LISOVA (Hrytsenko) Vira Pavlivna
author: Vasyl Ovsiyenko
V.P.Lisova: I, Vira Pavlivna Lisova, maiden name Hrytsenko, was born in the town of Kaharlyk, Kyiv Oblast, on January 5, 1937. My parents were collective farmers: my mother, Palazhka Oksentiyivna Hrytsenko, was born in the field in 1907, my father Pavlo Prokopovych Hrytsenko was born in 1910; he was a veterinary attendant. My mother was a good person, beautiful and openhearted, she loved the world, loved the sun, flowers, was an honest, quiet, poetic person, and do-all. My father was a peculiar man, rather talented, he painted well, played balalaika, he was a handyman (he was a shoemaker, tailor etc.). He was a good vet, loved nature, was a hunter, fisherman, loved to travel and didn’t like to manage a household. Such a peculiar man. We lived in want. He told a lot about hunger, he was in German captivity, told about Germans, Americans, because he got into the American zone. He repeated once and again that the communists were bandits.
I had three sisters: we were four sisters together; Hanna was born in 1930, Natalia in 1931, and Mariya in 1938. We loved and supported each other for our whole life. With our family misfortunes never came singly. My mother twice became turgid from hunger in 1933 and 1947, although she worked very hard. The two older sisters were convicted by the demonstration trial according to the “Law of Three Spikelets” in 1947. They were good and modest girls, but the conviction shattered their health. Mariya, the youngest sister, in the sixties was signed off the Regional Komsomol Committee for copying samvydav publications. For the second time she was given the sack from the district public education authority at the insistence of local KGB guys. In the seventies, the KGB mushroomed across Ukraine; it was everywhere, not only in Kyiv districts: there were departments in oblast regions featuring no plates on the doors, but people knew who worked there. The second time she was fired from her job simply because she was Vira Lisova’s sister and Vira Lisova’s husband did his time in jail as a political prisoner.
After high school I went to the correspondence department at Kyiv University.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: What were your school years?
V.P.Lisova: I was at school from 1944 to 1954, and after Kaharlyk high school I became a correspondence student of Kyiv University and worked at motorcycle plant. It seems to me that all my life I was not indifferent to the world and to the events I took part in, and, in particular, in my microsphere. Therefore, at high school I went in for chorus and was an active member of the Komsomol. Working at the motorcycle plant, I dived into cultural activities. We, the youth of the shop no. 1, worked, collected scrap metal and bought for it paintings, records, arranged parties at the shop. We were backed by machine shop manager, Jew Semen Raskin, who allocated us a room for lectures, concerts, and even joined our poetical evenings.
I was the only Ukrainian-speaking worker at the entire plant. Apparently, there were people among us speaking Ukrainian at home, but in public they never used Ukrainian. Interestingly, the entire plant knew me and sympathized with me. There was no discord among us; I felt it later on the streets of Kyiv where they looked down on everybody speaking Ukrainian: “Speak Russian, please.” Or “In Ukrainian? Stop it, blockhead!” At the motorcycle plant they treated me swell.
The Komsomol district committee gave me a reference to work at school. I went to work as a Young Pioneer organizer at the school no. 24. It was in 1956-57. I quitted school because I dedicated myself to the organizer’s work; I liked it very much. But little time was left for learning. So I went to look for a quieter work to finish university. And after graduation I worked as a laboratory assistant at the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy and at the evening school.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: What were your university years?
V.P.Lisova: Six years of nonresident instruction: 1955-61. As a senior, I met Yevhen Proniuk and Vasyl Lisovyi. They had already graduated from the university and were sent to work.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: When you were a student, did you listen to the lectures of Ivan Benedyktovych Brovka?
V.P.Lisova: That is interesting. I grew up like a blade of grass, like a twig that naturally grows turning towards the sun under all conditions, spontaneously. But this spontaneity was promoted by Ukrainian ideas, which were imbued in subconsciousness by my family and everyday life. I defended myself at the level of that grass. And the university lectures of Ivan Benedyktovych for the first time presented the nationally-oriented discourse. I even remember that very lecture, when I felt and realized the thing that I had not understood and had not been conscious of before: I was Ukrainian. This happened during the lecture of Ivan Benedyktovych, at the very moment when he told us about Solomiya Krushelnytska and said that the whole world knew this brilliant Ukrainian, while we, Ukrainians, did not know. It was a powerful incentive to the national self-comprehension.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: What did he teach?
V.P.Lisova: He was a lecturer in the concise course of Soviet literature, in particular Oles Honchar. And then I worked at the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy, where on the fifth floor, at the Institute of Psychology, worked Yevhen Sverstiuk. He was visited by Dziuba, Roman Korohodsky, Drach and other interesting people. Then Sverstiuk occasionally gave me interesting books, including Franko’s essay “What is progress?” Sverstiuk was a man who never tried to persuade anyone. He just could politely say something, a phrase, and that’s all, and you could interpret it as you liked. There was no pressure on his part, because such was his nature. But each of his thoughts was so fresh that you would prefer to remember it. He gave me works of Vynnychenko, various articles and poetry, some of them I retyped. After reading the Franko’s essay “What is progress?” you began to see clearly the existing social misrepresentation. So I liked to work at the Institute of Pedagogy. I read a lot there. This was due to the heads of departments in which I worked: Professor of mathematics Ivan Teslenko and Professor of the history of pedagogy Olexandr Dzeveryn, co-workers Nelia Kalinichenko, Vasyl Smal, Lilia Khlebnikova and Tamara Ivanivna Tsvelykh was my good advisor and protector.
The evenings of the Creative Youth Club, Chorus “Skylark” at first under Moldovan and later Vadym Smohytel, speeches near the monument to Shevchenko, reading distributed literature of Ukrainian diaspora. At this time, I went to work at an evening school. Well, it was a real luxury!
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Were you still a student?
V.P.Lisova: No, this was after graduation: I already worked at the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy and evening school no. 40 in Darnytsia. It was in 1962-64. It was interesting to work there. My pupils included adult people, most of them even older than I. And then these evenings, this literature, I used it in the classroom. I remember them coming and saying, “Thanks for the lesson!” Then I invited to this school Yevhen Sverstiuk and Petro Boyko. The evening school was amazed when these people spoke. The learners accompanied the guests and asked questions. And there was even a great event: we organized the Shevchenko commemoration meeting after the scenario of Sverstiuk.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: What was the year, please?
V.P.Lisova: This was in 1964. It was a discovery of Shevchenko and language for the whole school, as they said. The full house of the school was charmed, and they even sang in the end. It was quite unusual for the evening school. I seize this opportunity to recall the story of Paraska Danylivna Heta, who worked in a single high school of residential-nonresidential instruction in Kyiv. The classrooms of this school were at Kyiv factories Khimvolokno, Radio factory, Chemical and pharmacological plant. These factories employed many vocational school students. Under the law, they had to have secondary education. They were problem children. The teachers feared to enter some classrooms. Paraska Danylivna taught math decorating it with Ukrainian and Russian poetry. And then a fifty-year-old lovely and lively woman with beautiful brown eyes enters this class, comes and sings “It is raining in the valley…” Her name was Vira Nychyporivna Cherednychenko. For several years she organized literary evenings, meetings with interesting people, and invited the “Golden Springs” with Nina Matviyenko. She was simple and honest with these kids, treated them to pies, and finally curbed these problem children. Nadiya Svitlychna gave inventive lessons in the same school for six months in the late 60s.
And then I was dismissed from the Institute of Education in connection with the laying of flowers at the Shevchenko monument on May 22. It was also in 1964. I went to work at the day Russian school no. 168 together with the staff head, which moved there from the evening school and invited me to go there. I worked there for four years. These were the better days of my life. I’d like to tell and write about my working at this school.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: But it was a Russian school, or wasn’t it?
V.P.Lisova: Yes, Russian, and children there were unusual. They welcomed me.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Where was this school situated?
V.P.Lisova: It was on the Tampere Street, and now it is gone, closed down. It trained many good and smart pupils, my pupils. They wrote such works, which I was advised to publish in samvydav. But I didn’t dare to do this to children; they couldn’t be left holding the bag. But still those were excellent works! The children began manifesting themselves. In fact, they created. Olexandr Cheshkov wrote original and even scientific works. In the 90s he became a member of the CUN. There was also Volodymyr Kalibabchuk, who is now a member of the Young Scientists Club, the Skovoroda Society. Alla Glazman, while emigrating to the United States, took her school works off with the help of the American Embassy, because she was afraid of confiscation. I remember her phrase: “Due to the Ukrainian literature lessons I became a conscious Jew.” Tetiana Kovalchuk has great achievements in educational field now. Valentyna Dmytrenko, Yuri Shmalko, Iryna Kuksa and many other very interesting children achieved success in various fields of activity. On meeting they say, “We remember your lessons word by word.” How instructive were exams in Ukrainian literature! The Ukrainian literature in the Russian school was an oral exam and Russian language was a written exam. It was a very interesting time. God grant my students a happy fate! Ukrainians, Jews and Russians became conscious citizens.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Were you working at the school on Tampere Street and Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy in parallel, right?
V.P.Lisova: No, I was dismissed from the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy in 1964, and at school on Tampere Street I worked from 1965 till 1969. There were other things at this school as well. Some people considered my lessons as “nationalistic” and they started reporting to the authorities: directorate, trade union and party committee. The authorities began to summon me for all sorts of conversations. The secretary of the district committee visited our school; I was summoned even during my vacations and told me about my “wrong attitude”. They were about to discuss this question at the district conference, but there was a clever woman at the district party committee−Kalinicheva Liudmyla Ivanivna, who later became the director of our school. Apparently she decided to fan emotions. Meanwhile we had a very interesting talk with her. Later I left my position at the school “of my own free will”. There were other teachers quitting as well. The district party committee maintained that nationalism and Zionism were flourishing at the school. Bella Binder, who taught Russian literature, was appointed a Zionist. So she was a Zionist. (laughs). She was an interesting and intelligent teacher; we were friends with her. So she and I left our positions at the school “of our own free will”.
I returned to the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy again. This happened in 1971. Tamara Ivanivna Tsvelykh, wife of Anatoliy Kostenko, was an intelligent and educated woman; she headed the department of aesthetic education and, like the management, she promised me the position of junior researcher. When I first worked for the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy, I had an unapproved dissertation topic and passed the candidate’s exams. When I returned to the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy, director Academician Rusko had been already dead. After my conversation with the managers of the institute I looked forward to a good scientific perspective.
Meanwhile, in 1972, these events took place: the arrests on January 12.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Please, give a detailed account of it. Could you elaborate on this important event, please…?
V.P.Lisova: Vasyl Lisovyi pitched into these events. Since he was not arrested on January 12, he along with Proniuk, Ovsiyenko and Hayduk were involved in the compilation and copying of the Ukrainian Herald, as well as an open letter of Lisovyi to the CC CPSU. Vasyl Semenovych was arrested on July 6, 1972, and I expected delivery in two weeks. I was on maternity leave. Interestingly, the higher-ups of the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy suggested that I came and applied for resignation of my own free will. Their reason was rather simple: fear. the KGB officers gave a call to the personnel department and asked about Lisova, if she worked for the institute. The chief of personnel department answered, “Yes, she works, who is interested? Because she is on maternity leave now.”−“This is state security agency speaking. Well, let her work, let her work.”−So I was told by the couriers. There I had to apply for resignation of my own free will. Then Tamara Ivanivna Tsvelykh sent to me a laboratory assistant, who said: “You should in no case apply for resignation of your own free will; they have no right to dismiss you, because you are on maternity leave.” This laboratory assistant was Nadiya Korneva, a niece of Vasyl Lisovyi; she was an intelligent, honest and noble girl. She is a friend of our family for life. Once and again she supported us in our difficult life. We are immensely grateful to her. But some people in the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy reacted with hostility to me: even on the street they never said hi and some of co-workers remained neutral.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: How did you take in this situation? You were about to deliver in such a state and your husband was arrested… How did they perform the search? They came to you on July 6, right? At the time you resided…
V.P.Lisova: At Darnytsia Boulevard, along with neighbors in a room of the so called hotel-like lodging house. It was a conventional: they were looking for the anti-Soviet literature. They found nothing. They had no right to search the corridor, because it was shared with other dwellers; we kept there the article by Sverstiuk “Ivan Kotliarevsky laughs” and copied by my hand into a thick notebook Dziuba’s work “Internationalism or Russification?” And so they were not found. After the search these papers collected my neighbor down the corridor, teacher of history, originally from Dnipropetrovsk Valentyna Andriyivna Shcherbyna, an intelligent and well educated woman. In the 60s she told me about the regional party committee secretary, well-known now ex-Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko that he was a good economic manager in the area and that people respected him. She recounted that in the fields he used to tell the tractor drivers say, “Guys, what kind of language you use? Speak Ukrainian.” How did I take it in? Depending on the situation, everyone behaves in accord with her/his inner “Ego”: some are frightened, others can be only as they are. Lisovyi defended not only his own dignity but also the dignity of Ukrainian intelligentsia. We were able to hold out only due to the fact that we understood that it was the government which violated the Constitution, and not we.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Once I heard that you were summoned to the KGB in this state, and you took some papers with him, because back home they could make a search in your absence, so you went to the KGB with those documents. There they did not search you.
V.P.Lisova: Yes, so it was. This was after I gave birth to Oksen and when Oksen grew up a little and I already took him by the hand. Oksen sat there and painted, while they talked with me. I carried a purse about; inside it there were printed on folded cigarette paper such materials as the letter of Lisovyi to the Central Committee and something else. I opened my purse, took out something, a passport or a handkerchief. Earlier, as Oksen was still a baby, investigator Tsimoh came with someone else to confiscate a letter of Vasyl, but I finally said that had burned it.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: This was not the investigation of the Lisovyi’s case, or was it?
V.P.Lisova: No, it was for other reasons. No experience, no knowledge of the laws… Having a child, I might ignore their summon. Both when pregnant and with a kid, I could not be called for interrogation. Nevertheless I went as basically law-abiding person. I followed the dictates of my conscience. I always was discreet and tried to tell these people the truth. Quietly and discreetly told the truth. I said: Well, it’s not the year 1937, aren’t you going too far? Investigator Rybchenko so calmly and kindly answered, “No, it is not the year 1937; it is a little different …”
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Our case was conducted by Karavanov; he wouldn’t be a Ukrainian.
V.P.Lisova: Karavanov was cruel to me, roughly spoke Russian, and even threatened: “If we happen to find a letter by Lisovyi, because we have confiscated his letters everywhere, you will be held responsible, even when your kids will grow up”. I remember him telling me: “He’d better mind his own affairs and go about his own family.” I replied: “But he is not simply a family man, but also a member of the party, which in addition to the duties he may, for example, criticize some negative phenomena in society." I remembered the warning of Karavanov when we’d just returned from exile, and they continued to summon me for all sorts of baseless questioning. At this time in Darnytsia District they built a beautiful house, district KGB. The conversation was recorded; the investigator spoke good Ukrainian, and they said that he was from Lviv.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Maybe Ilkiv Vasyl Ivanovych?
V.P.Lisova: A tall, handsome middle-aged man, I’ve forgotten his name, unfortunately. So I told him, “Sometime you will be made responsible for what you have done with Vasyl Stus.’ He looked at me intently and said, “Yes? Will be made responsible?” I said: “You bet.”
V.V.Ovsiyenko: In what year was it?
V.P.Lisova: This was after we had come back, in 1986.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: There exists a Helsinki Group document about persecution of you. And there, in particular, the episode is described when your apartment was searched without you. (Memorandum no. 8 “On persecution of Vira Lisova, wife of political prisoner” from 15.03.1977 / / Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of Helsinki Accords: Documents and materials. In 4 volumes. Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Kharkiv: Folio, 2001. - Vol. 2. - P. 95-96. – V.O.).
V.P.Lisova: Sure, they called the tune; I saw traces of their presence. I filed a grievance to the district militiaman: “Protect me, please.” And he retorted: “Why, you’ve got persecution mania.” But when I went to the district militia station by appointment, among other militia investigators I met a human officer. I saw it by the eyes. He said, "Yes, I understand. It means that they were after something in your apartment.” But those “KGB guys,” as Vasyl Stus used to put it, began bulling me, when after the first half of the term of Vasyl I started in his defense. I appealed to all authorities: at first, to our KGB chiefs, then to Moscow officials, to the Central Committee, Supreme Soviet, Committee of Women, and when I saw the standard runarounds, I turned to the Communists of France, just as at the time Tetiana Zhytnykova appealed on behalf of her husband Leonid Pliushch. I wrote letters to Canadian Communists, Amnesty International and International Human Rights Organization. And only Georges Marchais replied, which Mariya Ovdiyenko helped to translate: it read that the French Communist Party is not indifferent to the situation in the USSR, but in this case, it cannot help.
Then they started to treat me very aggressively, in particular through their operatives, curators. I had three snatchers. The first was−unfortunately, I cannot remember his name−lieutenant, middle-aged, calm, and reserved. He spoke very sweetly: “Well, how many of you are out there? A handful of malcontents; you’d better repent and live according to a rule of thumb.” He used to catch me on my way near my work on the eve of the New Year, in the afternoon of December 21. Or on the eve of by my child’s birthday, so as to take me by surprise and spoil a holiday.
Then he was replaced by another one. He was the very reverse of his predecessor. It was well-known Kirichek. In our circle rumor had it that it was a specialist in setting up criminal cases, including Vadym Smohytel, Mykola Horbal, Olexandr Feldman, who, by the way, passed the letter of Vasyl to Moscow. This same Kirichek treated me very cruelly. At this time (October 1976), I got a job at a research institute, which was affiliated with a Moscow institute (Ukrainian Branch of the Central Institute for Scientific organization of Labor, Management and Rationalization of the Central Union of Consumer Societies of the Russian Federation). They were very nice to me. I was an outworker, I typed, edited, did all errands, and they put me on the job as an in-and-outer. Between successive errands I had time to pop down to the village for food. He went to my place of work and in the presence of the head of personnel department and deputy director spoke to me very rudely. The reason for his dissatisfaction was that I disobeyed the KGB summon; the head of personnel department, retired serviceman, got all of a dither the moment he heard about such disobeyer. When this Kirichek asked why I had disobeyed their summon, I said, “You had neither reason, nor right to summon me.” The head of personnel department jumped out of skin, “How come? How do you know they had no right?”−“I’ve read about it.” He rose with a spring: “How come you’re reading?” One on one Kirichek behaved like fascist. As a result I had a preinfarction angina. They signed me off in February 1977. And when my institute co-workers arrived came to my place to take the typewriter away, they said that the deputy director sympathized with me, but he couldn’t help me under existing conditions. I thanked him for sympathy.
And their treatment of children was horrible.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Tell about it, please.
V.P.Lisova: Well, our extreme financial difficulties resulted from our choice. But the cruel treatment of our children impressed. Vasyl in 1979 was in exile in Buryatia. He gave me a call at 04 A.M., "What’s up? They say here that something terrible has happened to you and you worry.” I said: “Don’t worry, nothing special.” I had a day shift; at 3:00 P.M. frightened Myroslava (she was in the seventh grade then) phoned me and told: “Mom, I was assaulted and they wanted to rape me.” I ran back home at once and immediately called my supervisor, a new one: Kirichko was withdrawn after my complaints (I told in the KGB that he was a fascist). So I called the curator and said: “Such and such things happened. It seems, you’re capable of anything.”−“Vira Pavlivna, do you really believe that this was the work of ours?”−“You miscalculated: Vasyl Semenovych got to know out about it before it happened. He called me at 04 A.M. and the assault took place at 03 P.M.” Some dullard made a great show of it: attack and all, then gave her an opportunity to escape at the front door. He followed her, then passed ahead of her, entered the premises. But for us it was a terrible shock, we’re just afraid. Now the seventh grader did not go to school alone in the morning; either I accompanied her or I sent her with the neighbors’ children. I went with my two children and we were occasionally followed by the guys with camera, so that children would see them. Myroslava used to say, “Mom, you see, here he goes and takes pictures.” The moment I turn back he looks away.
Their attitude towards children was inconceivable. We are adults… and why children? We went to visit Vasyl in exile, in Novaya Bryan (Zaigrayevskiy Region of Buryatia). And here the supervisor phoned me, gave some piece of advice, gave the phone number, where there was a vacancy, and suggested to see me to the train, like a true friend, “Just call them and they’ll employ you.” We went with children to the other end of the earth, beyond Baikal, instead of taking kids somewhere for recreation. We arrived, and the owner of the apartment, where he lived, told us: “They took him away tonight.” They arrested him for the so-called “social parasitism”. In fact, for three months they did not allow him to work and then jailed. Immediately after he wrote his letter to Brezhnev on Afghanistan.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Can you specify the date, please?
V.P.Lisova: This war started ...
V.V.Ovsiyenko: The Afghan war began on December 29, 1979.
V.P.Lisova: In June 1979 Vasyl went into exile.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Why did you decide to visit him in exile?
V.P.Lisova: What do you mean by why? I just know that Vasyl is very honest, and he is not inclined to compromise. He is not disposed to display affects; he is sober-minded and consequential. And I feared for him. I believed that if we were near him, it would have been easier for him. But he was given job in some abandoned unsanitary cowshed and eventually he fell ill with jaundice and was hospitalized. The unsanitary conditions are a commonplace in Siberia: children, dogs, and cats are playing together in the sand. And of course there people fall ill with jaundice and tuberculosis, as I saw later with my own eyes living there for two years.
V. Ovsiyenko: He was arrested sometime in the early 1980, right?
V.P.Lisova: He was arrested on June 11, 1980 (dismissed on June 11, 1981).
V.V.Ovsiyenko: And you arrived already after his arrest?
V.P.Lisova: Yes, we arrived in the morning, and he was arrested in the small hours.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Did you stay there?
V.P.Lisova: We stayed there, because the investigation was under way. Although it was an imitation of investigation. He waved legal defense; I said that I would set up the defense at the trial. For a month− the investigation lasted a month−we lived at the apartment of the Nyepitayevys, Nina and Ivan. They were very nice people, Old Believers. Good hosts and pleasant people. I came forward in defense, although now it may look funny. Everything was predesigned and they needed neither real defense, nor proofs. After the sentence had been pronounced, I gave Vasyl what I could, and we went home. He was transferred to the Mukhor-Shybirskyi criminal camp. There were dreaded prisons, prisons and prisons, camps, camps for recidivists. He was put there and stayed there for a year. The temperature there sinks to the level of -45 - 50°C. His health was broken there. And we with our children were getting ready for the future relocation. In a year we ordered a container and arrived. I had seen already how people had lived there and what they had eaten: three-liter wine jars on the shelves, black vermicelli, which dissolves in boiling water and some canned fish. Often there was no supply of bread. So I laid in food in Kyiv, different clothes, different medications for Vasyl, herbs, and all that. We went to the settlement of Ilka, Zaigrayevski Region, Buryatia, where they transferred Lisovyi after his release from the camp. Two years we lived near him. Interestingly, when I arrived in Ilka with my children and asked a street, where a political exile lived, the people replied in a very friendly way, “Oh, you’re like the Decembrists.” And then a man gave us a lift on a large cart driven by a horse and also said kindly, “There always were many of such settlers. Don’t worry, with the help of God and good people everything will be okay.”
V.V.Ovsiyenko: It was already 1981, and up to 1983…
V.P.Lisova: Yes, up to June 1983. I wanted the family to stick together. So that children could stay with their father, because he was caring and knew how to create a peaceful, creative and intellectual atmosphere. Vasyl worked as a turner at a car repair plant.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: What happened to your Kyiv apartment?
V.P.Lisova: Kyiv apartment? Before my travel, I went to the KGB and said, “I’ve come to tell you that I am leaving, and I hope that my apartment won’t be closed, as it happened in Moscow with one dissident family: for six months a wife could not come back and their apartment was sealed and seized by the authorities. I talked with the general, who was kind, but not without irony, a sort of handsome Stirlitz: “Well, of course, we do not intend to do this; the more so we hope the Solzhenitsyn Fund will give you money to travel and you will be able to come here in six months.” I said to him, “Well, I see your apparent irony about the Solzhenitsyn Fund. You took away the children’s father, left me in the lurch with two kids and now you also want that the good people wouldn’t help us?” Of course, every six months I came by air to Kyiv flying across the entire USSR.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: And nobody lived here?
V.P.Lisova: For some time there lived my niece Natalia, the daughter of my sister Hanna, she studied in Kyiv.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: As far as I know, during all those years, when Vasyl Semenovych did his term in jail, you carried out some work. Now you’ve mentioned the Solzhenitsyn Fund.
V.P.Lisova: In Moscow, I got into the circle of Moscow dissidents through the Lithuanian women whom I met at the railroad ticket office in Potma, the Urals. They said that in Moscow they were very interested in Ukrainian political prisoners, their families and cannot find the way to Kyiv. They offered to introduce me to people from the milieu of Sakharov, including Andrei Tverdokhlebov, Tatiana Velikanova, Liudmila Aleksyeyeva, Galina Lyubarskaya, Malva Landa, the Shikhanovichs and others. Tatiana Khodorovich, administrator of the Solzhenitsyn Fund, a very nice woman, asked me then if I could hand the aid over to the families of Ukrainian political prisoners. Well, of course, I might not tell her that I was against it, or feared or did not want. By all means, it was dangerous, and even scary, because of those searches. There might also occur a theft; they knew that I and Alla Marchenko accepted guests such as Sergei Khodorovich, Piotr Vince, Yuri Shikhanovich or someone else. They search the apartment to find this money. They conducted searches even in connection with the theft of some kind, somewhere in Lviv Oblast, in some department store. Certainly, they brought from Moscow a certain amount for a number of families. Here we distributed money.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Was Alla Marchenko involved in this?
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Because, as far as I know, in Halychyna Olena Antoniv did it.
V.P.Lisova: Olena, Olena… She was a beautiful, bright person, intelligent, kind, modest, educated, loved music and literature… and brave. As Zenoviy Krasivsky wrote from his to our exile, Olena Antoniv was a gift of fate for him for all his severe trials. I loved Olena very much; she will remain in my memory forever. Olena was busy helping the political prisoners and their families before the organization of the Fund, for it found its way here later, much later. All of it happened later, after I attended a press conferences with foreign journalists at the apartment of Tatiana Khodorovich. Much earlier Oksana Yakivna Meshko and Borys Antonenko-Davydovych on their own tried to organize aid to the families of political prisoners in Kyiv1. Even Ivan Benedyktovych Brovko had contacts with the Lviv priests who collected aid funds. And then there formed a sum of money, albeit small, used to render help. We could not collect enough, and many families were hard up and had no money for a voyage.
People tried to send some money to the camp for subscription or “Books via post office service” or for food packages or parcels. And some people, like me, were permanently jobless. I was on maternity leave; then they fired me, I also worked as outworker-embroideress, typist, but my earnings were scanty. Everybody sought his own way to salvation. During the first year I relied on my family, my sisters. All three of them used to come in turn once a month and brought me some provisions. Their husbands, my brothers-in-law Borys Vasheka and Fedir Yovhymenko, noble and kind people, and I was grateful to them.
The KGB guys hated this help coming in. They were glad to let me out of Kyiv.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: They kind of were happy that you went to Siberia?
V.P.Lisova: Right. When I was leaving Kyiv, my supervisor was so glad, so active, he said that I would find work there and that my husband was like a small child. It was about Lisovyi.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: You came back in 1983…
V.P.Lisova: And one thing and another… It is difficult to recount everything. When they brought Vasyl to Kyiv expecting him to repent in late summer… in the fall of 1975, there was an interesting episode with a letter. They planted a speculator in foreign currency in Vasyl’s cell, who had to do some work for them.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: During that so called checking procedure, right?
V.P.Lisova: Yes, yes.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: They brought me to Kyiv in 1976 as well, in late summer.
V.P.Lisova: And that’s how it was… This speculator in foreign currency passed a letter to Borys Dmytrovych Antonenko-Davydovych, in which he wrote that he wanted to say the truth and shame the devil. He wrote that there was such prisoner as Lisovyi, who cast aspersions on everybody. He slandered General Hryhorenko, Borys Dmytrovych, Mykhailyna Kotsiubynska, and others. Borys Dmytrovych read this letter and gave it to Mykhailyna Khomivna; the latter came running to me, I read the letter, learned it by heart (now I couldn’t recall it word for word) and told her, “Well, it’s not Lisovyi’s style of thought and expression, it’s a kind of frame-up in progress.” It reads about such people, with whom he was not familiar at all. It is not in him to say such ugly things about people. As a matter of fact, Vasyl is very discreet in the evaluation of people, and in any case he wouldn’t indulge in confidences with a speculator in foreign currency. It all is cut from the same cloth. They obviously wanted to knock together something for the media that Vasyl allegedly wrote a letter of remorse in which he sort of slanders Ukrainian writers. But as far as I recognized their design, I went to the KGB immediately, wrote an application and told my supervisor Kirichko that I knew about this letter. It’s no use trying on that trick with Lisovyi, I say, because Lisovyi is not a reptile. He asked, “What’s your point? Do you have this letter?” Borys Dmytrovych was set a condition to read and destroy the message. Borys Dmytrovych promised. But I told Kirichko that if the necessity arises, I will show this letter. He backed out then. I left him a written request addressed to the head of the KGB, which read that if they were plotting something, I have already guessed their purpose and their shameful trick will not work. And in fact their plot failed, thank God.
In exile in Buryatia our children went to Russian schools during two years. The teachers and pupils were nice to them. When Myroslava answer in class, the class grew quiet and listened attentively. She participated in national competitions there and took the buns. Oksen studied in the 3 and 4th grade; he was a good boy and made friends with local children. One of teachers once told me, “He is surprisingly kind and good boy, the problem is how to preserve this goodness.” Fortunately, he remained the same.
In exile, we lived in one half of izba, which we bought. The money to buy it was transferred by Niyolye Sadunayte from Lithuania. Her family and she personally did their time in camps and exile and returned home; she helped many exiles from different republics. By the way, the izba we bought was built after the war by Baltic members of the national liberation war of the 40s and 50s, who had been deported to Siberia. So our izba and yard we redeveloped in the Ukrainian style. Vasyl was constantly busy with children, in particular learning foreign languages, and organized various competitions and, when possible, trips, outings, in winter we skated. I remember one outing in the taiga, where we were invited by the family of local engineer and teacher of history. We were impressed with the grandeur and power of the taiga. We talked and Oksen climbed the mighty fallen trees covered with moss. The history teacher complained that Buryats, after a Buryat became the party secretary of the autonomy, “wanted to make Buryat language the language of instruction at the Ulan-Ude University.” To which I replied frankly: “Do you think they’d rather organize their Buryat University in Moscow?” And that was the end of our communication with the local intelligentsia.
A very interesting trip we made due to the Nyepitayevs who offered us to go in their car, shortly before our departure to Kyiv, to Novopetrovsk to the Decembrists’ Museum on the famous Damskaya Street named in honor of the wives of the Decembrists. There was only one two-storey house of the wife of Odoyevski, which is now the Museum of the Decembrists. There we also visited the house of the first Ukrainian Decembrist Gorbachevsky, which now houses the city library. We visited the grave of Gorbachevsky at the local cemetery. On behalf of my family I express my sympathy to the family that we retain up to this day.
We were returning from Buryatia via Central Asia with a stop in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent, with its famous Registon. After our return Vasyl couldn’t get a job. Three months went by and he still remained jobless.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Three months out of work meant “parasitism”.
V.P.Lisova: Right, and it entailed banishment for social parasitism. Two weeks before the end of this three-month period we were visited at our apartment by the Deputy Head of Kyiv militia, a young and pleasant officer. He asked, “Well, what about your husband’s unemployment?” I told him that Vasyl Semenovych could nowhere get a job: they refuse to take him according to his specialty, and they refuse to take him as an unskilled laborer because of his higher education. “Well, you keep looking, hold your ground.” I said, “So you yourself try and help us tackle the situation. Or he is doomed to go back into bondage in three months?” He did not listen to what I said, “Well, well, well, you just keep looking. Goodbye.” Such was the warning. Of course, at the time, I was very concerned; once again we faced trouble…
And Vasyl − maybe under my pressure because there was no way out − turned to the KGB. They received Vasyl. He was asked: “What kind of job would you like? And where would you like to work?” Vasyl said: “The Institute of Philosophy, where I had been working.”−“Well, we will ask.” Then they called and said, “No, they seem to look down on you, they won’t employ you. There might be a vacancy at the Museum of History of Kyiv.” So Vasyl went to the Museum of History of Kyiv and worked there for several years. Of course, now there was no question about the low salary: they paid him 80 karbovanetses, and I got 90 at school. But we were glad that we were at home and could scratch out. It was difficult for us to make ends meet: besides Oksen studied pottery in Poltava Oblast, he had not even enough money for food.
Nevertheless, we started looking for another job. And so it was that Vasyl found himself at the Velyka Dmytrivka school from which he had graduated with a medal in the past. School headmaster Volodymyr Vasyliovych Solodukhin was a good man and employed Vasyl; later he ventured to address the academic council of the Institute of Philosophy with a request to reinstate Lisovyi in the job in the Institute for Philosophy, where he could pursue research. At school, both teachers and children were very sympathetic to Lisovyi. He prepared interesting lessons on any subject.
So, after the Museum of the History of Kyiv, he went to work at school and worked there until the time of political changes.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Two years: when was it?
V.P.Lisova: It was in 1988 and 1989, and then he was invited to the institute. They raised the question about his reinstatement, and he left his native school. There’s a honors board at the school featuring the names of those graduating with honors. When Vasyl was arrested back in 1972, his name was crossed out, and later it was restored.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Today he said that he was the first medalist at this school.
V.P.Lisova: Today, the teachers ask him to come to school but he’s short of time, though he should have. And they invited me as well.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: You have two children: when was Myroslava born?
V.P.Lisova: Myroslava was born in 1966, Oksen in 1972. Our children clever and very talented, they are well-read. Despite the difficult conditions in which they had to live, they received higher education and are now working successfully. However sometimes, my heart aches when I remember their hardships in childhood.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Oksen born in July, in what year was he born?
V.P.Lisova: Twenty-second of July.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: And his father was arrested on July 6?
V.P.Lisova: Yes. About my children I certainly had to bother a lot, but I had a certain strategy. I visualized who I wanted them to become, and I prepared them accordingly. I read them a lot, went with them to museums, theaters, traveled with them, they watched filmstrips, read literature in accord with a particular plan. We read aloud up to the tenth grade, and they loved it. I remember Myroslava was already a tenth grader, but often asked me: “Let’s read aloud!” I sang them folk songs; we had a very good collection of disks, and we listened to all those records. I read them tales, at first Ukrainian, and then, when they grew older, the tales of other nations. The same I did at school. I read dumas2, fables of Skovoroda, Ukrainian classics, and poetry. In the seventh and eighth grade they read historical literature. In the eighth, ninth and tenth grades they read world classics. When I ran the extended-day group, I had an opportunity to work by my plan. They used to fire me once and again, and radio Svoboda broadcast that Lisova had two children, and the dismissal was unlawful; then my supervisor suggested: “Well, let it be school, but not the position of a teacher.” So the KGB okayed my work at school, but not as a teacher. Therefore I worked in the library, but it was also a magnificent thing. I conducted conversations with pupils from the first to the tenth grades.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: From what year did they allow you to work at school?
V.P.Lisova: It was in 1978. I went to school no. 183 and worked there until my retirement. The personnel treated me very well, school headmistress Mariya Andriyivna Klishchevska, head of the teaching department Zinaida Ivanivna Todorchyk, Mykola Serhiyovych Zameha and Stanislav Ivanovych Mysel were smart people and allow me to work by my own individual plan. Even when I worked in the library, head of the teaching department of the upper classes, a physics master responsible for political briefing in the upper classes invited me to report on culture. And when I started tutoring the group, I began to carry out educational work with children and did it my way, in the spirit ethnopedagogy. It is a very interesting system, and I managed to get my point over to the school management. I divided the school year into natural and festal cycles including the anniversaries of great men: Shevchenko, Lesia Ukrayinka, and others. Together with children we read and sang. I taught them to sing vesniankas, Christmas carols, shchedrivkas, Kozak songs, and riflemen’s songs. At the end of the year we arranged the Shevchenko Event.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Did you participate in public affairs, in perestroika?
V.P.Lisova: Well, it depends, I didn’t go at it tooth and nail, but when the Rukh was organized, I did everything in my power, I went with the Rukh, I liked Rukh very much. I was the head of Prosvita cell in my school no. 183.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: I see you take part in the scientific conferences and I come across your publications in the Zona Magazine.
V.P.Lisova: For some time I was a member of the Union of Ukrainian Women, but I was not an activist. Once, at an international conference, I made a speech on behalf of the Union of Ukrainian Women and participated in the activities of the organization. I took part in the activities of Rukh, performed canvassing. I, in fact, carried out election campaigning on my own. I took lots of leaflets in the Rukh and distributed them in electric trains, in residential neighborhoods, in bazaars, traveled through villages even with my children and grandchild, I transported, delivered and distributed the leaflets, explained for whom and why they should vote. But, unfortunately, I wasn’t an active member of the movement. We, the dissidents, differ from these new public figures. Some of them, including women, are people with slightly different behavior, they have divergent mentality, and it is rather difficult to collaborate with them.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: It seems that the people of that generation, of which you told us, have a sort of intrinsic relations, which are inconceivable for the new pacemakers.
V.P.Lisova: Yes, it’s true. A the time it couldn’t occur to us to start accusing one another. We, women, were so friendly with each other. We knew each other’s shortcomings, but it was not the reason for the divergence of opinions…
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Somewhere you said that you were all cut from the same cloth; you were united by a common information field. It was really a kind of a narrow circle of cognate people, who just loved each other.
V.P.Lisova: It was a real love; even now we−Halyna Didkivska, Tamila Matusevych, Valentyna Stus-Popeliuh, Liolia Svitlychna, Nadiya, Nina (I like Nina Mikhailovna since the sixties, when we worked together at the Ukrainian Research Institute of Pedagogy), Alla Marchenko and deceased Olena Antoniv, Olga Horyn, deceased Liubov Popadiuk, Ovsiyenko’s sister Nadiya, her daughter Liudmyla, Svitlana Kyrychenko−we’re still as kin together. I just couldn’t name them all now…
V.V.Ovsiyenko: We have your article with a long list of names! (Simdesyatnytsi / / Zona, no. 12.--1997.--P. 3-13.)
V.P.Lisova: Yes. And now it would have been hard for us to become friends with these new people. Even in the Public service, where Mariya Spolska from Canada tried to introduce representatives of various organizations−from the Rukh, URP and others−no dice.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: I know that you had complicacy when you had to tend your grandson Stepan: your daughter studied and someone had to take care of the grandson.
V.P.Lisova: Six times Myroslava tried to join the institute! They told me at the medical institute that she had failed all six times “not without aid”. There were times that she had good−very good−good−very good, but the last mark was satisfactory, and once even poor. I said, “Beat that if you can! Satisfactory was a pass mark, so they had to put poor.” This joining process was a real humiliation! Finally, when she entered the medical institute, got married and the baby was born, I had to give a hand. This, of course, took a lot of time and energy. I dreamed to work for the “Prosvita” after my retirement. I already wasn’t fit to look after my little grandson Nazar and now also Ustym, sons of Oksen and Lesia. I wish to travel across Ukraine: I pity rural teachers! They didn’t know much about those matters, they lacked literature and information. So I try to help as much as I can. From time to time I distribute literature throughout Ukraine, newspapers and so on. Because I see that, despite the large number of different NGOs and political parties, public education is consigned to oblivion, especially in the village. Because I am disconcerted about such slow transformation of the worldview of our people, including intellectuals, because only this will give a solid foundation for the State, of which we all dreamt and go on dreaming.
V.V.Ovsiyenko: Thank you, Vira Pavlivna!
We’ve met Vira Lisova-Hrytsenko, and we’ve recorded this conversation in the Lisovyis’ apartment in Kyiv on October 9, 1998.
1 There also existed voluntary individual collectors, to whom well-known Ukrainians occasionally donated considerable sums of money, e.g. the major Ukrainian poet Pavlo Tychyna. Money was also collected during ritual carol-singing, for example in Kyiv House of Writers on Lenin Street. Among donators was Stelmakh, Mykyta Shumylo and Leonid Vysheslavsky (note of the translator).
2 Sung Ukrainian epic poems (note of the translator).