author: Vasyl Ovsiyenko

(b. 24.02.1937, Yenakiyeve, Stalin, now Donetsk Oblast)

Writer, linguist, Prosvita member, and public figure.


Father Riznykiv Serhiy Ivanovych (1907-1989) was dispossessed and sent to the Urals, but he escaped from there. In 1936, he married Kateryna Vasylivna Solohub (1905-1990) in Yenakiyeve. The family stuck to the national and religious traditions. In the early days of the war the father was drafted, taken prisoner by Germans, and therefore later did his term in the Soviet concentration camp. He returned in 1946 when Oleksa was a third-grader. Hunger in 1948 drove the family out to the relatives in Pervomaisk (Bohopil), Mykolayiv Oblast. The father sent his son to the Russian school where the child was laughed at him for his Ukrainian accent. Since 1952, Olexa attended literary studio under the Prybuzkyi Komunar Newspaper, wrote poetry in Russian (more often than Ukrainian) and published his poems. His mother commented about his poem dedicated to the death of Stalin, "Stalin is the Antichrist, Lenin is the Antichrist. Truly God exists in the world. But never breathe a word at school that you believe in God."

With this duality Oleksa finished the school in 1954. He failed to join the Mathematics Department of Odesa University and spent a year working in the Pervomaisk Inventory Bureau. The next year he failed to enter the Philology Department, and joined the Odesa State Theater Art-and-Technical School. He graduated from the Light Engineering Faculty early in spring 1958 and worked as a lighting technician at the M. Kropyvnytskyi Kirovohrad Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater. The young man was surprised to find out that the talented Ukrainian artists communicated in Russian off the stage. He himself talked Odesa slang and once he suggested his friends, “Let’s conduct the week of Ukrainian language. We are working in Ukrainian theater, you know.” The whole week he wrote and spoke his mother tongue. Then he wrote a poem: “I’ve forgotten my Ukrainian language, I’ve forgotten Zaporizhzhia Sich. How can I bring back the freedom and my native speech?”

The criticism of Stalin’s personality cult, Hungarian occupation, and poverty encourage people not only to critical conversations, but to take actions as well. In early July 1958, R. offered his friend Volodymyr BARSUKIVSKYI to write a leaflet. 20.07 BARSUKIVSKYY brought to Pervomaisk some phrases for the leaflets, on the bank of Syniukha River they cooperated and composed a text that was later amended in Kirovohrad; they allowed several friends to read it, including Stanislav Shvets. This “Appeal to the Nation” contained quite mature slogans: “Stop splitting the world into two so called camps! Down with party fascist dictatorship! We need freedom of convictions, speech, and press! Down with atheist propaganda!" They signed the leaflet as follows: “The Union for Struggle for the Liberation of People (USLP). They typed about fifty copies of the leaflet using the typewriter of foodstuff producer where BARSUKIVSKYI worked, as well the typewriter of S. Shvets. They distributed the leaflets in Kirovohrad (P.) and Odesa (BARSUKIVSKYI) on November 7-8, 1958. Some leaflets the vigilant citizens tore away and immediately brought to the KGB.

On 09.11.1958 R. was drafted and served in the Navy in Sevastopol. He was elected secretary of the Komsomol organization. He published poetry in the Sevastopol naval military newspaper "Vympel".

In February 1959, R. was summoned for typing expertize, because the KGB had hit the scent. In summer, R. was sent to serve in Odesa, where they arrange a meeting with BARSUKIVSKYI, and introduced to secret informer Yuriy Mykhailyk. On 30.09.1959, the UKGB investigation department in Odesa Oblast opened a criminal case against R. and V.BARSUKIVSKYI.

On 1.10.1959, the searches were conducted in the apartments of S.Shvets and P.’s parents in Pervomaisk, BARSUKIVSKYI in Odesa, and R.’s crew quarters, where they confiscated a folder with poems and short stories (some of which were later found defamatory). S.Shvets was detained for two or three days. The investigation regarding R. and BARSUKIVSKYI was conducted by KGB Lieutenant-Colonel Mienushkin: “You have written a poem “For You”. “Please, tell me who are those people mad from overfeeding and throw good money after bad?”—“Speculators who cheat people.”—“Olexiy Serhiyovych… Okay. There is a story “Nevertheless It’s OK”. It reads that we shouldn’t overtake America so that we don’t show our bare ass. How come?”—“Well, I heard a joke."

A few days later the young men admitted writing the leaflet, pleaded guilty, and confessed that they did it under the influence of criticism of the personality cult of Stalin. The investigation lasted for three months. They failed to establish the fact of nationalism in the "criminal activity" of R. and BARSUKIVSKYI: both the leaflets and poems were written in Russian and they didn’t care about Bandera’s murder in Munich on 15.10.1959. But due to this very event R. began to see clearly that Ukraine was in captivity, that he did not know his native tongue, and that his life was purposeless! And he decided to start a new life as a Ukrainian. He borrowed Ukrainian books in the library and enthusiastically read them, including "Prison Sonnets" by I. Franko in Russian translations. On 01.01.1960 all partners in crime were put into one and the same cell of Odesa prison, they began to speak Ukrainian, recorded radio and learned by heart Ukrainian songs. On the eve of trial, which took place 15-19.02.1960, R. wrote an ambiguous poem that he dismantled and cleansed as vehicles or machinery the spare parts of his life, and read this poem instead of his final speech in court:

I’ve cleansed it all and lubricated

With tears at Court and expiation,

Revised in course of judication

And saw my soul renovated.

I’ll live my better fate foreseeing:

It may be difficult to bear

But I’ll assemble a new being

And I’ll be up to it, I swear.

In fact, he meant his new life as a Ukrainian.

The Military Tribunal of the Odesa Military District (Judge Colonel Gorbachev) recognized the guilt of R. and V.BARSUKIVSKYI proved concerning the "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" under article 7, R. 1 of the Law "On criminal responsibility for crimes against the state" as amended on 12.25.1958, and accusation under art. 9 of creating anti-Soviet organization "We are people as well" in the Navy was declared unfounded. The court took into account positive references and sentenced both of them to 18 mos of imprisonment which the boys liked very much because they had expected if not the capital punishment, then 15 years of imprisonment. The protest of the prosecutor, who insisted on sentencing R. to 4 years and BARSUKIVSKYI to 3 years, wasn’t granted.

P. did his term in the camp ZHKH-385/11, settlement of Yavas, Mordovia. The camp routine was relatively mild at the time. He made friends with S.BABYCH, poet Sashko Hryhorenko. He communicate with insurgents doing their 25-year terms which helped him to learn Polish, nationalist Decalogue, text of the hymn, came to know our state emblem and flag, went in for yoga, and wrote many poems. He read a lot: R. was discharged on 01.04.1961 and had five wooden suitcases of books.

In Pervomaisk, he was employed as an electrician at a granite quarry. In 1962-68, he studied at the by-correspondence department of the Faculty of Philology of Odesa University together with 42-year-old Svyatoslav KARAVANSKYI, who introduced him to his wife Nina STROKATA.

In 1963, R. moved to Odesa. He had a temporary registration, worked at "Odesaenerho" as an electrician replacing electric meters. In 1964-67, he was on the staff of the Odeskyi Politekhnik newspaper published by Polytechnic Institute. He worked for a while at the Odesa television studio from where he was sacked for ideological reasons. In 1968-69, R. was on the staff of the Narodna Trybuna newspaper (Town of Balta, Odesa Oblast). He worked as an electrician at a house-building plant, secretary at the school, teacher of Ukrainian in the evening school no. 14 where his teaching load made 9 hours. R. participated in the Ukrainian chorus, went caroling. On initiative of S.KARAVANSKYI  (prior to his arrest on 13.11.1965), the citizens of Odesa, including P., began collecting books for Ukrainians living in Kuban, sent letters about Russification of schools and universities to various newspapers, Ministry of Education, and the prosecutor.

In 1969, his book of poetry Spring Explodes was scheduled to be published, but known literary pogrom-maker Ivan Duz criticized it severely. The book was announced once more for 1971, but nine months they beat about the bush with publisher’s agreement trying to make R. to cooperate with the KGB. He did not succumb. He was deprived of registration in Odesa. On 11.10.1971 R. was arrested again.

On 09.08.1971, Olexa Prytyka was imprisoned as they searched the premises and confiscated many samvydav publications. 06.12.1971 N.STROKATA was arrested. For almost a month R. refused to give evidence. Besides O.Prytyka’s evidence that R. had articles of V. MOROZ, I. DZIUBA, "Ukrayinskyi Visnyk", the investigation had almost nothing against him. Head of UKGB D.Brazhko promised that if he pleaded guilty and cooperated he would help to publish the book and other benefits. R. refused.

The Odesa Oblast Court heard the case of N.STROKATA, R. and O.Prytyka on 4-19.05. 1972. This was the first trial of accused which had been arrested in 1972. R. kept refusing participation until his relatives were not let in. He was charged with anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda (part 1 of art. 62 of the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR) and was sentenced to 5.5 years of special security camps. N.STROKATA got 4 years, O.Prytyka 2 years, i.e. less than the smallest term.

P. was transported to the camp VS-389/36, Village of Kuchino, Perm Oblast, Where he arrived in late summer 1972. The Supreme Court response to his cassation appeal he received in November 1972 and he went on one-week protest hunger strike (5-12.12) because the decision of the Supreme Court contained many falsifications and juggling with facts. During the rest of his term he went on hunger strike on the day of arrest and on 11th of each month to protest the illegal arrest and detention. R. communicated with Y. SVERSTIUK, L. LUKYANENKO, O.SERHIYENKO, V.MARMUS, Taras MELNYCHUK, with Jews, aircraft hijacking affair convicts. He worked out a minimum program for himself for all 5 years: with Lithuanians and Latvians Simas Kudirka, Gunnar Astra he studied Lithuanian and Latvian languages, worked on the root "compact dictionary”, read a lot, studied the origin of languages ​​and wrote poems every day. All of them, except for the first two books, were preserved (from poem 76 to 1700). In 1973, Jew Arye Vudka learned several poems of R. by heart and along with the poems of other imprisoned Ukrainian poets after his discharge three years later published them in Munich in a book Poetry Behind the Barbed Wire.

A month before his release R. with eight suitcases of books was transported under guard to Mykolayiv and discharged on 11.05.1977. He was forced to settle in Pervomaisk near his mother and father. For two years he worked in the maternity hospital as an electrician. In 1980, he went to work at the boarding school for children with special needs; he worked there as an educator for 10 years.

In the late 80’s R. participated in creating the People’s Movement of Ukraine, Association of Ukrainian Language ("Prosvita"). In 1996, R. obtained an apartment in Odesa. In 1997, he was elected a member of the administration of the V. Stus All-Ukrainian "Memorial"; he was also appointed a head of the oblast commission for rehabilitation (on a voluntary basis); R. was elected chairman of the Odesa Oblast “Prosvita”. R. is a Board Member of the Congress of Ukrainian Intelligentsia, Chairman of the Commission in the Committee "Nuremberg-2”. In 1996-1998 he worked as an inspector of the municipal public education authority on language, participated in writing a book for teachers We are Odesa Citizens. Since 1998, R. heads the literary studio "Hart" at the House of Children and Youth Creativity.

Since 1987 began to publish his works in republican and local press. In 1990, at long last, the Odesa Mayak Publishers brought out his book of poems Ozone; in December, R. was admitted to the Union of Writers of Ukraine. In 1990-95, he worked as a correspondent of the oblast newspaper Radianske Prybuzhzhia”. He was a member of the World Forum of poets in Kyiv "Golden Din”. In 1995, R. was awarded Pavlo Tychyna Prize for his second book of poems Blackthorn Afire with an appended article "I am guilty because I am the Ukrainian". He published several books of poetry, two books of memoirs about N.STROKATA, Dictionary of homonyms One-rhymers containing 4,000 short poems with homonymous rhymes, Ukrainian Syllables including 9620 syllables. In 2004-2005, he was an anchorman at UT-1 presenting the program “Our Language”.

P. is married; he has a daughter Yaroslava, b. 1969, and granddaughter Yulia Krut, b. 1990.

By Decree of the President of Ukraine of 26.11.2005 R. was awarded the Order "For Merits", third grade.

He lives in Odesa.



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