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Dissident movement in Ukraine

SICHKO Volodymyr Petrovych

08.01.2015 | Vasyl Ovsiyenko | Interview given by Volodymyr Sichko on November 14, 2002 in Kyiv, with his 16-year old son Taras present

V.Sichko: I was born on July 26, 1960, in the family of Petro and Stefania Sichko. My childhood was spent in the town of Dolyna in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast’. I attended school from 1967 to 1977.While at school I went in for sports actively. During my high school years the situation in our family was rather complicated. In 1974 my brother Vasyl’ graduated from the secondary school and tried to enter first Lviv, and then Kyiv, university. In Lviv university he got excellent marks for three entrance tests, but was given the poorest mark, i.e.”two” in the fourth. Next year he, nevertheless, was admitted to Kyiv university, the journalism department, only to be expelled two years later.

At school I used to be a good student and graduated with only two “four” [ good] marks  - in geography and in Russian. “Four” in geography was given by our teacher who was Polish nationalist and did not like Ukrainians, while “four” in Russian was accounted for by the fact that banderovtsy had killed our Russian teacher’s father. He could not give me anything less than excellent in literature because it would have been totally absurd. I was well versed in Russian language and literature, as well as geography. But it does not matter.   

I wanted to enter Lviv polytechnic institute department of mechanical machine-building to specialize in motor-cars and tractors building.  But I was aware I won’t be admitted. When my brother Vasyl’ was expelled, my father suggested the mechanics and mathematics department of Kyiv university, with specialization in mechanics, as my potential school. “You will not be admitted anyway, - he said – but try it just out of spite. One brother is expelled, but the other one just submitted his admission papers”. As a matter of fact, oddly enough, I was admitted. My written test in mathematics deserved “three” [satisfactory mark], two oral tests – physics and mathematics were assessed at “four”, and my summary school certificate mark was “five”. It turned out that my 20 points sufficed for me to become a student of the Kyiv state university named after Taras Shevchenko.

I was the happy medium student, not the sharpest knife in the cupboard, but not the least either. I was perfectly aware of the fact that I would not graduate. I sensed the attitude of some professors.

V.Ovsienko: Could you be more specific about these professors?

V.SichkoSpecifically, I was talking about the associate professor Panasovych, who had been, if I am not mistaken, a graduate of pedagogical institute. He taught us mathematical analysis, and then functional analysis. He used to ask me: “Why on earth did you need to come to Kyiv? Why did not you try to enter your own Ivano-Frankivsk institute?” And I felt the urge to ask him: “Why the heck did you need to come from your Lutsk pedagogical institute all the way to Kyiv University? Why could not you stay in Lutsk?” I knew my marks were lowered on purpose. As it happened, Panasovych’s evaluation became decisive in my expulsion.

That is how it started. On an October day, in 1978 I was summoned by the Head of the chair during our military training. A major from the national KGB talked to me. I do not remember his last name, but it sounded like Mykola Mykolayovych or Mykola Mykhailovovych, or may be Mykhailo Mykhailovych. It was a long conversation, which lasted about two and a half, possibly, even three hours.  He started from the Helsinki Group creation, mentioned Oksana Meshko, then referred to my father who supposedly went “to the forest”, as the saying goes, on his own free will, to become a guerilla fighter and, eventually political officer for the sotnya and then for the kouren’ [military units in the UPA].  His talk reflected his high education, his Ukrainian was fluent. He said they didn’t want to put my father and brother in jail, but they had chosen their way themselves…So they wanted me to inform them about my father’s and my brother’s intentions, so that they could warn them against doing something, for what they could have been imprisoned.   Naturally, I knew perfectly well what lay behind their intentions. However, I listened calmly, to the end and responded “No, I would not do it”.  He retorted:” I understand, it is your own blood and all that, but in your town of Dolyna you have that scoundrel, the teacher Stryltsiv. He is known for his anti-soviet activity and more than once he tried to involve you in anti-soviet operation. Could you confirm this statement?” I refused once again.

V.Ovsienko: So Vasyl’ Stryltsiv used to be your teacher, correct?

V.Sichko Yes, he was my English teacher. I can say it is due to him that I mastered English language decently, so that I could, although not fluently, at least communicate in it.  He was a perfect teacher, very demanding, very honest and decent. He hated lies and false pretenses.

V.Ovsienko: Just fancy [testifying] against your own father, brother and teacher!  

V.SichkoRight, against the teacher too. And I had a third proposal as well: “I understand we are talking now about your family and friends, but at least you could inform us about the students’ talks and activities, so that we could keep law and order in the university?” After I refused once again, he made me sign a statement of non-divulging the contents of our conversation. He was sitting opposite me, with a thin folder between us. I knew it was quite possible it contained a recorder inside.  Or he might have had it in his pocket because the folder looked too thin. But I refused point blank anyway. Certainly, he promised me successful graduation, followed by good job and all the luxuries I could fancy. I refused.

Then he tried to intimidate me, called me a traitor to my Motherland and threatened me with consequences. I did not give in. Then he asked for my phone number and said he would like to meet me again next day, so that I would have 24 hours for considering his proposals. I said: “I do not want to ever meet you again and I won’t give you my phone number”. But he made me put it down for him anyway.  

The next day he met me after my classes at Shevchenko’s monument and repeated the same proposals: successful graduation, good job, bread and butter, as the saying goes. Then he called me a traitor again – I did not give in. I was firm more than ever, standing in front of our Kobzar’s monument, in a sacred revolutionary place, so to speak. Then he asked for my notebook and tore out a page with his number on it, explaining that I would not need it again. After that he said the following: “Now it is up to us to decide upon your destiny. So far you are still studying in the university, but we will decide when to have you expelled. May be tomorrow, may be, in one month’s time, and, may be, in a year.”

The KGB man also warned me that if I spill the beans about our conversation I would be expelled immediately. Sure, right after talking with him I went to the post office and called home. My brother and I used to call KGB “Marus’ka” in jest, because we knew that every phone was bugged. That was our inside joke since childhood -“Marus’ka-Marus’ka”. My father was the one who took the phone. I said: “Marus’ka came to visit, but gained nothing”. “I am proud of you, my son”, my father responded, because he grasped my meaning at once. And when I came home for the holidays I related the encounter in more detail. 

So my parents were fully aware of all the threats, and I continued on my chosen way, and even now I can confront anyone without any compunctions, because my parents had taught me not to betray one’s chosen calling. My father never did, and that is how he brought up his children.

This conversation took place in October 1978, when I began my second year of studies. They allowed me to finish my first year as a bait, so that I would know what I was about to lose. Because had I been expelled right at the beginning, the blow might not have felt so hard. So they allowed me to taste the inspiration of the research and scientific exploration, so that I would start dreaming about my future career. The Dean used to say that even a mediocre graduate of the Kyiv Shevchenko University, is very much ahead of any Kyiv Polytechnic graduate. He said they were training professors for the universities and vocational schools. Although after that conversation they started lowering my grades on purpose, I still studied well. But my student’s fate was already sealed.

The spring of 1979 came. Moscow Olympics of року 1980 were getting closer. The dissidents were put behind the bars.  My father and brother joined them, having spoken up at Volodymyr Ivasyuk’s funeral. It is a well –known story. After their imprisonment my turn came.  

My father and brother were tried on December 4, 1979. On December 11 the family was allowed to visit. I could not miss the occasion, although it was the very day of military training in the university. I submitted petition to the military chair and was granted leave. I went to Lviv for just a day, met with them and then returned.

V.Ovsienko: So what was that visit like?

V.Sichko I do not remember the details, but I remember it was in the prison at Myr  street 1. I believe it was in a plain room, with no bars.

On my return to Kyiv after the visit, I was informed that I was expelled from the university for an unauthorized absence from classes. “Excuse me, but here is my petition signed by the military chair”. They were deeply disappointed, but the mid-year examinations were approaching, and I did not get my credit in the military training. We wrote a so-called “blitz” control paper. I coped, but was given “two”. I liked military training and was the best in marching drills; they even cited me as an example to other students. I was also good in quickly dissembling machine-gun and re-assembling it again.  I liked military training, as a kid of 5-6 years I used to watch the planes flying above my head, and dreamt of becoming a military pilot. But even then I knew my dream would never come true, because of my family. One can say I absorbed my love of Ukraine with my mother’s milk. Our parents never hid the facts of their life – the insurgent army, the camps – from us, the kids. We saw and heard everything. The underground fighters, former political prisoners, OUN and UPA members used to come to our home. We would sit in their lap and listen to their talks, and never said a word about anything outside our home. 

V.Ovsienko: Do you remember Oksana Meshko’s visit to Dolyna?

V.SichkoI do remember her coming and staying with us, the conversations the grown-ups had. Also as a student I used to come home for several days or for the holidays – in October or May – and my parents would give me a letter for her. I visited her in Verbolozna, 16. I remember a house with the hole in the roof on the opposite side of the street. They had a special device installed there to record all comings and goings. But anyway, it was the time of elation; we believed we were doing something useful. Now I still think that the future belongs to the young generation, brought up in the Ukrainian spirit. I know Oksana Yakivna well, she was one of the family, so to speak. I even remember her sending us a parcel from the Far East, where she was exiled. She was a very wise and highly educated lady. We should bow to her for her work and feat.

V.Ovsienko: Аnd once (on August 7, 1979), when Oksana Yakivna and Mykhailo Lutsyk were visiting, the search was conducted in your home. You were at the neighbors’ home, so you stayed away to avoid a frisk. What were your impressions of these events, as a young man?  

V.SichkoEveryone, not just us, was overwhelmed with these police-ups. For example, they would come with the mine detection device and start searching the vegetable plot. Or they would find a piece of an old rusty axe in the ravine and they would go: “Possession of cold weapons”. Once they found an ancient twisted axe, about two hundred years old, and called it cold weapon as well. The neighbors laughed at them, but still were afraid.  We had these searches on the regular basis, every several weeks. No sooner would mom and my sister put things back in order, than they would come again. Some go inside, the others go up to the attic and some more to the barn. We used to stop them: “Hold on, go in one room, all of you, because otherwise you can plant something there”. I did not interfere that much, as I was a student by the time, but when I came home for the holidays, I would be a part of it, too. But it was my mother and my sister Oksana who suffered the most.

There was always a car waiting at the end of the street. My mom would go out shopping and the car would follow her. Mom entered a store, and the care waited for her, mom returned home with car in tow. All the by-streets leading to our street were blocked, but it was for the cars only. On foot we could go through the ravine or through the forest.

Some of our neighbors, especially the party members, suddenly got phones installed in their houses. A certain “godfather” from KGB started visiting a neighbor. He claimed he was their real godfather, as he baptized their child, but earlier he never visited.  People reacted in different ways. Some neighbors came to us to let us know that they had been approached but refused to collaborate. They were decent people. But some would agree and grab the phone the moment my mom went out.

Mykhailo Lutsyk, Oles’ Berdnyk, Mykola Rudenko and his son Yuri used to visit us.

V.Ovsienko: How would you describe Oles’ Berdnyk?

V.SichkoAt the time I was a student, so I saw him only once. He visited us several times and gave the impression of strong personality. But then his life went awry…

A lot of people had been our guests - OUN members, former political prisoners, human rights activists…Nothing was hidden from us, the kids. Once we met people from Kremenets, the Hachkevych, who started the uprising in Norylsk. Lyna Hachkevych led the girls’ riot, while Vasyl’ Hachkevych led the guys. She came from the family of an Orthodox priest; they were all from Vinnytsya. Doctor Volodymyr Horbovy used to visit us too. He was practically Stepan Bandera’s right- hand man and was referred to as foreign affairs minister.

V.Ovsienko: He was also the OUN chief justice.

V.SichkoSo, once doctor Horbovy and O.Meshko were visiting, so the informers were sent to our house. I won’t give their names; let them rest in peace… 

V.Ovsienko: Аnd why not recall the names?

V.SichkoWell, it was a certain Taras Bibyk, and Maria Yukish before him. We barely managed to get rid of one of them, and the other would be already at the door.  With guests in the house, they were sure to come, too, interfering with our talks. The idea was to ensure continuity in the “relay”. O.Meshko was supposed to meet doctor Horbovy, to bring together Western and Eastern intelligentsia, in a sense.  But first one spy came in, then the next…Noteworthy, later one of them became the head of the rayon Association of the reprisals’ victims, while the other served as a head of the Ukrainian Women Union. There was a third one, too, Mykola Kraynyk. His son Taras graduated from the pedagogical institute. The father claimed that his son was forced to collaborate with the KGB in order to graduate. Eventually that Kraynyk became some sort of kosh otaman.  But at the time he was a school principle. So, you see, his son graduated from the institute and worked as a secretary to the head of the rayon executive committee. He supervised the lawyers then, and now he is in power and everything is all right. I, on the other hand, never signed my treaty with KGB, so till today, I am just idling around, so to speak…  Superficially we have democracy now, but there seems to be no office for me in this democratic power. Well, it is relative and I believe I will still have my say in the Ukrainian politics and, possibly, history.

V.Ovsienko: As far as history goes – everything has been said and recorded.

V.Sichko I am very happy that I did not give up and remained just the way I have always been.

V.Ovsienko: Honor is the most valuable capital.

V.SichkoA lot of people visited our house. They fought and faced the consequences of their struggle, both in the old times and recently. Later V.Chornovyl and Horyn’ brothers visited us. True, I have not met them personally, as I was absent from home.  

But let’s get back to my studies. So I got “two” in military training, but I still had a chance to take another exam. During the exam the professor even left the classroom, so I could copy everything from the book, if I wanted. But I had everything written already, and, although sure of my knowledge, I still asked a boy behind me to check my paper, just in case. He did it and said I deserved “five”. But once again I got “two”.  

I did not even demand to see my paper, because I understood they were planning to expel me. The Dean allowed me to take the first test only, because there was such a provision: if you don’t have a credit in a subject, in which no exam is envisaged, you are not allowed to take any exams, but the first one ( with Dean’s permission).  If, for example, I had failed in mathematical or functional analysis, then I would not be allowed to take exams in these subjects, but as I did not have a credit in military training, I was banned from all the exams.   I took only philosophy and got “three” in it. I was not ready because of travelling back and forth.

On obtaining my permit to take another exam I arrived at the university. There I was told that no permit had been issued and so I could not take the exam. I returned to military training chair where I was told the permit had been sent to the dean’s office. In the office, though, they claimed they had received nothing. So I spent the whole January of 1980 looking for the misplaced permit.  

And how could I get ready for the exams studying in buses and trolleybuses, in the waiting rooms of all the bosses? In functional analysis exam I was given another “two” by the aforementioned professor Panasovych. I passed the exam on resilience theory. It was taught by our curator. She said: “Volodya, take your exam now and I will give you the mark, after you come back”. I got “four” because my failure in this discipline was not planned. After a week’s holiday, I had to pass four exams in February. In three of them – the mechanics of integral environment, theoretical mechanics and functional analysis - I got “two”s. Well, it was natural – the mechanics of integral environment and thermo-mechanics were taught by the war veterans, who hated the nationalists. They had no scruples giving me the lowest mark. And Panasovych, I believe, was just their sycophant, so he had no problem giving me another “two”.

And so I was expelled from the university despite the fact that for the previous two and a half years I passed all the exams and got all the credits on the first try. They gave me three “two”s and had me expelled. For the sake of appearances they expelled two other students, who had always had unsatisfactory marks.

V.Ovsienko: The Helsinki Group papers say “according to the Dean’s order № 192 for academic failure”.

V.Sichko Such rule existed – for three unsatisfactory marks a student could be expelled. But no one had ever been expelled. I was the first. Other students were allowed to take an exam once more, then a special board would decide, and even after that they were not expelled till the next midterm exams. Then they had to take the same test once again. But I was expelled right away.

I started fighting for the reinstatement in the university; I wrote to the Ministry of Education, other institutions, but always ended up with the negative responses.

The students decided to stand by me - they sat down and wrote a petition on my behalf.

V.Ovsienko: Do you remember who among your pals initiated that? It is important to recall their names…

V.Sichko The petition was written by our comsomol organizer Donchenko, while the others were prompting him. In fact, one of the students, Mykola Slonchak (a person very much like that Panasovych) wanted to add something nasty, but was shut up quickly. The comsomol meeting of the university considered the issue of defending me. But when they started reading my personal file, everyone was amazed. They said:”Is this guy for real?” Our comsomol organizer, though, was quickly shown his place at the meeting: “He was not expelled for the academic failure. Do you know who his father and brother are?” Moreover, a Lviv newspaper - I do not remember which one – published a very negative material about us, depicting the Sichko family as anti-soviet slanderers and Bandera supporters. One of the students brought this newspaper from Lviv to Kyiv. (On July 6, 1979 the Lviv newspaper “Vilna Ukraina” published a libelous article against the Sichko family “Let’s do away with OUN lies”Ed.)

Many students approached me then. For example, Pavlo Khobzey, who currently is the head of education department in Lviv oblast’. He told me: “Volodya, my parents were also deported (or imprisoned), but let’s pretend we do not know each other, to keep things quiet”. My compatriots expressed their support.

Naturally, after the expulsion I rejected my comsomol membership and threw my comsomol card back to them. I came to the comsomol bureau, wrote a note and handed in my comsomol card, saying: “If the comsomol organization cannot defend me, then I do not want to belong to this organization”.   

V.Ovsienko: Аnd was there any voting during the meeting?

V.SichkoThere was no voting, because someone, I do not remember whether it was the department comsomol organizer or someone else -  enlightened them, so that they understood that my expulsion had nothing to do with my academic failure and everything to do with my parents, the nationalists, the dissidents. Hence, they had no say in all that, and nothing depended on their decision. To my knowledge, there was no voting.  

V.Ovsienko: Well, probably, they put together some sort of protocol, with unanimous voting…

V.Sichko I was seeking the truth and never found it, so on September 21, 1980 I renounced my soviet citizenship and applied for the permit to go to the USA to live and study there. I sent the original of my petition to the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR, with the copy to the Supreme Council of the Ukr.SSR. I do not remember if I sent other copies anywhere else.  The Supreme Council of the USSR answered that my petition had been sent back to the Supreme Council of the Ukr.SSR, although I mentioned that a copy had been sent there.   The Supreme Council of the Ukr.SSR responded that my petition concerning the renunciation of citizenship had been remanded to the Ministry of Education.

At that time I lived already in Dolyna and used to send my letters with the notification of receipt. It was really droll that the Supreme Council of the Ukr.SSR would send a petition concerning the renunciation of citizenship to the Ministry of Education.  The Ministry of Education responded that it did not consider petitions concerning the renunciation of citizenship. That was some reality show for you.   

Three months later I had to go and serve in the army.

V.Ovsienko: Hold on. Did your mother know you had submitted such petitions? What was her reaction?

V.Sichko Of course, my mother knew and was very supportive. No one made me do anything. She used to say:”It is up to you, son, it is your life…” But I was brought up in this family, so I could not let down my father or my relatives. I wanted to confront the injustice committed against our family.  My petition referred to Helsinki treaties, signed by Brezhnev. They contained a provision to the effect that every person can choose his/her citizenship and country of residence. I choose America, because I want to complete my studies and live there. And also I reject my citizenship because I do not want to be a citizen of the country conducting aggressive war in Afghanistan. It was a political statement…

Three months later I was drafted to do my service in the army. Naturally, I stuck to my position and read my statement to them, but they preferred to disregard it. I said: “According to the provisions, within three months I had to be deprived of citizenship and deported from the Union”. These three months were granted so that I could retrieve my petition. But it was under the soviet system…

I was summoned to the draft center in Dolyna. There I refused to serve, with witnesses present. The case was referred to the prosecutor’s office and on December 6, 1980 I was called by an investigator, first as a witness, and then, as the accused. They never let me go after that. I came in at about 9 or 10 o’clock, but by noon…I said: “Now, hold on, it will be 12.00 only 45 minutes later, I am off to go home – why are you writing here that I was detained at 12.00? I go home now.” Sure, they detained me and took me to a cell. In a week I was transferred to Ivano-Frankivsk jail and on January 9, 1981, stood trial. Of course, they have chosen this date on purpose. January 9 is St.Stefan’s day, and my mom’s name is Stefania. So mom’s saint’s day became the day of my trial.

On that day my mother arrived in the morning and asked what the date for the hearing was. She was told it would be sometime around January 15 or later. But so it happened that a friend of ours, V.Kreminsky, was passing by the court building and noticed a car coming in. He came running:”Ms. Stefa, a vehicle just came in, may be they brought Vlodek in”. When they finally arrived in court, the hearing was coming to an end; the verdict was to be announced. My mom still made it, but V.Kreminsky arrived after the verdict. I have got three years. It sounded kind of funny, when they were reading aloud “Taking into account all the references”, “Very good referral from work; recommendation issued by university where I studied; no violations of law and order, with neighbors confirming this” and finally  - “Considering all these nice characteristics, three years in a camp of standard regime”. Had my references been worse, the sentence would have been longer, probably. But it was a maximum term, the law stipulated from one to three years, so they gave me three.  

V.Ovsienko: Do you remember any investigators or judges?

V.Sichko My investigator was Dovhanyuk. I even remember it was his fifth case. He used to be a driver in the rayon party committee and was offered to go and study law. Literally a couple of days prior to my arrest I talked to a man who had studied with him, and he recollected that Dovhanyuk was an alcoholic who would get drunk and start raising havoc in the dorm with his singing and shouting. And this was a man entrusted with my case. The then chief justice of the rayon judge Momot was the one that had me convicted.

After the trial they allowed a parcel from my family, but no visit.

V.Ovsienko: Your mother describes in detail how she tried to get that parcel to you, how Oksana was seized and hit with the bag.

V.Sichko Even my favorite dog came along. When they were putting me into “black Maria “my mother was in the courtyard and she shouted: “Watch Palma!” The dog was crying. For the second time I saw a dog crying when I was leaving to go to the army. Then it almost jumped into the bus. Because after I have served my term I was drafted.  I consulted with my family and my parents recommended me to go and do my service in the army.

So, to the transport. Sometime in late February or early March I was sent out with a transport. We stopped in Lviv prison for several days, and then were transported to Vilnyansk, Zaporizhzhya oblast’. Of course, I did not know where I was going. The head of militia in Ivano-Frankivsk told me simply: “I would be glad to help you, but I cannot send you to the zone where your father is serving his term, and the same applies to your brother’s zone”. I replied: “Yes, I know, my father is in the strict regime camp, my brother – in a special regime zone, while I was sentenced to the standard regime”.  “However, - I added – “I might be quite happy in the worst of zones and unhappy in the best of zones, whatever will be, will be. Wherever I end up, that will be it”.

So I ended up in the standard regime colony YaYa-310/20 in Vilnyansk, Zaporizhzhya oblast’ and served my term there, from start to finish.  I worked in a construction team.

V.Ovsienko Between April of 1979 and September I stayed in the nearby zone # 55, with strict regime. What were conditions like in your place?  

V.Sichko:  The usual conditions for the standard regime. I have no scale of comparison. I was refused visits and purchases for some alleged violations. My mother often did not get letters I wrote her. I had to use another name when writing these letters: for example, I would write to my mom, but send it to my friend’s address and sign it with another inmate’s name. The friend would get it and bring it to mother. Because mom sometimes complained that for a month or two she got nothing from me, while I kept writing home every week.

V.Ovsienko Were you allowed to write so many letters?  

V.Sichko:  Under standard regime you could write as many letters as you wished.

V.Ovsienko By the way, your father brought me some bags with letters addressed to him, and your letters are among them, although I did not have time yet to look at them.  

V.Sichko:  Right, I wrote to my father and brother as well, but I am not sure as to how many letters they actually have received. After my ruse in letter-writing was discovered, I was punished with visits’ ban or something.

V.Ovsienko Аnd here is your mother describing her visit to you on February 12, 1982. They promised they would take a parcel for you, but they did not. While the negotiations lasted, they just added one more line, so the date turned from 12.ІІ to 12.ІІІ – and the parcel was not accepted.

V.Sichko:  Generally I used to stay independent. There were all these “suits” of the criminal world, but I did not keep company with them. With the so-called “billy-goats” either. When asked “What is your suit?” I would answer “ A private one, my own. I stick to my own suit”. I defended common people. Sometimes it was a risky business, but several times I publicly mugged these criminals and their henchmen, defending other inmates. That is how I earned respect, even from the ensigns, who were our jailers and from the operative unit inspector Ovcharenko. Half a year prior to my discharge or earlier we had a long conversation with him.  

There was a commander who hated me bitterly – a certain Panchenko, the head of the operative unit, a patent Stalinist. Once the operative unit inspector Ovcharenko was on duty and called me to his office to talk. He was a bit tipsy and started asking me questions about Bandera movement, about fascism, about everything, in short. I answered him with all sincerity. No sooner was the question formulated than I would supply an answer. We were sitting at the opposite sides of the table, he was twiddling a pencil in his fingers, and I was watching it. So he said: “I have a feeling that you grasp my questions immediately and choose the right answer out of ten”. I negated; “No, you are wrong. I am just a village boy”.  The conversation kept going and he told me about himself, i.e. that his dream had been to become a musician, but he went into boxing. I am not bragging, but I believe I am not a bad psychologist, it runs in our family. I told him: “Earlier or later one answers one’s calling”. I meant his militia career. But he retorted: “What calling? They just came to me and told me to go and serve in the militia”, because his father was a commando and perished in the line of duty. “So you are to follow in your father’s steps”. “But – he went on – I hated militia so much due to all the pretenses that I asked to be transferred to the zone”.

As a kid I loved box and knew the names of all famous boxers. And Ovcharenko’s name was among them. So I asked him directly:” Were you a member of the Soviet team at the European championship of   1966?” I even recalled the name of the city where the championship was held. ”And in 1967 in such and such city, at the world championship?” I remembered it at the time. He was stunned. I knew that I had won the psychological duel, that he was my man since then.   

Naturally he spoke on my behalf, when asked, prior to my release. A major from a KGB department came to the zone. He boasted: “I owe this star on my epaulettes to you”. But he promised that if I behave as if no imprisonment had happened they would forget about me. Ovcharenko certainly interceded for me. Later I was reprimanded for having misled Ovcharenko. I said: “I did not pretend. That was his own opinion he had drawn from our communication”. Three days prior to my discharge the major told me they had decided to release me, but wanted me to keep away from politics and behave as if nothing had happened. 

V.Ovsienko Didn’t you have a feeling that they had been cooking up a new case against you, the way it happened to your father and brother?  

V.Sichko:  Тhere were some signs. Under the law, which was in force at that time, I could have been imprisoned for another 3 years as a “repeated offender”. I had a lot of these “offenses” – I was not allowed to receive parcels or visits, I was put into penitentiary cell…When three years later I was shown my file, it was uncommonly thick! I might have been sentenced for 10, instead of 3 years, considering everything written there. 

V.Ovsienko Right you are, it was the so-called Andropov provision # 183-3, added in 1983 – “malicious incompliance with administrative rules of the penitentiary-correctional facility”. For “malicious violation of the regime” one could be sentenced first to 3, and then to 5 years. It could end up with life-term. One could rot in jail forever.  

V.Sichko:  That is what might have happened, had it not been for some factors, like, let us say, the aforementioned Ovcharenko. He must have talked real nice about me and they trusted him, considering his father’s career. He was considered a true soviet citizen.  

We were pals with a guy from Lviv. He was kind of a hooligan, but his sister was a Marxist-Leninist library manager in Lviv, his brother – deputy director of the TV sets manufacturing plant, his father – the first head of a village or city council in the post-war years – also a very pro-soviet person. Certainly, he was summoned, too.  

I knew their entire KGB “kitchen” with respect to my case very well. In a certain sense I was guiding my own case. No doubt, all sorts of people were sent to deal with me. Once, a fellow from Snyatyn approached me. I knew he was planted by them, and eventually he confessed, but at the beginning he was afraid. And here is how he confided in me. When he was summoned among other ten or twenty witnesses, some questions about me were asked. And there were double doors. While one door was closed tightly, the other was ajar. The Georgian Lagvilava came to me and said: “Volodya, they are asking Ivan Sandulyak about you”. Meanwhile my mother came for a short visit, while his wife was coming for a long one, and on the way my mother shared all her worries with that wife of his. At the time of the visit the wife related all that to him. Then he revealed that he had to spy on me, and his wife made him confess. I answered: “Ivan, I am aware that you are spying on me”. He was surprised: “How so?” – “I knew since day one, after I spent 15 days in a penitentiary cell”. There was a tradition of greeting an inmate who had spent 15 days in a penitentiary cell with fresh underwear and some food. He was the one to greet me. I suggested we share our food. When he confessed I told him: “They will call you and ask questions about me. You will answer so-and-so. Then they will give you a new task”. Noteworthy the KGB men asked exactly the questions I foresaw, so he answered with prepared statements, just so, exactly. He was really impressed.

There was an emergency worker, Volodymyr Bunchuzhny, sentenced to 14 years. “Volodya, they were asking about you. You know, I’ve got 14 years, so I told them nothing, but they are seeking the information and someone else might talk”. There were others who would come and tell me bluntly: “They asked about you, I refused to answer”. And others, who would not tell me that they had been questioned, but caused me no harm. Some people, though, would try to libel me, like that son of a prosecutor stabbed to death at his own doors. “Like father, like son” applied in this case. He pretended to be an inveterate criminal, but once I learnt that he was a prosecutor’s son and concluded ““Like father, like son”. Similarly, my mother was told that a woman like her could not bring up good children. In fact it was him who turned me in with those letters. 

But generally I enjoyed some authority. Our team consisted of about 180 inmates. The emergency worker I mentioned before ranked first, due to his longest term, with me ranking second.  First of all, I had books and newspapers to lend, because my mother subscribed a lot of newspapers for me (I liked reading about politics). She also sent me money so that I could subscribe thick magazines like “Nauka I zhyzn’ “ [Sicence and life – Rus.]. When a bookstore came to the zone, I used to buy books there. Second, I always defended the common people, because since my childhood I hated cruelty and violence. I cut short any attempts at either. Probably that is why the ensigns respected me – for not being afraid of the thieves. But I always felt God’s protection, the presence of my guardian angel. I have passed through all the tribulations without a single hair falling off my head, either in the zone or in other places. People predominantly used to help, even the enemies. I had strong influence on these people, who might have been considered my enemies. In our talks I could strike the right note which would find response in their souls.

I was set free in December 1983. My first idea was to get enrolled in the institute of physical culture, to become a soccer coach for junior teams. In February 1984 I studied biology and chemistry seriously. But in spring I was drafted. On my parents’ advice I decided to go.

I returned from the jail with psoriasis – it is a skin disease, when one’s head is itching. May be, it was psoriasis, and maybe not. Doctor Lyoda told me that people with this disease are not drafted. I went to a professor in Lviv, who wrote down a note with the diagnosis. To tell you the truth I wanted to shirk the service. When the medical commission had to examine me, I was advised to rub some stuff into my chest. Consequently, the x-ray showed a huge spot in my lungs, like TB. Nevertheless they told me I was fit to serve. Moreover, I remember my nose was broken during sport practice, so I was entitled to half a year deferment. I was told, however, that my nose won’t preclude me from serving in a construction battalion. In theory I could oppose, but I knew they would try to get me to the army anyway. Had I obtained that postponement, I might have resumed my studies in the university.   

I served in a construction battalion in Russia, Vologda oblast’, Cherepovets city. After my expulsion from the university, I took a driving course, but did not have time to take a test before going to prison. After my discharge I passed the test and worked as a driver for four months. First they did not want me to be a driver in the army – as an ex-convict I was not fit for the job, as our political officer put it. But eventually I became even a unit commander, due to my good reputation.

We worked at the panel housing factory. I personally ended up in outside panels manufacturing. Rank and file soldier though I was, I suggested a lot of efficient technological solutions, so that they even wanted to promote me to team leader or shift supervisor. So I had some authority even there. While performing various types of operations, I would prompt the best ways to do things. At the beginning we used to manufacture one panel per shift, but in a year’s time it was 12-14 panels per shift, i.e. in 8 hours, having accelerated the technological process.

My company commander was very willing to appoint me first sergeant, but I was very reluctant, because the company was a mess; gala uniforms have been stolen and the first sergeant barely escaped imprisonment. Then our superintendant major Patsera offered me another position: “Volodya, be the canteen manager”. Well, 12 subordinates in the canteen sounded much better than 120 company members.

So I became the manager of the “army nourishment canteen” as it was officially called. My position corresponded to the ensign’s rank. Nevertheless, two or three weeks later I submitted a note to be dismissed from it; it was too hard for me. The commander said: “Volodya, will you duck in front of difficulties? We are here to help.” I said: “We are lacking this and that”. – “So submit a report”.  At the construction factory they wanted me back. But the battalion commander said: “We need people like him here”. He was new, transferred from the Far East. He said: “Prepare report with the list of all things you need”. And he supported me. The canteen building was renovated, cleaned and put in order. I had 180 hanging flower pots on the walls. All the soldiers came to eat at the same time, and there was enough of cutlery for all them. It was not the case before. When my term was completed, I was amazed – my predecessor had overcharges, while I had excess of products.  

So I completed my two-year service and was discharged in spring 1986.

There I met my future wife Valentyna; there our son Taras was born. My wife-to-be worked at the same factory. The deputy director promised that after discharge I would be given an apartment. Actually my wife had to be the title-holder for the apartment, but Chornobyl disaster happened and many re-settlers moved into the city and were given flats. They wanted me to stay in their factory and continue studies, either by correspondence or at the day department of the polytechnic institute. They loved and respected me, but I was longing with all my soul to get back to Ukraine.  

Since 1986 I worked in Siberia, in shifts, while my wife and son resided in Cherepovets. I worked as a driver. It was tough job, but I coped. I had to travel a lot – from Siberia to Lviv by plane, then to Moscow, then to Cherepovets by train, and 10 days later – the same route in the reverse direction. I decided it was no way to live for a young family, so I said good-by to that job.  In spring of 1988 I started playing soccer in Russia, and was even offered position in a second league team. But I refused. We went to Ukraine and I planned to play in the local team at the Ukrainian championship between non-professional players. At that time I was in line for the cooperative housing in Kalush, and moved to Kalush in December 1988.  

While still in Russia, in June 1988 I came to Moscow together with Taras to see my mother off to Canada.  

On coming back to Dolyna, I resumed my practice with the local team “Naftovyk”. The coach wanted me in the team and counted on me, but when the officials of the rayon party committee became aware of the fact, they summoned him and told him: “Why, do you want a Sichko in your team? Just you try doing it and you are fired”. So he refused me nicely. Well, he has another “sin” on his conscience: once my mother asked him to take the icon of Mother of God to the church. That caused the communists’ disapproval: “You are taking Sichko’s icons to the church, you want a Sichko in a team”. I mean, the times were so hard, I was not even allowed to play soccer for the local team, as a son of a nationalist and a dissident. Tough times they were, but I always remained optimistic.  

The Dolyna team “Naftovyk” currently is playing in the second Ukrainian league, but then it was among other physical culture teams in Ukraine. No wonder I was impressed. For 8 years I did not even come close to a ball, while serving in the army and working in Siberia, and suddenly I made it to the team in the second all-union league. Hence I can conclude that I was gifted enough. As a kid I had a nickname “Muntyan” for good technique and adroitness with the football. I loved sport and soccer in particular, so now I am very happy that my son Taras is studying in the National high school of physical culture, and, with God’s help, will become a soccer player. Although I failed, at least my son will get there, so I encourage his training by all means. He is growing up an honest and decent man. 

Taras was born on February 27, 1986. I also have two daughters now. The first one, Olya, was born on December 29, 1989, and the second one was born just two weeks ago, on October 29, 2002. I named her Valentyna, to honor her mother. Our family is very close. In December we’ll celebrate one year since I returned from America.

V.Ovsienko: So, tell us about America, if you please.

V.Sichko: Here is the story of my American adventure. From the very beginning of the national renaissance I used to accompany my father and brother Vasyl’ everywhere. I would take a car to drive my brother to the rallies, which eventually led to my undoing. It was a “Zhyguli-six” car. When my mother was in Canada, the family there had helped. My mother found some Jews who had relatives in Bobruisk. She paid the money; I went to Bobruisk and got the title for the car in my name. It was 1988. For the whole 1989 I have been using this car to drive my father and my brother to the rallies. I had such militant disposition that during the rallies I used to stand behind my brother, while he was speaking, pretending to be some kind of his body-guard. And naturally, І had to pay for that. In 1989, on August 18 – the day was chosen on purpose, as it was our father’s birthday, - my car was set on fire right in front of our house in Kalush.  I collected the neighbors’ testimony and submitted my complaint to militia. A week later militiamen asked me: “So, have you discovered anything?” “Who is militia here, you or I?” – I retorted. – “It is your job to investigate - I have helped you a lot already”. Of course, they never found anyone. 

When first elections to the Supreme Rada were coming close, the neighbors pleaded with me: “Volodya, run for the office, the whole Kalush will vote for you”. I might have won the elections to the Supreme Rada just due to my name of Sichko. People were willing to go to great lengths to support us, because all the first rallies with the Ukrainian banners in Kalush, Dolyna, Kolomya and Ivano-Frankivsk were organized by my father and my brother. When one of them was imprisoned for that activity, the other would keep going. And when another was arrested, the one who remained free would persevere. When approached, I used to say that I just represent my brother. I believed my father and brother were real political figures, and I was just their supporter. I tried to keep low profile so that people would not say that the father and his both sons are in politics, probably seeking dubious benefits.  

On that occasion we were boycotting the elections, although my position was that without public support, we’d rather go to the Supreme Rada and fight from there. No one listened to me, but now my father agrees that I was right, because we have lost a lot. German and Belgian parties were offering their support. I volunteered to handle this matter, because obviously no party can last for long without financial support.   

I was a member of the Ukrainian Christian-Democratic Party from the very beginning, participated in its constituent meeting. So I was one of its founders. But all the merit belongs to others, while I merely participated. We did not go to the first elections and were banned by mafia from going to the second. Election boards in the districts were paid 15 million coupons-karbovantsy (Ukrainian currency at the time) per vote, to prevent my father from being elected. The same continued through the third elections. Witnessing the entire injustice of the elections, I decided to go to America for a year and see with my own eyes how things were run there. 

I arrived in New York on April 2, 1996, and my brother Vasyl’ joined me in two months. I met him and went to Chicago, while he stayed in New York.  

V.Ovsienko:  What did you do there?

V.Sichko:    Construction jobs of all types in New York, and installation of plastic windows in Chicago. I worked for three years under a Polish boss, but I have always dreamed about my own business. And I managed to convince my colleague Ihor Matskiv to join me.  He had headed a village council for 9 years, did away with the kolkhoz, distributed the land among the villagers, enjoyed a very good reputation and lost by one vote running for head of the rayon council. When he understood he had no income to count on, he came to America. We invited his brother and started getting orders directly from the American companies. The earnings were not bad and our reputation good. I dealt with four American companies, and each wanted me to work exclusively for them. I even had to refuse a company, because there are physical limitations, one cannot do all the work. We offered high quality work, no one had to redo or amend anything after us.

Of course, I stayed in America illegally, but I always paid my taxes, and it is highly appreciated by the Americans. I observed American laws, but my heart was left behind in Ukraine, because all my family was there. I read Ukrainian newspapers and was aware of the iniquities taking place there. I made up my mind to come back to Ukraine in December 2001. I knew my father was going to run for the Supreme Rada, so I wanted to offer him my support. Although aware that mafia would never allow my father to be elected, I wanted to be by his side.  

I was, probably, the last person who communicated with my brother Vasyl’. After coming to the US, Vasyl’ met members of the Ukrainian organizations, was involved in politics, but kept earning his living not to depend on anyone for charity. He spent several months in New York, visited Canada, because he had a Canadian visa, and came back to Ukraine. He was asked to take some money, about three or five thousand dollars, I do not remember exactly, for the needs of a monastery. On his arrival to Kyiv he had to transfer from the airport to the railway station. At the station the money was literally snatched from his pocket. Probably, someone followed him right from the airport.  A brawl started. Supposedly one man pushed another, they started quarrelling, and one of them pretended to hide behind Vasyl’, grabbed his pocket and snatched the money. In the monastery he was accused of embezzling the money.  They said his shameful deed would be made public. He had no choice but to borrow the money, give it to the monastery and go back to the US to earn some more.   

Finding job in America requires skill or luck. He returned to New Jersey, but the job market was tough. I suggested he joins me in Chicago and, when he came, helped him to get settled. As it happened I was the last person to have seen him alive.  

V.OvsienkoSo what actually happened?

V.Sichko:  I saw him on Sunday at lunchtime. At 7 pm we talked on the phone, and at night of November 16/17, 1997 he died.   

He was renting a room on the second floor, from a Polish landlord. The owner was not home that night; supposedly he went to visit his daughter. A fire started. No one knows what caused it. I hired an attorney. The experts said it might have been a cigarette, or something else. May be secret services were involved, quite possible even the Ukrainian secret service, so they could hush the event. But the fact is he was poisoned with the fumes. The smoke got into the blood through the respiratory system and caused death.  

But father told me that three months earlier someone from Kuchma entourage came to see him and advised that Kuchma wanted to meet Vasyl’ for a conversation. That person promised that he would be taken back to America. So it is possible they discovered the place of his residence, probably, through me, because I stayed put for 5 and 9 months.

Now we cannot prove anything, but it happened after Vasyl’s conversation with our father. He called home and told father that he was returning to Ukraine, to give new impulse to the party, to provide new impetus for it. He said he was full of vigor and will to act.

His death was very hard on me, but at least I managed to find money to send him to Ukraine. I saw him, identified him, said my farewells and sent him back. I swore at his coffin that upon my return I will continue his struggle and my parents’ fight. I could not stay there any longer.  

V.OvsienkoWhat was the state of the body? What could have burnt there?  

V.Sichko: He was slightly burnt, but I did not see the whole body. He was lying face down, so it was not burnt. But his prone position suggested that he could have been tampered with. The room was partially burnt and full of smoke. I took some of his belongings as mementos and I still have them.

I came back on December 18, 2001 just on St. Nicolas eve.  Since then I have been trying to participate in the political life. I took part in my father’s election campaign, and currently I am a member of the Chief Council of the UCDP. We elected the new head in Dolyna. We have 2700 members of our party here, but only on paper, the real people are still to be found. Meanwhile I manage a small business. After coming back from the US I purchased a big truck, so I am earning something to keep my head above the water, as the saying goes. My cousin works in transportation, but he always comes across some difficulties. Once I also travelled to Italy with my truck. We need funds for the political activity. We must start getting ready to the Presidential elections right away. I believe V.Yushchenko is an obvious candidate; we’ll do our outmost for him to become the President. I do not even consider any other candidate. We will be preparing the elections to the Supreme Rada, because it is not the end of the world yet. America was a great experience for me, I met a lot of   outstanding people – Americans and Poles, I became fluent in Polish, I speak English.  America taught me confidence, I understood I was capable of achieving a lot here in Ukraine. The essence is to set up a goal and confidently proceed towards it. I am ready to join the fight for authentic independent Ukrainian unified state. Because, although we live in Ukraine, we do not have our proper state – a democratic state, the real state of people’s rule. Currently the state is ruled by the oligarchs and clans fighting among themselves. 

V.Ovsienko: Moreover, you have three children to bring up – a man should have a firm standing to do that.

V.SichkoYes, the children, of course, but I want others to live well too. My heart and soul break watching the kids begging in the markets, asking form alms. It is a sorry sight and I wish I could change things for the better.  I hope I can trigger these changes, with God’s help and my own firm position.

And that is all I wanted to say about myself. I would like to tell you about my wife Valentyna. For about 7 years KGB was trying to persuade her to collaborate, since the time I first met her in Cherepovets. When our son was born, a KGB official came to see her, offered her two stacks of paper money and promised another stack every month. The stack contained about 2000 roubles. But she grabbed the money and threw it in his face. He managed to turn away, so the money hit him on the back. He said: “You will regret it, you idiot!” Having learnt that she loved me dearly and won’t leave me, they started staging all sorts of provocations. They spread a rumor that I had a disabled child in Kyiv, or some other nonsense like that. For seven years they kept bothering her, sending spies, spreading lies about her and threatening her that her husband would leave her on learning things about her. And for seven years, starting from 1986, she never mentioned it.  Only in 1993 she confessed, because I could see she was worried. I kept asking her what was wrong, but she remained silent. For the first time in my life I saw a person going mad in front of my eyes. When we were out in the field with our parents I managed to get her to talk openly to me.  She related everything finishing with “But please, don’t leave me, because I love you”. – “How could I ever leave you?” It was like a heavy stone had been taken off her shoulders. After that KGB let her be, as she told me later. What I am saying is that she is a very courageous, a very devoted woman, capable of doing anything for the sake of her man. I could have never wished a better wife. She even agreed to the third Caesarian – the first two children were also born with the Caesarian, and now, thirteen years later she was brave enough to have another child. The surgery went well, without complications. We have a beautiful daughter and we are very happy.  Once again we proved to our enemies that our family is close and happy. They will never be able to disrupt the peace and happiness of our family. 

I believe everything will be all right. It is good enough as it is, but earlier or later we will live in the country of our dreams.

V.Ovsienko (to Taras): What a powerful clan you’ve got!

 

Published:

Три повстання Січків. У 2 т. Т. 2: Спогади. Інтерв’ю. Листи / ХПГ; редактор-упорядн. В. В. Овсієнко – Харків: Фоліо, 2004 – С. 165–184 (Try povstannya Sichkiv [ Three Sichkos’ rebellions – Ukr.]. In 2 v. V.2.: Memoirs. Interviews. Letters / Kharkiv human rights protection group. Edited and compiled by – V. V. Ovsienko – Kharkiv: Folio, 2004 – P. 165–184)


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