OVSIYENKO, Vasyl Vasylyovych
(b. 8.04.1949, village of Lenino (Stavky), Radomyshlsk district, Zhytomyr region)
Language and Literature Specialist, disseminator of samizdat, human rights activist, member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG), former political prisoner
After finishing school in 1966, Ovsiyenko first worked on a collective farm, then in 1967 as a literary assistant in the district newspaper in Narodychy, Zhytomyr region. From 1967 -1972 he studied at the Language and Literature Faculty of Kyiv University. Having arrived to begin his studies in Kyiv, he was staggered by the disdain for the Ukrainian language he encountered.
Ovsiyenko was introduced to samizdat by his lecturer in university, V. LISOVY. In spring 1968 he prepared several photo prints of I. DZIUBA’s work “Internationalism or Russification?” and was active in spreading Ukrainian samizdat among students. In 1972 he gave technical assistance to V. LISOVY and Y. PRONYUK in putting out “Ukrainsky visnyk” [“Ukrainian Herald”] issue no. VI and “ An Open Letter to the Members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR and to the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party ” (the author of the text being V. LISOVY).
From August 1972 Ovsiyenko worked as a teacher of Ukrainian Language and Literature in the village of Tashan, Pereslav-Khmelnytsky district in the Kyiv region, where he wrote an article entitled “Dobosh and the opryshki [national-liberation fighters in Western Ukraine from C16-19], or the End of the Shestydesyatnyky [Sixties activists]” (about the “Dobosh case”), made notes of a literary nature which were later used by the investigation officers to blackmail him with the threat of being put in a psychiatric hospital.
He was arrested on 5 March 1973 and charged with having engaged in “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” (Article 62 §1 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR) by circulating samizdat literature. The KGB used Ovsiyenko’s diary entries full of despair to put pressure on him and threaten to put him in a psychiatric hospital if he didn’t acknowledge his guilt. Understanding that such incarceration in a psychiatric hospital might be indefinite, Ovsiyenko agreed to say that he was guilty. On 6 December 1973 he was sentenced by the Kyiv Regional Court to 4 years deprivation of liberty in harsh regime labour camps in the same case as that of Y. PRONYUK and V. LISOVY. .
He took part in protest actions in the Mordovian political labour camps ZhKh-385/19 (Lesnoye, Tengushevsk district) and 17-A (Ozyornoye, Zubovo-Polyansk district). On 20 August 1976 at a “preventive education session” in the Kyiv KGB, he withdrew his admission of guilt. Ovsiyenko’s information about the events in the Mordovian camps was published in the “Khronika tekushchykh sobytiy” [’Chronicle of Current Events’] and used by the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG).
After his release on 5 March 1977, he lived under administrative surveillance in his home village and worked on the collective farm as a graphic designer. He corresponded widely with dissidents and their relatives. In September 1977 he was warned that he would be held criminally liable in accordance with the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 25.12.1972. On 7 January 1978 he lodged an application with OVIR [the Department of Visas and Registration] asking to be allowed to leave the USSR. He wrote material for UHG about the position of those exiled or under surveillance, as well as the first version of his memoirs “Svitlo lyudei” [“The Light they gave”]. On 18 November 1978 he was detained by the police in connection with the arrival at his home of the member of the UHG, O. MESHKO and O. Babych-Orlova. He refused to give any explanation for which he received a stream of abuse and was thrown out of the rural council. Ovsiyenko lodged a complaint in the court against the police officers and the KGB man, as a consequence of which criminal proceedings were launched against him on a charge of having used force to resist police officers – he had supposedly ripped two buttons of a policeman’s uniform. On 7 – 8 February 1979 he was sentenced by the Radomyshlsky District Court to 3 years deprivation of liberty under Article 188-1 § 2. He was arrested in the courtroom. His text “Instead of final words” became known in the West. He served his sentence in penal zones № 55 (city of Volnyansk, Zaporizhye region) and № 71 (city of Korosten, Zhytomyr region).
While in the camp, he refused to testify in cases involving L. LUKYANENKO, M. MATUSEVYCH, H. SNEGIRYOV, V. STUS, D. MAZUR and in defence of the latter, he himself made an appeal to the KGB. “You’re going to stay inside”, he was told by KGB Major Radchenko. On 9 June 1981 KGB Major Tchaikovsky informed Ovsiyenko that criminal proceedings were to be brought against him under Article 62, Part 2 and suggested that he write a “recanting” letter to the newspaper condemning the activity of the UHG, his membership of which had been announced on his meeting with O. MESHKO. The investigator offered either release before the end of the criminal sentence, or 10 years deprivation of liberty, 5 years exile and the “honorary” rank of “particularly dangerous repeat offender”. Ovsiyenko chose the latter and refused to take part in the investigation. He was sentenced by the Zhytomyr Regional Court between 23 -26 August 1981 to 10 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years exile. He was charged on the basis of his article “Instead of final words”, his letter to the UN about conditions in the camps and verbal anti-Soviet utterances.
He served his sentence in camp VS-389/36 [“Perm-36”] in the settlement of Kutchino, Chusovoi district of the Perm region, then from 8 December 1987 – in penal zone № 35 at Vsekhsvyatskaya. He was “pardoned” under the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 12 August 1988 and released nine days later.
He worked in his native village as a graphic designer since he was not allowed to teach in schools. In September he became a member of the Coordination Council of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union (UHU), and on 16 July 1989 he was elected the chairperson of its Zhytomyr branch. On 30 April 1990 he was appointed Secretary of the Ukrainian Republican Party (URP) on publishing matters. From 1 May 1997 he became deputy chairperson of the Christian Republican Party (CRP), and from 1990 – the co-chairperson of the Ukrainian Committee “Helsinki-90”.
He took part in the reburial of V. STUS, O. TYKHY and Y. LYTVYN in November 1989 and in creating a museum on the history of political repression and totalitarianism [the “Perm 36” Memorial Museum ]on the site of the former political labour camp in Kutchino in the Perm region. In 1996 a book of memoirs was published under the title “Svitlo lyudei” [“The Light they gave”] — about V. STUS, O. MESHKO and Y. LYTVYN. He is the author of a number of publications about the human rights movement and is very active in education and awareness-raising activities.
On 12 January 2000 Ovsiyenko became the Vasyl Stus Award laureate “for his talent and courage”. He lives in Kyiv.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. Charges: Anti-Soviet, Defamation // Donbass.— 1991.— №1.— pp. 139-140.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. Bazar -1921. Bazar -1990. // Vilne slovo.— 1991.— №44.— 23 November.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. Love. Goodness. Freedom. // Ukraina.— 1991.— № 24.— pp. 12-17.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. Pokis [Haystack]. // Samostiyna Ukraina.— 1992.— №2 (23).
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. About Stus. // Litopys Golgophy Ukrainy [Chronicle of Ukraine’s Golgotha]. V. 1. — Lviv: Memorial, 1993. pp.157-184.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. Secretly buried as №9. // Ne vidlyubyv svoyu tryvohu rannyu … Vasyl Stus – Poet and Man. Kyiv: Ukrainian pysmennyk, 1993.— pp. 320-338.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko (editor). Kozatska matir [Cossack mother]. — Kyiv: URP, 1995.— pp. 51-63.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. “Svitlo lyudei [“The Light they gave”].Memories and portraits of Vasyl Stus Yury Lytvyn and Oksana Meshko. Biblioteka zhurnalu URP “Republic”. Seriya: political portraits, №4. Kyiv, 1996.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. “De vse lyudskuyu mukuyu vzyalos ... // Ukrainska kultura, 1996, №2 pp. 18-19.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. The movement of Ukrainian human rights activists called for the collapse of the Russian Soviet Empire, and the proclamation of a Ukrainian democratic state// Samostiyna Ukraina, 1996 р, № 21-22.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. Repressions against the Ukrainian Helsinki Group in 1977. // Ukrainsky almanakh. Warsaw: Association of Ukrainians in Poland, 1997. pp. 148-153.
Vasyl Ovsiyenko. We simply went … the ten-year anniversary of the Ukrainian Cultural Studies Club // Narodna hazeta, 1997, № 50 (331).
Ukrainian Helsinki Group. 1978—1982 Toronto – Baltimore: Smoloskyp, 1983.— pp. 493-530.
Mikhail Heifets. Time and place (Jewish notes). France:Tretya volna, 1978, pp. 123-125
Mikhail Heifets. Vasyl Ovsiyenko — martyr of the GULAG. // Ukrainian silhouettes. New York: Suchasnist, 1983.— pp. 273-285.
Ukrainian Helsinki Group. On the 20th anniversary of its creation.— Kyiv.: URP, 1996.— pp. 32, 19-20.
“Do you love Ukraine? Then to the concentration camp!” // Viche — 1991.— №14.
I. Rapp, revised by V. Ovsiyenko