KURCHYK Mykola Yakovych
Ovsienko V.V.: Our conversation with Mykola Kurchyk is taking place on the 21st of June 2012 at his home. The name of the village is Nadia, based in the Koretckiy area of Rivne region. Mr. Kurchyk, please tell me about yourself.
Kurchyk M.Y.: I was born on 13th of May 1924 in a small village named Adamivka in Rivne region, in a poor family. We came to live here, where I currently am, in 1933 – my father bught thos hamlet from a German guy named Vielde Friedrich. It used to be a German colony called Koloverty – we belonged to this village. In 1948 however, we had been cut off and started belonging to the village Haralug. A very old a village that was. Haralug is translated as “green field” from Tatar tongue. This place used to be famous for its swords and that's where the name is from. There used to be metal mines here with plenty of swamp metal.
Ovsienko V.V.: There is also a village called Zaliznitsya here, yes?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, it also belongs to Halarug but it had a forge, not mines. In 1933 my father bought this hamlet from that German, and the German guy left for Brazil or Argentina, i'm not sure. My father bought 8 or even 10 acres of land at first and then some more. This hamlet stayed until 1941 and then the communists tried to make a kolkhoz here but failed. They came in 1939 and organized everything but were short of time. After the War nevertheless, they did organize a kolkhoz here but later, in 1948 and our village had been cut off again. We are based in the middle of a triangle between Haralug, Zaliznitsya and Koloverty, so we had been made part of Haralug instead of Koloverty. I went to school there, 3 km away from my house.
Ovsienko V.V.: What's that village called?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Koloverty. I went to the second grade there. My first grade was in Yanivka – a Polish territory at the time so the school was also Polish. I graduated from the fourth grade in Koloverty and ahd only two lessons of Polish a week because there were no Polish pupils around.
Ovsienko V.V.: You used the word “powszechna school”. What does that mean? You mean secondary?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, secondary. Later I studied in a school in Mezhyrichi – a very old village dating back to XVth century. It had a secondary school with 7 grades. It had up to 1000 pupils but all the subjects were given in Polish apart from literature and grammar. There were two lessons of Ukrainian a week and all the rest was in Polish. That was the time when religion came onto schools as a separate subject two times a week. A priest came twice a week and taught us th God's Law.
Ovsienko V.V.: Was he a priest or a pope?
Kurchyk M.Y.: A pope, thank you. His name was Shumskiy – a great priest. He had his lessons in Ukrainian. It common then that Ukrainians went to school beside Jews an Polish. Twice a week, as I mentioned, we had religion lessons so a rabbi came to Jewish children and a catholic priest came to Polish children and Shumskiy came to us.
I attended that school for five years and stayed at my grandmother's flat for some time in the nearby village called Nevirkova. It's my mother's home village.
Ovsienko V.V.: Could you please name your mother's female family name and first name?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Demchuk Sofia Andriyvna. So my grandfather's name was Andriy.
Ovsienko V.V.: And please name her birth date and lifetime period.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Well, my grandmother was old, her name was Paraskeva. My mother was a sew master by profession. They were the richest Demchuk family in Nevirkove. They had around 25 acres of land and lived just across the road from the local cathedral. We had a cathedral, yes, and a military base. The base was a border department, they were guarding the borders. There was an officer school and cavalry. I graduated from school in 1941... But I'm running ahead.
In 1939, when the soviets came to us, we were returned one grade back in school, so we stayed pupils until 1941. I didn't even get a notification about graduating from school before the War because the soviets sent Russian teachers here for re-educating us.
During the Constitution knowledge exam I asked: “Why is Ukraine not independent?” I received an unsatisfactory mark and was refused the notification about graduation.
There was another incident concerning a daughter of a KGB agent. There used to be a drugstore near the school and the soviets made it their headquarters when they came in 1939. A jew was made the head of the NKVD base and his daughter attended the same school we did, although she was seated separately in the classroom. We had boys and girls separated in the classroom in those days. Girls desk, then boys desk... She was seated just in front of me. We knew she was jewish. I called her that aloud and asked the teacher to have taken her some place else. She heard it... Not a nice girl she was... She ran out of the classroom and then came back with a militiaman and the school director after the lesson. “Mykola, you're called to the head's office”. I entered the room and her father asked me: “What right did you have to offend her like that?”, “How did I offend her?” – I asked. “You called her a jew”, – “It's common here, we call them that in Ukrainian”, – “You alled her something else”, – “Yeah, so what?”
He told me off and asked of who my father was. I said that he was far away. “You be careful kid. If you say anything like that again, we will force you away to Siberia”. I remembered his words 'till today.
When I told this story to the teacher during the exam she denied me my graduation notification.
Ovsienko V.V.: You mean the 7th year graduation notification?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes. I told this to local men and they told me to run because the soviets were after me. They were right: a car came right in front of us and grabbed three pupils from the 10th year. So I was told to run even though I had another exam to have passed. So I ran away... And then the War came in 1941... I went to my dad's hamlet. I was a teenager when the War had started. Polish soldiers were recruiting us and teaching military disciplines. In Ukrainian, not Russian. I attended on my own will. The Germans came in 1941 and moved into all the buildings. They even had their own regional head. Local administrations were elected from the locals, although most of them were part of the Organization. I was then called up by Balanchuk, a local head, and he asked me: “Mykola, we need to send you the colonies, where German schools used to be. You will be teaching 4th year kids and younger”. So I was given school books and sent to the colonies. There was a guy, Kobylinaskiy, from Kiev region. He had been taken hostage and possessed higher education pedagogic diploma. He was appointed to teach together me.
There was a German colony just three kilometers away. One of three colonies which had schools and churches during Polish occupation. In 1940 all Germans fled – there was an agreement that all Germans go home and all those who had been forcefully moved to Germany will come back to their homes. There were 132 German families here, so there were more Germans than Ukrainians. Those Germans lived wealthy. They came hear back in 1861 and some of them had a lot of land which they were selling for 3 golden rubles per one acre. Ukrainians weren't buying it however because they feared that the land would be taken away any day. So Germans sold land to other Germans many of whom started coming here more and more. They stayed, as was said until 1940. They had the school which was now under our control. It had fugitives and displaced people from over river Booh. There were locals too of course. And we ere teaching them until 1944, so for almost two years me and the hostage guy had been teaching kids in a previously German school. There were more than 100 children.
And then the front came came to our land around New Year at the beginning of 1944. The soviets came for he second time and I decided to go underground, so on the 14th of January 1944 I vowed to URA and OUN. We had been given arms. Recruitment was i the air and everybody heard of the fact that it should take place any time soon. The procedure had been cancelled later on but we kept our weapons. Most of the youngsters we had vowed the same way I did. During my oath I was given a call – Vernyvolia (Freedom return). I chose it personally. When I was thinking of it, I thought that I if I survive then Ukraine shall gain independence... So there I was, from 1941 to 'till the 12th of March 1945... When Vatutyn was injured we had a giant demonstration here. The soviets had to throw a whole army here to keep us down. A garrison had been set up in every village. But after that they took away all the youngsters...
Ovsienko V.V.: They took them to the soviet army?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes. That's another interesting thing. We had our own Security service. All the participants were doing that they were good at. I was subordinate to a regional Security manager named Iskra (Spark) – he was a neighbor of ours, living just a few kilometers away from village Zaliznitsia. Our duty was to point out spies trying to infiltrate and we also took part in small protests. I took part in the protest near village Velyki Mezhyrichi and Soshyni, where the telephone line was located. We came at night, armed and prepared. We cut down all the wires leaving that region without communication. There were some other small protest activities but my main job was to write reports. By that time I was very good at writing even on cigarette paper. There was a factory here in Mokvyn... Or was there?.. So every village wrote reports on how things were going in their region, who was taken hostage, who was killed. So that's what I was doing. Next: any squad passing through our territory must have been reported on. On the other hand we had been ordered to evade combat with the soviets in case we see them. I personally was told: “Mykola, you should keep yourself safe at any cost”. We knew we'd loose the War, so partisans were like suicide warriors. However we were massive, so there was a lot of data to be saved. Because when the front had passed us, all the major groups like URA-South and URA-North had been disbanded into smaller groups. And then Shukhevych came to power, but was killed in 1950s.. I don't remember...
Ovsienko V.V.: On the 5th of March 1950.
Kurchyk M.Y.: No. Because a friend of mine was in prison in Lviv at the time and he saw Shukhevych's dead body... And the dead body everyone keeps talking about is anotherthing found by Chervoniy in Zhytomyr region...
That time when Vatutyn had been injured in some skirmish against the URA – that was, factually, a set up by his own soviets against him...
Ovsienko V.V.: Whichever way, he was just injured and it was easy to save him, but they deliberately let the wound grow into a gangrene which killed him in the end.
Kurchyk M.Y.: By then he already had contacts with us as partisans. As well as Rudniv, as you know... And Kovpak himself had negotiations with us here, at the banks of river Horyn. We let them through that time, although we could have kept them as hostage. But our leader negotiated that they were to obey us in Halychyna and stop picking on civilians.
Ovsienko V.V.: By the way, the widely know theory about Vatutyn is that he was forced to sign a paper according to which he was shot by the followers of Bandera. He refused to do it. He wasn't even Vatutyn in case you didn't know. His surname was Vatutya.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, I know, he originated from the same land as us – from Vynnytsya region. The same as the guy who killed Konovalets – Sudoplatov. The soviets knew how to nake others do their dirty work. They killed Bandera the same way.
I remembered this one time when I had a task and we had the URA cavalry with Lyvarniy as their head. He was from Halychyna, injured numerous times. They set up a camp just a few kilometers away, on a colony territory. During a combat they shot back and ran towards us for help and cover. But that was at day and we mostly worked during the night and rested during day. So there I was – I just came home and found that the soviets are raiding our hamlet and these Polish shooters were already present. Nine of those soldiers died during that assault. I had a school mate in their squad, he was a bit older than me – Formaniuk Dmytro. He originated from Braniv if I remember correct.
And the soviet soldiers came for me. I had a note concerning who I was and where I as from. I looked very young then. So they came, talked to me and left. They had these Polish soldiers with them, and one of them, Zigmund Zhukovsy said: “Oh, Mykola, you still here?”, – “Yes, I am. I'm not supposed to be in the army yet.”, – “Wrong you are. You are older than you look.” – he said and they arrested me. They arrested 30 men and 1 woman. Basically they took away all the youngsters in the village. We were then held in Haralug for three days and then took us Velyki Mezhyrichi where the NKVD base was.
Ovsienko V.V.: Any specific district of that area?
Kurchyk M.Y.: There was a drugstore then near the place. They locked us in one of the nearby buildings with the second floor used for interrogation. They tortured people there. In 1941 I had my mother's cousin tortured there to death, I don't recall his name though. He used to be called Uzhva – that's all I remember. He was tortured to death in that room together with seven other people. The grave they'd been buried in was found in 1941 by the Germans. The government agents were burying people they'd killed on the territory which used to be flooded with water some time ago. One Polish woman saw them do it and she told everything about it to the Germans when they came. There was a big funeral on such occasion. I carried the flag of Ukraine for the first time on that funeral. Yaroslav Stecko also took part and even made a speech. There were thousands of people there on that funeral. Relatives where recognizing people dug up from the handmade graves by their clothes.
No one payed any attention to me for a month, so I just stayed there imprisoned. After that they sent me to the military office and none of those offices currently posses the information from those days. Basically they were taking youngsters to War without even writing down their names. In 1944, when the front was here, they were taking civilians and forcing them to run unarmed towards the border, I saw it myself. There was a truck with weapons next to those poor people but no one ever gave them any weapons. During the military office procedures we were guarded by Polish soldiers in soviet uniform. We had been held inside the military office for around 2 weeks and sent to Lviv and Rivne. They gathered around 800 people in Lviv and then forcefully transferred us to Bila Tserkva near the Capital. We traveled by trains with an armed soldier traveling with us. Those guardsman soldiers said that we were not taken to the front but otherwise – deeper into Ukraine. There were also situations when people disabled the armed guardsman and ran off. My personal goal was to get out of Ukraine by any means.
And then we arrived to the 144th additional marine base in Bila Tserkva. It had around 10 000 people. Every night a part of them was laving for the front since the War was still in progress. I missed this part and stayed at the military base which was dismissed only after the Japanese war. I knew I had been redirected to go to the sea but I also knew that there was a group to Germany. I bribed the clerk who was preparing the papers.
Ovsienko V.V.: How did you bribe him?
Kurchyk M.Y.: I gave him money. He was Ukrainian. I said I wanted to go to Germany and asked him to write my name into the list. We, as the ones going to Germany, were well dressed and armed but we weren't let out. We were held on standby until the end of the War.
Ovsienko V.V.: Which one? Soviet-German or Japanese?
Kurchyk M.Y.: German. After that War they started letting us out a bit.
Ovsienko V.V.: So, you didn't take part in any battles, right?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, correct.
Ovsienko V.V.: However, you are considered to be a veteran? The same as Lev Lukianenko?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, because the War was still on.
Ovsienko V.V.: For the checkists, by the way, that War was in progress until 1952. That's what their veteran notifications say.
Kurchyk M.Y.:Yes, I know.We were once taken into a town called Finnstenvalde, not far from Berlin.
But that's another thing. I want to tell you about how they punished us at the 144th base. There was never enough bread, and the bread they gave us was always half baked. We had to share loaf of bread for a dozen of men. The only thing which saved me was that my mom came to see me and brought some money.
Ovsienko V.V.: She came all the way to Germany?
Kurchyk M.Y.: No, she came to Bila Tserkva. To the 144th military base. It was like this: wake up, grab your rifle, shovel, gas mask, backpack and run around the town the whole day always hungry. Then we slept 8 hours and then running again. And then, when the War has ended, we were taken away from the town for training. That military base still stands if I recall correct.
Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, they still stand.
Kurchyk M.Y.: There was also a military airport there.It was all guarded and strict. We were allowed to stand near the fence of the base so free people could come and give us food from over the fence. We bought it from them when we had money and that kept us alive...
Once we were inside Germany our squad was dismissed and I was taken closer to Berlin. I was part of a squad made up mostly of Ukrainians.
But allow me to say another few words about Bila Tserkva. We also took part in harvesting. In May and June we cut grass. Our sergeant was a nice guy and he let us visit surrounding villages. I was asking questions about the Hunger times. Not only there, near Zhytomyr too, when we had to go there for cleaning – that was after Bila Tserkva.
I want say something about the Hunger. Back when I was in school at the Koloverty village, doing my third year, the teacher told us of the Hunger in 1933. The border was close, maybe 20 kilometers. Some of those who ran away told of this Hunger. The teacher told us that there had even been cases of cannibalism. She crying while telling us of it. She said: “Tell your parents to save some money for the Red Cross”. I told this to my father and he gave a gold coin which was a lot of money then. One gold coin could buy you 16 kilograms of wheat. I took the money and gave it to my teacher but the Soviet Union declined this help.
Another thing – when I was in Germany, most of my surrounding were Ukrainians. I found people who thought the same as I did – Starepravo Igor and Bondarchuk Vasyl. Bondarchuk had a relative in America. We contacted his relative and he advised us turn to Americans. I myself had the same thoughts because sooner or later the soviets would have found out of who I was and where I came from. We made friends with a German lady then. Bondarchuk became the head of the officer diner later and made close friends with the German lady. She, in her turn, contacted the American sector and asked whether soviet soldiers could swap sides. Americans said that it was possible. So then, a month before the Berlin blockade we swapped sides. Sadly, we were spotted during our sneak away and the informational channels immediately spread the news that three soldiers ran away after shooting down a soviet officer. As a result, we were interrogated as soon as we came to the American checkpoint. Well, not exactly interrogated... They recorded our data and the fact that we asked for political asylum in the United States. You could do something like that then. After that procedure, however, a colonel came to see us and asked about our alibi against the accusation on murdering soviet officers. We had no proof that we never committed anything like that so they gave us back to the soviets in Berlin. They handed us to the SMERSH special forces.
And then there was the prison. There used to be factory instead but they rebuilt it into a prison. No one ever came out alive from that prison. I even remember my cell number – No. 40. There were other cells with windows but my cell didn't even have that. Those were the very special cells, the doors were sealed and there were air fans to get the air inside. They played with us by turning the fans off so the air would stop coming in. “Officer! Some air please!”
During my stay in Germany I did sports do I was quite fit and weighed over 80 kilograms. And then in four months they carried me out and transferred into an open prison...
Ovsienko V.V.: You mean Zachselhousen?
Kurchyk M.Y.: No, that was another prison where we stood trial. This was just an open Berlin prison. I had a half flooded cell there. Every day we had to take water out of it because the floor was letting water through. I guess they'd done it on purpose. That must have been the place I fell ill in. The doctor which came to see me said that I would survive because I was young enough.
All that had passed however. We spent another three months there and there and order from Moscow stated that we should go through trial again. When we were taken back to the soviet side from Americans we said that we simply lost our way and local German girls took us to the American side by mistake. And the Americans never said that asked for asylum. However, the soviets changed my personal file somehow and I didn't see any information on the data I'd given them when they took me into custody from Americans. The fact remains, whatsoever – Americans gave us away. When that notification from Moscow came to take us through trial again, we stated the truth: that we wanted to run away. After that the tree of us were imprisoned in Lichtenberg prison, Shpandau region. We got 25+5 years each according to the new law from 1947. In a month or so we were taken to the Zachselhousen concentration camp, where Bandera and others were located.
Ovsienko V.V.: That's not far from Berlin, right?
Kurchyk M.Y.: It was part of Berlin. Moreover – it was a separate district of Berlin. All the buildings had only one floor and a T-shaped prison in the middle of the territory with Bandera inside. When we arrived the guards greeted us the “followers of Bandera” because he was imprisoned there. We didn't know that though.
Ovsienko V.V.: The guards were from GDR or the same ones as with Hitler in charge?
Kurchyk M.Y.: No-no. GDR didn't exist yet. I stood trial in 1948, and then the Zachselhousen... There were whole trains of prisoners going towards the Soviet Union. They had Russian emigrants, ordinary criminals and even afro-americans...
Ovsienko V.V.: Also considered anti-soviet...
Kurchyk M.Y.: There was a train station inside the camp. In March a train came in and we were all loaded inside like cargo. We were so tired and hungry that some people needed help just to get inside the train. I weighed 52 kilograms instead of the usual 80. We traveled through Poland and the train moved only in daylight. That was the same time the AK were still present – Army of Krayov, and there have been cases when they stopped trains. That was the reason we traveled only during day and stopped in at night. It took 11 days to get through Poland. A few carriages were dropped of in Brest-Lytovsk and I happened to be in one of them. We were taken separately then. Changed carriages to mail wagons rebuilt inside to be an isolation cell. I met two girls from Lviv there with babies. These girls even gave us some bread.
After Brest-Lytovsk I had negotiations with local partisans and received 5 days of isolation punishment for that. I spent 6 days there instead of 5 and then was taken straight to the carriage. The route was Orel – Moscow, Krasnayz Presnia – Kuibyshev – Sverdlovsk – Petropavlovsk, not the one on Kamchatka, but in Kazakhstan. And then straight to village Kengyr in Karaganda region. Not far from Balkhasha.
What I want to say here is that when I was in Berlin, I made contact with Kazakhstan concentration camps. And later two of my school friends – Hranicka Vira and Bondar Halya – also happened to be there. Vira got 25 years of imprisonment, she was taken away from the Lviv institute. Halya got 15 years of labor works as a communication agent. And another one – Vyun Nadia – my classmate from the school in Mezhyrichi, also had to do labor works. I was writing letters to them from Germany and even received a few back. In Germany, can you imagine? How did I do it? I'll tell you. One of the seniors got demobilized, I can't recall his name now, and I wrote a letter home and asked him to take it there. Then I asked for addresses of certain sentenced people and they gave me what I requested. Field mail was being checked in those days but I didn't write any surnames. I even received a few letters back. It happened so that on the 1st of May 1949 I met these ladies in Kengyr – Vira, Halya and Nadia. I met my neighbors here. Even met my nephew by my mother's line. And so I lived on like that.
I spent one and a half years in Kengyr and then I started hearing rumors that I was to be sent to New Land. The rumors concerned me because I knew that young people were needed there – at the mines. Kengyr was divided into sectors – two male sectors and one female – around 3000 people in total. The fourth sector was the T-shaped prison building. When the recruitment had been announced I was just returning from a check. I heard it and hid in a cargo box closer to the female part of the camp. The train was close – I heard it. This meant that the transfer has started. They announced me as runaway and when I came back they punished me with isolation for 15 days. I spent 10 days in isolation and then was taken straight to the transfer.
Ovsienko V.V.: What year was it?
Kurchyk M.Y.: 1950 or 1951. I was taken to Karaganda and then to the widely known “Death Valley”. They say that place had around 3 000 000 prisoners.
Ovsienko V.V.: Disabled people too?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Disabled, ill – it was a horrible place. It was divided into five zones and rounded by a stone fence. We were set to live in the T-shaped prison building.
Ovsienko V.V.: Germans burned people and soviets forced to starve...
Kurchyk M.Y.: There is data of 100 000 prisoners there. They sent good shaped, strong people there. The place was a big copper mine with the biggest forge factory. That's in Balhash. After a half a year in that mine people received silicosis and were then sent to the “Death Valley”, to Spask. I spent around two weeks there and was then sent to “Ekibastuzugol”.
Ovsienko V.V.: Ekibastuz?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Situated in Pavlograd region, not far from Irtysh. “Ekibastuzugol” was a coal mine. When Malenkov left his position, he became the head of electrical station there.
Ovsienko V.V.: You mean the Prime-minister?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes-yes. Khrushev made him go there.
Ovsienko V.V.: That was around 1954?
Kurchyk M.Y.: No, earlier – 1952.
Ovsienko V.V.: That was when Stalin was still around.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes. And then, after Stalin, he was transferred to the mentioned station as a director. At least that's what they said. (After the defeat of the “anti-party group” at the plenum of the Central Committee of KPSS in July 1957 G.M. Malenkov was declined all his previous achievements and positions in the soviet government and has been working as the head of Electrical station in Ust-Kamenogorsk since 1957, and then as the head of the Electrical station in Ekibastuz – Ovsienko V.V.). Anyway, there we were. I spent 13 months there, or just under a year... We had some serious deeds with locals who used to be “bitches” – criminals who were sent to us by officers on purpose. We had 5 000 people in that camp. We were building a whole city. My personal file had a red line across it to identify me as potential runaway. This meant that people like me were always transported separately.
Ovsienko V.V.: No night shifts?
Kurchyk M.Y.: No. In winter, when it was heavily snowing, I was always locked up and didn't go anywhere. We did, however, have our own “pets”, who had contacts with local authorities, who had been taken to Spask. That town had its own local prison where the trial took place. It was on for around 3 months. There was no proof of what was incriminated. We were then transferred to a separate camp – Chuibalnura – special for Bandera followers. It had people from Lithuania too but mostly Ukrainians. We spent one winter there and then in 1952, somewhere in June or July we were transferred again. This time we were taken to Krasnoyarsk and then to Norilsk.
Ovsienko V.V.: That's the route by the Enyseus river?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes. We were traveling for over 20 days.
Ovsienko V.V.: You said 28.
Kurchyk M.Y.: 28, maybe. I remember the name of the barge – “Fazyaniha”. It was a three-deck barge and I was on the third deck. The temperature was so low that many of us fell ill. I drank some water and lost my consciousness. Stayed like that for two days.The only thing I remember is a guy named Mykola from the East of Ukraine – when I woke up he laid a wet towel on my head and said: “Well, you'll live”. I became fully conscious on the third day.
So there we were in Norilsk – the fifth concentration camp point called Gorlag. We all had to work there. I worked as a builder but we all didn't do a thing there. We all had numbers. Mine was F-62. My first number in Kengyr was CO-948, and in Karaganda I was 147 thousand something... I spent a few months there and then I had an incident... The head of the building process, also prisoner in the past, was torturing and picking on other prisoners. If he saw you doing nothing he came close with four bodyguards. So came to me once and talked back at him. After that time I was sent to another building for work. There was a lot of work. It was Tundra, all the communication lines were under the ground and each month a new building rose to welcome newcomers. After that incident I was imprisoned back in the T-shaped prison building. And then, when Stalin died, the duty-sergeant opened the cells and said: “Dear prisoners...”
Ovsienko V.V.: He said “dear”?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes. “Dear prisoners, today is a dark day for all of us – Stalin has died”. Nad we all went: “Hurray! Yay!” – we even rose to our feet. There were around 50 of us there. And there was also a convoy guarding us. The guardsman took his machine gun but didn't dare open any cell... You know what he did? He shot to the ceiling of one of the cells so the bullet backfired and injured one of the men inside.
Ovsienko V.V.: Next to the eye?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, correct.
Ovsienko V.V.: How many shots did he make?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Just one. There was also a Russian guard there who was shooting over his fellow's head. Seeing this we started breaking beds and the door. We managed to break everything but the metal bars. Then the head of the camp came and said: “Be quiet boys, we'll let you all out tomorrow”. And then they started separating us by sending to random places. I was sent back to the previous point. After some time I was sent together with others to a separate building point to build something special on the head's order. There were over 100 people on that special object but we didn't do anything apart from getting a air compressor to work pneumatic hammers. We turned it on to give us some warmth and then as soon as the guard came we turned it off saying that something was broken. So we sang songs waiting for dinner and looked around to see buildings with free people living in them.
Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, I understand how you felt.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yeah. The only place we could travel to were the ever lasting construction works in Norilsk of Krasnoyarsk region. We stayed at that special object for around a month doing nothing. N the way back we were stopped by convoy guards because there were rumors that Khrushev or Beria were preparing a prison rebellion.
The fact was however, that we spent a month doing nothing and then we faced a prison demonstration... How did it happen? When we started back from the construction works towards our barracks, there were 14 barracks and the last one was the furthest from the entrance. Near that barrack was a walk through where female prisoners worked making ceramic tiles. That was the spot where we could meet and talk if the convoy was generous enough. Sometimes we could even pass small letters to each other. So on that special day the whole 14th barrack came out to meet female prisoners returning from their works. You know what men are like, besides it was getting hot – the winter colds have passed. They started singing right when the female prisoners were walking towards them. The head of the convoy stopped his column and told us to stand aside. No one listened because we knew he couldn't shoot us. There were more than 100 men there. And then I saw a soldier with a gun and understood that he was actually going to shoot, so I shouted: “Guys, he's going to shoot us!”
I made a step back t hide behind the corner and felt a hit in the face. The result of that situation were three injured and one dead. The man who died was Ukrainian – Kovalchuk... can't recall his name though. The official reports stated that the bullets backfired although it was impossible...
Ovsienko V.V.: Backfiring bullets fly sideways, not straight.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Exactly. So he couldn't have hit three people by accident. But I guess they just needed to keep the sergeant who made those shots innocent. After that incident we kicked the head of the camp out and made a rebellion. Men stayed at the construction, women were taken back to barracks. We locked the gates and only allowed doctors in. The officers tried using loudspeakers persuading us not to listen to provocative talk. Some prisoners felt so victorious after we kicked the guards out of the prison that they climbed right across the fence. Those people were caught straight away. When they understood that loudspeakers won't help they called up a battalion of border guards stationed nearby and ordered them to surround all the prisons in the area because demonstrations started in other prisons too, even criminals supported us. The copper factory joined us in a week and stopped producing.
Ovsienko V.V.: That's dangerous, isn't it? Copper gets stiff if the factory stops working..
Kurchyk M.Y.: Probably. They lost millions. Factually, Norilsk stopped its work as a production and construction area. The officers wanted to order border guards to conduct an armed attack on us so we would get back to work. From what I heard the border guard commander, a colonel, said: “Where do you want me to send my young soldiers? Into a zone full of veterans who took Berlin? Are you insane?”, so he declined that order.
These concentration camps in the North all have wires underground because the winds and the cold would have soon destroyed them if they had been above the ground. We understood that they were going to attack us although they weren't sending any soldiers in straight away. And they sent oficers and soldiers forth.
We had a deal between us – if they send in officers, we don't kill them. So they went forth and we let them in. We had around 3000 men there. So we let them in and they told us to get back to work. Our answer was this: we took out the toilets from the bathrooms and wore it on their heads. After that one of the officers was kissing my feet and begging me not to kill him. I said: “No one is going to kill, walk straight and stop screaming”.
Anyway, when the news about us spread, free people who lived around the prison fled. And the provocative actions of those officers didn't work. What they did next was this: they sent forth officers and a fire brigade truck, and behind that truck were soldiers shooting into the air. We stopped those trucks immediately, broke their windows and ordered them to turn back.
They saw that this operation didn't work either. And that was the moment when we organized a committee inside the prison. It had two Ukrainians – Maruchko and Horoshko, in it. Horoshko was a friend of mine back at Kengyr. There was also a representative of each nationality in the newborn committee.
Ovsienko V.V.: Was Myroslav Melen there?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Melen? I know him, but I only met him in Mordovia. He might have been there but I don't remember...
Ovsienko V.V.: Might he have been in the committee of another local prison?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Maybe.
Ovsienko V.V.: He lives in Morchyn currently.
Kurchyk M.Y.: I had exchanged a few letters with him in the past.
Ovsienko V.V.: Please continue about the concentration camp.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Ok, so what were our conditions? To take off the metal bars, to get rid of personal numbers, to allow dates, to be given full salary we earned because they only gave 100 RUR. Letters exchange, dates, freedom to those imprisoned in their childhood and reconsideration of all sentences. Letters – as many as we want, not twice a year.
In ten or eleven days a Moscow commission arrived. They gathered all of us at the square of the camp and asked of what we wanted. We announced the list. They took of the metal bars, allowed one letter a month. There was a man from Iran there, a pilot, many Germans – all theses froeigners were sent back “to the continent”. Disabled people were being transferred out of there. In a months time we organized a demonstration again...
Ovsienko V.V.: Why? Things didn't change?
Kurchyk M.Y.: They did, but not the things we asked for.
Ovsienko V.V.: Well, at least they did something. Took the locks off...
Kurchyk M.Y.: We took the locks off ourselves. There was a reason to organize another demonstration. There were mostly Ukrainians there, in that prison. And the female prison was some 250 meters away. And we needed to interact with them for this second demonstration. There was a construction just between us and them and one day I came there for work – 100 people and we were all doing nothing again. I had previously made contact with the female part of the prison under a nickname Yazh.How did that happen? My brother's pupils from Velyki Mezhyrichi were imprisoned in the same prison as me – a girl and a boy. I managed to contact them a few days after I got to that prison.
So anyway, as soon as we stopped working, the officers stopped bringing food into the prison. We were lucky to have a bakery on the territory of the prison so we could make bread. And then one day Horoshko, a friend of mine since 1949 back in Kengyr, came to me and said: “We need to attract women to this”. So I gave a note across the fence to this acquaintance of mine. As soon as they received it, they kicked there guards out of the prison too. Those girls, it turned out, were even braver than the male part of the prison. After losing control over female pat of the prison, the guards sent 100 people to take us off the construction close to the female prison, so we wouldn't be in touch with them. Some of us were taken away but me and one other guy from Halychyna, we ran around the construction and were then cornered on top of the unfinished building... About 30 meters away from the female zone. We were fighting the guards but slowly retreating. Some of the guards were armed but had no bullets. I hit one of them, another one hit me back. Then I saw my companion being thrown off the top of the building we stood on. If they would have thrown me down, I would've broken all me bones – it was around 10 meters high. I grabbed the guard who wanted to throw me down and pulled myself away from falling. Then I saw a wooden plank going from where I was towards the female prison and started climbing it. From behind I heard: “Shoot him” but saw the officer throwing his gun to the ground – he refused to shoot. The officer refused but the private soldier didn't. The girls weren't standing still either – they kept breaking their fence and wires.
Ovsienko V.V.: You said that the private soldier didn't refuse. He didn't refuse to shoot?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes. He aimed at the girls and that was why the officer dropped his gun. Later they beat me up so hard I spent a week rejuvenating. The same happened to most of us, only a few people managed to hide. They headed us back to the camp but I shouted: “Guys, we shouldn't go! Lie down!”, the colonel who was with us then ordered to convoy me separately after that shout. The Lithuanian guy started shouting the same thing in his language so he was also convoyed separately. Those who kept walking were taken back to the camp and those who tried shouting were taken away to the woods. I asked about the reason for this and the guard answered that we were to be shot down. And then an officer ordered the soldiers to dismiss, approached me, forced me to stand up and said: “Look how giant the Soviet Union is!”, after that we were taken to Medvezhka – a camp in the mountains with copper mines.
Ovsienko V.V.: What is this copper ore like?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Looks like blue stone.
Ovsienko V.V.: And then you melt it and get copper?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes. They load the ore to trucks, those trucks take it to a crusher and then crashed ore goes inside a big industrial forge. So there we were – taken there by train. That place also had people from Ukraine. A few more days I had blood in my urine because they beat me up really bad.
We spent a month in the mines and then, by the Enyseus river we were taken straight to the Vanino Lagoon.
Ovsienko V.V.: Ohotske sea?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes. The Vanino Lagoon was preparing a shift for 100 000 prisoners, can you imagine that? We were then taken to Irkutsk and got a year of imprisonment there each – for what? That's the prison where Kolchak had been shot down. That prison is situated right in the center of Irkutsk.We were locked up in cells – 50 people in each cell or even more. What should we have done then? We started shouting and breaking beds and cell doors. Once we started all the shouting, the colonel who was with us during the shift approached and said: “Ok, men. You will be sent to concentration camps”. There were around 800 people in that shift and next day all these people were taken back to the Vanino Lagoon again. We stayed there for around two weeks and it was enough to dig a runaway hole in the toilet premises. Although we failed... Then we were all taken to a ship called “Gvardeec”, a German ship in the past, and had 9 days of unsettle sea traveling in the Ohotske sea...
Ovsienko V.V.: Have there been cases of ships drowning?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, and we saw it. We managed to break the ventilation in our cells so we could climb up and look at the sea. There were other ships with criminal prisoners besides us.
We were taken to Magadan and stayed there for around 20 days. Then we were taken to Yagodynsky region, to a mine called Cold – an old mine dating back to tsar's times in Russia.
Ovsienko V.V.: Why was it called Cold?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Because it's cold there. Up to 60-65C below zero. Our camp was thirty meters lower than the mine it self. The village was even lower so the temperature difference between us and the village could reach 15-20C. All the places around there had names like Windy, Cold, Icy and so on, because that's what it was like there. I spent around four months there and then in March we were sent away. By that time we had 6 murders, and somehow I was involved in one of the cases.
Ovsienko V.V.: What murders?
Kurchyk M.Y.: One guy turned out to be a spy who was giving away information about our camp. He was the head of Dudinskiy concentration camps in the past.
Ovsienko V.V.: So he continued his career?
Kurchyk M.Y.: We disclosed him. He even wrote to the Supreme court and other courts. We caught him with all those letters he wrote and... There was a rule at that time: if you were Russian – Russian took charge of you. A friend of mine, Yuriy Sokolnikov also got into this trouble. His father used to be one of the commanders of that revolution, was shot down as a national enemy. Yuriy, together with his mother and two brothers, was sent away to Kazakhstan. He got 25 years of imprisonment and was stationed in our camp. He was part of the case I stood trial on. I was sentenced in 1954 and was taken to Magadan with the closest shift...
Ovsienko V.V.: Do you remember the date of the trial?
Kurchyk M.Y.: 05.03.1954. I got the highest punishment. And then in 42 days they cancelled the highest punishment and just kept the 25+5 years.
Oh, and there's my brother coming right now.
Ovsienko V.V.: What's his name?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Ievhen. The same day when they re-sentenced me I was taken to my first concentration camp in Magadan. That camp was maintaining a car and tractor repair factory. I even went through special profession courses there and worked as a metal cutter. I even remember the German machine called “Doprein” it had two blades 11mm each. I worked there until 1956 and then I went through a check from Verkhovna Rada.
Ovsienko V.V.: What check was that?
Kurchyk I.Y.: Vasil is already here I see!
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, he is.
Kurchyk I.Y.: Hail Ukraine! (Slava Ukraini)
Ovsienko V.V.: Hail to the Heroes! (Turning the microphone off)
Kurchyk M.Y.: That was in Yagodynskiy region. The same place where Korolev served his term. He was only taken back from Gulag because of Stalin. From there I was taken to exile and then to the check from Verkhovna Rada in 1956. The committee, however, declined my application and kept my term at 25+5 years.
Ovsienko V.V.: What was their motivation?
Kurchyk M.Y.: When they took me to the committee hall with lawyers from Moscow, they asked me: “Do you have anyone at home?”, – “Yes – mom, dad, brother and sister”. And then the First Regional Secretary came in and said: “Let's listen to the second guy”, so KGB major entered the room and started reading all the cases from my file. I was then asked to walk out but I already knew that nothing will happen. They freed many people that day...
Ovsienko V.V.: True. How many people, d'y recon, had been freed that day?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Around 80% I'd say.
Ovsienko V.V.: Balis Gayauskas, for example, told me that only 2% remained in his camp.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Maybe. The camp I was in at that time kept 5-10% of people – those who had “organization” in their case or category 1-A. Although if you had 1-B category – which was military and was exactly the category for Bandera followers from the active URA – you were also left imprisoned. When reading my files they read about my behavior and my biography. As soon as I heard what they were reading, I knew they would not let me out. Girls from our camp were also taken to that commission. That was after Stalin's monument had been taken down.
Another thing – when I was at the Medvezha mountain, in the mines, we had loudspeakers in every camp and that was how we found out that Beria had also been shot down as the national enemy. The head of the camp, when he heard this, shouted: “What the hell are you reading?! Get them to work!”
After Magadan I was sent further away, to the location where Stus was serving his sentence.
Ovsienko V.V.: Oh, you mean Matrosov village?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes.
Ovsienko V.V.: Is it true that there was a mine named after Beria?
Kurchyk M.Y.: No, that mine was named after Matrosov. There was a rope road over 3km long. It started at the mine and ended at the spot where all that gold was being washed. That factory was named after Beria, yes.
Ovsienko V.V.: Was the name changed after Beria was shot down?
Kurchyk M.Y.: I guess so. After that I was taken away from Magadan together with around 600 other prisoners. We were taken to the Tymoshenko gold mine, around 500km away. I even had a picture somewhere of me at that camp, but I don't remember where is it now. Every day we were taken by a truck to the mines. All those who were left behind after the amnesty – around 600 people. Another thing we were doing was rebuilding the concentration camp into hostels for comsomols who were to come soon. But instead of them we saw old people who said that they were not going to dig gold because it wasn't their business. Those were all free people unlike us. They had other recruiters.
In 1958 we were taken to Magadan again, to the 14th zone. There was a female prison just next to the airport in Magadan. We were taken to that airport and transported to Habarovsk by plane. 16 people in one go. From Habarovsk straight to Tiyshet, then to Andzyoba – a special concentration camp in the forest. It was just another prison – 40 minutes of free time walking around in the yard, all actions were done according to the bell. We stayed there until 1960 and then...
Kurchyk I.Y.: I'm sorry to interrupt, I thought in 1959 you were in...
Kurchyk M.Y.: Vyhorivka, in the forest camp near Andzyoba.
Kurchyk I.Y.: And then in Mordovia in 1960.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, you came to date me then. My brother came to see me for the first time in 16 years.
Kurchyk I.Y.:My first time was in Vyhorivka, in Tiyshet.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, and then in Mordovia.
Kurchyk I.Y.: I came to Mordovia more than once.
Kurchyk M.Y.: I met interesting people in these concentration camp. Pryshliak Hryc, doctor Horboviy, Petro Dyuzhiy...
Ovsienko V.V.: And Josyp the Blind, the priest?
Kurchyk M.Y.: I met him at the camps in Mordovia, in village Udarniy, camp No.10. How did I know? Well, there was a criminal camp across the road. We found out the Josyp was there and started sending regards. The head of that camp was Ukrainian and we told him that if Josyp will not be freed we will strike. I also met Hasiuk Yaroslav and Melen Myroslav in that camp No.10. Melen might have actually been in Norilsk, I think I'm starting to recall... We spent 8 months in Norilsk, although I spent 3 months isolated, so I might not remember some of the people who were there.
But allow me to turn back a bit. Back in Siberia I had visitors, in Vyhorivka. I was serving my terms together with Horboviy, in the same cell. In 1959, when Bandera was shot down, we were together in the same cell. Loudspeakers told us that Bandera was shot and thrown down from some floor. Horboviy said then: “Bastards! They got him in the end”. I also met Soroka Mykhailo there – he was a general from Halychyna's “Plast”. That organization used to be still legal back then. A met Soroka again in Mordovia but his first sentence was in Kengyr. I remember him tlaking when we just met, but later he stopped doing even that. He was very careful. I found out later on who he actually was. Antoher man I met was Ivancyv Ivan from Sluck – the guy was shot down. Two or three people had been shot down after the Kengyr strike and he was one of them. During that strike tanks killed over 1500 people both men and women. I met one of the women from that strike later in Korec. She has passed away some tie ago. Honycka Halyna. She was there in 1954.
So anyway, wew were shifted to Mordovia and I happened to be taken to a camp called Leplei...
Ovsienko V.V.: When was that?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Somewhere in spring it was.
Kurchyk I.Y.: Sorry, allow me to interrupt. I came there at the end of July with Lesya and you were gone again by the beginning of August in 1960.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, 1960. I met Anton Oliynyk there, Anatoliy Lupynos and Andriy Turyk. Oh, and Dmytro Syniak, and later I met Kichak Igor.
Ovsienko V.V.: Kichak? I know him, I interviewed him some time ago. He has a book, yes?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, he even sent me a copy. I met other people too, but I can't recall now. I also met this commander – Khrushev there.
Ovsienko V.V.: Commander of what?
Kurchyk M.Y.: He was the head of the camp there, Khrushev was his surname but he was Ukrainian.
We had a brick factory there. We had 150 people working there. So Khrushev would come in from time to time and say: “Take a rest, boys”. His position in that camp was sort of a punishment for something he'd done. I knew that some concentration camps had commanders also, factually, imprisoned there. So Khrushev, when it was time for him to retire, gathered us and said: “I'm leaving now, guys. Remember me as a good person”. He brought us a pack of tea right in fromt of the guards and sat down to play chess. It was 1957. So there were nice people among the commanders, but there were others, especially among the Jews...
Ovsienko V.V.: Until when was that?
Kurchyk M.Y.: I only spent a winter there, so just a half a year.
Kurchyk I.Y.: You were moved again in 1961 to Sosnovka...
Kurchyk M.Y.: I spent most time in Udarniy – around 7 years. All other places were for a year or two – and then shifting again. I wasn't the only one like that – the were many others who were always on the move.
Kurchyk I.Y.: They did it so you wouldn't start persuading people...
Kurchyk M.Y.: Local “bitches” always told on me, that I was an organizer, so the commanders thought best to move me. When Anton Oliynyk was called up to the head's office he told him everything the way it was. The head of the prison answered: “Well, you can't beat Soviet power – you see it yourself”. Anton replied to that: “I believe that we will live long enough to see independence”. That commander wasn't a bad one. When we said we needed flower he went to the local shop where his wife worked, took a bag of flower and gave it to us saying: “Here, guys, make yourselves some pancakes”. And then this camp got closed down and I was moved to Sosnovka. There I met Lupynos again and then Horyn brothers later...
Ovsienko V.V.: That was in 1966?
Kurchyk M.Y.: They wanted to organize a strike there but the people had been mixed all together. They raised the question. As a result, Horyn brothers were shifted to another camp and Levko Lukianenko went to to prison.
Ovsienko V.V.: Mykhailo Horyn was also imprisoned then.
Kurchyk I.Y.: To Vladymyrsky central prison.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, it was a political prison.
Ovsienko V.V.: Horyn told me of him, Valentyn Moroz and Mykhailo Masiutka...
Kurchyk M.Y.: Moroz was free before that time.
Ovsienko V.V.: That was the second time, but at first he was shifted together with Mykhailo Horyn and Masiutka from the 17th camp to Volodymyrskiy central prison.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Well, that was the time when we heard that Soroka had died.
Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, he died in the 17th camp. Horyn told me where it happened and I know that place. It was on the 16th of June 1971. Just before Mykhailo Horyn's birthday. Horyn was preparing for his birthday party and it came out to be a funeral. There was a small piece of ground covered with flowers in 1975-76. That was the place where Soroka died. I even cared after that spot for a while together with Stus. The head of the prison at that time, Zinenko ordered two of his “bitches” to dig out the flowers and move them in front of the headquarters.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Do you know Baryshevo?
Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, I've been to the hospital there.
Kurchyk M.Y.: I was there too but not for long, I was soon moved to the special premises.
Ovsienko V.V.: What year was that move – 1960 or 1961?
Kurchyk M.Y.: 1962. That was after we raised the issue with Josyp the Blind at the 10th camp. We were making wardrobes then and packing them. Our head came, Sygarchuk his name was and said: “Give me some paper I need to wrap Josyp's belongings – he is being moved”. We saw to cars near the camp and Josyp walking out. He turned to camp, blessed it, stood still for a minute and then sat into the car and drove off. After some time we heard he was in Rome. All that became possible with Khrushev's help.
Kurchyk I.Y.: Lhrushev used to say that we don't have political prisoners but he was told that Josyp the Blind was there. Khrushev said to that: “Impossible! Free him right now!” That was in Rome, that was where Josyp was questioned about this. We could even listen to his words on radio “Svoboda”.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Well, we had precise information back at the camp. That interview was the reason the radio had been closed in 1972. They made two more camps in Ural. Special camps those were, with special digital equipment and special guards.
Ovsienko V.V.: They made zones No.35 and No.36 there.
Kurchyk M.Y.: And there were two female engineers there. We quietly recruited one of them to our underground movement and still had the radio signal. That girl was our mail delivery. Underground and coded of course.
Kurchyk I.Y.: I was in Kuchyno camp in Ural.
Kurchyk M.Y.: When Levko went writing about what has been happening, he took me with him. There was this spot in the 36th zone, it was cold and wet. We lay down so we weren't seen from the checkpoint tower. And thus Levko was writing. He used milk to write.
Ovsienko V.V.: Milk? I know you can write with soda but milk?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Milk, yes.
Kurchyk I.Y.: Milk works because fat stays on the paper.
Ovsienko V.V.: They say Lenin wrote like that. I know that if you use soda and then heat the paper, the writings become dark brown.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Well, we had soda, if I remember correct but we used milk.
Ovsienko V.V.: Levko Lukianenko wrote a claim to the UNO in 1979 concerning Ukrainian independence. 19 people signed it. He said that he had your approval to use you signature, which he did.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, it's true.
Ovsienko V.V.: That letter traveled all the way out of the country but your name was lost somehow.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Can't say anything about that.
Ovsienko V.V.: Levko told of this in his book and he was sorry this happened. But the document did have your signature, yes. (see: Levko Lukianenko, “I trust God and Ukraine”. - K.: “Memories of Ukraine”, 1991. – p.126-131; Levko Lukianenko, “From the times imprisonment . Book five: the Possessed” - K.: “Tampodek XXI”, 2012. – p.251-252)
Kurchyk M.Y.: When we were in the camp in Vyhorivka, Horboviy also wrote to the UNO and gave that letter to me, I glued it to my notebook.
Ovsienko V.V.: How did you manage to keep that notebook?
Kurchyk M.Y.: I made it really thin.
Ovsienko V.V.: And they didn't check it? I'm asking because there was this man – Chronid Arkadiovych in Mordovia, in the 19th zone. He was an astronomer from Sakharov's surrounding – I even remember how we saw him off to Vladymyrskiy central prison. He had a few cases full of books, we had to use a truck to get all that to the entrance (soon after that prisoners were forbidden to have more than 50 kg of personal belongings). And he came to Volodymyrskiy prison with all those books and took them with him when he was set free. He had his books cut through to check them. It was very strange that he actually won his trial against the prison for all the cutting. That prison paid him a refund.
Kurchyk I.Y.:By the way, I did this too – split the cover and hid money inside, sent it to prison and the money was received by the recipient.
Ovsienko V.V.: It did?
Kurchyk M.Y.: I have a whole suitcase of those letters. I was keeping them, not throwing away and then one day I thought that they might get checked so I hid only to applications in that whole pile. But returning to the application which Levko wrote to me: I told him to sign it from my name because I couldn't have come todo it myself. Levko was serving his second sentence then and I was free.
Ovsienko V.V.: He was imprisoned in 1977 for the second time, on the 12th of January. He was set free at the beginning of 1989.
Kurchyk M.Y.: He came back from exile then.
Ovsienko V.V.: Yes-yes. He was in Tomsk region.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Sverstiuk was also there.
Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, he served his full term.
Kurchyk M.Y.: And the exile?
Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, he was in Buriatia and was set free in 1984 as he should have. (at the end of 1983 to be precise)
Kurchyk M.Y.: The interesting thing was how Levko came to our camp. We knew about him then. I made some tea, walked out for some fresh air: me, Levko and someone else.. Ivan Pokrovskiy maybe...
Ovsienko V.V.: Pokrovskiy, yes, but he is dead now. We went to him with Levko. We saw him off back in Gorodnia in Chernihiv region. He was very weak, but he recognized us. A few years in a row before that we went to see him with Alexander Suginhiaka and Sverstiuk by car. He was still able to talk so we recorded his words, it's now on internet. Everyone who knew him said nice things about him.
Kurchyk M.Y.: His father was Russian, yes?
Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, he was a pope.
Kurchyk M.Y.: He was taken away from the army, but he was a patriot. I met him in Mordovia. I also came to visit him at hime when he was 75.
Kurchyk I.Y.: You went to him Bogdan Yaroshynskiy was elected as deputy. You spent three weeks there and visited Gorodnia.
Kurchyk M.Y.: I met him at Iavas, he worked as a an electrician there.
Ovsienko V.V.: Were there any strikes during the last years in the camps? What was going on there? The status of a political prisoner only worked starting from 1975-77. I wasn't part of it by the way, because I was set free at the beginning of 1977 and this news didn't reach us in time.
Kurchyk M.Y.: We raised this issue back at the Barashevo. There was this man – Sharygin Mykola...
Ovsienko V.V.: Oh, Budulak-Sharygin. I know him, yes.
Kurchyk M.Y.: We even raised the UNO flag in Barashevo.
Ovsienko V.V.: The UNO flag? Which camp was that in?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Barashevo-2. There was a tower there. So Sharygin was the one who told the guard: “That's the flag of the UNO. It has nothing t do with nationalists”. That was when Beria generals were already around, also imprisoned. They ate separately from everyone, they weren't even allowed to do any work. One of them was a nazi I think. They told different things about him... That was interesting.
Did Levko ever tell you about how he ended up in Barashevo? We met him well. One day we notification came from the headquarters, calling Levko to the head's office. I said I'll go with him because we should walk to the headquarters alone. We entered the office and the head of the prison says: “Kurchyk, I don't remember calling you.”, – “We have a rule – if one of us is called, we don't go alone”, – “Get out of here!”. I laughed and walked out. Incidents like that were funny. Concerning work – we had our ways too. Sharygin worked as an electrician so we helped Levko get a job there too. We had quiet camp there. Concerning the UNO flag – it was a laugh, Mykola simply laughed at the head of the camp.
In 1970s we were left few in Ural, 500 people maybe, in tow camps. I was taken to the 36th and 35th camps. Ivan Svitlychniy was in No.35. We knew about his sister – Nadia who was in Mordovia. Karavanska was also imprisoned. Soroka's wife – Catherine Zarytska – was here, I even saw her when I was in hospital in Barashevo. That was around the same time when I met Levko's partner – Kandyba Ivan.
Ovsienko V.V.: I spent around 2 years with him in Ural, yes.
Kurchyk M.Y.: I spent 7 years in Udarne, in Mordovia together with Syniak Dmytro and Sergiy Babych, a guy from my home town – Zaliznitsia was also there. His name was Novak Ivan and he spent the whole War in Kolyma – a very interesting man. When the soviets took him in 1939 they threw him to Kolyma and that's were he stayed all the time.He told me of what horrible things had been done to political prisoners there. They weren't held separately then, until 1948 criminals and political prisoners were all together. Both men and women. So before the separation in 1948 many people were lost. By the time I was there, they were all separated.
Ovsienko V.V.: It wasn't easy, it took a lot of effort...
Kurchyk M.Y.: Great loss. Can you imagine – criminals among females. And the administration supported the criminals. Criminals had knives and they were using them. We had to fight somehow. In 1949 a shift from Lviv came to us. We were shifted then to Karaganda and to Kengyr and only in a few years time we managed to settle everything. Then we were shifted to Norilsk. The authorities regretted this afterwards. They saw it as a mistake, they shouldn't have spread us from Karaganda to all the camps of Norilsk.
Ovsienko V.V.:Myroslav Symych told me...
Kurchyk M.Y.: Oh, I met him in Kolyma!
Ovsienko V.V.: He told me of a story when a whole criminal barrack had been burnt down in the night and those thugs who were trying to escape were thrown back into the fire.
Kurchyk M.Y.: I'll tell you another story about Norilsk. The head of one of the camps always used “bitches” to do checks. Our pay was 100 RUR then and as soon as we received it we had to give part of it to those “bitches”. Once we came there and saw this, we found out where those “bitches” lived and then one night we attacked them. Killed some and the rest of them ran towards the fence. And then in 8 months there was the strike. I even knew the names of those “bitches”. I came to Norilsk together with Mishyn and Vorobyov – astounding troublemakers, used to be followers of Vlasov. There was also an soviet officer there – Vorobyov Ivan, he didn't want to interact with us. And there was Mykola Rudiy – he was one of the “bitches”. As soon as they got to Kaerakan from Karaganda, to the coal mines, they beat up and injured someone. We cleaned all that mess and that was why I got the highest punishment later in Kolyma...
Ovsienko V.V.: For this cleansing?
Kurchyk M.Y.: What else was there to do?
Ovsienko V.V.: I agree. We all needed to defend ourselves.
Kurchyk M.Y.: I was 23 years old. I had nothing to lose. I was all fire back then, didn't want to hide.
Ovsienko V.V.: How were you set free, right from there?
Kurchyk M.Y.: From Udarne. It was a criminal camp them and I had two years left to go. I had to be taken to Ural but they threw me to Udarne. By then I had a criminal sentence 59-3, not political.
Ovsienko V.V.: What was it called?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Had something to do with heavy crimes – murder and so on. I can't recall now. But I was a criminal so they took me to a criminal camp. However, I found my own kind there straight away. Found my old friends. So even there I was surrounded by friends and not “bitches”.
When my sentence ran to its end on the 16th of April 1979, my brother came to me and brought some civil clothes. I still keep that costume he gave me. I bought it at Kolyma in 1956 – I went to dig gold to earn some money for a photo camera. I dug up 110 pieces of gold and told myself to never do it agian. And I bought a camera, yes. What was I talking about?
Ovsienko V.V.: I was asking how did they set you free.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Straight form the camp, yes. I took the costume which my brother brought, a bundle of letters and an unfinished chess board. When my mother came to see me in 1960s I made this chess board for keeping books. It took me a long time to make it and then I asked an officer to give it my mother when she came for a date. My brother's son has it now. When my sentence ran to its end and I had some spare money, I sent it my brother and asked him to come and get me. Then the KGBs came, checked me and my belongings all over. I dressed up, walked out of the gate, met my brother and we sat on a train. I got rid of the prison clothes in the night. We traveled to Moscow but the KGBs actually convoyed us until a checkpoint in Ukraine. In Chernihiv Levko's wife came out to greet us with her sister... had an idea of marrying Nadia's sister. We talked for around 20 minutes until the train had to leave the station and that was the point where we noticed the KGBs. They watched us until Novograd-Volynskiy. And that place was full of people eager to tell on anyone for 25 RUR a month.
I started working at a plastic factory in Korec.
Ovsienko V.V.: How's that, you lived here and worked there?
Kurchyk M.Y.: I lived in Korec then, 22 km from here. I was agitated to enter a kolkhoz. My father, however, wasn't part of one and didn't have an employment. They took everythin from him apart from 20 acres of land. I said I wasn't going to enter any kolkhoz so I had to look for work. I went to a milk factory – they took me. Then I went to a plastic factory. I had a specialization. There this guy – Mykola – he was the main technical worker there. I came to him and said I want to be an technician. “Where are you from?” – he asked. “I returned form Haralug three months ago”. He gave me a job but in a month's time the head of production came and said: “Mykola, why won't you go to kolkhoz? You could at least help them”, – “Those kolkhoz things were never my idea and I'm not going”, – “No problem, we'll make you go there”, – “No, you won't” – I said. And so I didn't go there. I went to the plastic factory. The head technician's name was Mykola Skubikov. I told him of who I was and where I had come from, that I spent the last 30 years in prison but with a political sentence. He said he would have given me a job if he was in charge, but he wasn't so he went to the director's office. The KGBs told me earlier that if I don't find a job they will find me again. There was a law then, if you don't find a job, the government finds one for you. I went to the militia department and said: “If you don't find me a job, I can be a sitter for my old father, who is currently retired. Can I do that?”, – “No, you must find a job”.
The head of production back at the plastic factory told me to go the militia department again and that there will be a man waiting for me there. I did as he told me and it turned out that there was a special person there responsible for employment. That guy was a veteran. I came to him and he told me to go to another room in the building and there will be another man waiting for me. I did as he told me. I entered the needed room and saw a man there who said: “Well, Mykola Yakovych... They don't wish to employ you, yes? You just go to the plastic factory tomorrow and if they will decline you again, come to me tomorrow ad I'll solve this issue”. The head of the plastic factory knew all that perfectly but he wanted everything to have been done according to the Law. I spent just over a year working there repairing equipment. And then I saw these new pneumatic machines for making plug-sockets. I approached the director and said that I knew these machines because I worked with them back in Mordovia and I was good at it. So the director put me in charge of those 10 machines. I started earning 130 RUR and worked there for 3 years. My father got really old and disabled by that time so I had to leave work to care for him. The girls at the factory tried to persuade me to work at least one more month to be getting a better salary. I didn't really care for that factory so I left and returned to my hamlet and my father.
Ovsienko V.V.: What year did you quit your job?
Kurchyk M.Y.: 1981 or 1982.
Ovsienko V.V.: And your age was...
Kurchyk M.Y.: According to my age I was supposed to be getting pension. There was this lady as a secretary of the regional committee. She came to me when my father and brother were there. And this lady from the kolkhoz came and said: “Mykola, you need to write an application and sign in for getting pension”, – “I don't need your pension”. So she met my sister in Korec and tried to persuade her to persuade me. The pension, by the way, was 25-26 RUR – one couldn't really survive for that money. My sister wrote the application and the government started paying the pension... And that's how I kept living here. Had to battle a bit closer to the independence of Ukraine...
Ovsienko V.V.: What did you take part in?
Kurchyk M.Y.: What d'you mean? We had take the head of kolkhoz down. Locals came to me then and said: “Listen, the head of kolkhoz is doing dirty business. Let's bring him down, just support us”. They gave me some facts and we organized a gathering, took the head down and assigned our own man to that position. The head of the village committee was also brought down together with his wife. There was this time when a political prisoner died here and his wife organized vodka for the funeral. The head of the village accused her of selling it illegally.
Ovsienko V.V.: Did you go to the Kossak celebrations?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes.
Ovsienko V.V.: So did I.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, and when we were going there we saw no Ukrainian flags on our way. When we were heading back – there were flags sticking out from everywhere. Well, what else was I doing here? After the holiday Zluka...
Ovsienko V.V.: Oh, that was on the 21st of January 1990, it was Sunday.
Kurchyk M.Y.:I went to church on Monday because I received liturgy from Canada in Ukrainian with Sofia Kyivska on the cover and the Trident – all legally sent to me by mail. I took these two liturgy books and went to our local pope. It just after the holidays so they were taking the christmas tree down at the church. There were 10 people: two men, the pope and 7 women. My neighbor, Anna, was also there. I addressed the pope: “You could at least ring the bell since today is a celebration of Zluka”. He answered me that he does service in this church every Sunday for those killed by Bandera followers. I asked him to name at east one person of those murdered by Bandera followers. He couldn't name any because there had never been any. Then he spoke to me: “Do you know who I am?”, he was a criminal in the past, all covered with tattoos. He approached me and tried to provoke a fight even though there were people inside the church and we were also inside that church. I took a step back and walked to the spot where candles were sold. “Come here, father. Firstly, you don't know who I am” – I said. He said he did, he said every Sunday he prays for those murdered by people like me. That pope then wrote a claim against me and the head of the village was supporting and provoking him to do that. He wrote that I was offending him and forcing to service in Ukrainian language and to have rang the bells in the church. He took that claim to the prosecutor's office, then to the court and the court called me up in a month's time (that judge is still in charge by the way). What did I do with those liturgy notes? I walked through the village and showed it to everyone who sang songs. I showed them Ukrainian religious songs and told of how beautiful Ukrainian language was. I offered them to start singing in Ukrainian. I gave these books to one lady and her two daughters who took part in the church choir. Their mother, however, got scared of the idea and took those books to the head of the village who was a complete communist. The head of the village said: “Oh, there he goes again, spreading his Bandera ideas”, and then she forced the pope to write a claim against me. I was called up to the court, as I said, and the judged asked to read the pope's claim. I said: “That's not true. The letter is signed by one person but there were ten people there”. The judge read the claim and listened to me and then said: “Just leave them alone. You are right about what you are doing but these people might cause you a lot of trouble”. The judge originated from Korec, by the way.
Those were normal situations, I had plenty of them after that time with the pope. The KGBs were always near, I saw them almost every week. However, when they approached me they asked: “May we enter, Mykola?”, – “Yes, you may”. If I said no, they would have entered anyway – we all now that.
There was this other time at he factory I worked at when they thought I'd stolen some lids. The KGBs called me up then, and not the local KGB department but the one in Berezne. The head of the kolkhoz gave me the notification but I said: “I don't have any transport to go there. If they really need it let them come here”. The KGBs came in less than two hours. Berezne was around 30km away. I went to my sister's then because if I hadn't it would have been one big disaster. The car came and I took a ride to Berezne with them. Then they took me to another big village – Liudvipol and start a case on theft. I said that they already know everything so just let me sign the needed papers and make this quick. Then KGBs told me to take another ride with them to my cousin who lived in Adamovychi village. We came there and I saw that they were in the middle of a search through in his house. The whole issue occurred because my cousin's daughter just graduated from a pedagogic institute and wrote a notification that her uncle had been imprisoned somewhere for the last 30 years even though he hadn't killed anyone. The KGBs must have thought I had some illegal materials hidden in that flat. They searched everything but couldn't find a thing. My brother was in the Party then. Anyway, they held me for some time and let me go.
There many provocative situations, yes. There were many families taken away from the village, many people murdered. Many people went to War and never came back. It's a good thing that there's the Book of Memories. Have you seen it?
Ovsienko V.V.:What book? My home village for example has 346 people dead from starvation and 222 died at War.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Here, take a look. I thank Chervoniy for this book.
Ovsienko V.V.: Let's take a look. I have another question: did you ever write or publish anything about yourself? Because I have everything about you which is on internet but the only newspaper which has information on you is the “Dzerkalo tyzhnia”. There's a dig publication from 2003. Was there anything else?
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, there was a lot but I didn't write anything myself, journalists wrote about me. Horobec, for example, the guy who works throughout our region. Some journalists came from Zhytomyr. I could have written to “Volyn” magazine but didn't...
Ovsienko V.V.: Levko Lukianenko provided a few text in his books, which he said were yours and he just used them in his book. He added something to make it look like a dialogue. Is that so? Do you have his third book? (Levko Lukianenko. “From imprisonment: memories and thoughts. Book three”. – K.: “Svitlytsia” publication, “Shidna Proekcia”, 2009. – 275-289).
Kurchyk M.Y.: I did but I gave it away to my students.
Ovsienko V.V.: I scanned the text from that book and published it on the KHPG website (http://archive.khpg.org/index.php?id=1339771552&w).
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, but there are mistakes there. I made my oath of the 14th of January 1944. and my sentence term was 26 years. That's what it says. Levko must have made those mistakes accidentally because he served 26 years himself...
Ovsienko V.V.: No, he served 27 years.
Kurchyk M.Y.: Yes, and I served practically 31 year 2 months and 25 days – I calculated everything precisely.
Ovsienko V.V.: The second tape is about to end. I'll turn the recorder off and if remember anything, I'll turn it on again. I think these were all the answers I needed. Thank you.