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Dissident movement in Ukraine

Preserving one’s humanity...

21.01.2015 | Vasyl Ovsiyenko | Interview recorded on November 8, 1998. Oral and written amendments made in December 2004

Interview with Ivan Benedyktovych Brovko

І. Brovko:  I am grateful for my God-given destiny which allowed me to live a long and difficult life covering almost the whole 20th century.  I was born under the tsar’s regime, in 1915, on January 15, in the Mayachka village, Kobelyaky raion in Poltava oblast’. I was born into the family of ordinary peasants, who had 5 ha of land. We worked on this land together – my mom and I. Father served in the navy in Vladyvostok and was rarely home.  

My father was Venedykt Andriyovych Brovko, my mother – Natalia Fedosiivna Karpenko. Their life was not different from the life of all the Ukrainians at the time.  

In 1928 my father came back from the navy, where he served on the man-of-war for about 10 years. He decided to go into agriculture; built a new house, planted an orchard, and dug a new well in the orchard. The plot of land was sufficiently big to allow independent and decent living. But when the forced collectivization began, father refused to join the kolkhoz. Then the group of komsomol activists came to our farm and took away our cow, our horse, the grain – everything we had. We were left with nothing to eat, even no tools to work the land. No one fed the cattle in the kolkhoz, so the animals began to die. Our cow somehow managed to break free and in three days returned home. We were happy, mom especially, but in the evening two komsomol guys returned and took it away again.  

Father decided to go back to the navy. In May 1933 he said his farewells; we saw him off outside the village and never heard anything about him since. After the war I sent inquiries to Poltava and Kyiv KGB, but always received the same answer:” No data”. So I do not know how my father finished his hard life.

On father’s departure mother had to join the kolkhoz. After the war, in 1944 she moved to Kobelyaky with my younger sister Vira. Having returned from the service in the army in 1948, I took mom to live with me in Kyiv.  That is where she died in 1977. She is buried in Lisove cemetery, not far from Antonenko-Davydoch’s grave. When I visit her grave, first I would stop at Borys Dmytrovych’s {grave}, leave the flowers, and then proceed to my mom’s resting place.  

Father had three brothers: Petro. Sashko, then my father, and Oleksiy, the youngest. We come from Cossacks and never have been serfs. All four brothers were healthy, never got sick. Everyone was well-off, had 5-6 ha of land each, beautiful orchards and homes, used to wear stylish clothes. None of them joined the kolkhoz.

My grandfather on the mom’s side, Fedosiy Karpenko was also well-built and handsome. Upon his recruitment into the army he was assigned to the tsar’s guard at court. Only well-built and handsome guys were chosen. Grandfather reminisced that for Christmas and for Easter they have always been visited by tsarina herself who would greet the guards, distribute the presents and kiss everyone.  

Grandfather Fedosiy Karpenko returned to the village of Kanavy, close to Mayachka after having terminated his army service. He was a teacher in the village school. All his six daughters graduated from his school and were literate. My mom read and wrote fluently. Here is her portrait. Her clothes are not like the garment of the villagers. ..

Grandfather Fedosiy had a substantial library, subscribed to the newspapers and magazines, started an orchard, which became so famous that agronomists from the whole oblast’ would come to learn. Apple-trees, pear-trees and grape-vines he had! When the revolution started, my grandfather was the head of Kobelyaky povit, under Hrushevsky and Petlyura governments.

I still keep a Bible from grandfather Karpenko’s library. He gave it to me as a gift, when I was still a schoolboy. Since then it has always been with me.

Grandfather was a well-read person; he was acquainted with many outstanding personalities in Ukraine. Eventually his estate perished as a result of the collectivization. His library was destroyed too. He had a hectare of orchard surrounded by poplars. The trees were so high that one could see them from Mayachka. When I came to visit my grandfather, I saw them from afar. I visited him often. He would tell me about Ukraine. What he did not like was my habit of destroying magpie nests.  He reprimanded me for that.

So we had 5 ha of land and worked it together with mom. The work was very hard, but it allowed us to keep poverty at bay. Mom, however, had a dream of her life, for me to become not a farmer (as they are called now), but a village doctor.  

In 1930 I finished 7 years of schooling in Mayachka, went to Kharkiv and was admitted to a medical vocational school. But unfortunately, I never became a doctor. I studied, received stipend. But suddenly I was summoned and told: “Your papers show that your parents are “serednyaks”. At the time it was already an unforgivable social “vice”. For it my stipend was removed, and in half a year I was expelled from the school.  

I returned home, where mom had neither bread, nor money. But I desperately wanted to study, not only because it was my parents’ wish, but also because my beloved teacher of Ukrainian language and literature Hryhoriy Levitsky, urged me. Appreciating my uncommonly good memory, he advised my parents to send me to study and obtain higher education after my completion of 7 years.

I treated my teacher’s advice as his testament to me and fully complied with it.

Now a couple of words about Hryhoiy Levitsky. His roots go back as far as the 17th century. He was related to Orest Levitsky, academician, the president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences after the 1917 revolution.

Dmytro Levitsky, a painter with world fame in the 17th century, and Hryhoriy Levitsky, a renowned engraver of the same epoch were among distant family. All of them, Hryhoiy Vasylovych included, came from Mayachka. At the soviet time they were somehow ignored, while now their popularity is growing rapidly. In 2002 a monument to the Levitsky family was unveiled in Mayachka. They were prominent Ukrainians, who did a lot for the Ukrainian and world culture.

My unforgettable teacher Hryhoriy Levitsky did as much for his pupil, for the development of awareness and feeling of dignity among the Ukrainian youths of the post-revolutionary period. Unfortunately, his further life was as dramatic, as the life of all the Ukrainians who loved Ukraine and worked for its benefit, in soviet times.  

After my expulsion from medical school in 1931 I wasted no time, and right from Kharkiv went to Chervonohrad in Kharkiv oblast’. There I passed entrance exams to the pedagogical school and was granted stipend.

I was not, however, destined to graduate from this school either. In the fall of 1932 famine struck Ukraine. Alongside with other students I left school to return home. I covered 60 km on foot before reaching Tsarychanka village in Dnipropetrovsk oblast’. Sometimes I was so hungry that I would look for the frozen corn-cobs under the snow.  

In Tsarychanka I was appointed a teacher in a 7-year school in Rudky. So I remained a teacher for the rest of my life, having begun as elementary school teacher and getting to the position of a university professor.

I’ve been through a lot of things in the course of my life.  Whatever befell Ukraine, befell me as well. The destiny of Ukraine was my destiny too. I was a witness and a party to all, or almost all tragic and heroic events.

I witnessed and survived three horrendous wars – the Polish, the Finnish and the so-called Great Patriotic war – from the first till the last day. I was wounded and shell-shocked. I have witnessed and survived three famines, comparable to wars in terms of victims - in1921, 1933 and in 1947. Although, I did not suffer through the famine of 1947, I was just a witness to it. I also was a witness and a victim, like my parents, of the totalitarian communist/fascist reprisals in Ukraine. I saw a lot of various reconstructions and perestroikas – Stalin’s, Khrushchov’s and Gorbachev’s – and participated in them. But the most important and the happiest event in my life, in which I actively participated was the collapse of the USSR and the birth of the independent Ukraine, so long anticipated, so dearly paid for.   

On November 7, 1998 I participated in the rally of patriotic Ukrainian forces in Kyiv, in Mykhailivska square, at the monument to the “Holodomor” victims. My major feeling after that rally was that the patriotic forces finally began fraternizing, joining their efforts, the way Shevchenko wrote about it, striving for the one and only goal – i.e. safeguarding of the Ukrainian independence. Currently we are all aware that we have lost our independence in the past due to the internal dissent and quarrels during the decisive moments of struggle for independence. That is what happened at Khmelnitsky’s time, at Mazepa’s and Simon Petlyura’s times. So let’s safeguard our independence!

I would like to recapitulate here several episodes from my own life of pre-war, war and post-war times. I believe they were decisive for my understanding of life and preserving the legacy genetically transferred to me by my parents and forefathers.

 Episode one. It happened around 1919 or 1920. I remember a Sunday, after breakfast, when my grandpa Andriy Brovko, tall, white all over, in a white canvas shirt and white trousers, took me by the hand, drove me out of the homestead and stopped near a narrow and steep path leading downwards. The greenery of our orchard surrounded the path on the right and on the left. Further there was our vegetable garden, and then – the meadows, the lakes, the willows, and, finally the Oril river, by the way, immortalized in the verses of the poet Shchoholev. On Oril’s right bank a high and long steppe hill could be seen.

– Do you see the Oril river? – grandpa asks.

– I do, – I respond.

– And do you see the hill over Oril?

– I do.

– So, very long time ago, about three hundred years ago, it was on that hill that a tall wooden lighthouse stood. On its top there was a lookout platform. The Cossacks used to have watchmen there. They would watch the other bank of Oril, because it was from that side, from the south that Tatars would attack from the Crimea. They would catch young boys and girls, horses too and bring them back to Crimea in order to sell to the Turks. That is why the village where you live, where your grandpa and mom and dad live bears the name of Mayachka – from the word “mayak {lighthouse – Ukr.}. Well, the lighthouse is not there any longer, it had been demolished and burnt down. But the name of the village remained. 

 Frankly, it was my first lesson in life. But how engagingly my grandpa Andriy enlightened me about my native village and its name “Mayachka”, so that I would familiarize myself with the words “lighthouse” and “Ukrainians”. Later, after the war, when I became grandpa myself, I visited Mayachka with my son Viktor and grandson Myroslav, and I told them the story exactly the way my grandpa had once told it to me.   

Episode two. At the time of the civil war I had a special honor of seeing three armies with my own eyes – Makhno’s, Petlyura’s and the Red Army. Petlyura’s army was the first. I remember it was summer, do not know of what year. I remember hurrying out of the house after breakfast and climbing the gate, as usual. Suddenly I saw the neighbors’ courtyard full of soldiers and horses. Some were watering the horses, the other saddling them. They sang in chorus:”Cossacks got up early”. Then they mounted their horses and left the yard riding two in a row in the direction of Poltava. I was impressed with their beautiful uniforms: high hats with red ribbons, bright tunics. I ran back home and asked mom:

– Who are these soldiers?

Mom answered:

– They are Cossacks from Petlyura’s army – then added:

– They are the warriors so highly respected by your dad and granddad.

The same summer I saw Makhno’s army. On good days I would cross the street, jump over the fence and run to the neighbors’ courtyard to meet my friend Maksym and play with him. This time it was as usual. But I did not make it back home. In the afternoon the cavalry units appeared in my street. The cavalrymen were all dressed in black; they had black banners and four black machinegun carts following them. It was getting dark. Mom was standing on the opposite side of the street, waiting for the cavalry to pass so that she could take me home.  When late at night we were returning home, I asked mom: 

– What is the name of these soldiers?

– The Makhno’s soldiers. But whether they are our friends or enemies – that I don’t know.  

But it was the Red Army I saw most often. I remember a story dating back to the end of the civil war. It was late fall. I woke up early. Mom was not in the room, my sister was sleeping soundly, and outside something unusual was going on: noise, shouts, roaring.  I looked at the window and saw that the courtyard was full of Red Army soldiers. Some were sitting, the others standing and many were lying down. They had “budyonovka” hats on their heads, and their feet were covered in puttees instead of boots. A big cauldron was sitting in the middle of the yard, the fire burning under it, and the water in the cauldron boiling. Mom ran inside, and, putting her hands to her head, said: “They’ve caught all our geese and chicken, and made me cook the borsch and fry the meat for them. How shall we live?”

They did the same at the neighbor’s who was much better off than we. Unfortunately, this practice became quite common under the soviet regime. One should only recollect the three famines  - of 1921,1933 and1947. Especially 1947, for it was perceived as the communists’ revenge to the Ukrainian people for the blood they shed in the Great Patriotic War.

 Episode three: how I heard Russian language for the first time. It happened in 1921. In the morning, having milked the cow, my mom entered the house. My younger sister Vira and I were sitting on the sofa, with our long shirts covering our knees, waiting for breakfast. Mom strained the milk, poured  it into big mugs for us and gave us a piece of bread each. We were drinking warm milk and eating bread - it was our breakfast. After we were finished, someone knocked on the door and then entered the room.  I saw a woman with two kids – a boy of my age, and a girl of my sister’s age. The woman started saying something to mom. I had hard time trying to understand her, but I guessed she was asking for something to eat. That’s how I heard Russian for the first time.  Mom rinsed our mugs, poured the milk and gave each of them a piece of bread. She invited them to sit down, and the woman related that they were from Saratov, there was hunger there and nothing to eat. Mom listened to all that and supplied them with more bread for the road.

I remember this occurrence not only because of the Russian language, but also because Antonenko-Davydovych, now deceased, had told me about the famine of 1933. The Ukrainians saving themselves from hunger would board the train or any other vehicle to go to the Russian border. At Khutir Mykhailivskiy station the train would stop. Militiamen entered and threw the hungry passengers out of the train. The people died right there, so that the whole station was covered with dead bodies. I was struck with that story. I remember, how, hungry ourselves in 1921 we held no rancor against hungry Russians, fed them and gave them bread for the road. What engenders evil, I wondered.  

Episode four.  Mariyka Khilo’s  death.

I want to relate the episode which became crucial in shaping my world view. I am going to talk about horrid 1933. I worked then as a teacher of Ukrainian language in Rudky school, Dnirpopetrovsk oblast’, Tsarychanka raion, which borders with my own raion of Kobelyaky, Poltava oblast’.   On a May day hot breakfasts were delivered to school  for kids, so that the principal would later be able to report to the raion education board that almost all children attended classes and studied properly, that there was no hunger, that rumors about it were spread by class enemies. In my grade there was a pupil who used to sit at the first desk. She lived not far from school, her name was Mariyka, her last name – Khilo. The family had another girl, younger than Mariyka, who also was a schoolgirl, mother and father. The father had been disabled since the civil war. Fighting for the soviet power, he lost his leg and was walking around on a wooden one. The meal was distributed after classes. Mariyka took a spoon, bent over to eat, but the spoon fell out of her hand. I saw her putting her head down on the desk, then sliding forward and falling with her legs stretched. I understood it was death – I could see it in her eyes, in her face. For me, a 17-year old teacher it was the first death I witnessed first-hand.

The hungry kids got quiet. So did I, overwhelmed by what had happened. Only Volodymyr Illich in his cap, with red bow in his jacket buttonhole and his arm raised in greeting, kept smiling kindly from the portrait on the wall. Taras Shevchenko was observing the kids from the opposite wall. His look was sad, and there were tears in his eyes. And the loudspeaker on the post in front of the school building kept transmitting a cheerful song: “We live merrily today, even merrier tomorrow!”

No, it was not a nightmare or a horror tale, and it did not happen in far-away lands, but right here in “our own land”. The nature was joyfully waking up with spring, growing and blossoming, the nightingale was singing, praising life. And only Mariyka took leave of her short life not knowing who had deprived her of the precious God’s gift in such a cruel and beastly way – by starving her to death.

On the last day of Mariyka’s life no one came to school to claim her body and give it a decent burial in a Christian manner. Her mom could not come as she lay alone in her hut, swollen from hunger and unconscious. Younger sister would not come because she had died of hunger a month earlier. The dad would not come, as the day before his body had been found in the courtyard and taken to the cemetery to be thrown into the common grave. That nameless pit became Mariyka’s last abode too.

One episode reflects the whole history of Ukraine as in the drop of water. How much cruelty and evil it contains...  Taking into account that Mariyka’s father had fought at the fronts of the civil war for the soviet power and come home a cripple…The communists expressed their gratitude by stifling his children, his wife and himself with hunger.

It was seventy years ago and the communists never apologized for their crimes against the people. Their wickedness and cruelty is endless, and their words do not bear a grain of truth or repentance…

I was overwhelmed by that death. The girl was an excellent student, sang beautifully, recited poetry. I left the classroom and ran to the principal’s office, shouting desperately:” You are just sitting here, and kids are dying during lessons!” The principal, whose last name was Lybid’, retorted:” What are you babbling about? What famine, what death? It does not exist”. Meanwhile another teacher with her legs swollen from hunger was sitting in the office.   

The principal himself came with me to make sure that the girl was dead. When he saw it was true, he sent a teacher to fetch the parents. But they found only her swollen mom, who failed to understand what they had been saying to her.

I started lamenting loudly, accusing the authorities, principal included, and he shouted back, accusing me of libel.

Later, when sun was still high, a colleague of mine came to tell me that he had overheard principal calling raion education board, and then raion GPU, and receiving an answer that they would come in person to investigate. The colleague advised me to leave as soon as possible, lest I would be arrested.

An hour later I was ready, having packed what I could…Well, what did I have? No one paid us any salary. We were given 16 kg of grain and hot breakfasts.

I took the remaining ten kilograms of grain, some books, grabbed my backpack and whatever I could carry in my arms, left the village quickly, intending to cross the Oril river and get to my own Mayachka, where my mother and sister stayed.

When I entered the forest it was almost dusk, and the forest was dark. I heard someone following me. I turned around and saw two men. I could not guess their age, but I saw they had been in a hurry. I started running, turned around and saw them running after me. I kept running as quickly as I could, until I reached the stream. 

The broken branches lay in the water, probably, torn down by the storm. I made my way through the branches, ran about 50 meters more. I was totally exhausted. I stopped and squatted to listen to their steps. My heart was beating so loudly, that I could not discern any other noises. I stayed like that for 2-3 minutes, and heard no splashes in the water. Then I stood up quietly and proceeded with my way.  I’ve been walking for the whole night, alone, in the dark...At dawn I crossed Oril, and in the morning I entered Mayachka. On my way I gathered the ears of corn and ate the grains. They were still soft.  At home I found severe hunger too. I gave the grain I had brought to my mom and sister and they made it last for the whole month. This event finalized the shaping of my world view. I needed no more propaganda, stories about shining and glorious future, or any justifications of the communists’ class cruelty.

 Episode five. My teaching career. Now, about a month after my return to Mayachka, running away from tragic events in Rudky, I decided to go to Kharkiv oblast’, Sakhnovshchany raion, to a school were my own classmates were teaching.

In summer 1933 I was appointed a teacher of a 7-year school in Kokhanivka village, Sakhnovshchany raion. That year many people died in Khokhanivka, so that many huts stood empty. Children, who still had their parents, were few, the classes were not full. Once in May of the next year, i.e. 1934, I heard some noise, as if someone had been drumming on the floor, during a lesson. Others also heard that sound. I opened the door and so about 30 kids in bast shoes. Under the shoes they had wooden planks to save the woven shoes from water.

I finished my lesson and during the break found out that these were Russian kids, from Sverdlovsk oblast’. Many re-settlers came to Kokhanivka and occupied the vacant huts, which had remained after the famine.

By the way, new classes were not formed for these kids, as they were all of different age. They were just included into the Ukrainian classes, and raion education board passed an instruction for the teachers to switch to Russian language for teaching.

Thus a completely understandable concern for the Russian children was used against the Ukrainian ones. This artificial assimilation of the Ukrainian population after the famine, transfer of the Ukrainian schools to the Russian language of teaching upset me a lot. I did not hesitate to express my feelings. Then the school principal Legeza summoned me and ordered me to hand in a voluntary leave notice. It was by the end of the school year, in 1934. I was dismissed with the principal’s parting words: “Be grateful that we just let you go, it might have been much worse”.  

I decided then to go to Donbas to pursue my pedagogical career – the city of Slovyanks, Stalino oblast’. A compatriot, much older than me, by name of Bilokin’, was the head of raion education board there. I was advised that there had been no famine in Donbas, and I would be better off as a teacher there. 

From Donbas I was conscripted to the Red Army, and the new epoch in my life began.

 

MY WARS

Conversation on January 24, 2002.

Yevhen Sverstyuk: Іvan Benedyckotvych, how come that you, such a peaceful man, have chosen a military career? Did you choose it?

I.Brovko: I did not have choice, it was just my turn. In fact, my service was postponed, so that I could graduate from the institute, but after that, willy-nilly I had to do my army service. So I was conscripted in 1939, after graduating from the DINO – Donetsk Institute of the Public Education in Luhansk, department of philology.

I was sent to Kolomna, near Moscow. A very modern artillery regiment, which in the Finnish war had managed to destroy the pillboxes at Mannerheim line, also very up-to-date, was deployed there.

Ye.Sverstyuk: it was summer of 1939. The fall with its campaign of “liberating” Poland was quite near, right?

I.Brovko: Right. But still Poland was far away. As I mentioned earlier, Kolomna had that very modern regiment, the so called regiment of 402 mm howitzer cannons. If they hit something… Well, each missile weighed 100 kilograms, can you fancy that?  First I was impressed with the mess. We were issued uniforms, and then, sent to the mess singing “Katyusha” on the way. I first tasted shchy there. They said it had been borshch, and I was hungry so I ate a lot of cabbage shchy…

Ye.Sverstyuk: Did you get anything else apart from shchy?

I.Brovko: Well, yes, the main dish. We were fed decently.

Ye.Sverstyuk: So, the soldier’s ration was no worse than the teacher’s one?

I.Brovko: You got it right. But, on the other hand, a teacher had a choice, while soldier had to be happy with what he had been offered. But, you know, I play soccer, and when “Dynamo” is playing, I would put everything aside {to watch the game}… Even as a university professor I would miss lectures - give students something to do and hurry to “Dynamo” stadium where a Brazilian team would be playing. Once, while running like that, I noticed the party organization secretary running along. True, he was hurrying from his own office, not from the lecture. We arrived and I saw our Voinov scoring a beautiful goal! I started playing soccer as a kid, so in the regiment I put my higher education aside and joined the soccer team. We are all sleeping, at six o’clock - “Reveille!” Everyone hurries out of the beds, they are afraid to be late! But we, the soccer players, are left alone, because our commissar is a big soccer fan. So we sleep on. I do not march to the mess singing “Katyusha” any more. We, 10-12 soccer players, leisurely enter the mess a half-an-hour later than everyone else. Immediately the soldiers would hurry to serve us dinner. We leave the mess with the same leisurely step. Once I looked at my thick kersey boots and saw that bootlegs were all wrong, though my legs are not fat, mind you! We the players considered the matter and approached the regimental shop, where we had our boots and uniforms adjusted properly. After that we looked like officers…

On a day off about five soccer players went to Gorky. I was wondering where exactly Maxim Gorky had lived. As we were strolling along, I asked a passer-by about that. And suddenly we end up in a market-place, with lots of tomatoes and cucumbers! We bought the stuff, filled our pockets with it and continued our stroll, munching as we went. Suddenly we were intercepted by the military patrol. They saw the uniformed soldiers walking in the street and eating cucumbers! “Not allowed!”

The three of us were taken to a place, as it turned out, not far from Gorky’s residence. For three days we stayed in detention, until the commissar who had been the soccer fan, came along and took us back. Shortly after that the war began. On that day I visited the movie theater to watch “The evenings on a farm near Dykan’ka”. I was watching it and thinking: once I am done with my service (and I had only four more months to go) I’ll go back home right away. I’ll go to Dykan’ka or Myrhorod, where Gogol used to live, to teach children there…

Upon leaving the movie theater I saw officers running and heard everyone shouting “The war! The war!” About twenty days later our regiment was sent to Belarus. We have reached Orsha, where we first experienced the German air raid. The bombing was so heavy that our train had been literally torn apart. Some people managed to jump out of the wagons, I was among them.  I saw my friend from Chernyhyv hopping on one leg with the other blown to pieces, and I could see bones and blood…This was my first encounter with the war.

Ye.Sverstyuk: And have you been to Belarus in 1939? 

I.Brovko: Yes, we were sent to Grodno, then to the Western Ukraine, Volyn’.

Ye.Sverstyuk: So there was no military action, was there?

I.Brovko: Not with our regiment involved.

Ye.Sverstyuk: You were still rank-and-file soldier?

I.Brovko: No, by that time I was a sergeant, but they gave me this rank for my higher education. We did not stay there long; probably the leaders have come to an agreement under Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and we were sent back to Kolomna.

Ye.Sverstyuk: And if someone would ask you: where have you been, what have you been doing there? What air have you been breathing?

I.Brovko: Our regiment was sent to Volyn’ to wait for the Germans there, so once the war started, we would be right there. After all we were heavy artillery…

Ye.Sverstyuk: In fact, artillery kept silent in that war.

I.Brovko: it was not needed there. Infantry, airplanes, especially those of NKVD, quite sufficed. We stayed there for two-three months, then again on the train and back.

Ye.Sverstyuk: Did you consider this fact: here you are back from Poland. What did you do there, why should you have been there? How did you understand it at the time?  

I.Brovko: My understanding was that Hitler had started the war. As far as Stalin goes – well, it was somewhat later…Then we have been told that Hitler had attacked Poland and we had to rescue Western Ukraine.

Then in 1939 our regiment was sent to Finland, Mannerheim line. We were not very mobile. So our regiment was deployed at 10 kilometers’’ distance from Mannerheim line (and we could shoot even further).  We tried to get settled. Snow was knee-deep in the forest. High pine-trees, all white…I remember, on the arrival day we were sent to the headquarters – half a kilometer away. Lieutenant was leading the way, with the three of us following. Suddenly – “bang!” Lieutenant, who was in front, fell. Turned out, the Finns all clad in white, where hiding in the pine-trees. 

I’ll tell that the Finnish war was won mainly due to the fact that the Finns had very well trained marksmen. It was the snipers’ war. We stayed there for about half a year, and then received the order to return so that for us the war was over. 

Ye.Sverstyuk: But you were not fired at, or were you?

I.Brovko: No, not we. It was just a second, one moment we were walking, and the next – our lieutenant was shot down. Probably the marksman followed us with binoculars, and aimed at the lieutenant, not the men. 

Ye.Sverstyuk: OK, so you are getting back – what was the point of your being there?

I.Brovko: Yevhen, at the time we had been there to triumph over the “imperialist Finland” which allegedly had occupied the ancient Russian lands. We were told that Mannerheim line marked the lands, which had been Russian from time immemorial, that we had to take them back and bring a capitalist state, obeying American and British orders, to heel.

Ye.Sverstyuk: All right, let’s get back to 1941now. Your unit is sent to the Western front once again –correct?

I.Brovko: Yes, in Orsha we were transferred to another train and rapidly taken to Urals, to the military school where we had an accelerated course of military training and were granted military ranks. I became a lieutenant.

On my return to Moscow, I was appointed the commander of one of the first “Katyusha” batteries, because I graduated from the higher artillery school, named after Krasin. I was appointed the commander, and started fighting at the front alongside Yuri Kondratyuk, near Moscow. Well, he started his war as a rank-and-file soldier…

Ye.Sverstyuk: And he perished near Moscow?

I.Brovko: Yes, the fighting was heavy there. By the end of 1941 I was still a lieutenant, while Yurka Tyulin was a senior lieutenant, a battery commander – he was so well-read, intelligent, coming from an educated family, we met there…

Ye.Sverstyuk: You did not know his family at the time?

I.Brovko: No, I did not know the family. He was not your average officer, who knows only how to shout commands “Attention!”, “Turn round!” His ways were completely different. We became friends and marched on together, reached Warsaw, and then Berlin.

Ye.Sverstyuk: And you stopped in a Warsaw suburb called Praga. When was it?

I.Brovko: It was early January 1945. I was a major and chief of staff of the “Katyusha”s third army group. And general Tveretsky from Moscow was our commander. What is the third army group? It is a group of the staff officers, experienced and educated. I have two educations – the civil one and the military one. In the headquarters I was first in charge of intelligence. We were deployed at the sites of combat operations; we were planning the battles alongside with artillery, infantry, aviation, in the German front lines. We have been redeployed in Poland after the Baltic republics, with the same goal.   

We arrived by cars, in Warsaw suburbs at night. The place was teeming with the soviet troops and tanks, but no gun-fire. And no one tells us anything. I sent forth a captain, earlier. He found a building to use as headquarters. 

I saw a two-storey house, very nice, right over the Vistual River. So what is the name of the quarter? Praga. Like Darnytsya here. I want to clarify here – Praga in Poland, the Czech Prague and Kyiv all fought for freedom. 

Ye.Sverstyuk: So, the captain found the premises. But in the time of the offensive, what is the use of it for you?

I.Brovko: For the operative activity of the third army group staff, that came to participate in the fighting. It was needed. More so with the battles going on in the meantime. Horrendous battles…

We arrived by the evening. The house had four rooms on the ground floor and four more on the first floor. Two rooms on the first floor were full of books. First off, I scanned the books briefly, and then I noticed that one of the rooms contained almost exclusively Ukrainian books – historical books, rare editions – Hrushevsky, Vynnychenko, Yefremov, Rusova. Naturally, I could not take anything, it was a shame: why should I grab anything? The house has no owner, who, probably, had been a Ukrainian intellectual. This Praga is located on the left bank, like our Darnytsya. But, as opposed to Darnytsya, it is compact and lies pretty close to Vistula. Some houses are built right over the river. Another difference is that Vistula is a bit narrower than Dnipro. But both Kyiv and Warsaw are located on a hill. And Praga is at the bottom, same as Darnytsya. That two-storey house sat right above Vistula. 

Plenty of troops and tanks in Praga, but no one firing, all is silent. On the right bank, though, a horrible battle is unfolding, with gun-fire and explosions…

I started asking other officers why we had been staying put there. I was told that general Bur-Komarowski had started a Polish uprising against Germans to grab the power in Warsaw, before our army delivering the secretary general for the Polish communist party, arrives. Then I understood why we were not firing. Before I though we were accumulating reserve forces.

Ye.Sverstyuk: We were talking about the library and you were pretending you did not want to take anything from it, but then noticed that the owner wasn’t there.

I.Brovko: That is true. Once I looked at those books, I wanted to take them, but no one was taking anything. And where could I take them? If I try to hide them in the car, the driver would notice and say “What is it you’ve brought here?” So, I needed another scenario. And where is the owner? No one knows. Looks like all the Poles have run away, probably expecting intense battles here, too.

Later I saw Warsaw right after the war – it looked scary. Only one church in the western part was not destroyed – all the rest lay in ruins!

Ye.Sverstyuk: So for how many days you’ve been waiting for the Germans to stifle the Polish uprising?

I.Brovko: About ten days.

Ye.Sverstyuk: What have you been doing for these 10 days?

I.Brovko: Our whole army remained motionless. When we stopped in a Warsaw suburb, the colonel Georgiy Oleksandrovych Tyulin (whom I still called Yura, for old times’ sake) arrived. He was the chief of staff for the “Katyusha”s at the First Belarusian front.  Tyulin came by car, summoned general Tveretsky, and general Tveretsky summoned me as the chief of staff for the group.

Tyulin said that there was an instruction of the First Belarusian front commander for us to wait while the pro-English Poles (the Polish president Mikolajczyk was then in London) were fighting Germans – let them have each other well mugged. Especially the Poles unwilling to accept Stalin’s protégée, the communist Boleslaw Bierut and conducting the combat on their own to liberate Warsaw, so that they could report to the whole world, and, specifically, Roosevelt and Churchill, that they got Warsaw back, deserved the mugging.

So the colonel Tyulin tells us about the instruction. No gun-fire under any circumstances; no provocations, complete silence. They will keep fighting for 5-7 days. Further orders will be given later. Meanwhile, about 15-20-30 German planes are circling above us every night, roaring, destroying, converting everything to ruins. The Germans also know how many troops we have near Warsaw. And we are just to wait for orders.

The colonel Tyulin decided to stay for the night as driving at night might be dangerous.

We sat in the staff headquarters, just the two of us, talking. (This occurrence is described in a well known book “Space and Earth orbits of Y.V.Kondratyuk” – I was asked to write an article for it.)

We drank a bit, had something to eat. And we looked out of the window we saw everything in flames Warsaw was on fire.

Ye.Sverstyuk: Did you get any vodka or none?

I.Brovko: Plenty of vodka, no problem with that. It was part of our ration. It was not the war loot – we brought it with us. Soldiers also were given it, especially, the ones who went to battle – 100 grams each. So vodka was not a problem, and we could get even more, after all it was Warsaw. I don’t know where it came from, I had nothing to do with that – I had a staff of subordinates, those in charge of procurement among them. It was their responsibility.

  We’ve been talking about Churchill. Both Yura and myself held him in high respect, and then we switched to Roosevelt and Truman. Finally, Stalin’s turn came. Being a bit tipsy I started saying that he… Briefly, I voiced some definitely negative ideas about Stalin. I recollected how I had studied in medical school at 17, and was deprived of stipend, as my parents were considered “serednyaks” – we had 5 ha of land. That’s why I left Kharkiv and went to a pedagogical school. And I gave him one example, i.e. how a girl had died of hunger during my lesson. Her father had been thrown into a common grave the day before. He used to serve in the Red Army and was crippled there. That’s how the soviet power thanked him for his service

In particular, I told Tyulin that in 1933 a big pit had been dug out in the cemetery of my village – the bodies of people who had died of hunger, and even some people who were still alive, had been thrown into it; how a young mother in a neighbor’s house has eaten her baby – no cases of cannibalism had been registered among my people before.  

I told Tyulin I had hard time trying to comprehend, in the name of what ideals about 10 million innocent people were condemned to such a terrible death in Ukraine.  I quoted the famous words by Dostoyevsky, that if even a single child dies in the world  through a ruler’s fault, this ruler is not worth either trust or respect.

Yura tyulin listened to me. And I was carried away, but then I got scared. The war was going on, with Stalin as commander in chief, the communists hold all the power…

After I finished, Tyulin got up and said:’ My opinion of Stalin is different. There should never be another conversation like this between us”. He bade my good-bye and left, took his car and proceeded on his way without waiting for the dawn.

 I was left alone. Other officers stayed in other rooms, not to bother the commanders.  

And here I am sitting and thinking: what was the point of saying all that? What shall Tyulin do next? Shall NKVD come here tomorrow? Because how can one go ahead with the war, with the chief of staff, and “Katyusha”’s staff  into the bargain, claims that he hates Stalin? Or, possibly, another scenario. Tyulin will severe any contacts with me. Or the third one: let’s pretend nothing happened.

The third scenario proved correct: it was as if nothing had happened. 

Yura was not among those who would use such information for political dividends. His honesty and decency were in his genes. He inherited them from his father – a doctor and professor or agro-chemistry persecuted in the 30-s, from his mother – a school teacher.  .+

Real refinement was characteristic of his sisters as well. I mean Irina who fled to the front right from the university and Margarita, who eventually became a professor in Moscow Lomonosov University. This noble and refined Russian family was well-known and highly respected by me.

After the war Tyulin’s father visited Kyiv. We went to Ivan Franko theater, on his request. I believe, it was “Marusya Bohuslavka”. He cried at the performance.  

Ye.Sverstyuk: Did he speak the language?

I.Brovko: No, he did not speak Ukrainian, but he understood a lot. He was an orphan, from Penza province; as a teenager he worked as a laborer for some rich guy in Zhytomir. I never asked him whether he was Ukrainian or Russian. He liked Ukraine a lot. And his wife Mariya Mykolaivna was a very distinguished lady, from a rich Russian family. She told me once: “We used to have our own equipage”. I did not know what it meant, so she explained that they had their own carriage drawn by horses.    They had a coachman too. Like a driver. Her father was the director of a private school – gymnasium. She was a nice, democratic woman. They were not chauvinistic at all - decent Russian intelligentsia. I published an essay about them in the book “Space and Earth orbits of Yu. Kondrartyuk (O.Shargey) “ (Dnipropetrovsk: Sich, 1996, с. 276-283. – Ред.). 

My outer space

By the time we arrived in Berlin, I already had some articles on the use of “Katyusha”s in battle, published in the military magazines. It was one of the reasons for including me into the commission of scientists, who had to study the German “Fau” rocket. The commission was named “A shot” with Sergey Korolyov, who eventually became an outstanding scientist in the area of air-space technologies, as its head. 

My task consisted in researching the data on the launching of the German ballistic rocket FAU -2. For two years I’ve been working in RABE ("Reaktische Bauen") institute. Actually, it was all Russian, only von Braun’s assistant, Grottrup, was German.

I mastered the rocket science well, participated in the first FAU-2 launch in Kapustin Yar.

My collaboration with Sergey Korolyov was interesting too.

After the war the Americans and the British ceded 300 kilometers of land to the West, between Berlin and Thuringia, to us, and got half of Berlin in exchange. So there have been our authorities, as well as English, French and American administrations there.    

In a town of Bleicherode, Thuringia (a very picturesque town, surrounded by forests and mountains) a military factory, manufacturing “FAU” rockets, was located. It was the most up-to-date rocket of the time. Germans were only two months away from loading the “FAU” with a nuclear bomb and attack England and the whole world – well, that would be a tragedy!. They did not manage to do it.

In September 1945 the majority of the board members, including S.Korolyov, V.Mishyn, N.Pilyugin, Z.Barmin and other rocket experts arrived in Berlin by Li-2 plane.

We were met by Georgiy Tyulin at the airdrome near Berlin. Our main goal was collecting documentation, finding parts and components of the German rocket, its assembling and launching.

It was not an easy task. And not only because all the principal German experts headed by the chief designer von Braun fled to the Great Britain or to the United States, taking almost all technical documentation with them. Eventually, fully assembled ||FAU” rockets ended up there too.

Another difficulty was accounted for by the fact that all the remaining equipment and parts were totally unfit – bombed, broken or stolen. That is what happened in the rocket research center in Peenemunde, in Usedom Island (northern Germany). Even the machine-tools were broken deliberately, so that no one else could use them. The fate of Bleicherode (Thuringia) factory was the same.

I want to mention here, that Bleicherode was known not only due to its unique factory, but also because of its concentration camp “Dora” built right under the factory. The most outstanding specialists in rocket-building S.Korolyov, V.Glushko, M.Ryazansky, V.Budnik, B.Chertok and others visited the factory in September and October 1945. They saw with their own eyes that the factory was empty, even the machine-tools were either vandalized or exported. The only structures which remained intact were the camp crematorium and barracks.  By the way, on one of the barrack windowsills I managed to decipher the words “Oh, the wind, blow over Ukraine” in Ukrainian. Probably a compatriot imprisoned there, expressed his nostalgia in this way. The majority of these barracks was moved in 1947 to Kapustin Yar, where the first space-launching site had been.

To cut a long story short, we had to start from the scratch, and so we did.

First, we managed to get Grottrup, one of the leading scientists and von Braun’s deputy, back to Germany from the US. We found in the soviet concentration camps the POWs, who earlier had serviced “FAU’ rockets and engaged them into the work (By that time they had been working in Uzbekistan uranium mines). We re-constructed parts and units of the rocket systems, looked for technical documentation. To that end the commission members would go to Poland and Czechoslovakia, and they did so not without avail.

While our commission was having such hard time rebuilding “FAU” rockets, the British managed to solve the problem: as early as in October 1945 they invited our experts to the first launching of “FAU-2”rocket. It was realized, first and foremost, by the German specialists, in Kuckshafen, near Hamburg. G.Tyulin, S.Korolyov, V.Glushko and Yu.Pobedonostsev were present at the event.

In 1946 our rocket-building  unit - a specialized brigade, which evolved from the “Shot” group – was set up near Nordhausen.  General-major A.Tveretsky was appointed its commander. I was appointed the head of starti-up division. Beyond any doubt, the brigade has done a lot for building and researching the “FAU” rocket, but the main work was planned and fulfilled by the special units of Tyulin’s board. On the way from Berlin to Nordhausen one could see a number of road signs pointing to the “Tyulin’s unit”. These were centers where the German jet machines were built and improved.

The first “FAU-2”(called A-4 by us) launching in the USSR took place in October 1947, from the incomplete launching site in Kapustin Yar. As a head of the start-up division I remember how diligently we were preparing for the launch. Tyulin and Korolyov checked everything personally. They stayed at the site day and night; every smallest detail was checked and rechecked several times. Such accuracy, precision was characteristic of these persons. The launch was successful.  

Ye.Sverstyuk: Did you become very fluent in German?

I.Brovko: My achievements were not that great, although I had a very good teacher frau Elsa Ritdorf. She failed, however. I wrote down and learnt by heart a thousand German words. But they were just infinitives of the verbs and the nouns. Somehow I could not put them together…   

Ye.Sverstyuk: I know why – because you did not need it.

I.Brovko: Right, everything was interpreted, by the professional interpreters.

 MY LIBRARY

Ye.Sverstyuk: Let’s get back to how you had dealt with the library you have found in Praga district of Warsaw.

I.Brovko: Back to the library. After ten days of staying there we received the order to go around Warsaw. All the “Katyusha”s went to Radom area, south from Warsaw. The staff headquarters were taken over by the infantry. 

I still wondered about the former owner of the house – no one would tell me. Then I got back to the library, thinking “I will go away, and the soldiers will use the paper for their cigarettes…” I remember a library near Moscow plundered like that.

Ye.Sverstyuk: It goes without saying. .

I.Brovko: Then I collected over one hundred books, as many as would fit into a car. And it was a covered staff vehicle, not a passenger car. It has a desk – one hundred or more books were sitting on it. But they were wonderful books! Not all the officers appreciated them. Many would not even know who Hrushevsky was.  

I picked up 16 volumes of “Kobzar”. Eventually professor Chavdarov borrowed them from me. He asked me to lend him the books for some of his writings. And after he died I came to his son to fetch them, but the son refused “So many people are passing by, everyone claiming something - how do I know the books are yours?”  Many books have been lost. But many students made good use of them too. Yaroslav Dzyra, for one.  He was admitted to the Academy of Sciences and started working on his doctorate.  Meanwhile he had nowhere to live, so I told him to come and stay. He stayed with me for two months and used these volumes to write his doctorate.

Ye.Sverstyuk: Hold on, but the KGB guys have “cleaned them up”, haven’t they?

I.Brovko: They still left a lot. They “cleaned them up” twice. They would come with a search warrant, but many books were hidden and others borrowed by the people. Some books were returned, but some were not. But still – here is Sophia Rusova. I’ve come to love that Rusova dearly. Here is Rusova’s book about how people live in Norway.  Ї

Ye.Sverstyuk: I’ve studied it. I was the one who wrote an introduction to the book about Norway. However, I did not use your book.

I.Brovko: And someone made a cover for this one. Borys Hrynchenko, “Letters from the Dnipro banks, Ukraine”.

Ye.Sverstyuk: Oh, yes, you lent me this book long time ago. And you, Vasyl, have you read  “Letters from the Dnipro riverside, Ukraine” by  Hrynchenko and “Letters to Dnipro riverside,Ukraine” by Dragomanov? If not, I’ll tell you it is pure joy – I do not about now, but at the time I enjoyed it a lot. 

I.Brovko: Oh, I loved to read them in the army too. It is a real wonder. I read them as something so dear, so much my own. Here is Taras Shevchenko’s “ABC book” – isn’t it a wonder! And here is Pan’ko Kulish…

Ye.Sverstyuk: Mykhailo Voznyak “Cyril and Methody fraternity”of 1921.

I.Brovko: this book is definitely from that library: Ponyatenko “Culture, nationality and assimilation in their mutual relations”, published by “Zorya” in 1911.

And here is another Kulish, but is it from that library or from the Leipzig one? In Leipzig, I believe, everything was in Russian.  

Ye.Sverstyuk: And “history” is written in old orthography.

I.Brovko: And this one I brought from Leipzig – “Genealogy of Morale” by Nietzsche. Evhen, you borrowed it, you underlined parts of it.

V.Ovsienko: Did you underline anti-soviet passages?

Ye.Sverstyuk: “Slavic literatures”!

I.Brovko: And what about your handwriting? What a bad habit of underlying things! You should have used a pencil. .

Ye.Sverstyuk: Pencil is all right, but now, I think, these marks are more precious to you.

I.Brovko: I read nothing but the pieces you underlined. Look, here is the “Ukrainian ABC” by Shevchenko, Panteleymon Kulish’s “Grammar” – they are antique books, priceless!

Here is Kuban’ Ukrainian education society’s “Ukrainian ABC”, 1919. Listen what they write in Kuban’ for their kids: “The main city in Ukraine is Kyiv. Here in Kuban’ the main city is Katerynodar. The largest river in Ukraine is Dnipro, while here it is Kuban’. Our forefathers lived in Ukraine”. That’s how Ukrainians in Kuban’ would write.  

 

Here is a carol. For Christmas, for the New Year, “Basil’s” as well. Probably, it is for St. Basil’s Day, on January, 14. Look, and there is a nest, too, so the kids would know not to destroy it. It is a masterpiece, testifying to the fact that people in Kuban’ have not lost their Ukrainian identity.  

Ye.Sverstyuk: Let me have it published in “Nasha vira” [Our faith-Ukr.] newspaper.

I.Brovko: Go ahead. But you will give it back to me, right? And here is Lototsky.  

Ye.Sverstyuk: Lototsky?  Lototsky is a very important component of our past; it is a very important book.     

I.Brovko: It was banned from our libraries by Bolsheviks; I could not even find it in the pedagogical institute, where I studied.

And here are “The notes of the Shevchenko research society”, Lviv, 1922. Which volume? I cannot make it out. Let Yevhen do it – if he can do it, he is professor, if not – then he is just like us. Which volume?  

Ye.Sverstyuk: M stands for a thousand, С for a hundred, Х for ten and L for 50, but L is not here. It’s volume 132. 

I.Brovko: It had been borrowed by Yaroslav Dzyra, Vira Lisova. Someone made a cover. This literature raised awareness of many people.

Oksana Meshko with Vira Tkachenko came to see me in 1989 or 1990. Oksana started grilling me: “Why would not you go into public work, with your experience?”  

Someone told her who I was, so that she was not afraid to offer such thing. After all I might have shown her my party membership card…

Ye.Sverstyuk: By that time you might have shown whatever you willed, it would not matter. Olga Bobus’ka-Stadnyk from Mukachevo also reminisces how she used your books. And Stanislav Repyakh, too.

V.Ovsienko: But how did you manage to bring all these books from Germany? Over one hundred books make a huge parcel.  

I.Brovko: I was a big shot – coming from Berlin as a train master, and the train had 20 coaches and was full of men and officers, secretly bringing the rocket [to the USSR].  And one of the flatbeds carried my car, which I have bought in Berlin with Elsa’s help. It contained a lot of porcelain, cutlery, presented by Elsa, and also the books. All that stuff I brought to Kobelyaky.

Ye.Sverstyuk: And this tea-spoon you see is from there as well.

I.Brovko: From Elsa. Some things disappeared. Cousins would come:”Lend us a booki”. They borrow it and I never see it again. But later I transferred everything to Pushcha-Vodytsya. In Pushcha everything was safe. 

Ye.Sverstyuk: As safe as can be, but you had secret searches there.

V.Ovsienko: In what years did they happen?

Ye.Sverstyuk: The first search happened in 1960.

 May of 1960 was a most busy and contrasting month for me. At the beginning everything looked fine. I finished my doctorate thesis. Immediately after the May holidays I was offered to head the chair of pedagogical studies in Kyiv State University, where I was working as associate professor at the time. I detected no clouds in my sky and the future promised honest and diligent work.   But things are not what they seem. First, in mid-May I was summoned by the minister of higher education Dadenkov and ordered to leave immediately for Chernivtsy and join the commission supervising the operation of the local university. “Hurry up, - he stressed – They are waiting for you already”. Upon my arrival in Chernivtsy I found out that the head of the said commission an associate professor Chernyavksy from Kyiv road transport institute had in fact been waiting for me. As it turned out later, his impatience was caused not by the need to use my help, but rather by the need to control my every step and word. While I had been in Chernivtsy, the security bodies in Kyiv subjected my family, friends, professors and students to a meticulous questioning and intimidation. Even my elderly mother, returning from Kyiv to Poltava region, was taken off the train, escorted to an isolated room in Poltava station and searched, rudely and unceremoniously. 

On my way back from Chernivtsy, I was detained by KGB officials in Kyiv. First they took me home, showed a search warrant, and for almost a whole day, three plain-clothed youngsters kept going through my library.

In the course of one hour the most valuable books collected first by my grandfather, then my father and, finally, myself, has been carried to a car and sent, alongside with the owner, to the ill-famed building, at 33 Volodymyrska str. Hrushevksy, Yefremov, Vynnychenko, Oles’, B.Lepkiy, as well as Sophia Rusova, Berdyaev, Freud and many others were among the authors of the confiscated books, banned at the time.   

I was faced with the routine accusation of “libeling Leninist national policy” and of “anti-Soviet activity”. Threats, interrogations and promises lasted for almost a week. Meeting with general Shulszhenko, the KGB chief for Ukraine was the climax.  I remember being summoned to the KGB house, at 33 Volodymyrska str. They talked to me, they reprimanded me, asked how I, an officer of the secret units, a rocket expert, could have got into a mess of fraternizing with nationalists, found a certain Sverstyuk and others. “You will find yourself in big trouble with your extravagances. – I was told. – We’ll throw you out of the University; throw you out of the party. So you’d better put an end to it.” That general Shulzhenko, who later was killed on a train, talked to me in Ukrainian: “How could it happen that you ended up on that nationalistic path?” And I answer: “I follow the path, chosen by my grandfather and father – the path of a hard-working Ukrainian”. He interrupts me to say “The only right way is the Leninist way, and you as a communist should be aware of that! Once again: the only right way is the Leninist way. If you do not come to your senses and make the right decision, you will find big trouble waiting on your path”.  

V.Ovisenko: your grandfathers’ and father’s [path]…

I.Brovko: It was said so aphoristically, I still remember it.

Ye.Sverstyuk: I probably will not take this “ABC”, it has no religious element at all. Well, for the sake of the cover, may be.  .

І.Brovko: I am grateful to God who allowed me to live to such a venerable age and be here with you, in such atmosphere… It is really wonderful, as God is my witness! I am happy with life. In a couple of days the “Suzirya”[Constellation-Ukr.] magazine – a very good magazine, too - editor will come - I am writing about Korolyov in the educational focus, as an example for kids. I will highlight Korolyov’s Ukrainian links, definitely. It is 50% ready.  

I feel much better, when I work, keeps me busy. When I ‘m idling I get sick…

 MY PARTICPATION IN THE 60-S MOVEMENT

(From Brovko’s memoir about Borys Antonenko-Davydovych// Bonfire.  Borys Antonenko-Davydovych as seen by his contemporaries.  – Compiled by B. Tymoshenko. – K. Olena Teliha publishers, 1999. – Pp.161-173.

On that day, May 30, 1960, they let me go, but the next day I received a phone call summoning me to the University party bureau meeting. Charges remained the same: libel and anti-soviet activity.   

The party bureau secretary was especially mad with the fact in my lectures I used to quote “the worst enemy of the Ukrainian people Hrushevsky”, in his words. He concluded that this fact alone would be enough to expel Brovko from the party and ban him from teaching the university students.

Party bureau members had to vote for this motion. I saw my former friends, colleagues, even comrades in arms from the war times, unanimously raising their hands in support of the secretary’s proposal.

After the meeting not a single person approached me, no one talked to me or even said good bye. Bent, without looking at one another, they hurried towards the exit like mice, trying to get back to their offices as soon as they could. 

I was the last to leave a conference hall of the red building. Thrown out, humiliated, lonely and stigmatized, I was silently saying my farewells to the university, which I have loved, respected and wanted to serve to my best capacity. I did not feel guilty any more. 

I turned on Shevchenko Boulevard and noticed three young men on a bench to my right. Suddenly one of them jumped to his feet and came to me. He stopped, gave me a hug and said “Ivan Benedyktovych, don’t let go, we love you, thank you for all the good things you’ve shared with us”. He kissed me, rapidly turned around and went back to join his friends. It was Volodya Pidpaly, a young poet and one of my philology students. His kiss, his sincere words like curative remedy gave me strength to persevere – I felt desperate no more, I was sure of myself and of the righteousness of my beliefs.

When I found myself home and alone, I started to think: “How shall I live from now on? What is there in store for me for tomorrow?” My brain was feverishly looking for the right answers.  In the evening I had a telephone call. Cautiously, I picked up the receiver, and heard a male voice I did not recognize and beautiful Ukrainian language. It was Borys Dmytrovych Antonenko-Davydovych. He said he would like to meet me, and, if possible, the next day at noon would be the best time to do it, at his place, if I were available.  I answered that certainly, I would be happy and honored, but… I happen to be under (“the net” I wanted to say), but just said …a heavy roof. B.D. answered “We all live under the same roof, but I hope it will not be an obstacle to our meeting”. He gave me his phone number and address, and, while saying good-bye, added “See your tomorrow, on May 31”.

I kept thinking about the next day’s meeting. I certainly have heard about B.Antonenko-Davydovych even much earlier, still as a student in the pedagogical school, in 1930. After his return to Kyiv my university colleagues would visit him and tell me about that. But I personally have never met him before.

So, the time for the first meeting came. At 12:00 sharp B.D. personally opened the door and made a gesture to invite me inside. We shook hands. I saw a handsome and refined man of middle age and medium stature, with cleanly shaven face and thick lock of half-grey hair falling to the left side of his head. I also noticed kind and intelligent look in his eyes.

My host offered me a chair at his writing desk and occupied his own armchair.

Noticing that I was automatically examining the portraits on the wall, he said: up there is Panteleymon Kulish, then – Mykola Khvylovy, and closer to you – Hryhoriy Kosynka (the time will come when B.D. would tell me about the tragic death of this talented writer in the hands of enraged KGB men, a death which makes your blood freeze…).

That was the end of the “portrait” warming-up. It reminded me of a popular saying – tell me who you your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.

Without beating about the bush, B.D. moved to the issues which led to this meeting. He was interested in the party bureau meeting in the university. The rumors about it spread immediately, especially among the teacher’s body and Kyiv intelligentsia. But they were contradictory. Some said that a Ukrainian organization of the bourgeois-nationalistic nature has been destroyed; the others claimed that it was just an administrative punishment for nationally conscious professors and students. So, B.D.’ question was, what actually had happened there, a real debacle or just “home disciplining”.

I explained that there had been no debacle, as there was no one to destroy, i.e. no “bourgeois nationalists’’ organization in the University. The punishment, yes, was administered, a cruel and unfair one. But, probably, I was not the only victim. The active, nationally conscious professors and students have been penalized permanently, especially those defending Ukrainian language, culture, spirituality, those who demanded that lectures would be delivered and scientific papers written in their native language. I gave him a couple of most recent examples.

Recently a dean of the journalism department associate professor M.Shestopal was dismissed and branded as Ukrainian bourgeois nationalist. Obviously, he read his course in Ukrainian (Dismissed from work, suffering from the last war wounds, stigmatized, he died poor and lonely shortly after that). 

And how many persecutions and humiliations professor A.Holub had suffered! And for what reason? For introducing and using Ukrainian scientific terms in chemistry studies!  Any university of any country would be grateful to the professor and proud of him, but not Kyiv University. Here his research was treated as another manifestation of the persistent bourgeois nationalism. What a paradox!

Another example. Several Chinese and Vietnamese students were “planted” to the groups taught by professor of mathematics O.Parasyuk to make him teach in Russian. Then the professor offered to teach the Chinese and the Vietnamese students in Russian, as a separate group, free of charge, while continuing to deliver lectures in Ukrainian for the rest of the students. God almighty, what uproar followed! Professor was accused of all possible sins and vices. And such examples are numerous… 

Borys Dmytrovych agreed and asked me to tell about my own “sins”, especially about the reason of my expulsion from the university. Being aware of the fact that his apartment was bugged, I wrote the most radical pieces of my story on a sheet of paper and then handed it to him. 

My “sins” according to the official version, voiced by the secretary of the party bureau, consisted in quoting not only Marks and Lenin, but also Hrushevsky in my course of pedagogic, which I read to the students. When I gave examples from literature I used to refer not only to Gorky, but to O.Oles’, Vynnychenko; deliberating on specifically pedagogical issues I would refer to Makarenko and Sophia Rusova. Teaching psychology I would refer to Freud when need arose. All that allowed me to address the topics, related to the teaching process, in more depth and more convincing manner. But the secretary of the party bureau saw in my method nothing but the manifestation of “outrageous anti-sovietism”, class-hostile activity, which, allegedly, caused ideological damage to the soviet students.    

Charges of “anti-sovietism” at least made some sense as the “communo-chauvinists” could not even hear the name of Hrushevsky, on genetic level. But as to the charges of the “bourgeois nationalism”, they were not only false and biased, but also most treacherous. Judge for yourself.

In one of my lectures I mentioned that Ivan Franko had been the first Ukrainian writer to depict an organized workers’ movement; he did it in 1880  in “Boryslav laughing” novel. I also stated that the Russian writer Maxim Gorky had also described the workers’ movement, but much later, in his novel “Mother” written in 1905. Everything looks just fine, and can be corroborated by historic and literary facts and dates. But chauvinistic party and KGB bosses of the university managed to trace in my lectures the diminishing of the great proletarian writer Gorky. And, consequently, classified it as another manifestation of the Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism. And Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism deserves total condemnation and more…

Certainly, I had other “sins” too, e.g. completely negative assessment of S.Bandera’s assassination by a communist agent. I had no doubts at all about his death. This sin became crucial for my fate which was decided in May, at the party bureau meeting.

Our meeting with Borys Dmytrovych ended on an optimistic note. Although not exhaustive, my information was sufficient to conclude that the Ukrainian national idea was not dead, on the contrary, it was being revived rapidly, especially among talented youths and intelligentsia. The University of the Capital City played leading role in the process. The party bureau chauvinistic coven in May only confirmed this conclusion.  Very soon after that the patriotic movement in Ukraine will become known to the whole world under the name of the “movement of the 60-s”. Borys Dmytrovych was happy to hear about it, his soul rejoiced, as the freedom of Ukraine, to which he dedicated all his strength and health, was becoming tangible…

After the first meeting, our relations with Antonenko-Davydovych have remained friendly, transparent and mutually welcome for the next 25 years. We trusted each other. Often B.D. would invite me to his home, and I would see him with his wife at my place. It was at his apartment that I met V.Stus and H.Snyegiryov. I’d like to recapitulate some episodes in our mutual history.

Episode one. Presentation of the novelBehind the screenin Nizhyn N.Gogol pedagogical institute

After almost two years of unemployment I finally was allowed to teach in the high school and given the position of associate professor of psychology in Nizhyn pedagogical institute. It was 1962. Following de-glorification of Stalinism the Ukrainian national liberation ideas rapidly progressed. Almost spontaneously a group of nationally conscious professor was set up in the pedagogical institute. I remember bring from Kyiv Ivan Dzyuba’s essay “Internationalism or Russification?” What a consolidating impact it had for us, for professors and students equally!  Then this essay reached Prague and Bratislava, and, eventually, Canada and the USA.

In October1965 the dean of philology department Hryhoriy Avrakhov invited Borys Antonenko-Davydovych to make a presentation on his book “Behind the screen”. The author accepted the invitation.

The celebration started at 5.00 pm in the institute hall. The students and professors from all departments (not just from philology department) filled it to capacity. The deputy rector and the secretary of the party organization were present too.

The opening speech was delivered by the department dean associate professor Avrakhov. He introduced Borys Dmytrovych properly, and then proceeded to describe his work “Behind the screen”. It was an unusual presentation of a book aimed at the young audience. Avrakhov, who himself taught Ukrainian and world literature, drew attention of the future teachers to the eternal problem of fathers’ and sons’ relations as reflected in the Ukrainian and world literature, giving examples from “Behind the screen”. He recommended it highly to his young audience.

Then the floor was given to another staff member, Lesya Kotsyuba, who also taught Ukrainian literature. She assessed the novel as one of the best works of the Ukrainian literature in post-war writing. Analyzing two central protagonists – doctor Postolovsky and his ultimately sick mother, the speaker unambiguously and fearlessly stated: “Today it is our mother, the Ukraine, that is laying behind the screen, seriously sick and helpless, while her sons, as indifferent as Postolovsky, are waiting for her demise. This is my subjective perception of the plot – she specified before continuing – The author managed to show the outstanding and the great through the small and the insignificant. This is the writer’s style. Read his novel “Death” and you will recognize it. And this is the essence of the writer’s talent.”

Lesya’s speech was met with huge applause. But it was not unanimous. The administration and party bosses of the institute did not like it at all. Lesya Yosypivna was known for her categorical utterances, but this speech sealed her fate. Troubles, followed by persecutions, started the next day. The whole scenario, naturally, was directed by KGB. At night she was taken from her flat in Nizhyn and brought to 33, Volodymyrska str. in Kyiv. She was kept there for almost a week, but nothing could break the courageous woman. They let her go, but shortly after that she was dismissed from the institute. Then they set her son, and, eventually, her brother, who had been a colonel, against her. Without any means or help from indifferent son and brother, persecuted and humiliated she fell sick and died of despair.  Lesya Kotsyuba’s fate inadvertently mirrored the fate of the main protagonist  of “Behind the screen” – doctor Postolovsky’s mother.

But let us get back to the celebration in the institute hall. Many professors and students spoke after Lesya. All of them highly praised the book, and, especially, the beautiful and magical language, in which it was written. At the end the floor was given to Borys Dmytrovych. He clarified certain collisions of the plot, answered a lot of questions, thanked students, professors and the dean for organizing the event and receiving him so warmly.  A small group of admirers invited him to a dinner in a local restaurant. They were offered a separate room, where everyone felt at ease. They asked B.D. most varied questions, concerning his private life and long years, spent in the camps; his attitude to S.Bandera, how to oppose Russification. Some questions were risky, and the others outright provocative. Borys Dmytrovych sincerely thanked Lesya Yosypivna for her striking speech, which had left a deep impression on him, due to the right interpretation of the novel, and, mainly, due to the art of grasping the essence, of the main idea.    B.D. could not even fathom that very soon this charming woman, an authentic Ukrainian patriot would have to face a bitter destiny. For what sins? For her love of her own people, clear as a tear.

 Episode two. Trip to Panteleymon Kulishs grave in Motronivka

Borys Dmytrovych respected and highly valued Panteleymon Kulish. In 1969, when the 150th  anniversary of the writer was approaching, he invited me for a trip to Motronivka, to celebrate this anniversary at Kulish’s grave. It was August, 8. By the way, three days earlier, on August 5, B.D. had celebrated his 70-th anniversary. I gladly accepted his invitation. Yevhen Sverstyuk with his 10-year old son Andriy and Ivan Dzyuba joined us. Our plans were facilitated by the fact that I had a car so that we did not have to depend on anyone. In our preparations we avoided telephone communications, to spare KGB the trouble. With that goal in mind we agreed to restrict our commentaries and emotions, avoid discussions…Exception was made for B.D. only.

We did not use the phone to call each other, but instead agreed in advance on meeting at a certain place; I waited in my car by Brovary road, right near Kyiv, in the forest – the same forest, where the soviet political prisoners are buried, that is Bykivnya forest. They came there by bus and tram; I was waiting, so we hit the road. When we approached Lemeshy village, B.D. told us about the Rozumovsky dynasty. Then we visited Baturin museum to see the famous church, in which Kyrylo Rozumovsky was buried.

The weather was gorgeous. We put B.D. on the front seat, while Yevhen with Andriyko and Dzyuba stayed in the rear seats.

On Chernigov highway we passed Kozelets and were getting close to the next village. B.D. turned to us and said “And here we are passing Lemeshy, an outstanding village” Soon we understood that the status of “outstanding” referred to the fact that the whole dynasty of outstanding personalities originated from there, started by free Cossack Hryhoriy Rozum and continued by his descendents – counts, field-marshals, diplomats, academicians, hetmans.  

We had plenty of time and a long way to go, so we asked B.D. to share his vision of the Rozumovsky phenomenon.  

B.D. first pulled out a cigarette, lit it – he smoked far too much, by the way – and then started.

“– Rozumovksy family is a unique phenomenon – he said – may be, similar phenomena can be traced in the world history, but very few, if any. Each of the 5 Rozumovsky was a striking, unique personality with European education, so it is good to know that each of them also preserved something inherent for us, the Cossacks. And it was not just a birth mark for them, but something manifested actively and tangibly. Don’t misunderstand me here - I am not glorifying them as fighters for Ukraine. They served foreign, cruel and savage empire and were rewarded with counts’ and marshals’ titles, dozens of thousands serves and huge plots of land. Just like Shevchenko wrote: 

As Kyrylo and the elders

Shed wigs’ powder ‘round,

Licking boots of their empress,

Like a pack of hounds.

Shevchenko detested servility and would not tolerate this sign of slavery in anyone.

B.D. lit another cigarette contemplating the road in front of us, and then resumed:  

“Nevertheless, let’s look at Rozumovskys from another angle, plainly human. The aforementioned Kyrylo Rozumovsky, the submit the famous Hlukhiv petition demanding the restitution of the lost Cossacks’ privileges and the leave to set up a Sejm, like the one in Poland. And wasn’t it Kyrylo Rozumovsky again – asking the tsarina not to send Ukrainian troops to the wars which do not meet Ukrainian interests? 

 Tell me – Borys Dmytrovych gave us a brief look -  who among the current secretaries of the Communist Party of Ukraine would have the guts to send such a petition to Kremlin?

And wasn’t it Kyrylo Rozumovsky that demanded of tsarina the right for Ukraine to establish diplomatic relations with the European countries?

Setting up the first Ukrainian university in Baturin was hetman’s biggest achievement, and it was not his fault that the university had been banned by the tsarina.

He managed, however, to get a permit for opening elementary schools for Cossack children, and opened not hundreds, but thousands of these schools. That’s why the rate of children’s literacy in Ukraine was much higher in the late 18th century, than in the late 19th.

I am certain – B.D, said, - that hetman Kyrylo Rozumovsky cherished the dream of the independent Ukraine, and did his utmost to liberate it from the Russian supervision peacefully, to make it closer to Europe. Had the political and military situation in Ukraine been different at the time, he would have followed Mazepa in his endeavors. 

But that was not to happen. Catherine II was well aware of the fact that Ukraine without hetman Rozumovsky would be much safer and more reliable. That is why in 1764 the institutie of hetmans in Ukraine was banned. Grey, uneventful and joyless colonial existence followed.  

Hetmans used to rule Ukraine,

But these times would not return!

That’s how Taras Shevchenko described the event.

B.D. lit the umpteenth cigarette and proceeded with Rozumovsky’s phenomenon:

– Andriy Rozumovsky, Kyrylo Rozumovsky’s son, - he continued – was a most interesting person. As a Russian ambassador in Austria, he became pretty close with Mozart and Beethoven. He introduced this latter to the Ukrainian folk songs, the Ukrainian melodic structure as a whole. And, mind you: our Ukrainian tunes can be traced in three Beethoven’s quartets. Beethoven is well-known and listened to all over the world, and thanks to him our Ukraine eventually becomes known too. So many thanks to Andriy Rozumovsky!   

Another Kyrylo Rozumovsky’s son, Hryhoriy, also deserves special attention. He was an academician, specializing in geology. One of the minerals, discovered by him, still bears the family name in the world mineralogy – rozumovskite. He was familiar with and appreciative of Skovoroda’s philosophy, which definitely influenced his views.  

Probably, the third Rozumovsky son – Olexiy, did the least good for Ukraine. However, as a minister of education in Russia, he supported the opening of the first gymnasium in Kyiv.

But the personality of Kyrylo Rozumovsky’s older brother, Olexiy Hryhorovych, is completely legendary. A common cowherd from Lemeshy, he completely charmed the empress Elizaveta Petrovna and her courtesans with his uncommon voice and beauty. The tsarina decided to become his wife. And so she did. As a count and field-marshal the former cowherd never forgot Ukraine and did his best to restitute the autonomous rights of the Ukrainian people. In his era the hetmans’ rule in Ukraine was restored. 

No, the Rozumovskys were not prodigal sons of Ukraine. United by Cossack genealogy, they tried their best to help mother Ukraine, while serving an evil step-mother Russia. 

I believe – B.D. rapped up – the time will come when a monument to the Cossack Hryhoriy Rozum and his patriotic sons and grandsons is erected in the distinguished village of Lemeshy.

The car was approaching Motronivka turn. Someone suggested to visit Baturin first, and then, on our way back, drop by Motronivka. Everyone agreed and in ten minutes we were in Baturin.  

We started familiarizing with the Cossack capital in the local history museum. We entered a small one-storey building, where our attention was immediately caught by a room which housed the exhibits of the Russian-Swedish war of the early 18th century. In particular, we found a small book, called “Chernigov region”, if I am not mistaken. It was opened on a page with underlined text, about all residents’ uprising against Mazepa and the Swedish invaders. Menshykov, the Russian army commander, due to local residents’ support, gloriously won the battle against the enemy on November 2, 1708. Both Russian troops and local people celebrated the victory.  

Was it really what had happened? Did Russian soldiers and local people really hug and kiss each other, celebrating the victory? Numerous historical facts corroborate a different story. It is common knowledge that the Russian army units killed the local population with unusual bestiality, without sparing even the infants, the elderly and the women. The Baturin massacre, outrages and destruction of the whole town belong to the saddest and cruelest pages of the Ukrainian history.

So, who is telling the truth – history or Baturin museum exhibit?

We found another rare exhibit in the museum. The director took a paper out of a folder and handed it to us. It was Tsarina Catherine’s order banning the opening of the university in Baturin. We did not manage to copy the document, but I remember its essence: if gifted students from Little Russia want to study, let them come to Moscow University and satisfy their strife for knowledge. No need to open a university in Baturin for the inhabitants of Little Russia.

This waspish document bore tsarina’s signature at the time when Baturin University had been already set up and anticipating the happy moment, when a permit to open its doors and invite the first students and professors to the first lecture would be granted.

Ye.Sverstyuk inquired why this “relic” was kept in an archive folder and not exhibited for the benefit of the visitors. He received a brief response: “Forbidden from up above”.

Then we wanted to see the historical monument – the university itself. It was sitting on the high bank of the Sejm river. Four-storey brown stone building was still pleasant to the eye. But windows had holes, and weeds were covering half-dilapidated roof. All around one could see rubbish and neglect. It was obvious that no one had any use for this high and still sturdy building.

– Baturin university – the museum docent told us – had a very sad and tragic fate. It was closely linked to the name of the last Ukrainian hetman Kyrylo Rozumovsky. It was intended as the first European-type university in Ukraine, built in 1760-1764.

But severe Catherine’s decrees nipped it in the bud. Classrooms and halls full of light, with high ceilings, office, rich library, marble busts of Aristotle, Plato, Yaroslav the Wise stood there waiting for the students till 1861. This blessed year which had liberated millions of people from serfdom, became the blackest year for the university. It was then that it had been totally plundered and destroyed so that only the walls remained. These naked walls stayed there till late 19th century. In 1900 Andriy Rozumovsky’s descendents came from Vienna to Baturin. Due to their intervention the university had been completely rebuilt. The inauguration ceremony was scheduled for 1914. But, as we all know, the World War I began, then revolution in tsarist Russia, followed by the civil war. So once again, the history took its course: university was plundered and dilapidated for the second time, under the soviet regime.

And that was what we were beholding in August 1969. Some of us were looking at the university for the first time. Some have heard that unusual story of culture and education for the first time. Brought to life by the desire to disseminate knowledge and eternal values, it had been sitting there for two centuries as a symbol of outrages committed against Ukraine.  How could it happen? – We asked ourselves. Is there anything similar in the world? Catherine the tsarina did not want to see the university operating, and those who had come after her, preferred to keep ignoring it. Probably, they do not want an educated and smart Ukraine to exist.

The same day we learnt that the building had been given to a very rich fishery from Archangelsk, to make a resort out of it. And this is a tragic and instructive story of the first Ukrainian university.

We still had time and decided to visit the Resurrection church, the burial place for hetman Kyrylo Rozumovsky. We were most favorably impressed by it. A baroque structure was in rather decent condition. The building and surrounding courtyard were clean. In the middle of the church we saw the famous sculpture, presumably, made by Martos. A candle was burning under the glass lid. But it turned out all that had been faked. The first authentic monument had not survived. It was destroyed and plundered, like the whole temple itself.

It was high time to move to Motronivka. We left the church; my friends went right to the car, while I stepped into the nearest house to ask for a pale of water to cool the radiator. Waiting for it I read the funeral epitaph for Kyrylo Rozumovsky, inscribed in a marble slab, which sat, for God knows what reason, at the house porch: “Here the hetman of Ukraine is buried…”. When I understood it was placed there to clean dirty boots, I felt so upset that everything went dark before my eyes. Obviously it had been stolen from the crypt we just visited. My friends were not surprised hearing my report – that was the state policy maintaining that historic memory was redundant for the Ukrainian people.     Wiping feet over Rozumovsky’s grave was like wiping feet over Ukraine.

Twenty minutes later we arrived in Motronivka. Formerly it had been a farmstead, where Kulish and his wife Hanna Barvynok had spent their last years. Now it is a cattle farm of the local kolkhoz. We stopped at a green cleaning surrounded by trees and shrubbery, and followed a small path. There, in another cleaning we found Panteleymon Kulish’s grave, earthen, deeply sunk into the ground, with the large wooden cross at the head. Nearby we saw three more graves, also neglected and covered in weeds, but with no crosses over them. We asked the man passing by whose graves they were. He explained that the one closest to Kulish’s grave was the grave of his wife Hanna, then – the grave of her brother Vasyl Bilozersky, but he could tell us nothing about the third one. When we wondered why there had not been any crosses or even inscriptions on the graves, the man told us that Kulish’s grave had looked the same, and it was under the German occupation that local residents had erected the cross over it, and it is still there.  

It was two in the afternoon. People were walking by the path, but no one would get close to Kulish’s grave to stop there. There were no flowers or any other signs of care. It looked as though Motronivka farmers, busy with their  chores in kolkhoz, have forgotten their famous compatriot.

We approached the grave and bowed to it. Andriyko, the youngest member of our party, was with us. B.D. said:

– He loved Ukraine, lived for Ukraine and did a lot of good for its sake. His “Kulishyvka” brought order to our language, his “Chorna rada” became a harbinger of Ukrainian historical novel, his translations of Shakespeare, Byron and Goethe got us closer to the European culture, his Bible in Ukrainian got us closer to God. Rest in peace. Rest in peace, restless toiler, Taras’s friend, your people will never forget you! 

We completed our celebration of Kulish’s 150th anniversary by laying the flowers at his grave and also at the graves of Hanna Barvynok, Vasyl Bilozersky and the anonymous grave.

On our way back to Kyiv we felt like we have done something good and right, performed our duty. On the other hand we felt a tinge of bitterness: why Kulish’s grave was so neglected? Probably the main reason was related rather to imperial than class approach. Kulish’s love for Ukraine was inconvenient both for the tsars and the secretaries general. So that’s how they repaid him.

 Episode three. Visit to Poltava and Stary Sanzhary

God be praised, the trip to Baturin and Motronivka was successful. But we had much more of such trips. Another unforgettable journey was our trip to Poltava, Sorochyntsy fair and Stary Sanzhary, with Borys Dmytrovych and Ivan Makarovych Honchar. It was Ivan Makarovych who set up a goal for our trip – search and purchase of ethnic troves in Poltava region. After attending the fair, we had enough time to visit Opishnya, Stary Sanzhary and my native Kobelyaky.

We were most sadly disappointed by Stary Sanzhary, the native town of our dear human rights’ advocate Oksana Yakivna Meshko. It used to be a well-off and nice town, not a village. The famous Chumaks’ road passed through it. Shevchenko made a reference to it in its novel “The hired hand”. I have known this town since 1928. Broad and straight streets lined by maple trees always fascinated me. Neat white houses with orchards and flowerbeds surrounded the street on both sides. Hard-working and well-to-do people, the descendents of Zaporizhzhya Cossacks used to live there.

Stary Sanzhary supported the Central Rada, and the young men of the town joined Petlyura’s army. Peasants opposed forced collectivization desperately. The soviet power took its revenge on freedom-loving and independent residents of Stary Sanzhary.

First reprisals were imposed on them right after the civil war. Almost one third of population had been condemned and sent to Siberia or shot. Father and a brother of Oksana Meshko were among the killed, while another brother and two sisters fled and were lost in the wide world.   Another third of population was killed by the famine of 1933 which had struck Stary Sanzhary with especial cruelty, as a revenge for earlier participation in Petlyura’s army and good “kulaks’ “farming. The rest of population was finished after the war with fascist Germany. Even the name of the town had been changed to the village of Reshetnyky. And the next year, 1947, Oksana Meshko was first convicted.  

We left Stary Sanzhary with heavy hearts – former rich and picturesque Cossack town Stary Sanzhary had been transformed into half-dilapidated, poor kolkhoz village of Reshetnyky. When he was back in the car, B.D. held the left side of his chest, bent his head and asked for a sip of water.

Next day we returned to Kyiv via Kremenchuk and Zolotonosha.

Getting to the end of my memoir I would like to mention also our impressive trips with B.D.  to Uman’, where we visited Nadia Surovtseva, and to Kaniv, to visit Shevchenko’s grave. Then I first heard from him the tragic recollection of H.Kosynka’s assassination, of Stalin’s reception of the group of Ukrainian writers in 1929, of Zeleny troops and Trypillya tragedy, of his participation in the liberation fight at the time of the civil war, specifically in Proskuriv.  

And then we would come back. We were always very careful in our driving, as we did not want to be stopped by militia. But everything worked out all right.

... Borys Dmytrovych is no longer with us. But every time, visiting my mother’s grave at Lisove cemetery, I would visit B.D.’s grave as well, to leave some flowers and thank God for the opportunity to know this Knight of courage and spiritual strength, who had left a deep impression of humanness in my soul, and helped me to preserve my own humanity in the toughest of times.   

 Episode four.  Meeting with Vasyl Stus.

(Recorded on October 11,  2003)

I remember B.D. calling me on one occasion and inviting me to his home. I arrived. They were sitting there together with Vasyl Stus in his apartment, on the second floor, in B.Khmelnitsky street ( at the time called Lenin street).

V.Ovsienko: Later Mykola Danylovych Rudenko (19.12. 1920 – 1.04. 2004), occupied that flat  # 68, house # 24.

I.Brovko: I’ve heard about it. It was a nice coincidence. He introduced me to V.Stus, so B.D. made the introductions in his way. Stus looked very tense at the beginning, because of the third person present. But eventually he relaxed.  Here is what I remember from his conversation.  He said he was living in Kyiv, which was very boring. Then he mentioned the names of the peopled that used to be his colleagues in the institute of literature prior to his arrest. He said they were afraid of meeting him – they would shake his hand and then point to the watch “I am in a big hurry, sorry!” and run away. And gave more examples like that. He said he felt so lonely that he would have been better off back in the camp! Jokingly he added: “At least there are friends there, to talk, to open one’s heart to, while here in Kyiv, it’s worse than camps!” We smiled but there was a lot of truth in his utterance. People were cowardly and would not keep in touch with him.

V.Ovsienko:  It happened probably between August 1979 and his second arrest on May, 14, 1980 – Stus was in Kyiv then. (Vasyl Yaklymchyk claims this meeting occurred in March 1980. – Ed.).

I.Brovko: I don’t remember anything else from that conversation. V. Stus was really stunned to find out upon his return from exile to Kyiv that people had been so intimidated, paralyzed by the ideology and petrified that they would avoid him and run away. That was soviet democracy for you.


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