I would mention immediately that I was not a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG). I was however well-informed about its activities through listening constantly to Radio “Svoboda” [“Radio Liberty”) which they relentlessly tried to jam. That was already after my release on 3 February 1973. I was living then in Ternopil where I managed sometime to survive in a frightened milieu , surrounded by numerous informers. I was immediately put on the police register.
As far as my imprisonment is concerned, on 3 February 1969, I was arrested by the KGB, together with Mykhailo Samanchuk, and charged under Article 62 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR (“Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”). The charges against me involved writing anti-Soviet poetry, verbal anti-Soviet agitation and circulating Ivan Dziuba’s “Internationalism or Russification?”.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court of the Ukrainian SSR on 19 October 1990 (when I was already a State Deputy of Ukraine) rehabilitated me. However from the document on rehabilitation which I was sent by post, I discovered (21 years later) that the charge of circulating “Internationalism or Russification?” had been withdrawn back on 2 October 1969. Surely a glaring example of human rights abuse in the USSR?
I my poetry I touched on national and social (collective farm) issues. Still at school which I finished with “A” grades, I believed my teachers more than anybody else. By nature sensitive, I got caught up by their presentation of the advantages of Marxism-Leninism, the greatness of the October Revolution, the lack of alternative to atheism, as well as of Russia’s liberation mission in history which has too this day not rid itself of lies. It was only over years that I gradually freed myself from this illusion.
The first person I confided my views to was my father. He was absolutely appalled and called me a “communist” when I was 14. However he immediately countered by telling me how the Bolshevik NKVD from 1939 to 1941 had arrested Ukrainian young people (teachers, intelligentsia) and thrown them into Berezhanska Prison (in the Ternopil region). And before the Germans arrived in 1941 all the prisoners were tortured (they cut off their noses and ears, gouged out their eyes, pierced pregnant women’s stomachs, thrust bottles up the genital area) and flung them into the river Zolota Lypa. In our village of Saranchuky, the Priest with members of the Church pulled the bodies out of the river and buried them around the Church. My father said that there were around forty bodies.
At that time I didn’t believe my father. Our problem was that all the older people, including my father, were afraid to tell the truth about NKVD atrocities, because they’d be sent to Siberia immediately. And the fact that my father then told me the truth was prompted by my enthusiasm for the Bolshevik Revolution. That shocked him, and hit him hard. Yet when I was told about this by a teacher from our village (who had witnessed the events), I started thinking seriously. An even stronger impression was made on me by books on Ukrainian history and the liberation struggle of other peoples which that same teacher Voldymyr Antonovych Pylypiv gave me to read. It was then that I resolved that Ukraine must become an “independent state”, however that it needed to build a “glorious future” – communism.
An even deeper trace was left by the harsh and almost slave-like existence of villagers and collective farmers. I myself went in the 1950s went to the collective farm to help my mother. She couldn’t cope by herself with the huge sugar beet extracts (they had to work with two hectares of sugar beet which needed to be dug out and cleaned), and in summer to mow the huge areas for barley and rye. And although I helped (my father was working as a joiner), that inhuman amount of work destroyed my mother’s health, and she died when I was 16.
The serf-like fate of villagers and Russification induced an inner protest which I tried to restrain through poems, perhaps declarative.
The following is one of the poems over which I was imprisoned.
What songs, what nature,
What riches – but life?
An unjust reward
Accursed and thrown onto the dust heap
And Ukraine – our liberty,
Our hope and love,
It must be her fate
To carry all on her again
Nothing now can surprise us,
Not the course of events, no movement.
Nor the fact that our “elder” brother strictly
Presents his content of sciences
Yet these rules are not to be endured
That cut their mark so deep.
Why not go where their ancestors
Have long grown used to hardship?
Otherwise they all push their way here
As though their lesser country
Was abandoned in deep forests?!
And so that our Ukraine
Was in bondage and tears?!
As though a great colony
Where they don’t trade, but take,
For wild loyalty is demanded,
And plans call to the future.
I served my sentence in the Mordovian Autonomous SSR (ZhKh 385-19, 3; 17). There I met surviving members of the Ukrainian Resistance Army (UPA), as well as some dissidents (Volodymyr Leonyuk, Mykhailo Masyutko, Mykhailo Horbal, Ivan Sokulsky, Mykola Kots, Mykola Bereslavsky and others). This enriched me spiritually, and gave new knowledge about Ukrainian reality. I was finally freed of the pernicious load with which they’d programmed my subconscious at so-called Soviet liberty. Perhaps I could even “thank” my fate which so radically changed my life. I so to speak graduated from the academy of real life.
However among those repressed in the camps there were former politsai, there were crazy people and those pretending to be crazy, there were informers who were employed and those who did it “freelance”. The majority of the political prisoners considered such denunciations to be the most shameful phenomenon in our life.
And nowadays, those who collaborated with the KGB should as a minimum not be allowed to hold positions of authority. However the whole problem is that society to the present day does not know the names of these people. Although some consider that this is even better, since in their opinion such disclosure could provoke unforeseeable results.
In the camp inspiration did not abandon me and I wrote poems, including the following.
In SHIZO [punishment cell]
Still thirteen days to the end,
Time passes in a kind of harsh restraint
As though an unknown dimension has swallowed life
With the arbitrary wave of wild, wild words.
And I became drunk … Without pain, without torment,
Doomed behind bars as penance
A moment’s rage with unconscious acrid smoke
Still beating impotently in the recesses of the SHIZO
Cold night and endless moment
And sleep in bursts grabs at the shadows
An uncovered body in mad rhythm,
Writhes and trembles on the naked bunk.
On the verge of despair – dawn outside
On the walls they turn off rest
Ending the unslept hours
During the day searching for elusive evenings
And from afar, in the squares of the wind
I savoured freedom from a battered cup
In concrete walls, the smell from the toilet bucket,
It always came to me
In bread and water the world became gloomy and dark
Hungry thoughts became muddled in rhymes,
And the stubborn peace just barely flashed,
In the desperation of those Mordovian days.
I became aware of the information reaching the West about crimes and repression in the USSR, and helped prepare such information. From the Mordovian camp I also wrote a letter a protest to the Soviet Prosecutor, and had a copy of this smuggled to the West after my release. This ended up however with the KGB. It was only in 1992, as deputy head of the Ukrainian Republican Party (URP) and State Deputy that SBU [Security Service] General V. Prystaiko (who was visiting the URP) turned to me and asked “What can I do for you?” I was a bit taken aback, I must say, however having stopped reeling, I said: “Find my protest that I wrote from the cam”. “That will be very difficult”, he said, yet after some time he passed a photocopy of my protest to the URP.
And in Mordovia Ivan Sokulsky told me about thousands of Ukrainian schools in Ukraine which, under the pressure of the regional and district committees of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, had been changed into Russian schools. Sokulsky himself was repressed by the KGB for collecting statistics about the Russification of Ukrainian schools in Dnipropetrovsk. I had some information about similar Russification of Ukrainian schools in Zaporizhye, Pervomaisk in the Mykolyaiv region, and in Donetsk from the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s from relatives and friends. The ideological orders from the Kremlin to merge all nations into one Soviet (effectively Russian) was indeed carried out unceremoniously.
I visited Ivan Sokulsky in Dnipropetrovsk after my release and wrote the following poem under the impression of my time there.
Yet again wanderings, impressions and weariness,
Beautiful words and dull reception.
From the instinct to place in order,
Although it seems as though you’re entirely at home,
You burn with conscious – unconscious shame.
You severe the illusory thread of hope,
The expectation of inner disorder.
You search for it in vain
Life gives birth to some kinds of events,
And urgently demands that something be done.
In impotent movement unrest is engendered,
Searching and yet again failure,
Only in contradiction, that all was not wasted,
Sound the echo of long-past steps,
And the lamented fates seem to look out from everywhere.
My story, my conscious life,
Forgotten mother, as a silent prayer,
The neglected hurled into battles,
Into doomed battles, and instead,
A modern world with a broken perception.
In 1988 I joined the Ukrainian Helsinki Union (UHU), and was invited by Viacheslav Chornovil and Mykhailo Horyn to form a UHU branch in the Ternopil region.
As for the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, I personally believe that its members understood very well that in the totalitarian regime they were in that they, a handful of daring souls, would not single-handedly change the system. They had another aim. With their self-sacrifice, they wanted to raise the curtain of secrecy and draw the world’s attention to the problems of violations of human rights and the rights of the nation, to the real face of the repressive communist system. And in this they succeeded.
As for my dissidence, at the time of my arrest the word had not become fixed. If one looks at the “Dictionary of foreign words”, this term is explained as “a person who does not agree with the ruling ideology, existing regime and suffers persecution, repression as a result”. I think this applies to my case.
However we see a paradoxical development of events at present. On the one hand there is apparent freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, while on the other these are used for anti-Ukrainian manifestations, for the falsifying of historical facts, for the propaganda of violence and pornography leading to the degradation of citizens, especially of the young. One gains the impression that this is done deliberately by certain forces. One can draw the conclusion that civic society has not reached full development and the political culture of members of the public remains low if at the elections people support irresponsible cosmopolitan forces. Therefore one pins great hopes on the younger generation, on responsible young people as the future elite. However at the same time today’s reality demands a state position, an objective orientation in problems of society and a great will to rectify current failings.
The emergence of a civic society which refused to allow Ukraine to be destroyed was demonstrated on Maidan. This was the sole effective means for overthrowing the Kuchma regime, there was no other choice. And all understood that, those who stood on Maidan and those who supported it. With its great, civilized and mighty demonstration of protest Maidan amazed and conquered the hearts of people throughout the world, aside from a “fifth colony” in Ukraine.
Today, as at no other time, a truthful historical memory is simply vital to develop the self-awareness for purposeful activity (as well as for the motivation of this activity), for self-identification and emotions (love, pride, patriotism). A person without memory is easier to manipulate and transform into some kind of zombie or person without any bearings or values. And the intellectual potential (combining wisdom and knowledge) cannot withstand borders to creative activity imposed from the outset. In addition to that bringing people up on intimidation, lies and cynicism has always led to conformity, depression and manipulation.
Now, in times of independence, Ukrainian citizens partially or totally lack television programs about historical facts and the achievements of Ukrainian culture (perhaps even deliberately). Therefore the percentage of young people (I would call them the future elite) who even in such conditions look for truthful information and in their impulse to the truth begin to impartially orientate themselves on present and past political events, will become the guarantor of a better future for Ukraine.
The Ukrainian people have never demonstrated aggression, even after Holodomor and the other famines, and all the repressions. The time has come when people want changes for the better, but they don’t come since the greatest failing of the power system in Ukraine was and remains a weak (or totally non-existent) implementation of the basic provisions of the Constitution. The principle which guides their actions is that it’s better to change, than to implement.
In the face of such a situation the most crime in my opinion is the total ignorance of the Ukrainian language (more likely deliberate than not). The people who have always inhabited this land have the right to their own language, as a language equal to all world languages, as the language of our forefathers, as an old language, as history testifies.
According to K. Ushynsky “While a language lives through its people, the people themselves live. And there is no more intolerable violence than that of those who wish to remove a people’s heritage, created by many generations of their forebears.”
This situation can only be explained by the fact that the mechanism of Russification launched back in Tsarist Russia and strengthened under the Bolshevik regime still exists. This mechanism is based on several factors.
Firstly, the information policy (radio, television, newspapers, etc);
Secondly, the education system which at all levels allows for mainly Russian language education;
Thirdly, publishing which is not supported by the state and not stimulated by circulation around all of Ukraine of at least the pathetic print runs (of ten books, only one is in Ukrainian);
Fourthly, paradoxical as this may seem, Russification of believers is carried out by the Moscow Orthodox Church, especially in villages of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Anti-Ukrainian sentiments are wide-spread. In Russified Kyiv, it’s truth, one does not encounter the aggression of Soviet times. When you just spoke Ukrainian, they immediately branded you a Bandera supporter, a village pumpkin, or made some offensive remarks. Now you sometimes come upon remarks in the Russian press about Ukrainian supposedly being a dialect of Russian. That is, as well as an internal mechanism of Russification there is also propaganda from outside.
Therefore in my view a step towards partial resolution of this issue was the “Memorandum of National Unity” signed on 3 August 2006. It is a shame that it has remained only a declaration. Nonetheless I support President Yushchenko’s concept, even in the fact that carrying out forced Ukrainianization would be as much of a crime as forced Russification. However it is the duty of the Ukrainian independent state to tell the truth about all anti-Ukrainian attacks and processes, about forced Russification and about demonstrations of hatred (chauvinism).