest me. Wow, I stepped out into the hall and saw about seven persons marching. Something in my soul whispered to me they were there to get me. And I had some forbidden stuff on me, so I made it to the rest room as quick as I could and I threw it away. No sooner have I appeared from the restroom, than they put the handcuffs on me. I was presented with the arrest warrant and taken home.
V.Ovsienko: So was it right on Midsummer Day 1979? And today we have July 7 as well.
P.Sichko: Right, I was arrested on July 6, on the eve of the Midsummer Day. And Vasyl’ was seized in town on the same day.
After my arrest we were taken from home by two cars. For Vasyl’ it was an ambulance, for he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
I was taken to Lviv prison. I did not know where they took my son – it turned out he was brought straight to the psychiatric ward. And that Ivanov started cooking up a case against me. It was the investigator to whom I revealed I was clairvoyant, giving him the date on which my son had been brought to the jail.
Neither my son nor I signed any papers, even during the hearing. You know, everyone must rise upon the entrance of the judge. We remained seated, because for us it was not a trial, but a convention of the criminals who arrested us illegally. They had to make us stand up by force, holding us by the elbows. In such position we were held through the whole “prayer”. Later I was taken out of the courtroom. Then they brought me back so that I could hear my sentence: - 3 years under the article 187.1, i.e. “slander against the soviet system”. Vasyl’ was convicted under the same article and sentenced to three years as well. They wanted me to appeal. I said:”For goodness sake, what are you talking about? Do you want me to ask criminals for mercy?” I was worried lest Vasyl’ agrees to write the cassation appeal. When I was summoned to the court secretary who had to announce the cassation court verdict, I saw two chairs there. I sat on one of them. She smiled and handed me the paper. I waved it aside: “What is this?! To ask criminals for mercy! I have to ask them?! I have to bring them to trial!” Or something to that effect... And she told me: “You know, I expected you would not sign it. Because I was watching and guessing which chair you choose. A minute ago your son occupied the same chair and said exactly the same”. My God, I felt like flying! You see, she believed that a chair would make a difference! So in such an unusual way I learnt that my son had signed nothing. I was very happy to hear that.
They would throw me into different cells, for example, into a cell with their spy in it. He managed, however, to whisper to me on our way to the toilet:”Petro Vasylyovych, I will be blabbering all sorts of nonsense, ask you questions – never mind, just remember it is my job”. There I even quit smoking.
The hearing was held in Lviv oblast’ court. The judge is still there, although he is retired by now. He worked within these bodies and now he gets an enhanced pension. They added four hryvnas to my pension recently, but my pension is higher than average, for my 17 years of imprisonment (a year in jail counts for three working years), so we come up with 51 years. Hence I was entitled to the highest pension - 56 UAH. And these hawks are entitled to 120 and 200 UAH, although they are ashamed to admit it. Even academicians and scholars have smaller pensions. And my well-known executioners, those who tortured me, enjoy personal pensions between 350 and 1000 UAH - 10-15 times more, and still have the cheek to say: “You wanted free Ukraine – now you’ve got it, enjoy!” Had it been the Ukraine for which I fought, to which I dedicated all my life, I would have been honored and respected. I would not be obliged to live in such black and bitter misery and work for my piece of daily bread. But we only nominally live in the Ukrainian territory. We do not live in the Ukrainian state – it is ruled by the enemies!
V.Ovsienko: It has not become the Ukrainian state yet.
P.Sichko: Right. But I deviated from my narration. So there was a hearing. We did not sign a single document, because we believed that we had been tried by a gang of criminals. Anyway they had us convicted and sent to different places. Indeed, we had a one-hour meeting with Vasyl’, so we could talk.
V.Ovsienko: So, how was it – by phone and through the glass?
P.Sichko: No, through the bars. I saw him and heard his words, and he could see and hear me. For the second visit my wife, my daughter Oksana and my son Volodymyr came. Volodymyr studied in Kyiv University, physics and mathematics department. But after that second visit my second son was expelled too, allegedly for visiting his bandit of a father. We talked then and were saying our farewells, when my daughter stroked my hat like that…They brought me a warm sweater, a winter hat and boots. So I understood the hint – money was sewn into the clothes.
After my arrival in Luhansk (then - Voroshylovhrad) camp, I was sent to Bryanka. First I was held in a solitary cell, but the next day I was taken to the transit barrack. Three working teams were going to take their breakfast right then. Believe me, despite being a former Kolyma prisoner, I still regarded these men as bandits, killers and all sorts of human trash! After all I spent last 22 years as a free man. They looked so terrible that the whole picture gave me goose-flesh. And then I had to go to the bath-house with them. I opened the doors and saw real devils, not humans! They had tattoos all over their bodies, on their chests, on their arms…I closed the doors and postponed my bathing for a week. But finally I had to go there…When I finally made it to the bath-house, there were three-four men to each shower nozzle. But there was one shower without any people around. I wanted to go there, but a Gipsy man grabbed me by the shoulder: “Hey, uncle, watch where you are going, you will be contaminated!” Turned out it was the pederasts’ shower, you see? These rules were totally outrageous and made no sense, but they were enforced. That Gypsy saved me. I behaved myself with dignity. My whole behavior was aimed at letting everyone, criminals included, know who I was. I was influential there, and everyone treated me with respect.
In Bryanka they tried to frame me for the third term. Once, while we were escorted to breakfast, the deputy commander asked me: “Petro Vasylyovych, do you have a son in Cherkassy?” I responded affirmatively. “By name of Vasyl’, right?” – “Yes”. “Today he was tried. “Liberty” radio divulged the news. They added three more years to his term. Supposedly, for the drugs”. That is what he told me. I reported to work; I didn’t misbehave…I’ll tell you something.
I used to pray permanently, so God helped me. My story is about the force of a prayer. It was a camp of severe regime, so the workshops had to be locked. But once a workshop was left open. It was thunderstorm outside, with lightning and thunder. I was sitting on a wooden box, praying. And suddenly I hear a mighty voice in my ear: “Rise and move to another spot, because this one will be burnt down in a minute”. Still praying, I got up from my “chair” to sit on another one about three meters further. Then the thunder stroke and the box was burnt. Half a minute longer – and that would have been the end of me…A guy, one of an ethnic minority, saw it. He approached and asked me: “Petro Vasylyovych, who told you that this spot would be burnt?” “God prompted me”, I answered. And he said it was really by God’s grace, that I lived. So I was meant to live, because I could have been easily killed, but you see, I heard that powerful inside voice: ““Rise and move to another spot, because this one will be burnt down in a minute”.
So how did they cook up my third term? I learnt that Vasyl’ was given the second term. So what do they do next? The barrack was just opposite the canteen. In the morning, before breakfast, I liked walking in the courtyard praying. Then I would hear a call: “Such and such team, breakfast!” The criminals loved walking around in their slippers, but under the camp rules, boots had to be worn. I put my boots on and entered the canteen. Having eaten I was on my way out of the canteen when suddenly the guards seized me. Other teams were still coming in for breakfast. I had a jar with me, to have a peaceful cup of tea in my barrack. They frisked me and found everything I had in my pockets, namely a paper with the English words on it. I was learning English at the time. It is another long story – the president of France arrived and wanted to set Vasyl’ and me free, but the soviet authorities refused… I learnt about it due to the slip of the tongue of an investigator…The guards order me: “Take off your right boot!” I understood immediately that something had been placed there. I took the boot off, and he retrieved a leaflet from it: “Here we go! Anti-soviet writings!” They took me to the headquarters, but the premises were closed, so they let me go. I related the whole incident to the boys.
So how did it happen? I had a CheKa man as my neighbor in the barrack. He was free, but the legend had it that he had to serve certain term, supposedly. He pretended he had only four years of schooling, while actually he had higher education. His name escapes my memory…At the time I refused to avail myself of any privileges, like purchases in the jail stall. Correspondence was the only privilege I kept – two letters a month were allowed, but only one third of that reached home, while all the rest disappeared. So they used to frisk that CheKa man, but never looked inside my bed-stand. On our way to work he said: “Petro Vasylyovych, you see, they frisk me all the time. Hide this letter in your bed-stand and upon our return from work I’ll take it back from you”. I asked:”But what kind of a letter? Addressed to whom?’ –“To the prosecutor”, was his answer. I led him to the wall with “Regulations” and told him: “Look, you have the right to keep letters to the prosecutor in the sealed envelopes. So why are giving it to me?” I knew it was a provocation, they were framing me.
Then they planted another guy with me, as if sentenced to prison term. I know these things, because a relative used to do his army service in Kolyma. Instead of three years he spent only a year and a half there, because a year was counted for two. He also ate our jail slops like other inmates, and eavesdropped.
Meanwhile I have a dream that some guys are calling me to the gate and try pouring me some wine from a bottle. They plead with me, persuading me to drink. But I refuse point blank.
And, really, on my way from work I am called to the gate. Our barrack was supposed to be closed, but the doors were open. And a man, who supposedly arrived in Bryanka with the transport, wants to meet me. He starts telling me about Ye.Pronyuk, Chornovyl, Lukyanenko. He knows everything and everyone, and sounds like a friend, so he asks for permission to come into my barrack. I gave him my permission. He promised to be back tomorrow. And he used to arrive always at the same hour – they would have all their recording or listening devices on, or whatever… He began playing chess with me and said he was to be transferred to our team. But when I stepped out to go to the bathroom the boys said: “Look, while you were in the bathroom, this new guy was fumbling under your pillow”. I never let him know I knew.
Once I came from work to find a letter waiting for me. My wife was describing how she went to Cherkassy to see Vasyl’, but they had put him into an isolation ward; how my daughter Oksana had almost thrown herself out of the window, being fed up with all the persecutions; how she was suffering. I was really mad! And the guy arrives and says: “Let’s go play chess!” I shouted at him: “You, the CheKa dog! Away with you! Or I will kill you right away. God forbid you ever come to visit me again! Do you think I have no idea who you are? I know even that you have no term to serve!”. He said: “What has got into you, Petro Vasylyovych? Give me the address, at least.” At the time I could not even pronounce the name of the place where Pronyuk was imprisoned – Kara…
P.Sichko: I said: "I cannot not even pronounce the name of the place where he is, but you, dog, know it perfectly well. I do not have the slightest idea of who Pronyuk is”. There was a foreman who served his 15 years term. I told him I had a feeling that the other was a KGB man. But he wanted to calm me down:”Why, what are you talking about, Petro Vasylyovych?” But after I literally jumped at him, that man was taken out of the zone in no time. And the foreman said: “Now, Petro Vasylyovych, I believe you, because after you had sent him packing he never re-entered the barrack, just picked up his belongings at the sentries’ premises, and off he went…”
But I never finished with that boot. First I even prayed for that man lest, God forbid, I accuse an innocent, because at the time I was not certain yet. But on my way to supper they retrieved a second piece of paper out of my left boot. And they take me to the headquarters. And that CheKa man is waiting there, the one that supposedly was serving his term. They used to have tough time, too. Like, when the rations were distributed, he would get two packs of cigarettes, bread and margarine. It meant that he would smoke one pack and give the other pack out, pretending to quit. It lasted till evening. Then for the rest of the month he felt justified in his mooching cigarettes from the others. Because he could not survive without them: “Have you got a cigarette?”
I was on my way to the operative investigator, while he was standing in the corridor, and he said: “Now you’ll learn how to teach me anti-soviet stuff! You will rot in prison!” I was brought into an office with the operative and the camp warden in it. The investigator started cursing using all sorts of profanities. But I cut him short: “You know, any repeated bandit with three or four terms behind him can envy you your language. If you keep carrying on like that I won’t say a word to you”. And I did not. That time, though, they let me go. And that CheKa man spent several days in the isolation cell. On the way to the jail he approached me to apologize. He said in Ukrainian: “Forgive me, but that is our job”. By the way, the very guard that had taken that paper out of my boot told me “Mind you, even the camp warden is afraid of your neighbor”. Because they always were planted [among the prisoners] like that.
We had a warden deputy in charge of disciplinary issues, who always wore his hair cut short. A new transport would arrive; a prisoner would ask, amazed: “What are you doing here? You used to be my cellmate”. So he would not be let into this zone.
I will never be free again! Third arrest
I was not arrested yet, and the day of my liberation was coming near. Three months prior to the discharge one is entitled to growing one’s hair, and if one is sporting a beard it can grow too. On the day of my discharge I was looking forward to be called. In the meantime I stepped out to the courtyard and was pacing it and praying, as I felt some kind of anxiety in my soul. Suddenly I noticed a plain-clothed man approaching the headquarters by the central road. And my internal voice warned me: “He is here to get you”. After he passed me I could no longer stay in the courtyard, but returned to the barrack and fell asleep still wearing the clothes I have put on for my discharge. And here comes a dream: in it I was walking along the sea shore, trying to get rid of my jacket. I was trying to throw it into the water. But as soon as I manage to drown it in the sea, it comes out and jumps right onto my shoulders. I push it back into the water, and it keeps jumping out. And so it happened for six or seven times. . I push it back into the water, and it keeps jumping out, right onto my shoulders. I woke up with the thought “I won’t be set free, oh no”.
Then the orderly arrived to summon me: “Petro Vasylyovych, you are wanted in the headquarters”. Upon my arrival there I saw the plain-clothed man, who had earlier passed me on his way and scared me so. He introduced himself immediately as the deputy prosecutor of the oblast’. I do not remember his name now. He read an arrest warrant and wanted me to sign it. I haven’t signed a single document till then, so I said: “You are the criminals! How dare you ask me to sign this? You have no conscience at all!” I was sent to the solitary cell immediately and held there for about three days. Then was taken to Voroshylovgrad, where they kept me in prison.
Then the trial was set up. But I did not say a word during the whole hearing. They have a small cage there; you are placed inside with two guards on both sides of it. So I sat in the cage, looking at the corner and praying. A certain Ogorodnykov was the judge. You know, don’t you, that according to the court’s rules everyone is ordered to rise when the judge enters. I did not. The guards jumped inside the cage, forced me to stand up and held me. Well, if you want to hold me, it is up to you. Earlier I was given a kind of defense attorney. He was pacing the room waiting for me to address him, so that he could introduce himself as my counsel. But I never did.
Nevertheless, they proceeded with the hearing. First it was “All rise for the court”, then their usual “prayer” while I was held standing, and then they started”Your last name?” The accused remains silent. “First name?” Silence. “Patronymic?” Silence. They stepped out for a 15 minutes’ conference. Two female doctors arrived and approached my cage, as if wishing to talk to me. But I do not talk to them. They try to start a conversation, but to no avail. I would not say a word. In fact, the judges stayed out of the courtroom for two hours instead of 15 minutes. And then the whole procedure began anew. “All rise for the court”. They keep going and eventually read out the conclusion of the medical evaluation – because, you see, I might have been crazy – to the effect that “the accused is competent”. So the hearing continues. It was all in Russian and there was an interpreter from Russian into Ukrainian – the principal of Luhansk secondary school.
The whole scene looked so bizarre!
When the hearing was finished, I was read the verdict and my guards were taking me away, when the judge Ogorodnykov suddenly spoke behind my back: “Petro Vasylyovych, I envy you to a certain extent!” Well, this is obvious – you understand that had I been offered that very moment to switch places with that Ogorodnykov, I would not have done it, for the sake of my honor! No wonder he was overwhelmed – an innocent man was being tried and convicted! Because sometimes the accused is aware that he had committed a felony, but keeps pleading innocent. But in this case the outlandish charges were fabricated, and they still wanted me to collaborate! I felt that if I say just one word to these scoundrels my heart would break. So, just fancy, the judge admitting that he envied me. Anyway, I believed I would survive these evil times. And you know, after the hearing I had a dream in which I had crossed a bridge on the river. A woman I did not know was running to meet me and wanted to take me by the arm, but I said: “You have no right to do that. My wife is waiting for me!” The wife was running from the other side of the bridge, she took me by the arm and off we went…
Kherson, zone 90
V.Ovsienko: And where did you serve your third term, from 1982 to 1985?
P.Sichko: After the Luhansk trial I was sent to Kherson. For a short period of time I stayed in Odessa, but predominantly I was imprisoned in Kherson. In the city itself. If I remember right, it was the zone No 90. What was so terrible about it? The fact that they carried out all sorts of experiments there. When I first arrived I was overwhelmed with fear. No one talked to anyone, people seemed crazy. They used to do horrible things there. What did they do? First they gave you three shots. If you disagreed, you were handcuffed. These shots made people indifferent to everything. In my first days I wondered: “My God, how come these people never talk, but keep working like oxen?” In a week’s time I was just like the rest.
V.Ovsienko: They gave you these shots, didn’t they?
P.Sichko: Yes. They handcuffed me by force and gave me three shots. I have become so dumb that even when my name was called I would not recognize it. Someone had to kick me to respond. Or someone would run to me asking: ““Petro Vasylyovych, don’t you hear the name of Sichko?”You know, don’t you, how it works: the guard reads your name and you have to answer with the number of the respective article and your term. Then the operative would invite you for a talk, hoping that you might collaborate. But even after these shots I managed to hold on to my free will. When, God forbid, they offered something like that to me, I would spit them in the eyes: “Mind you, I never signed a single paper, and I would not sign any for you. I am innocent and so I believe that my jailers are criminals who make me suffer”. I never gave up.
It was a scary zone. The regime was so severe, that you might have spent 10 years there with another inmate, without ever seeing him, because the zone was divided into “localities”, and inmates were brought even to the canteen through these “localities”, so that the inmates of one “locality” would not see people from another. In the canteen everyone had his own place and very short time to eat. You did not even have enough time to swallow the soup and a slice of bread. Then they would shout “Rise!” and you had to leave the remains behind, because God forbid you take a piece of bread into the barrack.
But even there I managed to behave in such a way that even the criminals respected me. I often spent time in the solitary confinement (they never gave one less than 15 days, but it might have been up to 30, or 45), and upon my return my bread ration would always be waiting for me. After the solitary cell they first took you to the bath house to get rid of the terrible lice. I used to throw even my underwear into the stove. The criminals would give me clean underpants and undershirt. And my bread ration was always waiting for me in the barrack.
Different lecturers used to come to the zone. They were warned about me beforehand – that I was so-and-so, and such-and-such. But somehow they always misunderstood and used to say that everyone should pay respects to this person, that he was a paragon of virtue. On hearing that, I felt very strong.
Here is another story. I was making wooden boxes, and another inmate was working by my side. I don’t remember his name. He had served 34 years by that time, his term was constantly increased. He had captain’s rank, and had only a month and a half to stay in jail. To make these boxes we had to fetch planks, so we would help each other. And we would share bread. We would talk sometimes. What was called outside “Leninist subbotniks”[ Saturday work –Ukr.] was called “Leninist nedilniks” [Sunday-work]. God forbid, I never participated in those. For the “Leninist Sunday-work” I was always locked in the isolation cell. And they always tried to put me in one where the pederasts were usually kept – to get me “contaminated”. Because there are strict rules in this respect, too. Like, you cannot smoke their cigarettes after them or things like that. But they treated me so humanely that I would occupy one half of the cell all alone, while they would be stuck all together, seven or eight of them, in the other. Or when the soup was brought they would let me take it first, so that I would not come in contact with them.
Suddenly I heard my captain crying terribly on the other side of the wall. That day, when he was being taken to work, he kicked a guard. You know, after 35 years in prison he could hardly control himself. So he was put into an isolation cell. There were several pederasts there and they raped him. He stayed there for 15 days, and I – for 30 days. Upon my return I saw – God Almighty! - My colleague sitting separately, eating out of a broken bowl. So he is “contaminated” already and I cannot even carry that barrow with him, or God forbid, share a piece of bread with him. We still could talk, though. He wept like a baby. To exonerate himself he had to kill his abusers. They were let out of the isolation cell too. So he asked: “What shall I do?” I answered: “Look, you have suffered for 35 years, so endure it for a month and a half more and get released. And God will punish them”. You know, for a person with a certain standing, that had served 35 years – to have to eat from a broken bowl, in the corner…You know, these “contaminated” had it even worse, although it was tough for all of us. For example, I was allowed to walk in the courtyard, when I was out, while he could walk only around the latrine. While I could eat at the table he had to sit in the corner with his broken bowl. This was the law there, inhuman as it was. The isolation wards were horrendous too. They would take away one’s clothes and make one wear a special robe instead. Soup is given only every second day, and those 300 g of bread. When you get out after 30 or 60 days, you come out as thin as…
V.Ovsienko: You are swaying in the wind.
P.Sichko: Right. But God provided. They have never broken my spirit with all these tortures. Never.
V.Ovsienko: So it was already 1985, the perestroika started and they did not dare fabricating a new case against you.
P.Sichko: Right. You know, I was not even aware that the zone was controlled by TV cameras. Once we were taken to Odessa for two weeks, although the rumor had it that we would be taken to Lviv. My God, what a joy it was! Those who served their terms in jails used to say that jails were better than that zone No90. It was an unusual zone. They tortured people, killing them with their regime. But we stayed for two weeks only in Odessa. My God, when were brought to Odessa the guys would be playing cards for nights on end, or eating or trading. One could buy vodka or moonshine…But after two weeks – bang, and off we go with the transport. We expected to be taken to Lviv, but ended up in the same zone No90. When we were brought to the sentries’ premises I saw a TV camera. You can see every place in the zone on the screen… Even my desk where I used to make my boxes. Just fancy, I thought. If I tried to give a letter to someone, the TV would have it all. And I would assume that I was betrayed.
When I was discharged after the second term (and I was not certain they would let me go – I suspected I would be just taken from one room to another and have another arrest warrant read to me), my wife came to pick me up, I changed my clothes and we finally stepped outside – believe me, I could not comprehend it…Because we had nothing but concrete in Kherson, not a single blade of grass. And it affects a man terribly, you know…
When they set me free, I could not believe my wife was by my side. No one read me a warrant for the new arrest. We went to the sea shore to have dinner, as we had some time before our train was due. We had a dinner – and still I could not believe it! Only after we got into the train and it started moving I felt as if a veil had fallen off my eyes. I looked around – hey, we are moving! There are people and houses outside…And when we arrived home, it was spring in full swing, everything in bloom… How I kissed that blossom! I felt I was transported to heaven. My God, I have seen spring before, by how come I did not perceive all the beauty? I would come to the cherry-trees and sour-cherry trees and kiss every petal of their blossom. For I have spent all those years surrounded by concrete…
So, I told you my story in brief. I am still sorry that I did not manage to send my book “Stalin’s prisons, transports, camps and amnesties” abroad. It consisted of approximately 1200 cards. As a member of the Helsinki Group I had to pass a number of documents abroad, but I procrastinated with my book, always thinking: tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow…
V.Ovsienko: So what was its fate?
P.Sichko: Its fate? When I was arrested for the second time, I stashed two copies in my hiding place. But the mice took care of it. They found it and ate it. I have about 80 pages left, but I would not be able to restore the rest of it. As to its volume and contents it was four times bigger than Solzhenitsyn’s “GULAG Archipelago”. Because I was writing it right after the events, while the memory was still fresh. I had my own stash, where I would hide it on hearing the smallest noise. Just fancy, I have been through 150-200 camps and had them all depicted in my book. Every camp is different, even the ways to torture people differ – I painted a thorough picture of the soviet GULAG. I cannot get over it, so sorry I am to have lost it.
V.Ovsienko: But it is very difficult to write it once again. It would require an incredible effort of will, brain and emotions…
P.Sichko: You see, at that time I was inspired, my memory was fresh, I remembered all the names and dates by heart; I could describe every camp with its commanders, the tortures, the killings. But now I don’t have that inspiration. Now I am thinking of bringing together Vasyl’s writings. He wrote about 150 poems; probably they are still somewhere in his files, with the investigators’. If they had not destroyed them I would collect them all. We have some at home in the family archives. Well, and I’ll have to describe all the events.
I am glad I had a chance to share at least some portion of my memoirs today. But it is only a small bit of everything I have been through. Because I have suffered so much, survived such unfathomable things. And anyway I praise God for letting me go all the way with dignity. If I had to be reborn, I would have chosen the same road of suffering I have trotted over all these years, instead of living a life full of sin, for which I would have had a lot of compunctions. Old man as I am, I still feel moral obligation to continue the struggle for free life and better destiny for our people. There is no return to the old system. There is no precedent of the collapsed empire that would come back to life. So let the communists, those of yesterday, who still adhere to the ideas of communism, not delude themselves… No, it is dead theory, it is done with. Had I more time, I would have told you about Lenin, what kind of person he was, what faulty concept people might embrace. But the time is coming when the patriots will get hold of power and Ukraine will flourish and blossom. But it is necessary for the patriots to govern their own country. “Professionalism” is a very erroneous notion. People can rely on professionals, of course, but only if these professionals are patriotically minded. If they are enemies, the more professional they are the worse for Ukraine. They will lead it to the total crash very professionally. It is the hostile professionals that have reduced Ukraine to this condition.
V.Ovsienko: Today a professional corn thief Tkachenko was appointed the Head of the Supreme Rada. Illiterate though he is, he will govern the Supreme Rada.
P.Sichko: It is all criminalized. As a member of parliament told me (I will omit his name here), people were offered ten thousand dollars to vote for Moroz or Symonenko. This is the Surpeme Treason of Ukraine for me. It took them two months to elect the Head. This Supreme Rada is incapable of resolving any issue. They were ready to elect a ram as their Head, just to keep the “feeder” going. The real patriots in power would never dare to take the money these guys are taking permanently. He [a politician] should start with “My conscience will not allow me to do this”. There was a suggestion – to pay only half of their salaries, retaining the other half till the time when people are paid their due. They just had a good laugh over it, and the decision was never made. And a person can become a fighter and a revolutionary, only after his heels were burnt, after he was held in a slam…After he had been through all that suffering.
I’ll give you just one example. I was returning from Ivano-Frankivsk by train (it was right on Friday night), and the coach was full of the young people, mainly university students, 18-20 years old. Everyone is sitting; the coach is overcrowded with the passengers. I was the only elderly person standing. And no one, not a single person would think of getting up and yielding a seat to an elderly person. And then I thought – what sins have we committed to have so depraved young generation? These were my revolutionary thoughts. In Kalush, though, this young lot got off, so I found a spare seat and fell asleep. It felt so good that all my revolutionary ideas evaporated immediately. (Laughs). With the struggle it is like this, too. A revolutionary should carry the burden of the whole people on his shoulders.
For conclusion I will tell you about “press cell”
You simply must put the story of “press-cell” down.
I told this story to someone running for the Member of Parliament, when in 1994 I was nominated as a candidate to the Supreme Rada. The man summed up: “The public has whom it votes for”. But I believe it was not the public, but a gang, a handful of players who had an access to ballots. They are the ones who really vote. I passed the first round, and was notified immediately, but half an hour later it turned out that a former communist had won. Well’ it is a long story. But how basely it had been done! He was a member of CUN – the organization set up by Slava Stetsko, Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists. I dubbed it “Communists of Ukrainian Nation”. Because it consisted of such trash… In Rozhnyatyn rayon, for example, the former member of rayon communist party board heads the local CUN, and the rest are no better. So to boost his image they were showing a documentary all over oblast’… He used to be the head of the oblast’ state administration and the head of the rayon council, wearing two hats. He was brought by car to “Yavoryny”, where my military school commander is buried. There, clad in Plastun’s uniform, he laid a wreath, while Lyubko was filming all that. When we met as two candidates in Rozhnyatyn, I told him “Vasyl’, it is all Pharisaism. It is hypocrisy. Climbing Carpathian Mountains, genuflecting on the top, saying a prayer, laying a wreath is a primary duty and obligation of any Ukrainian worth of the name. But when you try to pack your fat gut into…” Pardon me using such language, but he was so fat, well- fed, like those who are to be weighed before they are accepted to the office, and then after they have held the office for some time…”But you pack your fat body into a car to be taken to “Yavoryny”, you lay a wreath and they shoot you on film, and you know that a carton full of horylka [vodka – Ukr.] bottles is waiting for you in a snag…” It turned out, though, this time it was not a carton, but a whole “Kolkhyda” full of varied beverages! He will serve his term in jail for that, under the real Ukraine! They indulged into binge-drinking in the holy place, got drunk like pigs there! Even the moskals did not dare engaging in anything similar – they would throw champagne bottles into the air and shoot at them! Plain orgies.
V.Ovsienko: What is his name?
P.Sichko: His name? Vasyl’ Koshchynets.
V.Ovsienko: And did he become a deputy?
P.Sichko: He is currently a deputy. He made it instead of me. We were nominated at the electoral district 88, which comprised Dolyna and the rayons – Dolyna, Rozhnyatyv and Bohorodchany. I passed and half an hour later…They rewrote these ballots for ten times, faked whatever they could. I told him that when he had all this Pharisaism run on oblast’ TV and his representatives took the floor and told how nationally-minded he had been, you see, he laid a wreath, he had been courageous as far back as the 90-ies or whenever…And I was UPA officer, I paid with my blood for all that…I told him” I will tell you, Vasyl’ about my own movie which was filmed by God”. I told him about “press-cell”.
In Luhansk I was once moved to another cell by the guard who told me “Now, old man, you are going to “press-cell”.
V.Ovsienko: Sometimes called “press-hut”.
P.Sichko: Do you know what it meant? Sometimes, under Stalin regime, an investigator, in tarpaulin boots, in Russian shirt, in cheap suit, used to beat us himself, torture us, burn us, put these pins [under the nails[, put our fingers between the doors, drip water on us, mug us – the whole job was done by him personally. But I was convicted for the participation in the Helsinki Group in 1982; an investigator would be dressed in clean and neat suit, with a tie and a smile on his face. He invites you to drink some water and offer you a glass and a cigarette. He would not even touch you, God forbid. He has these “press-cells” instead and supplied them with horylka, cigarettes and other essentials as needed.
So the guard told me: “Now, old man, you are going to “press-cell”. Well, you know what it is, you have been there – in prison you do not refuse to go, wherever you are taken. If in the usual cells the ceiling is rectangular, like here, in this room, then you do not feel like suffocating. But there the ceiling is like a cupola, or a big hat, under which you find yourself. It is really “pressing on you”. I said hello, looked around and saw two mug-faced thick-set guys with their backs bare, sharpening their knives by the toilet-stool, never mind that the knives are prohibited. They did not respond to my greeting. I threw my backpack on the plank-bed and started pacing the cell, saying my prayers.
About ten minutes later the door opened and another man was thrown in. Ten minutes later – one more man. There is total of eight of them in the cell now. They are talking in their own jail-speak. Ten minutes later the small window opened: “So-and-so, your sister sent you a parcel”. But I can see that the parcel contains the stuff from the prison store: hard biscuits, sugar, cigarettes, margarine, and bread. Ten minutes later another name is called: “Your brother brought it”. Then the third, the fourth, and all the rest of them get something from “mother”, “father” or “grandpa”. Once all the eight of them have got their parcels, they surrounded me and put their knives to my heart: “And, now, banderovets, we will kill you!”
Had it been God’s will, it would have happened just like that. But, with their knives on me, I told them: “Guys, my conscience is clear, God and men be my witnesses. But, take heed, if I do not leave this cell alive, you, as the witnesses to the crime, will be killed one by one in your cells”. You see, the investigator would order them to break a leg, or an arm, or to put out an eye, or to beat one so severely, that one would die of injuries in an hour or in twenty minutes…I do not know, whether you are familiar with these press-cells.
V.Ovsienko: God forbid.
P.Sichko: Evidently I was inspired by God to tell them that, because they looked very impressed. They said: “Right you are. We will be done in”. And they gave me their word of honor that they would stay in the cell till tomorrow without touching me. And the rule is, if they don’t like something in the cell, they can knock on the door and cry out: “Orderly, take me out!” And they are moved to another cell.
I sat to supper with these gangsters. They had all those biscuits, sugar, and margarine. And prisoners are always hungry. We talked till dawn. I told them my biography, my life story. They confessed to me, wept, shared their pains; claimed that it just happened that their life became what it was, that at some point they had been honest, and stuff like that, till dawn.
In the morning the first of them was ordered to leave the cell. He was the one who faked lunacy and claimed he was from Tlumach, and his father had been a Ukrainian insurgent and his mother – an OUN member. Supposedly, he did not speak Ukrainian, because his parents had lived in Russia, but he knew Tlumach well enough. He came to the door, knocked on it and shouted: ““Orderly, take me out!”. But no one came. So, with one stroke of his knife he cut his veins and fell face up on the concrete floor. Blood was spurting right to the ceiling, like from a fountain. Another one knocks: “Orderly, take him out, for he cut himself!” No one answers. Eventually the doors opened and we were taken for an outside exercise. By the way, the doors were double – one door had an actual lock which could be unlocked by the guard, and the second was all made of iron bars, with remote control. Unless a button on the central panel was pushed, the door won’t open even if a guard wanted to take you out. We were outside for two hours and expected that by our return he would have been taken away. But no, they put us back into the cell and closed the doors with the bang. He was white as a wall, with no more blood spurting, his eyes closed, but still alive. Then another one cut his arm and lay beside the first one. No one opened the doors to their knocking. Then the third one did the same. Blood was jellifying on the cell floor. The walls were all covered in blood, like in the slaughter-house. So the fourth and the fifth, the sixth and the seventh cut their veins. The eighth cut his belly open and lay down. I was left alone. Stepping on that blood jelly I approached the doors. After some 10-15 minutes the guard opened the doors, and there were orderlies with stretchers and doctors waiting outside…
But can you see the result of their conscience being woken up? These criminals’ faces were radiant, as well as their eyes. They kept asking me: “So, have you forgiven us?” And I blessed them with a sign of cross and told them: “Doubtless. Go with God, don’t sin anymore and you will survive”. And they told me – and I’ll relate that in Ukrainian although they were speaking Russian: “We can’t even tell you what a pleasure it is to have our conscience cleaned with our own blood, that is not your body which is being taken out of here, but ours. We feel our souls alleviated”. And their eyes were shining.
After that I had more guys for cellmates. But the previous ones all stayed alive, even the guy who opened his gut – I met him later on a transport.
That’s why I told that Vasyl’ Koshchynets’ :”See, the whole episode I have related to you lasted less than 24 hours, because I was brought to the cell in the evening, and before lunch time next day they were taken out already. That was a God-created movie of my life. But the movie about you which Lyubko is making and that carton full of horylka (and it was not a carton, but a whole “Kolkhyda” as I had learnt later), - it is all Pharisiasm. And your representative keeps claiming that you are a patent patriot!”
It hurt a lot that all these former political prisoners who had become CUN members, voted against me, although it did not matter in the long run. Because the people were for me. On my way to the podium, where I had to speak, I was greeted with applause. The common people voted for me, by many votes. But these former political prisoners who had become CUN members voted against me – and let your notes reflect that – due to that Koshchynets. In our village of Dolyna CUN is headed by Ivan Dolishny, a former political prisoner himself. We met on the third day of the Holidays and I told him:”You know, Ivan, I feel no moral right to be mad, especially at the time of the Holidays, so I stretch out my hand to you. But you should be aware that I refuse to accept all these CUNs, current OUNs, or the OUN-UPA fraternity. You have not heard this “prayer” often enough: “Attention, prisoners! One step to the right, one step to the left is considered an escape. The guards fire their guns without warning!” You have not taken enough mugging in your cells. Just fancy – we’ve been beaten and tortured and terrorized in those cells, but if someone would have told us that on our liberation you would be voting for the former communist, for a bandit, just pushing your brother aside – I would have responded “You’d rather kill me right away!” And now you dare trampling your friend down! And you raised your hand to vote for a communist? Then you left the camps unworthy and unclean. Because had you been clean you would not have the stamina to vote for someone else”.
The gang committed crimes, but it is a different story. At least I was happy that my friends voted for me. I’ve given my whole life…You see, I have no wife, my son was murdered. You know my circumstances. So it is only the community I can count upon for respect.
Concluding, I would like to say jokingly that my idea was to get into the Supreme Rada and invite my colleagues the deputies to my place in the Carpathian Mountains for spring field work. I would prepare the holes, Kravhcuk and Kuchma would have the pails with manure to fill these holes, because, you know, the holes need manure. Slava Stetsko would throw potato in. Chornovyl and Lukyanenko would cover it with earth. And Lyubko who had made the movie about Koshchynets would shoot all that on video camera. I would prepare a dinner, half a liter of moonshine, we would eat and drink and return nicely to Kyiv to proceed with Ukraine-building. Then I would confirm that we are all together. But not like this…Well, anyway, it was just a joke… In real life I had to do all the spring work myself – prepare the holes, fill them with manure and sow potatoes. And now I am sorry to observe that we are living on the Ukrainian soil, but not in the Ukrainian state, for which I have given my life, and my friends have given theirs. Indeed, if the patriots ruled the country instead of enemies, could it come to the complete stop of operation for all the industries? Consider just the natural resources explored in Ukraine – billion tons per year – it makes 30 billion USD! It makes six Ukrainian budgets, because currently Ukrainian budget constitutes 5 billion USD. In old time Moscow would let 5% of the whole revenue sty in Ukraine, taking 95% to Russia, and you remember the life standards at the time. So if now our budget had been formed only out of the profits for the use of natural resources only, the quality of life should have been 6-7 times better. And how do we actually live? The rate of poverty among Ukrainian people is overwhelming. I see people fumbling through the garbage bins in search of something to eat…
I just joked that I would have Kravchuk and Kuchma dispersing manure and Slava Stetsko planting potatoes in my plot, where I did it all alone. Indeed, I used the tractor for ploughing, while my neighbor was working just with her hoe. So she is weeding her plot, making the holes and sowing potatoes. And there are many guys going around with their horses and asking who needs ploughing. So I asked “Neighbor, why won’t you have them plough your lot? Why are you struggling with it yourself?” And the elderly lady answers: “Neighbor, I need at least 10-15 spare hryvnas to have it ploughed. And I have not received my pension for five months now. And I have to do the spring planting, so I am doing it myself”. My heart broke on hearing that – our Ukraine should not be like that, it is not the Ukraine I have given my life for…
Indeed our common, honest, Christian, God-fearing people have such a bitter and gloomy life while these clans, the gang of scoundrels live in luxury, drink, feast, keep dozens of thousands, or even millions dollars in the foreign banks and crucify our people! Our struggle, hence, is not completed. Till the end of our days we will fight for the happiness and freedom of our people. I believe in future. I believe the time will come when patriots will rise to power in Ukraine and it will flourish and blossom. So far our indigent compatriots go to other countries to earn their daily bread, but people from those countries will be yet coming to Ukraine to earn money.
V.Ovsienko: Thank you.
P.Sichko: And thank you for this opportunity to share at least some portion of my grief, because, you know, a shared grief is only half-grief, while a share joy is a double joy. But ii is only a small share of what I have been through.
V.Ovsienko: I am not sorry to have spent with you four and a half hours. My belief is that history is not always what had actually happened, but what had been recorded. If the people who know the truth do not put it down, the new people will come and put down what they want. According to their own understanding or to the order they receive. If you could rewrite your book”Stalin’s camps, transports, tortures and amnesties” …But I see another possibility. Here you’ve talked for four and a half hours. Harkiv human rights group will have your story in writing. You will get the text and amend it, i.e. add the missing parts.
Три повстання Січків. У 2 т. Т. 2: Спогади. Інтерв’ю. Листи / Харківська правозахисна група; Редактор-упорядник В.В.Овсієнко; Художник-оформлювач О.Агеєв. – Харків: Фоліо, 2004. – C. 81 – 133. (Try povstannya Sichkiv [Three Sichkos’ rebellions – Ukr.]. In 2 v. V. 2: Memoirs. Interviews. Letters./ Harkiv human rights group. Edited and compiled by V.Ovsienko. Illustrated by O.Ageev.– Kharkiv: Folio, 2004. – P. 81 – 133.)