We had great mission. Conversation with Mykhailo HORYN’
author: Bohumila Berdykhovska
You were born in 1930 in Western Ukraine, Zhydachyv raion. I believe it was called a “povit” then.
No, it was not a povit. And while we are at it, I would like to clarify some things. It was Kniselo village of Bibrka povit Lviv wojewodstwo. It was an ancient settlement, known as Prince’s village. Then it was shortened to its modern form “Kniselo”. As a kid I used to imagine the prince living in our village. When I was five or six I saw a dilapidated mill at the village end, with limestone millstones nearby. They bore inscription “Prince’s village”. So the stories about “prince’s village” turned out to be true.
What was your family like?
It was an authentic Ukrainian family. My grandfather on my father’s side was head of the village council under Western Ukraine People’s Republic. After the defeat of Ukrainians in Galicia, the Poles came to power and granddad had to spend some time in the filtration camp. Father was politically active since young age; he participated in OUN. The atmosphere at home was permeated with dreams of independent Ukraine. We were certain that the time for Ukrainian independence and of unification between Eastern and Western Ukraine will come. We constantly talked about future of Ukraine at home with village residents and discussed the ways of achieving it. I used to stay in the corner and listen avidly. To a certain extent my views were molded by these discussions.
Who were your closest neighbors?
Relationship with the school principal Kordal was most important for my family and me. Kordal and his wife were my first teachers. (I managed to finish first three years of schooling before the war). Our relations were very special: tactful when neighbors’ affairs were involved and principled when politics was involved. For example, Mrs.Kordalyova would come at Christmas and ask my mother bake a honey cake, because she claimed my mother was better at it. Mother would comply. And on Christmas Eve she would come bringing the gift of all the delicacies she had prepared for the feast. Two weeks later my mom would do the same bringing the tray with her holiday baking to Kordals.
But alongside with neighborly ties our relations involved politics, and then my father and Kordal’ separated by a fence started discussing politics. My father stood on one side of the fence and Kordal’ on the other; they quarreled without choosing their words. Kordal’ would shout at my father : “You stupid villager, you boor”. In response my father suggested Kordal’ would kiss him in the certain part of his body. I observed this exchange unable to understand how after such quarrels they become so courteous again on holidays. Our illiterate villagers treated one another with respect unlike present day village residents although these latter have some education. I could not fathom our Ukrainian peasants go outside to cut wood or work in their courtyards on Polish Christmas. They did not celebrate it, but they never did anything that would spoil the holiday atmosphere. This coexistence of Poles and Ukrainians had something noble in it. I remember as a kid I always wondered: “Look, they are fighting about politics but they show mutual respect”.
How was it at school?
It was very interesting. After all, we are talking here about seven-year olds. For example, a teacher would order: “Mykhaylo, sing «Jeszcze Polska nie zginela». [Poland has not perished yet – Pol.] And during the break we would agree to sing: "Jeszcze Polska nie zginela, ale zginac musi, jeszcze polak rusynowi buty czyscic musi". [Poland has not perished yet, but it has to perish. Times will come when Poles will be polishing our boots- Pol].
I mentioned earlier that Kordal’ quarreled with my father. Naturally, I was on my father’s side in these altercations and wanted to take my revenge on Kordal’. He had a substantial strawberry plot. Our peasants did not cultivate strawberries yet at that time. I gathered a gang of boys and invited them to stampede Kordal’s strawberry field. But the plot was right under Kordal’s windows. We decided we would crawl under them. No sooner said than done. Kordal’ was listening in to the radio at the window and the two of us (the other boys refused to take part in that) crawled quietly right across the strawberries. I’ve got my pants and shirt all red. When I came home, my mom asked me: “Sonny, where have you been? Look at you! How shall I wash your things?” Then my dad came: “Where have you been?” I answered proudly: “At Kordal’s. I destroyed all his strawberries.” And dad asked: “Did I order you to do that?” – “No, the idea was my own.” My father took off his belt and gave me a good spanking. Finally he said only: “I want it to be the one and only time!” For me as a small boy all these events – berries, Kordal’ and spanking - became tied in one knot, so I felt no sympathy towards Kordal’. But for the sake of truth I must admit that I was a good student and the Kordals couple treated me well. If sometimes I visited them at their home to see their children who had been my peers, they would always invite me to dinner. Sometimes I accepted and sometimes I refused, but in general we lived like good neighbors, although we could never come to political consent.
How well-off was your village?
It was relatively well-off. What did it mean? We had three or four peasants who owned 7-10 ha of land each. Life was bearable for all the villagers. Only about ten families had to hire themselves out to richer neighbors. They helped in grain-mowing or potatoes digging. An owner would pay them 10 kg of grain for a work day. Maybe the general standard of life was not that high, but no one went hungry. We had 145 households in the village, including 35 Polish families, 107 Ukrainian families and three Jewish families. 145 households owned the total of 600 ha of arable land. There were Ukrainian and Polish churches. We had “Prosvita” cultural society and Ukrainian cooperative, as well as Polish agricultural enterprise. Our cooperative house was built of clay and wood, while the Poles’ cooperative was built of bricks.
What were the relations between Poles and Ukrainians in Kniselo?
In general I would describe them as mutually tolerant, but only as far as they did not involve politics it was the starting point of all the conflicts. The ability of our villagers to drive a strict border between the one and the other was simply amazing.
Your father was an OUN member...
That is right. First he led our village organization, and then became the head of raion branch. I have to add here that my mother was a cousin to Mykola Lebid’. That is why our family ties to the nationalistic movement were very strong.
My father was arrested for the first time in1933. I remember how Mr.Zozulyak, a policeman well-known to all, took my father away. I cried then and promised to kill him. In 1938, when Trans-Carpathian Ukraine emerged, my father was arrested for the second time. Then I was already fully aware of the battle going on between the Ukrainians and the Poles. Father spent only two or three months in jail, but he had been beaten severely there. In a month after his second arrest the World War II started. The only radio in the village was owned by Kordal’. Radio was filling people with optimism. The saying "My i guzika plaszcza nie damy!" ("We won’t surrender even a coat button to the enemy!) was often repeated in the newspapers and speeches. Later our people said that they had surrendered not only buttons, but also entire military coats.
Under the window I was listening with my father to the radio news and comments of the village politicians till 2 am. At two we returned home and went to bed. Father had not even finished his cigarette, when we heard tramping of many feet under our window. Father had no time to make out what was going on, when something heavy struck the door. The door opened and a gang of Poznan’ gendarmes broke in. The gang was led by aforementioned Zozulyak who said: “Mykola, get ready, you are under arrest”. Father quickly got ready and gendarmes took him out. They went in the direction of the cemetery. Mother and I ran after him, and I still remember my despair at the thought that they would shoot my father to death. However, there was a truck with soldiers in it waiting near the cemetery. There was some room in the middle of the truck – for the people who had been arrested that night - my father and Ivan Tybor among them. They were ordered to get into the truck and to lie down. Then soldiers stepped upon their bodies. I still cannot forget that picture. The truck went away and for the days that followed mother was trying to find out what had happened to father, but without results. He returned home on the day when Bolsheviks entered Lviv. He had been severely beaten and condemned to death for his alleged subversive activity, i.e. cutting the phone wires between Bibrka and Khodoriv. One night the subversive elements cut the wires, indeed, but father had nothing to do with it. One of the members of the group had my father’s address – he was a tailor and made clothes for my father. That is why my father was arrested. As I said, he was sentenced to death, but the Germans had bombed the prison and both jailors and prisoners had fled.
What were the first days of soviet occupation like?
Some days after my father’s arrest, a Polish military unit arrived in our village. They were well-clad, had good boots and shining belts, good horses. They were about twenty. I believed them a first-class army. They made some circles and off they went. Probably, they were still less than one km away when another unit entered the village. I noticed striking difference between the two: the horses were miserable, rags instead of boots, no shining belts. I ran out to the road for a better look: the “moscals” were entering the village (no one called them Bolsheviks or soviets, just “moscals”).
And a most telling thing happened. Under the Polish rule no one had ever paid attention to the fact that young boys like me used to wear caps or hats with trident symbol on them. During the holidays the first thing was to hoist blue and yellow banner on the holiday pole. At the theater shows, which had to be registered with the village administration, a policeman might be present, if a play dwelt upon Polish-Ukrainian conflicts, but he was not allowed to interfere.
So I jumped out to see this bizarre army reminding me of Tatars if anything. The army was led by a mounted officer, slim, handsome, about 30 years of age. Suddenly he called me to him and ordered to take the trident off. I just barked at him: “I won’t!” and ran home. I told my father what had happened and he approved: “You did well”.
Several days later a raion magistrate came to us and demanded that father surrender the horses he had brought from Lviv: “Give us your horses for they are state property”. “Look, when the war started, the Poles had requisitioned my horses and cart. I brought other horses from Lviv. Give me back those taken away by the Poles and I’ll surrender these” – my father retorted”. The magistrate won’t listen to him. Suddenly he noticed a trident on the wall: “Take it off!” And father asked: “Why should I do it?” The magistrate started shouting. And my father, although of small height, was a courageous man. He pointed at the door and ordered: “Get out of my house!”.Father had no idea who the raion magistrate was. In Eastern Ukraine no one would dare to talk to him like that. But in Polish times it was quite possible. The Polish police was aware of a certain border which was not to be crossed. A Pole would not try to barge into a private home and give orders. Under Poles we could have our own banner or trident and home and no one cared. Moscals, on the other hand, started implementing their own order in our homes. That is why my father sent this magistrate packing. In a moment the head of the village council who had been already elected came running. We knew the man and he said:”Mykola, escape, as the magistrate wants to have you arrested”. That’s how my father ended up in the underground. It was an unusual underground, its members were watching the moscals’ movements and when they appeared my father would go to the hiding places, and after they left, he returned home.
In1941 the soviet occupation was replaced by the Germans. Once Germans came, Stetsko’s government declared Ukraine an independent state.
After the proclamation of independence the Ukrainian police was set up. But in a couple of weeks it was dispersed by the Germans, the arrests and reprisals started. And sometimes the German demonstrated an amazing cruelty. For example, in a neighboring village of Bakivtsy someone had shot a German officer passing through the village. The Germans in retribution detained over a dozen villagers, brought them to Stryi and shot to death. It was the first shooting in our neighborhood. People could not believe such barbarity. The year was 1941. In a year or two something else happened. A certain Yuzio( folks-Deutch or whatever he was) had been a policeman in our village. He was a huge man, about 120 kg of weight. He drove a motorcycle. We always wondered how a motorcycle could bear such hulk of a man. He was very brutal. I remember he caught a Jewish woman once (she was from a neighbor village, because all the Jews from our village had been killed by Germans earlier), placed her at the wall and kept shooting at her for fun, as if she were a target. I remember thinking that I would kill the man had he had fallen into my hands. And I was just twelve then.
Once Yuzio was passing through the village and someone shot at him from the “Prosvita” building. He was wounded into his belly, kept driving for another kilometer, screaming terribly and finally drove into the river where he died. But can you imagine what the killing of the German police meant? It meant death for half of the village. No one dared to approach the body so it stayed in the river till the darkness fell. At night someone took away both the body and the motorcycle. Next day the German police came and started the inquiry. They found no stooge who would report what had happened, although the Germans had their agents by then. Everyone kept repeating that Yuzio went through the village and then proceeded on his way. Thus the village was saved.
Talking about the German occupation, I would like to draw a comparison between the Bolsheviks and the Germans. No one had greeted moscals with joy; the Germans, though, were welcomed at the beginning, but eventually the attitude towards them became hostile. During the occupation the national liberation movement was gaining momentum very rapidly. The level of political activity was so high that every Sunday the young people would gather in the reading hall to read newspapers, to put library books in order, to prepare theater shows and to sing. The Sunday schedule was always the same: first to the church for a morning service, then lunch, and then – “Prosvita” reading room. Very soon the guerilla units appeared. It was around 1943. Some young people went to join partisans. It was like a holiday: some people came; they would call 8-10 guys and ordered them to go to the military training.
What was it, actually? Was it a kind of recruitment? What happened if a boy did not want to go?
There were no cases like that. They drafted only patriotically minded youths, who were willing to join the partisans. I was only thirteen then, but I wanted to be a partisan very much. The boys wanting to go were more numerous than those who could actually go. After all, this training was conducted not far from our village, and after that the people could join the units. At that time first Ukrainian-German clashes started. I remember there was some fight, after which the Germans shot many people in Drohobych. I remember the years of 1943-1944 as the time of growing hatred towards Germans.
What was happening to your family at that time?
After the Germans had arrived in1941 we started organizing our own administration. My father was elected the head of the raion agricultural department. He did not hold this position for long as the Germans did not need our administration. Father was politically active for some time after that, but having some disagreements with the young nationalists he left political activity around 1942. A young guy headed the movement and my father moved aside. However many people used to visit our house. I remember how at the end of 1943 “melnykivtsy” decided to create the “Galicia” division of Sich Shooters. Makarushka, the colonel of the Ukrainian Galicia Army since 1918, came to our village to recruit people to the division. My father said he was decidedly against our people joining the German army to defend German interests. It was under my father’s influence that not a single boy from our village joined that division. I was very proud of my father after his talk with Marushka: he had won the discussion with such a knowledgeable man.
What have the relations with the Poles remaining in the village by 1943 been like? It was the beginning of the Polish-Ukrainian conflict in Volyn’ at the time,wasn’t it?
We had no conflict. But in early 1944 the news about Volyn’ have reached us and my father advised Kordal’ to go to Lviv: ‘You see what is going on in Volyn’”. Kordal’ packed his things and left. I have heard rumors that he only went as far as Berezdivtsy village and joined a Polish partisan detachment there.
By the beginning of 1944 all politically minded Poles, who earlier had had conflicts with Ukrainians left our village. After all, they did not go far, but settled in places with more numerous Polish population, like in Khodoriv, for example, or Bibrka. There they had some protection and it was easier for them to survive. As to our village, the partisans attacked it only once, maybe it was not an attack, but some punitive action. One Pole was killed in it (he was an old man and I don’t remember his last name. His first name was Kuba). It was in spring 1944. That was the end of the Polish-Ukrainian conflict in our village.
Does it mean that the Poles still lived in your village till the end of war?
Yes. About eight Polish families left our village for the city, and the rest remained.
In 1944 the front came closer…
The Germans fled and the soviet military unit entered the village. It had no resemblance to the one that had come in 1939. New uniforms, new arms, shining belts. I was amazed with such a change. They passed through the village without talking to anyone. Several days later I saw an officer approaching the village, with machine-gun across his chest. I wondered what happens next.”Sonny, where does Mykola Horyn’ live, if you happen to know?” I said “I do”. My heart beat rapidly while I pointed to the other end of the village. In our village you can see from one end to another, a kilometer and half, as it is round. I showed to him the fallen oaks and a man sitting on them. “This is Mykola Horyn’”. And it was - a distant relative of ours, much older than my father, maybe by 10-15 years. The officer went in that direction, and I ran home, crying “Dad, NKVD official came to fetch you!” Father jumped out of the window and disappeared in the field. Finally that NKVD officer came to our house but my father no longer was there.
Since then my father started to hide. How did he do it? We had dual rule in our village then. In the morning a Bolshevik unit came to the village, and left around four or five. Then the partisans overtook the village. And so it went on till late1944. As far as I remember the food supply for the partisans was wonderfully organized. Amounts were assigned precisely to each villager who knew exactly how much butter, meat, wheat or flour he should supply. Even soap was made for the partisans. This procurement had no comparison to the one organized by Bolsheviks. The partisan commander guaranteed procurement without fail. Well, the organization of economic activity in the Ukrainian underground deserves a special book.
Permanent altercations happened between partisans and Bolsheviks. Once a punitive NKVD unit came to the village. They put two machine-guns in our new home – we haven’t moved into it yet. From there they could observe the entire road that passed some fifty m from our house. At night a partisan unit came to the village on twenty carts. The partisans stopped at the house on the edge of the village and asked if there were any moscals around. The peasants from the village outskirts did not know about the soviet detachment and so answered there were none. The partisans’ carts moved along, but when they reached our house, the moscals started shooting at them. The fight began. I managed to drag my mother who was in the last month of pregnancy, under the bed. In a moment I heard a number of explosions in the school nearby. Soviet soldiers started running around seeking water. Then we heard the sounds of the cars leaving – the soviets were fleeing from the village. They were about a hundred and fifty, and partisans – about one hundred as well. Later I found out what had happened. The commander of the partisans, on understanding that they were entrapped, ran to the school building with two antitank grenades. The majority of moscals were stationed there. Ht threw the grenades inside before they had time to run out. A lot of soldiers were wounded or killed. In the morning I saw a cart with a dead horse in front of our house. Not a single partisan was killed. As soon as the shooting started, the partisans jumped into a big ditch that ran along the road, and so no one was injured. Only one man was wounded in his heel. That was the beginning of war in our village.
Some days later a car came to the village and the military-men told us that we were resettled to Siberia. We started packing. We were three then: my brother Bohdan, who was eight, my mother and I. All the families (about twenty of them) that had to be resettled were herded to the building of the Polish agricultural cooperative. My mother ordered Bohdan: “Run. Go to your aunt and you will make it somehow.” Nobody paid attention to small kids. With me, a teenager of 14 it was more difficult, though mother wanted me to escape, too. But we were guarded. In the evening a column was formed of our villagers and those from the neighbor village. It was about a kilometer and a half long. The soldiers guarded us on both sides. A soldier was a coachman on our cart. When we left the village mother started for the umpteenth time pushing me out of the cart so that I could escape. But how could I make it with a whole wall of soldiers. Suddenly our coachman turned to us and said: “Escape, sonny, and mom will follow you. If you don’t do it then it would be too late, because you will be guarded too closely”.
The soldier spoke thus?
Yes, he was an unusual soldier, from Vinnytsya oblast’. We entered the last village before Khodoriv and I jumped off the cart and lost myself among the soldiers who marched in line, and once we reached the first yard gate, I entered and waited till they passed by. That is how І escaped. Mother continued on her way, but in two days she escaped too.
I spent the night in this village. I entered the first house I saw and said: “Jesus Christ be praised!” – “Who are you, child?” “Well – I responded – I was deported, ran away and would ask you to let me sleep in your home”. – “No way, son, the village head warned us that we were to be deported too, so we are going to spend the night somewhere else, at the end of the village. See, we’ve already packed our pillows”. I said:”Please take me with you”. They did, and that is how I spent the night.
At the break of dawn next day I went home. I barely left the village when mounted patrol crossed my way. They took me with them and brought me to school in Horodyshche near Khodoriv. The school was crowded, as lot of people was kept there. The head of the local village council was the talk of the day. He was restlessly pacing the room. The man was coerced into turning his son in to NKVD. They promised him that the son won’t be arrested, if he gives out his hiding place, while staying in underground he was sure to perish. The father agreed and showed the hiding place. The boys wouldn’t surrender, they shot back and a tear grenade was thrown into their shelter to get them out. Everyone was arrested including the village head, and taken to the school in Horodyshche.
They made the partisans sit down under the wall where the snow had melted already. Suddenly (I saw it through the window) the NKVD officer approached and kicked the council head’s son in the face with all his might, so that teeth flew all around. The soldiers grabbed him under the arms and dragged him into the classroom. The father ran to him and embraced him, but the boy turned away. Then he was dragged by his arms and legs into another classroom where the partisans had been interrogated and we could hear only terrible screams – he was beaten cruelly – they wanted to get some information from him.
In two or three hours the boy was thrown into our room again. He was unconscious. His father sat over him crying all the time.
Suddenly a captain came into the room and started asking people why they had been detained. One of the women explained she was on her way to sell her hen – he ordered to set her free. The woman was from my village so I asked her to take me with her. She didn’t want to because she was afraid they won’t let us both go. But the captain looked at me and said: “Go, sonny”. Thus I was saved once again and reached my village. Mother joined me in two days. To avoid NKVD we went to the neighbor village of Yatvagi and stayed with the family we had there. We all survived including my father who had been in the forest.
Did the diarchy you mentioned last till 1945, when the soviets plotted a huge operation against partisans?
In January 1945 the Bolsheviks organized a big round-up which they called “the red broom”. Forests and villages were thoroughly combed by whole divisions. Finally the operation reached us. The battles broke out between partisans and “red broom”. My father had to go in hiding again. We stayed behind with mom. Father could not stay as there were military men in every village by then. They stayed in a village for about a week, thus effectively isolating one village from another. By that time we ran short of food supplies. Mother asked me to go home and bring at least some beetroots. So I went. I took a bit of sugar beets and potatoes and immediately hurried back. On my way I met an NKVD officer: “Where are you going?” – “Here, you see, I’ve bought some potatoes and beets and now I am returning home”. He let me go. I was lucky that time. But I can’t look at sweets after that beet diet.
There was a ring-leader by name of Vasyl’ at Yatvagi. He carried a machine-gun with him at all times. Once my father told him:”Vasyl’, you surely will be killed, so I shall make a coffin for you and put it in the basement”. No sooner said than done. The whole village was offended: “What is the old man doing? Such things are not done”. When the “red boom” was sweeping all over our village, Vasyl’ with his machine-gun was holding the army back. The partisans managed to break through, but two months later Vasyl’ was killed. I was present at the funeral. Before taking the body out, my father bent to Vasyl’ lying in the open coffin and said:”So, Vasyl’, didn’t I warn you it would be just so? Could I provide such a coffin for you now?” This picture remained with me forever.
In1945 the guerilla war still went on, but the normal life was setting in.
After two-year break I returned to school in 1945, and went to the seventh form. As a good student I was appointed the head of the students’ committee. My task was organizing anti-soviet actions. Thus, on the eve of Epiphany I gathered the “elders” from all the grades and ordered them not to come to school the next day. But kids of soviet big-shots studied with us too. So to stop them from coming to school we barred the school door at night.
In1946 before the elections to the Supreme Rada we were ordered to distribute leaflets. The school principal, former major Hordienko called the elders and me and asked whether we had anything to do with the leaflets. Naturally, we answered in the negative. Next day graffiti appeared in the latrine: “Hordienko, prepare to die!” KGB men were summoned. They checked the students’ handwriting, but, luckily, found no culprits. The partisans stayed in permanent touch with us and we disseminated the leaflets regularly. None of us joined the Komsomol.
You graduated in 1949 and entered the University.
Right , I graduated in1949 with very good marks. However, I was not awarded the Golden medal of excellence because I was not a Komsomol member. I decided to take the tests to apply to Lviv university. Under the influence of I.Franko, I wanted to study philosophy but there was no department of philosophy at Lviv university, as it was moved to Kiev earlier. What remained of the department merged with philology department. So I passed the tests to the faculty of logics and psychology. On October 1st or 2nd Yaroslv Halan spoke in front of the future students. I still remember his speech. He spoke like a man deeply concerned about the fate of his people, and fully aware of its drama. Soon after the news of Halan’s assassination reached us. Today, when we have access to the materials shedding light on this event, we can see how the regime had persecuted this man till the very last day: he was fired from the editing board of “Vil’na Ukraina” and stripped of many other privileges. Of course, Halan is a contradictory figure, he must have undergone certain transformation, because he wrote terrible things like his pamphlet: “I spit on Pope!” But most probably Halan had changed dramatically before his death. After his assassination the soviet power conducted mass arrests among the patriotic intelligentsia of Lviv.
Meanwhile the students’ awareness was raising and cultural societies were appearing in the university. I remember how in a book-store I accidently fell upon two volumes of “History of diplomacy” in Russian published in 1947 or 1948. I immediately put my initials on it. Then I met a student of economy department. I remember only his first name which was Ivan. He asked me to lend him the book. A week and a half later Ivan was arrested. I was certain that KGB would squeeze the information about the source of the book out of him –the book bore my initials, but Ivan told them nothing and due to him I remained free.
In the first year of studies I shared my room with Anatoliy Fedchuk – a geology student. Once he told me he was going to a clandestine meeting and asked whether I wanted to join him. I did, but assumed that without warning his comrade Anatoliy should not bring me with him. We agreed that he would go alone but tell his comrade about me so that that next time I could come too. Anatoliy went to the meeting but his counterpart never arrived. It turned out he had been arrested on his way. For you to have a better understanding of Lviv atmosphere of the period, I’ll explain how these arrests were staged. It happened on Akademichna street. Young people used to take their strolls there. Suddenly the cars blocked exit and entrance to the street and officials started checking everyone’s papers. Shots could be heard. Someone is being detained, someone shoots back. That was the scenery of Lviv in 1949. Actually, it was the same in other places, too. When people returned home [for weekends] railroad militia used to check papers and luggage of the travelers.
Did they try to make you support the new rule?
Of course, they did. At a certain point they started exerting pressure on me, forcing me to join the Komsomol. They summoned me to hold persuasive talks with me, but I was firm in my refusal. Once I came home to find a letter which said the following, more or less: “We know that you did not join the Komsomol, but we need you, and to that end you’d rather join the Komsomol”. The letter was anonymous, typewritten, as if it came from the underground organization. Soon after that the secretary of the party organization had a talk with me asking me again to join the Komsomol and threatening to have me expelled from the university in case of my refusal. “Why do you want me to join the Komsomol that badly? You are encouraging me, the underground is encouraging me, but I do not want to”. Sometime later, in 1953 a meeting was called to expel me from the university.
What was left for me under the circumstances? I was reluctant to go back home, so I enrolled into dialect-studying expedition aimed at gathering folklore materials in the areas of former “Galicia” SS division battles, i.e. near Brody, Bonishyn and Bily Kamin’ villages. I spent the whole summer there, collected a lot of interesting data, and only then I returned home and told my parents I had been expelled.
But did you manage to graduate regardless?
Luckily for me at that time academician Lazarenko was appointed the rector of Lviv university. He was an unusual man, relatively young, about 45; a talented geologist, whose manual on mineralogy had been translated into German and Swedish. I decided to go see him. I started with stating that I did not have the slightest idea of why I had been expelled. “Have you seen the official resolution?” – he asked. “No, I haven’t but at the all-university meeting I was officially informed that I was expelled. He suggested I seek an official paper confirming that. There was none, and that was exactly what Lazarenko wanted. He issued a written order for the dean to let me take all the respective tests. I came to see my dean Moroz, who made a face, but said:” If the rector orders to do so, we should obey”. I had five exams to pass and the dean scheduled them all for the next day. I had to take five tests in one day, and I got excellent marks on all of them. Due to that during my fifth year of studies I was receiving the raised student’s stipend. It was the year of Stalin’s death – 1953. Under this pretext a mass joining of Komsomol and party was proclaimed. For the umpteenth time I was called by the authorities and told that if I don’t join, I will never graduate. Then I was scarred, not wanting to lose the results of my 4-year work, so I joined the Komsomol at the age when other were already leaving it – at 24. It allowed me to graduate without hindrances in 1954. But the fact that Lebid’ was a relative of my prevented my admission to the postgraduate studies. I went to a village as a teacher. In a year I became an inspector of raion education department, a year later – a school principal. I worked in the village schools of Drohobyvh and Boryslav raions. But still I dreamt about research work. Now and then I applied for post-graduate studies. And I managed to do it only in 1961, when I found myself in the research laboratory for labor psychology and physiology. It was there that I passed my candidate exams and completed my thesis for the Candidate degree.
Early 60-s was the beginning of Khrushchev’s thaw.
The world has changed. People critical towards soviet rule became visible in Kiev and Lviv. In April 1961 young Kiev poets and critics came to Lviv. The group included Drach, Vingranovsky, Dzyuba and Pavlychko. I was amazed by their poetry, of transformation that happened to the young Komsomol members. I was profoundly touched by Drach’s verse under the title “Where we are going.”
After official meeting in the university the discussion started. The communist poet Shmyhelsky talked against the young and called them May flies. I took the floor after and argued that these young men were not May flies, that they represent new quality of the Ukrainian literature and new trend in the changed circumstances. Then I announced that democratization process had started and the young poets were its harbingers.
Several months after that event I.Svitlychny came to Lviv. Surprisingly that after Stalin era when people were afraid to talk even among themselves, the atmosphere of mutual trust was established between us. It was my first meeting with Svitlychny, but our talk immediately turned to the choice of efficient methods for combating soviet power. I preferred conspiratorial operation. Svitlychny, on the other hand, believed that in the country where spying and informing were inalienable elements of the state policy, only legal operation could bring results. His concept of operation with “raised visor” reminded me of “narodniks’ operation in the 60-s of the 19th century. I went to the library to check the history of “narodniks’ movement. Turned out, their activities lasted for two or three years and aftr that they were arrested. I went to Kiev to see Svitlychny and told him that if we follow “narodniks” in our operation, we still have time till 1964. Svitlychny summed up that we should use this time to the utmost effect. My brother Bohdan also participated in our conversation. Together we arrived at the conclusion that we should work legally in spite of everything. Even more so, considering the fact that in 1961 we heard the rumor about the arrests of the group of attorneys headed by Lukyanenko and of the Ukrainian National committee (led by Koval). They tried to operate clandestinely, but had achieved nothing, and even we, as interested parties, knew nothing significant about them. We only were aware of the arrests and about some death sentences that followed. It was a very strong argument against underground operation. I think the arrests of Lukyanenko’s and Koval’s groups brought the era of illegal operation to an end. Since then we acted only officially. But, speaking frankly, we did not overstep a certain borderline, still trying to apply the rule of pleasing both sides. For example, we criticized soviet authorities, but not soviet power as a whole; we criticized kolkhoz realities, but we never put the idea of kolkhozes into doubt. In a nutshell, we still were partially soviet people, and partially patriots. In fact we were decidedly against the soviet rule, but still could not muster the courage necessary to announce it openly. And this ideological indecision and ambiguity came out in the later trials.
. The club of creative youth set up in Kiev was led by Les’ Tanyuk. In Lviv we decided to appoint a person who had been in direct opposition to us as the head of similar club - Mykhaylo Kosiv. Their club was called “Snow drop”.
Who were the club members?
My brother Bohdan, M.Kosiv, Ihor and Iryna Kalynets, L.Krushelnytska, B.Kozak – the actor of the Zan’kovetska Theater, I and others, about fifty people altogether. Immediately we established contacts with clubs in Kiev, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk. We used to gather in the Actors’ House to conduct discussions, meetings, and poetical recitals. (I remember, in particular, Shevchenko’s celebration, conspicuously anti-Russian in its nature). Samizdat quickly published articles like ”Thoughts of an overwhelmed reader”. The reader was perplexed by the fact that one thing was declared and quite other was done in practice. “Ukrainian education in chauvinistic constraints” was the next. An employee of the Ministry of Education Ye.Kuznetsova supplied the data for this article. Later she was arrested and perished in a camp.
How would you describe the relations between Kiev and Lviv at that time?
I should dwell on that issue a bit longer. Since 1961 we maintained permanent contacts. Svitlychny visited Lviv often and used his inborn organizer’s gift to establish contacts between people and groups. We also made recordings of Symonenko’s, Drach’s and Vingranovsky’s poetry. It was very important part of Svitlychny’s job. Then he disseminated the recordings all over Ukraine. And he was very committed to this job. A multitude of people had passed through his one-room apartment, and his wife was very hospitable and offered tea to all of them. Svitlychny practically had no family life; there was even a period when he gave up his creative work for the sake of common good.
Sverstyuk was a most significant person in our movement. He invested a lot of efforts into printing various materials for our group. A number of his very interesting essays circulated in samizdat, for example “Ivan Kotlyarevsky laughs”, “Cathedral in the scaffolding”. In this latter Sverstyuk showed O.Honchar as an outstanding non-conformist writer. V.Symonenko was also a prominent figure for our movement. He also came to Lviv in 1961, but did it on his own, never met anyone, just strolled along the bridge and later wrote a poem ”I understand you, Lviv, but, please, understand me, too”.
We exchanged books with Kiev systematically. Lviv historian Ya.Dashkevych had relatives abroad. He received literature from them, I don’t know through what channels. The books addressed the issues of national liberation movement. It was due to him that we started reading these banned books and they were numerous. Besides, we organized collective listening of the recordings made by Svitlychny. I personally invited lecturers from commerce and veterinarian institutes and from the university. These meetings were disguised as parties. I think never in the history of Ukraine poetry was used so intensively in the political struggle against the ruling regime. At that time everyone – from peasants to doctors, engineers and teachers – cared about poetry. It was a form of protest against the ruling regime. And Symonenko’s poetry occupied a special place.
Unexpected news reached us in summer 1963 –Symonenko was seriously ill. He was in Vinnytsya hospital. Several colleagues went to see him. I did not go, but when a telegram from Dzyuba announcing Symonenko’ death reached me in December, I decided to go immediately. I went to Cherkassy where Symonenko’s funeral took place and was the only person from Lviv at the event.
Was it because Symonenko was not known in Lviv, or because people were simply scared?
I offered to the university teachers, who knew who Symonenko was, to go together, but these people were afraid of potential consequences; at the end of his life Symonenko was considered a dissident. So I went to Cherkassy to his funeral. Sverstyuk spoke very well there; too bad his speech had not been recorded. I said a couple of words too. Then we went to Symonenko’s mother. Svitlychny asked whether there had been any unpublished poems left. His mother offered us all his manuscripts. In general she was very hospitable, although she had never seen us before and known about us only through hearsay.
At that time, a show of American technical literature was taking place in the Soviet Union. The books were exhibited in Moscow, Leningrad, and then brought to Kiev. Oksana Smishkevych was the chief organizer of the exhibit. As soon as the books were brought to Kiev, Oksana started seeking contacts with us. She brought us a lot of banned editions. She was very courageous woman. I remember how surprised I was to hear that she was carrying a bag full of fobidden literature from the West despite constant supervision. She told me about it during our first meeting in 1995. Materials she brought us were unique - due to them we became aware of the strength of our emigration. We understood how intense the publishing activity abroad was. Oksana Smishkevych decided to come to Lviv. I believe my apartment was well-bugged, because after her arrival, KGB functionaries hang in front of my window quite demonstratively. So my apartment was under KGB surveillance. My brother-in-law Slavko came to the window, opened it (I live on the third floor) and shook his fist at the KGB man. The KGBist just smiled but did not change his position. That time Oksana Smishkevych could not visit me.
The first half of the 60-s was the apogee of our movement. The creative youth clubs emerged not only in Lviv and Kiev, but also in Dnipropetrovsk, Odessa, Kharkiv and even in Trans-Carpathian region. Many intellectuals were attracted to our non-conformist movement. Its only weakness was that we did not spell out everything, to the very end: we did not call empire empire, we did not define the regime and ideology as criminal.
In December 1963 you and your brother Bohdan met Ivan Dzyuba in Bryukhovychy. What did you discuss at that meeting?
It was our first meeting with Dzyuba. Prior to that, I have known him only by correspondence. In 1959 I sent my review of Shevchenko’s and Franko’s new editions to the “Vitchyzna” magazine. I analyzed Shevchenko’s impact on Russian culture. Dzyuba, who was editor at that time, published it. Later Ivan and I exchanged several letters and, finally, he came to Lviv. We met in Bryukhovichy and for a considerable length of time we discussed the ideological foundations of our new (because we perceived it as new) movement. He believed our task was criticizing the power using its own language and taking their ideological postulates at their face value. This attitude set the background of his book “Internationalism or russification?” Bohdan and I agreed in principle, but with one difference: we had an experience of the underground work behind us, while Ivan was a graduate of Stalin pedagogical institute. This difference manifested itself in the fact that while we decidedly declared: “Away with the regime!” the people from Naddnipryanshchyna had never been that determined, although they might have agreed internally. Anyway, I never heard Ivan saying anything of that nature. In our talks he restricted himself to the criticism of the faults of regime in power. As I have mentioned earlier, we witnessed the creation of the “Internationalism or russification?” But we never managed to read it because by the time it was complete, in1965, we were already in jail.
In early 60-s Chornovil started coming to Lviv. Just like Dzyuba and Drach he was married to a native of Lviv (Olena Antoniv); and he was the one who had brought the article “Ways and tasks of the Ukrainian liberation movement”.
Chornovil started coming to Lviv around1961. But, I believe he brought “Ways and tasks of the Ukrainian liberation movement” around 1964. We were in touch before that, but as he was not living in Lviv (then he worked at Kiev hydropower plant, where he was the secretary of the Komsomol organization), our relations were not systematic. Due to his dynamic nature Chornovil enlivened the social and political life of Lviv, once he came there. Chornovil came to Lviv after his marriage to Olena Antoniv in 1963. He kept close contacts with the Kievites, continued to work in Kiev newspaper for youth. In general terms “Ways and tasks of the Ukrainian liberation movement”, brought by Chornovil, were a draft of political program. Today we know that the text had been written by Ye.Proniuk. Obviously, we did not know it then. Chornovil and I decided to discuss this draft, and as we were aware of constant supervision we went to Lviv suburb to talk. We hoped we got rid of “the tail”. We started discussing “Ways and tasks of the Ukrainian liberation movement”. When we reached a hill we saw a girl on its peak, obviously looking for someone. Of course, she was our “tail” and for a moment she lost us. I remember telling Chornovil: “Slavko, we are under the net, probably, not only seen, but heard, too”. We accepted the provisions of “Ways and tasks of the Ukrainian liberation movement” in our small circle (including Chornovil, my brother Bohdan, Teodozy Starak, Ivan Hel’ and former political prisoner Baturyn).
What was the essence of the document?
“Ways and tasks of the Ukrainian liberation movement” represented the program of struggle for the independent Ukrainian state. It was the first political document issued by samizdat. Not a single document circulating in samizdat, in spite of their criticism of the soviet reality, went as far ast the “Ways and tasks of the Ukrainian liberation movement”. Due to this document our dissident movement acquired the first features of state building. I.Svitlychny believed the text should not be disseminated too broadly, not to trigger KGB reprisals ahead of time. So we distributed it among the limited number of trusted people. I remember photocopying the text of “Ways and tasks of the Ukrainian liberation movement” and passing it to I.Hel’ (it was at his place that KGB found it at the time of his arrest). In July 1964 I.Drach came to see us. We went to Lviv suburb to talk. He told me he had had a meeting with KGB colonel, who advised him arrests were on the way. I “cleaned” my apartment thoroughly and waited for arrest. But neither in July nor in August was anyone arrested. Therefore in the fall we decided to get back to our operation. It consisted in rewriting the texts for samizdat. We created a center to multiply the texts. To organize it we paid dues for the Ukrainian cause – 20 roubles a month, because we were not a well-to-do family – my wife earned 70 roubles per month, and I earned 140. We used to buy photo-paper (most often we copied texts by photo-copying), printing paper, and, finally, typewriters. By the end of 1964 we had five typewriters.
In May 1964 big Shevchenko celebration was organized in Kaniv. Our Lviv creative youth club together with the city Komsomol committee organized trip to Kaniv. In our group we decided it would be a good idea to bring the samizdat texts to the celebration. Our typists prepared about 900 copies of different materials that used to circulate in the milieu. We carried a whole valise of materials. Ivan Hel’, Myroslava Zvarychevska and I had to go to Kaniv. We had to leave Lviv on May 29, but it happened so that right on that night my wife gave birth to our daughter. I could not go, so I asked Myroslava Zvarychevska to take the valise and give it to I.Svitlychny. At the Lviv border the bus was stopped by plain-clothed men. They requested the list of people going to Kaniv. The secretary of the city komsomol committee gave them the list. Reading it they asked: “And where is Horyn’?” –“He did not go”. When Myroslava Zvarychevska saw people stopping the bus, she pushed the valise closer to Ivanychuk. She was certain they won’t frisk him for “non-kosher items”. And the plain-clothed men believed that if I was not on the bus, neither was the valise, so they did no search at all. I am sure they knew perfectly well about the valise. They just fail to see how I took it out of the house. And thus our papers reached Kiev safely, were given to Svitlychny and then distributed among the participants of the celebration in Kaniv. I think KGB was kind of scared with Kaniv action, because it was right after the event that Lviv KGB started bringing people in and warning them against any further activities.
In October1964 Brezhnev came to power and the atmosphere changed immediately. The people called to KGB were threatened with arrests if they don’t stop their activities.
Were you summoned too?
I was probably one and only person not taken to KGB for questioning. I understood they thought me incorrigible and won’t give me any more warnings.
It was as early as 1964 that, prior to my arrest, I developed my own concept of Ukrainian-Polish relations. Anti-soviet tendencies were very strong in Galicia of the 60-s, and, naturally, they pushed anti-Polish tendencies, that had prevailed before, to the background. For me personally the interests of the future Ukrainian state were of primary importance and it was clear that Ukraine located between Russia and Poland should established the closest ties with Poland to oppose Russia. I believed that together we, the Poles and the Ukrainians cannot pick at old wounds infinitely. Quite on the opposite, we should think in terms of future perspective. We must collaborate to establish Polish-Ukrainian understanding (understanding between the two countries with total population of about one hundred million) that would help us to change the situation in our part of Europe. Then our nation will orchestrate the developments in the Central and Eastern Europe. I was also aware that if Ukraine has to seek allies in the West disregarding Poland it will be huge drama for Ukraine and a virtual tragedy for Poland. On the other hand is the Poles will do the same ignoring Ukraine, it will be huge drama for Poland and a virtual tragedy for Ukraine. We’ve got to become wiser, finally. This is the point I tried to make talking with Marszalek of Senate Andrzej Stelmachovsky (I still remember our meeting with warm feeling) during my visit to Poland in 1990.
Let’s get back to late 1964...
The turning point of 1964 and 1965 was most fruitful for me. I was getting ready to dissertation defense, took the last exams, published scientific articles and finally set up a laboratory of psychology at the railroad. Due to it I was able to travel all over Western Ukraine, because I had a respective document entitling me to free travel. I think that paper was issued to me only because KGB failed to warn my bosses as to whom they were dealing with. So I travelled in Western Ukraine, disseminating literature, delivering lectures. During one of these trips I met Panas Zalyvakha in Ivano-Frankivsk.
My working day looked like this: till four I worked in the psychology laboratory at the railroad, between four and seven I performed practical testing of the train operators and after seven I went to Library of the Academy of Sciences. There I worked till eleven. After the library was closed I went to the Teachers’ House to fetch my wife and bring her home. At home people were already waiting for me. I distributed new materials and picked the materials copied already. I never went to bed earlier than 1 in the morning. And I had to get up at 6 or 7 next morning. At a certain point I understood I could not go on like that. I decided to take a break and go to Crimea with my wife. Then I was under constant surveillance. We stopped in Feodosia and went to the beach every day. My wife loved to swim, while I stayed on the beach to read. Once, while she was in the water, a man sat nearby. When she returned and lay down the stranger started talking to her claiming that they had been in Vorkuta camp together. They talked. The new acquaintance, who introduced himself as Slavko started visiting us. So our vacation came to an end and it was time to get back. The lines for the train tickets were huge, because it very difficult to travel out of Feodosia at the end of August in spite of the fact that trains left every 10 minutes. All of them were full to capacity. Slavko promised us to get the tickets. I was surprised and I asked whether he was not going to Lviv himself. “My job is done, -he answered, - and I fly back”. I remember that phrase “My job is done”. Meanwhile our situation was a tough one. We had just enough money to buy two kilograms of tomatoes and some bread. After that we had about two roubles left. Slavko understood we could not board the train (as it turned out later I had to board it), he came to the train conductor and showed him an ID ( probably he thought I didn’t see him doing it and conductor waved his agreement. Then Slavko came to us and reported the matter was settled.
You didn’t find it suspicious, did you?
Of course, by that time I was positive he was a KGB man. But, I thought, who cares, if I had to get home anyway, because we had no money to stay in Feodosia. We boarded the train, but having no tickets I gave money to conductor and asked him to buy tickets for us at Pyatikhatki station. So he did and diligently brought me the change – to the last coin. It confirmed our suspicions about Slavko – he was a KGB man and the conductor believed I was from the same institution.
The train left the station. We saw a man on the upper bunk of our compartment. The journey lasted over twenty four hours and for all that time he never uttered a word. In the next compartment I saw a man disguised as a typical Galician gentleman of the 30-s: the vest, the onion-shaped time-piece. That is what our gentry looked like under the Polish rule. I wondered how such a relict ended up in this train. We started talking immediately. By the time I was so fed up that I could persuade a pole in the fence to go against soviet power. My wife tried to hold me back: “What are you doing? Do you know what kind of person this man is?” My interlocutor listened to me quietly, then tried to contradict, and after my arrest I met him in KGB building. I was so amazed I even clasped my hands: “Look I had no idea you were KGB agent”. In short, my departure was orchestrated from the first to the last minute.
We approached Krasne near Lviv. My wife started changing. The train stopped and a man entered and sat down without a word. I remarked it was not a good idea entering the compartment where a woman was changing, and asked him to leave. I remember telling Olya before chasing the first ‘passenger’ out “That’s it”. But in a moment the doors opened again to let in four men with militia captain as their commander. There were 2 or 3 militia men, and, as usual, a man in plain clothes. He introduced himself and ordered me to get ready: “Your papers! You are detained." I asked for the prosecutor’s sanction. They had none. All they had was the order of the major general, the commander of Lviv KGB Shevchenko to take us right to the KGB office. The silent neighbor from the compartment joined them. We were put into a car. KGB men loved ceremony. To arrest the two of us – my wife and me, they brought along three cars. The first car had only driver in it; I went in the second, and my wife – in the third.
In KGB my wife and I were placed in two different cells. I think she was arrested to prevent her from raising havoc because of my detention. She was held until the arrests in. Lviv had ben completed. Some people, like myself, were arrested on August 26, while others – Starak, Kosiv, hanna Sadovska – were arrested on August 27. When Olya was released she left me the food: a slice of bread and probably one tomato. The bread was sliced thoroughly by the KGB men. When I was called for questioning I saw a big tomato on the table, with Olya’s inscription on it: “I’ve told them nothing”. The KGB men intercepted the information. The KGB officer questioning me said: Mykhaylo Mykolayovych, you keep saying you have no secrets, so what was it you wife has written you?” At the time of the inquest we’ve chosen the following line of defense: allegedly we conduct no anti-soviet activities, we are not soviet power enemies, all we want is democratization of our country, more attention paid to the rural areas, so that peasants did not have to be slaves, we want the development of Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian statehood to flourish within the frame of the Soviet Union. Today I see we were in error. We had to formulate precisely the essence of our demands even then. I think the authorities were reluctant to make mass arrests. The documents show that 102 witnesses had testified, while only six had been arrested – my brother Bohdan, Myroslava Zvarychevska, Ivan Hel’, Mykhaylo Osadchy, Yaroslava Menkush and I.
I was interrogated most often by my investigator Malykhin, a most unpleasant man, and by the head of operative unit Klym Halsky. This latter used to write essays aimed against Greek-Catholic church. Then he totally committed himself to research and moved to Kiev to work in the Academy of Sciences. The man had vision. I did not understand why he did not raise any higher than just a major in his military career, although he was the head of operative unit. Nevertheless, colonels were his subordinates. I was so intrigued by this fact that I started making inquiries and it turned out such things happened rather often.
Once Halsky was questioning me in a company of a stranger, and it was my principle to ask the name of my interlocutor. I did so this time, too. The man turned out to be colonel Horban’, who during interrogations of 1951 had beaten my wife to unconsciousness. She was so seriously injured, that later, when she was in the camp already, it took three months for the bruises to disappear. I saw red, and I shouted I would not be talking to him:"Get out of here, you butcher!”
On another occasion I was called from my cell and told that an important KGB official wanted to talk to me. On entering the room of Lviv KGB commander I saw a very small man at the desk. Actually I could see only his hands from behind the desk. And the desk was solid, right for the bureaucrats. There were 6 persons sitting on his right, and six – on his left. They had the same faces, were all dressed the same way – black suits, with golden cuff-links in their cuffs, and identical ties. I was surprised. What was going on there? Did they want a cross-examination? The stranger at the desk was the first to talk: “So how are things going, Mykhaylo Mykolyovych?” I, true to my principle, asked whom I had the honor to talk to. He answered only that he was a security service officer. I insisted he gave his first and last name as well as his rank. “Is it that important?” – the stranger asked.-“Yes, it is very important. How can we talk otherwise, if you know everything about me, while I know nothing about you. If you really want to talk, please introduce yourself.” Only then he introduced himself – the head of Ukrainian KGB colonel-general V.Nikitchenko. It was two months prior to my trial. I understood my sentence would depend on our today’s conversation. He spoke beautiful Ukrainian. It turned out later he had worked in a research institute in Dnipropetrovsk together with Svitlychny’s wife Lyolya. His profession was construction engineer. First I complained that stool pigeons were constantly planted in my cell, and I didn’t have a moment’s rest. Then Nikitchenko said something like this: “You are fighting against soviet power. Now imagine: this is soviet shoe and this is American shore. Where do you want to be?”
I looked at him and asked him back:
— “Why do you think I should stick to a shore? If we are using the river metaphor, the river has left bank and right bank and midstream. My place is in the midstream. I do not belong on either bank.”
Later I learnt that this talk was used by Nikitchenko while interrogating Svitlychny. He found my answers very witty and thought me a man of independent thinking.
Once, on my way to the daily stroll, I saw a bald elderly man with moustache who was approaching me leaning on the stick. He was another inmate escorted by two guards. We barely greeted each other, when a guard started yelling ordering me to turn my face to the wall. Later I found out he was H.Pryshlyak, who had served his 20-year term in a camp and was brought to Lviv for “reforming”. Pryshlyak was one of the leaders of the resistance and for a short time performed the function of the UPA Security service. KGBists used to tell me a lot about the resistance movement. “What can you have in common with these brigands and so on and so forth?” I always answered that if tens of thousands people fight against them, then one should make his choice: either these people are brigands, or the nation itself is villainous engendering so many brigands. Then I argued that that the partisan war in the Western Ukraine had testified to the fact that people did not embrace the soviet power.
Finally the inquest ended and the trial started. The authorities tried to make an impression that the process was open. In fact, all the barbers from the nearby barber’s shops were herded into the courtroom. When I saw a small bunch of strangers, I cried, upset:” Where are my parents, where is my wife?” We stood trial together with my brother Bohdan, Myroslava Zvarychevska and Mykhaylo Osadchy. The three of them sat together and I was placed separately. I prepared my last word and always carried the text on me, because it was hard to predict when I would need it. I was very determined and decided to let Bohdan know about it. I wrote a note to him. A guy from village near Lviv, by name of Ivan, was my guard. I asked him to deliver the note to my brother. “If you don’t want to do it, just say so. I hope you will not give it to the judge, because it is a big sin”. The guard assured me he won’t. After the recess I saw my note on the prosecutor’s desk. I did not want to think Ivan had betrayed me, but… I wrote to Bohdan I was going to risk and after the recess the prosecutor asked me “So, Horyn’, are you willing to risk?” I answered I did. “Horyn’ wanted to pass a note to his bother to advise him against any compromises. Please attach it to the file as an exhibit”. My final word was rather resolute, although I pleaded partially guilty. It was my only speech in which I tried to defend our stand. I managed to make this speech and even to get the text of it out, so that some fragments were published in the West. It had a decisive bearing on the sentence I’ve got. Alongside with me, M.Masiutko from Feodosia has got the same sentence. Kuznetsova, who had given us information from the Ministry of Education, got five years. Others were sentenced to shorter terms M.Osadchy – two years, Hel’ – three years, my brother – three years, and Zvarychevska – 11 months. Something similar was happening in Kiev.
It was Nikitchenko’s policy. Actually these were his last days in this position. Very soon he was replaced by Fedorchuk, a real butcher.
What was the reaction to your trial in Lviv? I assume people were not too scared in mid 60-s, were they?
The reaction was most vivid. I remember we were brought to court building not through main doors, but through the back entrance, from Pekarska street. Crowds of people would come to the court building. The Kievites, including I.Drach, L.Kostenko, M.Kotsyubynska came. I remember seeing L.Kostenko’s signature on the wall. Two days after the beginning of the trial, when people understood that we were brought to court through the back door, they stated swarming around the black van that brought us to court. I believe the crowd counted not less than 100-150 people. I heard later that they had been dispersed by force, with water-cannons. Such a manifestation was the first in the post-war Lviv.
After my verdict was announced I had waited for a long time for my escort to the camp. I was held in isolation cell, and, truly speaking, I was relieved. I must tell you the guards loved me dearly. Even the traitor Ivan later came to kneel in front of me. Once a young guard came to my cell and asked me to write a few essays in Russian and Ukrainian literature as he wanted to enter the law department. He just returned from his military service and did not know how to proceed. I agreed and gave him a list of books I would need. He brought the books and I wrote the essays, fifty or sixty of them altogether. He got excellent marks for them. When he had told me that I asked him to let my wife know when I would be deported – as a sign of gratitude. My guard agreed. I had to warn him, though, that my house was under surveillance at all times. He disappeared for a week. After a week he barged into my cell in the middle of the night with the bag filled to capacity. He explained it was from my wife. I examined the contents: delis, sprats, sugar, bacon etc. The guard, therefore, had visited my wife, and it meant my journey was near. ”When am I going?” – “Now”. –“What do you mean, now?” – “At five in the morning.”
In fact in the morning I was taken to the station. The train with prison car was formed some 2-3 km from the main station. When I stepped out of the prison car, I saw Olya with flowers in her hands. We embraced each other fervently, and barely had a moment to kiss as it was high time to embark. We travelled together with M.Osadchy who suffered a lot because of imprisonment. I tried to console him: “Mykhaylo, calm down. We have ambitious mission. As long as there are Ukrainians in the camps, Ukraine is still alive.” We came to Kharkiv and spent the night in the local jail. To subdue us even more they put us into a death-cell. Instead of usual bunks it had kind of beds made of steel sheets 10 mm thick. In the middle of the cell a man was sitting by the desk, reposing on his hands.
The water was dropping on him from the ceiling. We greeted him, but he did not answer. I started shaking him – no response. In the evening he was taken out. Probably he was someone sentenced to death.
We came to Ruzaivka in Mordovia. This is where a small transit prison was. It had but ten cells and one could see a view of a vast green valley from it. I am not sure you can understand a man’s craving for greenery after a year of confinement. When I finally saw the green meadows I felt like immersing myself into that green sea. Even my cell resembled more a rural hut than a prison.
In all the transit prisons on our way we were placed in the cells with criminal felons. In spite of common belief that criminals “dislike” the political prisoners, we were treated very well by them. On the way between Kharkiv and Mordovia we ended up in a cell with fifteen criminals. They were amazed to learn that we were imprisoned “for politics”. It was their first encounter with the political prisoners. For some time I was worried about my backpack full of food. I have been to jail before and I knew how the prisoners were fed. (And KGB jails provided better supplies than the regular ones). I decided to take the matter into my own hands. I said: “Guys, I am going to the camp to meet people who had been there for 15-20 years. So I offer you some food – a pack of sugar and a slice of bacon for each of you”. The criminals were quite happy with that, started calling me “kingpin”. When I distributed the gifts I said: “The remaining food is for the camp inmates, so please don’t steal it when I am asleep”. They started assuring me the idea never even occurred to them, and indeed they took nothing from me. Moreover, they wanted to show their gratitude and respect. So at a certain point they asked me: “Will you eat “tyurya”? I had no idea what “tyurya” was, but I agreed, not to offend them. In a moment one of the criminals crumbled some bread into a bowl, then did something and turned to me with a bowl. I saw blood drops. It turned out “tyurya” was bread mixed with blood. I felt sick. “Guys, I really appreciate your offer, but I will not eat “tyurya”. They took their spoons and ate it without me. The criminals were showing off to impress us, the inhabitants of another world. They wanted to demonstrate their merits. To show their fortitude they would mutilate themselves. In general, they showed total disrespect for their own health and life. Once I witnessed an inmate stabbing his fellow prisoner to death for some gambling debt.
What was your first meeting with the imprisonment camp?
We served our respective terms in a large camp in Mordovia. It had about 700 prisoners. We had to pass thick Mordovian woods to get there. For the first time I saw thick birch woods. They were incredibly beautiful. Looking at them I always thought about Vingranovsky’s poem “like a young girl in white gown”. I almost forgot I was going to the camp. Finally we arrived and passed through filtration point. On the other side about thirty inmates were waiting for us. I don’t know how they learnt about our arrival, but everyone knew. Immediately Vasyl’ Pidhoretsky approached me and said “Mykhaylo Mykhaylovych wants to talk to you”. I didn’t know whom he was talking about but understood it must be a very important person in the camp. It turned out he was talking about M.Soroka. His son and my brother Bohdan used to be friends so I knew he was in the camp. During the greeting he was standing a bit aside. A man of an average height and good stature, but when I looked into his eyes I saw an immeasurable sadness in them – after all, I was a psychologist. In the evening we talked. At the beginning we had to inform prisoners of the developments outside. First I talked to my compatriots, then to Russians, to Georgians, then to people from Caucasus, from Baltic countries, Moldavians and even Kazakhs. Finally I rebelled: “Enough of that! I do not even have time to write a letter home. You will finish me up”. It was decided that I will share the information with the chosen representatives of all the national communities, and they would share it with everyone. Ukrainians were most numerous, so that “official language” of the camp was Ukrainian. The division was like this: about one thousand Ukrainians and 700 – other nationalities. We called them jokingly “ethnic minorities” – about 200 Russians, at least 150 Lithuanians, and several dozens of each of other nationalities – Estonians, Letts and people from Caucasus. No sooner said than done. In the evening during our meeting I told them the news. No one forbade us anything, although my presentation was far from pro-soviet, but the guards stood nearby. This presentation launched another case against me.
After my stay in this big camp I was transferred to a smaller one – for 600 prisoners. Lukyanenko and Moroz were imprisoned there too, but mainly it was a camp for religious minorities or “sects”. Several weeks after my arrival there my wife came to see me. She was very courageous woman and brought a cardboard coffer, in which she had fashioned a second bottom. There she put a lot of illegal literature, including I.Dzyuba’s “Internationalism or russification?” She brought 100 roubles to bribe a guard so that he would give me the food parcel. The guards being used to believers only did not suspect anything. I met with Olga under the eyes of the guards, but she let me know that the coffer contained something. After her visit I returned and started knocking on the coffer looking for caches. Effortlessly I took out the false bottom and found books and brochures. I called my closest friends and explained to them we had to take it all to the working zone, where we were guarded less severely and where we would be able to read it. We managed to bring it all, but for the Dzyuba’s work, into the working zone. I decided to leave this book for myself and read it on my free day, after the night shift. On my return from work to my barrack I took about ten typewritten papers (the rest, about 270 pages, were hidden under my neighbor’s mattress), and started reading pretending I was writing something. I forgot just one thing, namely, that the paper of the manuscript was quite different from the paper we used in the camp. Another man was staying in the barrack with me. He sat for a minute, then looked at me and left. I looked in the window and saw him moving towards the guards. But I did not want to believe the man would sell me to them. I barely finished the first page when seven guards crushed into the barrack. I hurriedly tossed the ten pages under another neighbor’s mattress. Hoped they would find only this insignificant part. But they frisked the whole barrack very thoroughly and, of course, found the entire book.
I understood I would not come out of it easily. And in fact I was called to the camp commander who informed me that for anti-soviet propaganda I would be punished with six months in the barrack of severe regime. Karavansky, Lukyanenko, Kandyba the Georgian brothers Kabali and two or three other prisoners were there too. We were sitting in a slam but never stopped working diligently. We wrote using secret method that included use of sugar and kwas, but plain water sufficed as well. In this barrack I used to have most unusual dreams. Several days prior to my release I had a dream of myself standing on the roof, or rather on the uncovered roof beams. I hold a sword and I try to cut these beams with it. They break like matches, rapidly I make a hole and jump inside. Next day I asked M.Masiutko, a well-known as dream reader, about its meaning. Masiutko, despite his earlier beliefs in approaching amnesty (the year was 1967, 50th anniversary of the October revolution) asserted the dream foreboded new troubles for me. Three months prior to that I had another dream: I saw a prison door with the “hundred latas” inscription on it. I started asking around what “lata” was. Someone from Baltic area told me it was their money unit. I asked Masiutko, as usual, what that dream meant and he answered: Why, of course it means we will be set free in one hundred days”. Right after my release from the barrack of severe regime the date predicted by Masiutko was due. During morning ablutions I saw Masiutko and asked him right what had happened to our release. I barely finished my question when a guard came to me and took me to the headquarters. The desk in the headquarters’ office was covered with the red table cloth. The commander of the camp and the chief security officer sat at the desk with an unknown woman between them. I did not have time to say a word when someone read the agenda: “Zubovo-Polyansky court is in session now. The proceedings concern the case of the prisoner M.M.Horyn’ convicted for anti-soviet, nationalistic propaganda”. I started shouting it was impudence, I was not familiar with the case files, I had no attorney and I wouldn’t participate in that farce. I turned around and went to the door. The guards grabbed me, twisted my arms, so I thought my joints would dislocate and threw me on the desk, right in front of the woman who, unperturbed started reading the verdict items: “Prisoner M.M.Horyn’ sentenced to three years of jail for anti-soviet, nationalistic propaganda will be transferred immediately to Volodymyr prison”. I have never witnessed a trial like that one, without inquiry, without defense, with just a ready-made verdict. I don’t know why I felt like laughing. I stepped out into the hall, where Valentyn Moroz was waiting. He rushed to me: What’s up there?” – “Oh, nothing, go there and you will see – they are distributing gifts”. In two or three minutes Valentyn spent there, he was condemned to two more years. They could not give him more, because his total sentence amounted to four years and he had served half of the term already. Masiutko also was given a new verdict. We were ordered to pack immediately. So I spent less than a year in the camp. After I packed, M.Soroka came to me and asked me to take along the boots. I looked at them, saw they were too small for me, so I understood there was some hidden meaning in that. At the end Soroka sent his greetings to friends that I was going to meet. I knew his wife Kateryna Zarytska was serving her 25-years’ term in prison and had never been to this camp. So I understood that I had to give her the boots for “greetings”. I took them, but I never delivered them. On the way a guard noticed the boots were too small for me, so he took them away and ripped them apart.
Volodymyr prison had a wonderful library made up of the libraries of the former estates of Russian nobility. It contained real treasure of books dealing with humanities. For example, it was there that I have read Solovyov’s “History of the Russian empire” in 29 volumes, 600 pages each. One of the volumes was dedicated exclusively to Ukraine. Although Solovyov tried to cover historic facts objectively, his opinions remained biased. But I was not interested in his opinions, I cared only about facts. I made an excerpt of 300 pages of this volume. Then I found other “white crows”, “Political history of Russia” by Kluchevsky and “History of Russia of the 18th century by Tatishchev in three volumes among them. The library was unique, indeed. The time I spent in prison turned out to be most edifying for my fundamental education, which came out very helpful in the future.
Did you get back to the camp after 3 years in jail?
Right. But I used to think before returning, that had I been a designer of such camps, I would have never made up a camp with one thousand and seven hundred inmates. One loses control over such tremendous number of people. It turned out other people were as smart as I. When I returned to my camp № 17, it housed only 80 inmates. In this situation everyone was quite visible. M.Soroka, one of my old friends, was still there. And here I have to digress a bit. The older generation of the prisoners could not understand us, the younger ones. Most often they said “What can you achieve with your scribbling? We had machine-guns, but we failed anyway”. It was hard to explain that our “scribbling” was more efficient than their machine-guns. The only “elder” who understood it perfectly was M.Soroka. It was amazing because he spent over thirty years in the camp (while doing his time he had met Cardinal Yosyp Slipy among others). We had long talks during our walks around the hill behind the barrack. By that time Mykhaylo had had two serious heart attacks, so our walks were not long. Once, on June 16, 1971, on the eve of my birthday, we went out as usual: I went first with Soroka behind me. In a minute I understood I had left him far behind. I rushed to him. He was squatting: “What is it?” He did not answer. I hurried to fetch an orderly, who, obviously, was unaware of Mykhaylo’s disease, because he started giving him artificial respiration – and that finished Mykhaylo. It was on the verge of my birthday. Everyone’s birthday was big thing in the camp, everyone was preparing to it in advance. People would bring dry blackberries to make tea, bacon and other food. I remember I saw Soroka that very morning coming out of the store-room, hiding something and smiling at me. It was impolite to ask what it was. He died at noon and in the evening we went through his belongings. I found a volume of Verlaine’s poetry with the dedication “If you fall down, get up, so that your steps resound – to M.M. on his birthday, M.Soroka.” So he signed a book for me. I still keep it.
M.Soroka held unquestionable authority among the inmates. I shall give you just one example. A talented Russian writer Leonid Borodin was in the camp with us. He was an extreme rightist. He believed the Soviet Union had to transform into the world empire that would reach the shores of the Indian Ocean and all other oceans. Borodin believed that the USSR had committed a crime after World War II having left Iran. He was fascinated with Soroka. “Soroka lost none of his faculties, although he has been staying in the camp so long” – he used to say. You see, if a person is imprisoned and isolated from the world for too long, the human psyche suffers changes. Hatred, jail egoism, lack of tolerance becomes prominent. Mykhaylo was saved from all that. Once a conflict between Russian and Ukrainian community broke out. In general we tried to avoid confrontation, but sometimes a conflict would break out between our guerillas and the Russians. It was started by a certain Ivanov, who had taught religion studies in the Leningrad institute of foreign relations. This Ivanov had a quarrel with our partisan and a confrontation between the two communities followed. The question was how to nip it in the bud. The mediator was needed to bring peace between the hostile parties. Both communities sought Soroka’s help, who indeed resolved the conflict with his completely objective approach to the Ukrainian community. I remember what respect Borodin showed to Soroka after that incident.
The camp was full of interesting people. For example, there was Alik Ginzburg, who had worked together with Solzhenitsyn. He was a Jew with unmistakable Semitic features. He could arrange anything and get anywhere. At a certain point we found out that Alik could send information about us to Moscow on a tape-recorder cassette. A representative from each national community could prepare whatever he felt right for this recording. From Moscow the tape was supposed to be transferred to the West. When we were done with recording Alik got access to the camp’s accountant and offered her certain amount of dollars. He was the only inmate with enough of any currency, be it roubles or dollars. The woman, who was an officer of the incarceration department (!) went to Moscow and delivered our tape. Another camp tale was related to Germanyuk, a Polytechnics student who in 1959 had set up an underground organization. Everyone was arrested and the majority received 15 years of camp imprisonment. For a very long time no one visited the student, but finally his elderly mother came. The jail authorities were reluctant to grant her a visit, but she refused to leave and in the end a guard had to push her out of the visit room and accidently pushed her off the stairs. The old woman fell face down and blood started to flow. Seeing that, we started shouting. We were punished, i.e. put into penitentiary cell. The building was not finished; it was a one-room building with straw on the floor instead of bunks. I believe five of us including Yu. Daniel, Ginburg and I were put there. We declared hunger strike. Due to Alik the information reached Moscow pretty quickly, and then was made known to the world at large. One day the guards barged into our cell and ordered us to stand to attention to meet the prosecutor general. Naturally no one bothered to get up.
The guards kept shouting but it was all they could do. Finally it turned out we had been visited not by the prosecutor general Rudenko, but by his deputy Popov. He was dressed elegantly, greeted us politely with “Good day!” But we just lay on the straw. Yuriy Daniel, a very emotional poet, who loved the street-talk answered to the greeting: “You, such-and-such, what did you come here for? Can’t you see the conditions we are kept in here?” –continuing with the flow of obscenities. Just fancy that – the deputy prosecutor general who instilled fear in every man and a prisoner cursing him to his best capacity. Popov listened to the whole tirade, said nothing and left. We finished our penitentiary term in another cell, because the construction of “our barrack” was urgently completed.
The national relations in the camp deserve a separate story. We had among us a young Jew, whose name I don’t remember, from the Rostov group. He is the hero of this story. Once it was raining and we stood in a group talking. The guard stood nearby, looking at the rain and suddenly he said: “Just look how these little Jews are jumping”. Later we learned that it was just a local name for the rain-drops, but we knew nothing of that. When the young boy heard that he approached the guard and gave him a good slap. At that time a law was passed: if a prisoner attacked a guard while the latter was performing his duties, the prisoner could be sentenced to death by shooting. When we saw the boy slapping the guard we just gasped. The boy was taken to the penitentiary cell immediately. The only thing we could do was going on a hunger strike. So we did and also refused to go out to work. We wrote a lot of protests, stressing the guard had offended the national feeling etc. and…we saved him. Now he is a rabbi in Jerusalem, if I am not mistaken.
You were released from camp in July 1971 and returned to Lviv. What has become of Lviv in the meantime?
That is right, I have been in the camp till July 26, 1971. After my release II decided to go home. The road to Lviv went through Kiev. I do not remember warning my friends in advance, but they knew about my arrival. When the train came to the station I.Svitlychny, Ye.Sverstyuk, M.Kotsyubynska, I.Dzyuba were waiting for me. They were persuading me to come with them. I refused: “First of all I have to see my mother, but after that I will come to see you. First I visited my whole family, so that I could come to Kiev only a month later. There I had innumerable meetings and talks. It was during that visit that I have met V.Stus. I remember our entire group going to a Kiev suburb Vorzel’. There in the forest we had a long discussion on what to do next. The seasoned inmates of the soviet camps participated in the meeting – D.Shumuk, I.Svitlychny, V.Shornovil, V.Stus and I. I have even a picture made on that day. As it turned out the meeting took place about two months prior to the wave of arrests in 1972. We discussed the publishing of “Ukrainsky visnyk”. Svitlychny assumed that the magazine would bring further reprisals on our heads. Chornovil as an editor was of different opinion. I remember we had a very interesting discussion, although I don’t remember the details. It was our last meeting before the “big crush”.
I remember well Christmas in Lviv in 1972. In a group we went around the city singing carols. We visited people who had invited us and could offer some material support. Stus joined us for carol singing, and pictures of that meeting had been made. We went to see Maria Hel’ – it was her birthday. On leaving Maria we met Iryna Kalynets, who complained she had a feeling of being constantly followed. Stus did not take it seriously, but said that Iryna was obsessed with persecution. I was of different opinion and believed that Iryna was right and shortly she would be arrested. Prior to arrests KGB used to follow the suspect for 24 hours on end. It was the evening of January 9. Stus went to stay at Iryna’s place; he spent another day in Lviv, then left for Kiev and was arrested on January 12th, right after his arrival. It was the largest wave of the massive arrests in Ukraine.
Somewhat later my brother Bohdan and I were called to testify in Svitlychny and Dzyuba case. They called me for Svitlychny case because they had found my letters from the camp, and for Dzyuba case – because I sent him a critical essay, don’t remember which one. The questioning started at 10 in the morning. Dzyuba’s investigator talked to me. He had his own methods of intimidation. For example he would say “Mr.Horyn’, you are here to testify in Dzyuba’s case, and in a couple of minutes you will be called for Svitlychny case, not as a witness, but as a defendant.” I remember very vividly thinking: “I’ve been home for too long – full three months.” I was sure they won’t let us go. We stayed in KGB building till10 in the evening. Finally they released us. In Kiev inquests last very long, up to one year. For all that time I was under terrible stress waiting to be arrested any time.
I was the only person left free by that time and worked as one-man defense attorney office. The wives of all the arrested came to seek my help - to write petitions etc. Of course my active operation became known to KGB. Once I was called to major Poluden’ for questioning. He was a very well-educated man with good manners (now he lives in Crimea, reduced to naught, as far as I know). He claimed he had heard that I was going in for nationalistic propaganda. “I don’t recommend you continuing it. Maybe you want to emigrate? We can help you with that. Why bother unnecessarily?” I answered I’ve been an émigré already. “Where? How?” – “What do you mean – where? In Mordovia, for six full years”. I was very determined, never meant to leave and that was the end of it. Since then they summoned me to KGB on a regular basis. I was aware I might be arrested any moment. Whenever I went out I always took my underwear, a towel and a tooth brush with me. In November 1976 the organizer of the Ukrainian Helsinki group M.Rudenko came to Lviv. He offered me to become a member, I even helped him in the editing of the text of first declaration. We sat and talked. I said: “Mykola, we are to proceed smartly. You are setting up a group. In half a year you will be all behind the bars. Then I’ll follow you. But we can’t endanger everyone at once.” Rudenko accused me of cowardice as the reason of not joining the group. He vexed me so much that I shouted back: “You have never been to jail and you are welcome to give it a try”. In response Rudenko evoked the example of academician Orlov, the leader of Moscow Helsinki group who had been operating since April and still went free. Unlike Rudenko I had no illusions about Kiev administration and its “liberal” approaches. I remember even saying: “When they cut fingers in Moscow, the heads roll in Kiev”. And my prophecy turned right: very soon our Helsinki group was arrested. They managed to publish only three issues of Information bulletin. Only Oksana Meshko was not arrested.
In 1977 Oksana Meshko came to me and suggested to become the editor of the bulletin. As we assumed the apartment was bugged we staged a whole show for KGB’s sake. She was pleading with me and I kept refusing. Thus we wanted to weaken KGB’s diligence at least a small bit. After Oksana left I got to work. Editing and distributing the bulletin was a very dangerous matter, because I was under permanent surveillance, despite of our small show. I had to go out of Lviv, to my mom’s place, to my friends in the country, especially to Stare Kolo near Lviv to work on the bulletin. We were working on them in the basements together with my wife Olga. We managed to publish issues from four to seven. I saw only one of them, issue # 4, and it was at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of UHG. All the other issues disappeared. The process was as follows: first Olya and I composed the issue, then I made a photocopy of it and sent cliche to Moscow. From there it was sent to the West where the bulletins were printed. The chain was as follows: first I gave cliche to Lilya Sverstyuk who gave it to Oksana Meshko, who passed it to Moscow to professor Velikanova. As I said we used to make photo-cliché to pass it to Moscow, but I did not manage to make photo-cliche for issue #7, so I sent the original text. I supplied it with short letter to Velikanova asking her to make a photo copy and destroy the original right after that. At that time I worked as psychologist in Lviv “Kinescop” factory. I had a colleague there – a young guy by name of Igor (I don’t want to give his last name) who was a KGB agent. Interestingly, after each visit to his bosses he gave me a detailed description of their talk. Once he returned from KGB and told me that a certain major had told him that Horyn’ was back into clandestine activity. It turned out Velikanova had held my letter at her home for several days and during the search it was found, with my fingerprints on it. (I worked on all the issues – but issue # 7- in gloves). My arrest became the matter of days. So far KGB just followed me at all times, summoned me for questionings, threatened my friends and acquaintances and tried to isolate me from the world.
What preceded your arrest?
On August 1, 1981 an article under the title “Choose your way” appeared in “Vil’na Ukraina” newspaper. It was written By H.Knysh, known as Hryshka Rasputin in our circle. It was a big article, occupying the entire page. The main idea was to prove that my son was a thief. He was eight at the time. Once when he was playing in the yard, three bigger boys had beaten him and made him steal some tools from the railroad technical school that was located nearby. In the evening the school principal came to me claiming that my son had robbed them. Then I found out what had actually happened. Next day a militia man who was a journalist by trade came to see me and started putting questions about what and how. He promised to write an article. Then we were told to report to militia every week. We were very upset about it, both my son and I. It was after these developments that the article written by Knysh appeared in the newspaper. Availing himself of the opportunity he also accused me of all possible sins, of disseminating anti-soviet propaganda, and bringing up my son in the spirit of anti-sovietism, and that his stealing was the result of bad education. I knew Knysh since university times, so when I met him after this publication, I told him he had done an unacceptable thing and that we were on opposite sides of the barricade. It was clear my arrest was near. The scenario was always the same – when they wanted to arrest a person, it was preceded by a newspaper article about him or her. After this article our home was searched five times. The KGB men exerted psychological pressure on my children, especially my daughter Oksana. After the searches Oksana was very nervous. Sometimes they would place something stealthily in my home. Once they placed a faked essay under the title “Social studies of the russification mechanism in Ukraine”. When militia officials showed me this “trove” I ridiculed them. “Probably, an analphabec person had written it: the phenomena can be social, while studies should be sociological!” But they continued placing materials in my basement to gather a body of incriminating materials before my arrest. But they never found the real documents.
Right before the arrest I went to Truskavets to treat my kidneys. There I stayed in the room with a certain Jew who had been a PT teacher in vocational school in Lviv. Later he turned out to be KGB agent who gave incriminating evidence against me during the trial: allegedly I tried to set him against the soviet power and also called the soviet presence in Afghanistan aggression.
After all these preparations they had more than enough evidence. I understood that and so I wrote a resolute protest to the head of Lviv KGB, claiming that I was persecuted, that fake papers were planted in my place, that my arrest was being staged, and that it was tantamount to my complete destruction because I would not survive another camp. In the end I expressed my firm protest against that impudence. After my protest, on December 2, 1981m the 6th search was conducted at my place. The prosecutor, V.Dorosh, a Ukrainian, who had lived nearby, was present. While they were frisking my home, I asked Olya to get my things ready for the jail. Olya, in spite of the prosecutor’s presence, still did not believe I would be arrested. Between 10 and 11 at night, they were done with the search and the prosecutor ordered me to get ready. When I was leaving, my son asked where I was going. :”Taras, I am leaving for a long time. When I am back, you will be twenty three. You are the only man left at home. Take care of mom and Oksana”. His eyes filled with tears, but as long as I stayed with him, he managed not to cry and only hugged me strongly. Afterwards Olya told me that after I had left he cried bitterly.
During the inquest I did not answer a single question, but declared hunger strike instead. I did not eat for ten days. On the eleventh day, around 1 in the morning I felt sharp pain in my chest. Sweat broke on my forehead and I thought it was the end of me. It was my first infarction. A KGB agent, responsible for me, was my cell-mate. He noticed something was wrong with me and immediately started knocking on the door. A nurse with EKG machine came running although it was the middle of the night. It looked like everything followed some scenario devised earlier. Probably during my hunger strike they were giving me some medication weakening my heart. I was taken to the hospital in Brygidky right away. They kept me there for seven days – to treat my infarction. The aforementioned V.Dorosh was my investigator and it was the first precedence when the inquest was conducted by a prosecutor and not by KGB officials. It was due to the fact that I expressed my distrust to KGB. During our conversations I tried to appeal to his conscience. To that he answered that it would be better for him to investigate my case, because someone else might be hostile to me. I was annoyed with his reasoning and said: “It is no importance, Vasyl’. It would be better for you not to participate in it. Because in the new Nuremberg process which is coming, you will be judged as a criminal, Vasyl’” Then he had enough and shouted:” Before I am tried in Nuremberg process you will kick the bucket in the camp”. After that I had the same answer for all the prosecutor’s questions: “As I had been provoked, as faked materials were planted at my home to give more weight to the accusation, and so on and so forth, I refuse to participate in the proceedings against me”.
Around September 1982 my process finally started. I was physically very weak. My infarction was not cured properly and I could feel it. I failed to get the text of my final word outside. My mother, both brothers and my wife were present at the trial. The prosecution brought three witnesses: the aforementioned Jew from Truskavets, a woman, who despite the fact that she had asked me to write a letter to KGB chief Fedorchuk, and now claimed it was my own initiative and an old partisan who had been in the camp with me in 1969 and asserted that I imposed nationalistic ideas on him. Only the Jewish teacher made it to the trial. The situation was so bizarre that I even joked about it. But the sentence was fifteen years. Right after the sentence was announced I was taken to the camp. Due to my health condition I stated unambiguously that I was not going by train. Either they fly me there or I commit a suicide right here in Lviv. I even agreed to pay the plane fare. They did not take my money, but agreed to send me to the camp by plane. They still managed to torture me on the way. My hands were bound with the hand-cuffs behind my back for the entire journey. After travel in this position I was more dead than alive. In the Kuchyno camp I suffered another infarction.
Whom did you meet on your arrival in Kuchyno camp of special, i.e the strictest, regime?
At the time of my arrival Kuchyno had 24 inmates. Half of them were Ukrainian, Lukyanenko, Kandyba, Ovsienko, and old Semen Skalych.
In1984 my close friend Yurko Lytvyn died. He had been imprisoned for many years. His story was very sad. KGB transferred his son to Odessa and placed him into drug-users’ milieu. Yurko was aware of that and worried a lot about his son. Then the woman he loved left him. His teeth were all pulled out to be replaced with the new ones and he could not eat for a long time. And then all his manuscripts were confiscated from him. It was the last straw that broke him. He gave up. Prior to his death we stayed in the neighboring cells. I remember him saying that he saw red spot before his eyes. I understood his blood pressure was running high and started knocking on his wall, but received no response. A Lett Gunar Astra who had been in the cell with Yurko, started knocking on the cell door without knowing yet what had happened. Yurko lay thoroughly covered with his blanket and did not move. A doctor came running to find out that Yurko had committed hara-kiri. He was still alive when they put him on the stretcher and he managed to knock on our door as a good-bye sign, while he was passing our cell.
Another inmate of Kuchyno V.Marchenko had a terminal kidney disease. He behaved like a hero. To be able to live he used to put a wet towel around his body, then covered himself with blanket and thus the towel absorbed all the excretions exuded by the skin pores, because his kidneys did not work at all by then. When after that he wrung it, a milk-like liquid would flow. He did it every day. And every day he had to go to work. We were protesting: “Can’t you see the man is very sick?”, but no one would listen. Then they understood he might die right there, so they sent him to a hospital in near Leningrad. Prior to his departure his mom Nina Mykhaylovna came to the hospital. . She was a unique woman. They did not see each other, but she knew he was being taken to Leningrad. Due to her seventh sense she managed to go on the same train. She was aware that at some station the convicts’ coach would be detached. Somehow she identified the place and for a month and a half of his transfer to Leningrad she accompanied him always. By the time he finally had been brought to Leningrad he was barely alive. Valery died two or three weeks later. The mother took him home.
Another Kuchyno inmate was Oleksa Tykhy. He was from Donetsk area, and behaved strange. He decided no one would humiliate him and never missed a chance to demonstrate his independence. He even curled his moustache in contempt of the rules. I asked him not to do that providing our supervisors with a cause to taunt him, but Oleksa would not listen. He paid for his moustache with days of isolation cell and developed hernia as a result. He was operated, but died anyway six months later.
V.Stus was another martyr. As it happened no one was held in the isolation penitentiary cell in August 1985. The guards did their best to hold a prisoner in the isolation cell at all times, because then they received bonuses. It was quite foreseeable that the guards will try to provoke inmates to be able to put them into the penitentiary cell. They initiated permanent searches: on the way to work, on the way from work, before and after dinner, before and after the walk in the open. We were stripped naked for that purpose. Stus had enough of that: “Stop squeezing me like a chicken! You dogs, you fascists! How long will you torture and humiliate us?” And that put him exactly where they wanted him. Stus got fifteen days of penitentiary cell. They planted L.Borodin, whom I have mentioned earlier with Stus. They must have hoped that conflict would break out between two men. But they were wrong. When Stus returned to his cell to take his belonging the penitentiary cell, he took neither his spoon, nor his bowl and announced the hunger strike. “For how long?” –asked Borodin. And Stus answered:” Till the very end”. He was taken to the penitentiary cell. Although it was only August, the winter already sets in Urals. It might 5, 7, and even 10 degrees centigrade below zero. Stus went to penitentiary cell and immediately announced hunger strike, although his heat was weak. On the fourth day he asked the guard to bring him validol. “You’ll do without!” was the guard’s answer. Next day the whole camp was in turmoil, the inmates already knew Stus died.
Some time after that I was summoned by the camp commander. I came to his office and said: “Now is my turn”. The commander was surprised: “Why so?” –“Because it is only Ukrainians that die. In a year five Ukrainians have died. “And it was true, five Ukrainians, another rebel by name of Kurka and an Azeri man. Eighteen prisoners remained in Kuchyno of the initial twenty four.
In late November or early December of 1986 I woke up one night with the heart ache and the feeling of being strangled. Opening my eyes I saw my whole cell in red. I understood my blood pressure was very high. My heart was thumping as if wanting to jump out of my chest. My mouth was full of saliva. I believed it was the end of me. First I wanted to wake up my fellow inmates, but then I felt sorry to spoil the night for them, considering that they had to report to work the next day. Anyway, they would not be able to help. I decided to calm down and wait till morning. Later I was diagnosed with pre-stroke condition. In the morning I felt better. The doctor said I had saved myself by lying quietly. Luckily, after all the death I’ve just related to you, the doctor was assigned to the camp to replace former doctor Pchelnikov. Hrytsenko was a young Ukrainian man, who unlike his predecessor, took the health of his wards close to heat. He said I should call him any time, night or day, if I felt worse. At night I had another attack. Petro Ruban was my cell-mate. I asked him to call for doctor. The guards were reluctant to do it, but once informed, the doctor came immediately. I was taken to the medical ward on a stretcher. I was given a strofanin injection, but it brought no alleviation, then another one and my heart-beat was restored. Hryshchenko did not leave me till morning. At six he went to bed, but, probably could not sleep, because he was back in three hours.
In a week or maybe in ten days the guards came to let me know that I would be transferred. I said was going nowhere as I would not survive the road and I’d better die where I was. The guards tried to convince me, and finally I said that I would go if the doctor approved. The doctor told to get ready for the transport. I kept repeating my arguments saying I did not want to die on the way. But he explained I was not going to the hospital. “But where then, are you taking me Ukraine?”- I asked. He did not answer directly but mentioned that I was flying wherever it was. We flew to Lviv. On that very day my wife came to see me, as no one had told her anything about Lviv. In Lvov they have been trying to “reform” me for five months without any result. The main request was for me to write a certain letter which could be considered a plea for pardon on the grounds of my health condition. In spite of the fact that I was seriously ill I refused. Then they approached my daughter. When my daughter refused too, they went to my wife. She refused, too and then they went to my brothers who refused as well. Finally they went to my mom with the same result. During my stay in Lviv I was granted a visit from my family. I was brought from KGB to the camp for criminal felons in Shevchenko str. My whole family came: mother, father, wife, kids. We were just sitting and talking when suddenly I had another heart attack and fainted. A scared doctor administered first aid and wrote that I could die if not released immediately. Of course, it had no effect.
After abortive “reforming” effort I was taken back to Kuchyno. By that time almost all the political prisoners have been set free. The camp of strict regime was liquidated and only we, the “striped” political prisoners remained. I still felt ill, heart attacks continued. After one of them the guards came and ordered me to get ready for transport. It was in July 1987. Hryshchenko came again and made a hint that it was not to the hospital, at least not to the local one that they were taking me. Under his pleadings I agreed to go, but was so sick that could not practically take anything with me. I took half a brick of margarine, a slice of bread and some candies. I remember at the last moment before leaving I felt very sorry for my camp belongings, my notes. I stepped outside and was amazed: no guards, no dogs, who always guarded jail-birds leaving the premises. Just one guard escorted me to the next camp of the strict regime. “What is it about?” – I thought. – “What are these new trends? It’s Gorbachev doing, or what?” We approached the camp zone, and there the female warden announced that I was pardoned. “Why am I pardoned? I did not ask for it!” She said it was none of her business. “But it is my business – I retorted. –“neither my family nor I ever applied for it, so why was I pardoned? I don’t want a pardon, I want exoneration”. We started quarreling with the warden, and she ordered the guards to strip me and put different clothes on me. I was recommended to take a bus to the Chusova station, but I said I had no intention to do that and turned in the direction of my own camp. Then they pushed me into the bus by force. The camp commander Dolmatov and the chief security officer Kondratyev were in the bus already. They were two opposites, north and south embodied. Dolmatov was a regular beast, while Kondratyev had some vestigial humanity in him. Later I learnt Dolmatov had died one week after my release. Ironically, he was buried near Stus at the same cemetery. Stus’ grave was number nine, and Dolmatov’s – number ten. At the station they wanted me to buy ticket. I answered I had five hundred roubles and I had no intention to spend even one kopeck. If they want to send me home, let them buy me the ticket. And that is what they did at the end. On my way to the railway station building I suddenly saw my youngest brother Mykola. They told him in the KGB office that I was very sick and that he had to escort me home. We went to Perm’ together with Mykola and the guards. Then they wanted me to buy the plane ticket. I refused again. After another dispute they did it. From Perm’ I flew to Lviv where friends were already waiting for me. Right after that Chornovil came to me and suggested we publish “Ukrainsky Visnyk” together. Unable to contain myself I said:” Do you have no shame, man? I just returned, haven’ even visited my mother and mother-in-law yet. I have to go to the hospital for some treatment.” But Chornovil was not moved: “You’ve got to get to work. No one else wants to do it.
Finally we agreed that I will visit my family and it in the meantime Chornovil could not find anyone than I’ll get to work on the “Visnyk”. I visited my mother, mother-in-law, and returned to Lviv after one week to a day. It turned out Chornovil had failed in trying to find someone, so I immersed myself into the job of editing the Bulletin instead of going to the hospital.
We had great mission. Conversation with M.Horyn’ (Recorded by B.Berdykhovska in mid-1990-s)
Edition: У нас була велика місія // Боґуміла Бердиховська, Оля Гнатюк. Бунт покоління. Розмови з українськими інтелектуалами – К.: Дух і літера, 2004 – С. 185–234.
(We had great mission // B.Berdykhovska, O.Hnatyuk. The generation riot. Conversations with the Ukrainian intellectuals – К.: Dukh i litera, 2004 – P. 185–234.)
Scanned and edited for KhPG by V.Ovsienko on 30.05.2010.