HRYTSYAK, Yevhen Stepanovych
(b. 09.08.1926, village of Stetsiv, Snyatinsky district, Ivano-Frankivsk region)
Member of a youth organization of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, former political prisoner, one of the leaders of the uprising in the Norilsk labour camps in 1953
A photographer and portrait painter, with general secondary school education, Hrytsyak says that it was his family which from childhood played the biggest role in forming his view on life.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Hrytsyak finished shorter secondary education at the Stetsiv school, and during the period of German occupation was a student of a secondary-level trade school. It was then, at the age of 16-17, that Hrytsyak became a member of a youth section of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which was preparing young people to fight against the Nazi occupying forces. Therefore, not feeling that he had done anything wrong, Hrytsyak did not flee from his native place with the advance of the Red Army. In 1944, Hrytsyak was mobilized, becoming a soldier of the Fourth Ukrainian Front. He was wounded during battle, and received many military awards.
In 1949 the Soviet counter-espionage found out about his past. On 30 September 1949 he was arrested, and on 12 December 1949, instead of possible execution, he was sentenced to 25 years deprivation of liberty with confiscation of possession plus loss of rights for 5 years. He served his sentence in Dzhezkazgan, Norilsk, the Vladimir prison, on the Taishetska line, in the Irkutsk prison, Inte and in the Mordovian political labour camps.
In the labour camps Hrytsyak constantly and actively opposed the arbitrary will of the camp and prison administration for which he received 42 disciplinary punishments, with 3 of these being one year’s imprisonment for each. Perhaps the most dramatic was his time in the Norilsk labour camps. After Stalin died in March 1953, everybody hoped for an improvement in conditions in the camps, however during the first months that followed his death, the administration’s treatment was even more brutal, (executions began of those who were recalcitrant, or who roused suspicions), which led to uprisings in all zones of the GORLAG (the mining labour camps). In May, Hrytsyak led the revolt in his fourth zone. On 25 March 1953 the prisoners stopped work right on the construction site, and refused to return to their barracks. For three days no food was brought to the construction site. After these three days the prisoners returned to their barracks where those who had remained in the zone had gone on hunger strike as a sign of solidarity with them. The prisoners refused to go to work. They demanded that a commission be sent from Moscow and that the prisoners’ demands be met: the executions were to stop; the working day had to be shortened to 8 hours; prisoners should be allowed to correspond with their families; all disabled prisoners should be moved from the camps beyond the Arctic Circle; the food should be improved; locks and grating should be removed from the barracks, and number markings from the prisoners; torture during interrogation was to end, as well as the practice of court proceedings behind closed doors; the decisions of the OSO [Special Commission] were to be withdrawn as being from an unconstitutional body. Hrytsyak presented these demands on 6 June to the members of a commission which had come from Moscow. On 9 June the prisoners were told that the government had met some of their demands. However, after this not all promises were kept, in particular, disabled prisoners were not sent back to the mainland, and there was no full change in management of the GORLAG. In addition, provocations were applied and it proved necessary to continue the strike. Only in August 1953, after mass shooting of prisoners in the third and fourth zones was the opposition crushed.
After this, Hrytsyak was sent first to the Norilsk prison, and then to the Vladimir prison.
In 1956 Hrytsyak was released without rehabilitation at the decision of the Commission of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 07.08.56.
Hrytsyak returned to his home region, worked as a loader, a house painter, he was even praised in a local newspaper. However in 1958 he was told that his registration had been cancelled, i.e. that he was not allowed to live in Western Ukraine and would have to leave his home. Hrytsyak found work and became registered in the city of Karaganda.
On 28 January 1959 Hrytsyak was arrested in accordance with a Resolution of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The Resolution said that the decision of the Commission of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on the basis of which Hrytsyak had been released was revoked due to the seriousness of the crime Hrytsyak had committed. Thus, the previous sentence from 1949 – to 25 years deprivation of liberty came back into force. In the following years, Hrytsyak demanded an explanation of what constituted the seriousness of his crime, however the answer was always the same, that he had been convicted on good grounds.
On 1 November 1961, Hrytsyak wrote a letter of protest to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union with regard to the repressive measures he was being subjected to because he had been one of the leaders of the uprising of prisoners in 1953. In his letter he described the position of prisoners in the Norilsk camps, the arbitrary will and cruelty of the administration and explained that it was specifically against these things that the prisoners had protested, and not against Soviet power.
The management of the camps described Hrytsyak as a conscientious worker with good behaviour.
In 1963, Hrytsyak’s case was reviewed by the Military Panel of Judges of the Supreme Court of the USSR, as a result of which the period of deprivation of liberty was reduced to 10 years, and his criminal record was cancelled. It was only then that Hrytsyak discovered that in 1959 the charges had been that he was not working anywhere, that he had not ceased his anti-Soviet activity and that he had created an organization of Ukrainian nationalists in the Vinnytsa region, which in actual fact had not existed.
On 6 October 1964, Hrytsyak was released. He returned home to the village of Stetsiv, married and had a daughter.
According to Hrytsyak he never joined the dissident movement, although his texts were published in samizdat, and he signed human rights documents.
The repressive measures did not come to an end. Hrytsyak was not able to find a job, he received threats that he would be imprisoned again, and his wife was threatened with dismissal. Hrytsyak then decided to emigrate.
In 1973 he received an invitation to leave for Israel from a friend he had been in the camps with, and with whom he had continued to have close relations, Abraam Shifrin. However, Hrytsyak never did receive permission to emigrate despite repeated appeals to various bodies, including appeals addressed to N. Podgorny and L. Brezhnev.
Hrytsyak signed the statement of 62 Soviet citizens “In support of Charter 77” (Moscow, 12.02.77).
After Hrytsyak’s book about the uprising in the Norilsk camps was published, new repressive measures and threats from the KGB began. Then on 10 October 1981 Hrytsyak wrote a letter to L. Brezhnev in which, in particular, he writes: “We both have equal rights as citizens of the Soviet Union … and we have both written our memoirs. You wrote about the road you took, I about mine …
You have published your memoirs in the Soviet Union and abroad, I – only abroad. However you are not summoned, as I am, to the KGB, and not asked in what way you sent your memoirs abroad, you are not asked to renounce your work…. On the contrary, you are praised and spoken about with admiration.
Why are they planning to try me? After all, nobody is trying you.”
In 1990, on the invitation of the board of the OUN, Hrytsyak visited the USA and Canada, making public appearances in many cities where he spoke about the Norilsk uprising.
In 1992, the Kyiv publishing house “Zdorovye” [“Health”] published Hrytsyak’s translation from English of “A Complete Illustrated book of yoga. Hrytsyak is now completing a translation of “The Autobiography of a Yogi”.
At the present time Yevhen Hrytsyak is retired and lives in the village of Ustya in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
Y. Hrytsyak. Korotky zapis spohadiv / A short record of memories.— Baltimore - Toronto: Smoloskyp, 1980.— pp. 180-184.
Y. Hrytsyak. Vernyvshyevsya iz lagerei / Having returned from the camps // Volya.— 1994, No.2-3, pp. 215-216.
Resistance in the GULAG. Memoirs. Letters. Documents. Moscow: Vozvrashchenye, 1992.
’Khronika tekushchykh sobytiy’ [‘Chronicle of Current Events’] (CCE) — 1977, issue No. 43.— pp. 81-83; issue No. 45.— p. 65.
The Ukrainian Human Rights Movement. Documents and Materials of the UHG. – Baltimore – Toronto: Smoloskyp. 1978.— p. 170.
Material of Samizdat – issue No. 19/77 — АСN2966.
The KHPG archives