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Dissident movement in Ukraine

MARIAN Borys Tyhonovych

03.02.2016 | Vasyl Ovsiyenko | Interview obtained on the 25th of September 2012 at the Ukrainian Cultural Fund premises by the str. Lypska 16 in Kyiv. Edited by B. Marian on 13.02.2013

         Marian B.T.: My father, Tyhon Feodorovych was part of the oppression movement since 1919, from its very foundation. In the summer of that year a rebellion took place against the Soviet power in Moldova, on the left River bank of river Dnister. Their motto was: “the Soviets without communism!”. It was the peasants rebellion. They used to say the Soviet Union is a good idea, but only without the communists and bolsheviks. Soon after that Kotovskiy raising the place with the red army and killed everyone. My father was part of the meeting when this happened, he was a scribe there, I think. He managed to run away, but was later arrested by the checklists, who imprisoned him but did not shoot down. After that my dad officially became a dissident. During the collectivisation in 1930-31, he was arrested again and sent to Bilomorkanal for imprisonment.

My older brother - Oleksnadr - was, on the contrary, a Moldavian Pavlyk Morozov: an honest pioneer and a Komsomol follower… he decided to take the pro-soviet side. He didn't believe in God, Sharing the ideas of Komsomol, was the head of our local kolkhoz. He stood against my father even before he reached 18. Him and my dad had an “interclass misunderstanding”. And there I was, growing up in between those two. During the war, my brother nationally went to fight for the Soviet side, defending “motherland”. My dad, however, stay it was punished, when the Soviets returned their power, because he was cooperating with the Romanians, the so-called “Romanian occupants”. But come to think of it, it was only natural, because he had always been anti-Soviet. So they imprisoned him again. When my brother came back from the War, he became the head of the kolkhoz again.

So my dilemma was this: on the one hand - I loved my father, on the other hand - I loved my brother, but they were never friends. I entered a university in Kyiv, and I studied well there, but my father’s line took over inside me anyway. Why? Because I saw the injustice of the Soviet “power”. I felt that something was wrong. I was kind of a “revisionist” - I wasn't openly against the USSR authorities. I wold say that “Lenin - is good, but Stalin and others understood his ideas wrong”. And that thought hit me back later, when I was arrested for anti-Soviet speeches and writings.

And the revolution of 1956 in Hungary was a tough call for us. When the Soviet forces talk Budapest by force and rolled their tanks against the rebells. When that happened, me and all those who were on my side - we saw the real face of the Soviet authorities, their diabolic face.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Oleksa Musienko wrote in his article that Khrushev’s speech was read out to the students at some point, and that had a strong effect on your people, right?

         Marian B.T.: Yes, it did, and the second thing were the Hungarian events. And those two made us the anti-Soviets we were.

         Ovsienko V.V.: When did you start working on the “democratic reconstruction program”?

         Marian B.T.: That was after the events in Hungary, closer to the end of 1956.

         Ovsienko V.V.: The most we know of these events is given in Musienko’s article [Musineko Oleksa. The people 1960s. What are they about? // “Literaturna Ukraine”. - 1996. - 21 November;]. And he obviously looked up your case in the archives.

         Marian B.T.: Yes, he did… When I read his article, I saw many things I didn't know about. For example I had no idea what the higher authorities thought of the events of those days. I didn't know what the Soviet leaders and the members of the Central Committee thought on the subject. The first secretary of the Central Committee then was Oleksiy Kyrychenko. He was very angry, enraged, he was banging his fists against the table. He called up the head of the University, the Dean, the top security officer of the University: “What is KGB doing, why are they applying measures?!”. I never knew those details.

         Ovsienko V.V.: His resolution was to “Dig to the very foundation”. How are you looking for it?

         Marian B.T.: That’s an interesting one. I was 19 back then. So they made a request to find out whether I took part in anti-Soviet gangs and underground movements. Start preparing my case file with a conviction for “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism”. Also sending requests to Moldova asking whether I took part in the events of 1945-46. I was 10-11 years old back then, how could I? The answer was also very interesting. They couldn't just right “No, he didn’t”. They wrote that “There is no information about Marian Borys Tyhonovych taking part in anti-Soviet underground movements”. So basically they left a go for the KGB to suspect that I might have taken part…

         Ovsienko V.V.: Regarding these events: upon their request you showed up every time, right? Oleos Musienko wrote all this down in detail, but maybe you want to add something?

         Marian B.T.: I do. Someone asked me once: “What do you feel now when are excluded as a dangerous anti-Soviet individual?”. They posed the question in the Russian, so I answered also in Russian: “I feel myself person, taken out from the toilet to breathe some fresh air.”. That was when I was expelled from the Komsomol. I said those words like they were my own, but the truth is that I read them in the biography of Mayakovskiy. He wrote it when he was expelled from the gymnasium for anti-tsar revolutionary activity. So there I was in the concentration camps of Moldavia. Camp No. 7 was the place I arrived first. As soon as I arrived I was met by the Ukrainians, because I was from Kyiv. There was no Moldavian diaspora there as an organised group, maybe 2-3 people. Ukrainians took me as part of them. That place had many rebels from the Western Ukraine, and they were the people I held together with.

There was a rebellion once, at the camp. It was called “the Strike”. Into a place in 1957, I think in November. There were just 20 prisoners who took part, mostly newcomers from the last wave. General Bochkariov personally came to deal with that issue, he was the head of the Soviet GULAG.

         Ovsienko V.V.: What camp did that take place at?

         Marian B.T.: General camp No. 7, not the small one. The Soviet side called it a “massive disobedience”, whereas the Western media openly called it a mutiny. There were a few conditions we posed, and one of them was to release the partisans from Western Ukraine and those people from the Baltic State, who were incriminated with “cooperating with occupants” and “National treason”. We also wanted better labour conditions, food… Many things. But I remember the most interesting condition: “to review all cases under paragraph 10” - the convictions for illegal conversations. We stated the talking and discussing was our constitutional right.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Under what article were you imprisoned?

         Marian B.T.: Article 54, paragraph 10 all the combined Ukrainian-Moldavian criminal code. The Russian criminal code has the same article under number 58. The KGB constantly asked me one and the same question: “”Who was helping you create the program? Who Else is behind this? Tell us and you can go, tell us for forced you to do it. You're a young guy, you don't really want to be imprisoned”.

One of the prosecutors there, from the security authorities - Horunzhiy or Horunzhenko… He had these eyes - as blue as the sky, and a soothing voice, like it was the father talking. He tried to sweet talk me, so I told him straight that if I had anything to say I would have said it. I did trust him, but the truth was that I created the “democratic program” on my own. It wasn't that I was playing hero, it was simply the truth. However, I still remember his devilish methods, when he calms down like you are his own child, sweet-talking you to whatever he needs… Thought many times of it. I even wrote of him in my book text to explain what a hypocritical bastard he was. You should have seen him go during the trial, he absolutely destroyed me, covering me with mud in his speech. He didn't say a word of my brother, but he did say a few about my grandfather. He said my grandfather was a kulak and that my father was a traitor… He ended his speech with a classic: “It’s only natural the offspring of this family is now before our eyes, in court, as an absolute anti-Svoiet individual”.

He was asking the court to give me 8 years of imprisonment, but they gave me 5. I will always remember how he was sweet talking me during the imprisonment and absolutely destroying me during the trial. Excuse me my emotions…

And that was my education in those camps… I would say that less than 1% of those imprisoned “return to the right path” after their release. On the contrary, prisons were the places where anti-Soviet views appeared, where people became more confident in their views and more careful in their actions. But here's another thing I would like to stress on: those camps were not educational at all, on the contrary they will slowly destroying the system which created them.

         Ovsienko V.V.: You mentioned the Strike earlier. How did it end and how long did it take?

         Marian B.T.: Nothing really happened. The General came, adding some sugar and some porridge to our meals and even shortened a few terms for the prisoners, but all the serious issues stayed unsolved.

         Ovsienko V.V.: As I understand, you were acquaintanted with the Ukrainian rebels, but do you know any of the young generation: Yuriy Lytvyn, Oleksa Tyhiy. Do you know any of these people?

         Marian B.T.: I heard of them. But we were never imprisoned together. I know that Stus was already imprisoned in 1972, but I got acquainted with him after my release, here in Kyiv, which was before his imprisonment.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Lupinis held his starvation protest for 200 days, have you heard of that?

         Marian B.T.: Yes, that was during the concentration camp investigation after the strike which I told about. Anatoliy was the most popular prisoner then.

There where other “pure democrats” there - Alik Feldmann, Anatoliy Partashnikov and a few other Jewish boys from Kyiv. The youngest of us was 17 years old - Oleksandr Yaroshenko. We're still friends with him and it's been 55 years. He is now a decorator, Author of the outstanding project called “Mini-Kyiv”.

I was the the first part of the Ukrainians at the camp, but then the students organised a students fellowship and I became part of it. There were people from Moscow, Leningrad, Kyiv, Sverdlovsk… Not just students but also a few officers, University teachers. They even organised a literature studio and were publishing a manuscript called “Pot’ma”.

I published 4 poems written by Mordovian prisoners later, when I published my book. I had those problems written by the hands of authors, but the KGB confiscated the notebook. 35-40 years later a KGB officer came to me and said that he wanted  to give me a gift for my birthday. He said that even though this was strictly against the rules he wanted to return me the notebook, because he understood what dissidents have done for them. He did this even though he might have lost the job for such an action.

That notebook also had my own poetry. There were also also poems of Valentine Sokolov - a talented poet. He is now popular in Russia, his books are sold abroad. He had a tough life, spent around 19 years in concentration camps and died in a psychiatry ward. He was a great guy…

         Ovsienko V.V.: By the way, I served my sentence in Mordovia later than you, in the early 1970s. I remember to people from there: Dzhika Himpa and Valeriy Graur. Are you acquainted?

         Marian B.T.: Yes, yes! Himpa embraced a high position in our organisation in Moldova after his release. He died seven years ago in a car crash.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Shame… He was a very nice person.

         Marian B.T.: Before his arrest I remember him being anxious all the time, almost like you felt that he was going to get in trouble. He was talking to me all the time, asking about the regime, about the food, about the conditions for prisoners. Soon after that he was arrested and served six or seven years. Long after his release, he was always talking of me in his reports, naming me a veteran. His brother, Mihai, is currently a popular figure in Moldova, a political leader and the deputy. He is the main unionist now. Unionists other people who want to unite us with Romania.

         Ovsienko V.V.: You served your five years in 1962. What was your life like afterwards? Were you allowed to be a journalist?

         Marian B.T.: No, I wasn't allowed any journalist work for the first five years. It was a tough time. I work at a factory, at a fabric and then as an Methodist for 2-3 years. I managed to become a journalist in the 1970s with the help of a widly known back then Soviet activist - Petro Krucheniuk. I wasn't given a high position - just ordinary editing work. Later, however, when the Perestroika started, I was made the leading editor of the governmental newspaper “Independent Moldova” in 1993-2001.

My latest job was being the leading editor at the “Moldova” magazine. It’s a magazine with illustrations, like the “Ukraine” magazine, the “Russia” magazine and so on. However, when those nationalists came to power, by nationalists I mean the unionists, I was fired straightaway. They fired almost all the staff from all the areas, including the cleaners. They did all that even though the “Moldova” magazine was primarily for advertisement: Gave information on sightseeing in Moldova and other nice things. No politics.

         Ovsienko V.V.: We how this student in our group, Damaskin. During the students gathering he was accused of working with you. Do you know anything of his fate?

         Marian B.T.: No, I don't. He was expelled from the university and from Komsomol and went to work in a mine somewhere in Donbass. Haven't seen him since.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Tell of the events at the Kyiv University before your arrest. How did you create this “Democratic reconstruction program”?

         Marian B.T.: In autumn 1956 we started publishing a wallpaper called ”Linotyp”. It was 10-12 meters wide and 16-17 centimetres tall, stretched along the whole wall. We position it in the corridor of the University. We wrote everything we wanted on it: about changing the Soviet Union, about applying certain measures, providing autonomy to universities and many other things. The audience found it so interesting that people from the street started coming to read it. Later, of course, the KGB ripped it off and took it away. That was just before the Hungarian events. We said a few things about that too. Other cities like Leningrad, Vilnius and Moscow had student demonstrations with posters saying “hands off Hungary!”. Khrushev triggered us later, during the XX Party gathering. You stated that Stalin was a bad dictator, we trusted him and fell under his lead.

         Ovsienko V.V.: By the way, were you present the Party gathering where Khrushev’s speech on Stalin’s cult was read aloud?

         Marian B.T.: Yes, I was. We were all under the impression, we walked out afterwards completely anti-Stalin and worshipping Khrushev. At first he was doing something to change the system, but then, it seems, he got scared of his own doings and backed down. He later signed an order for arrests, and the KGB were just waiting for that sign - they had everything ready on us.

         Ovsienko V.V.: You work actually one of the first “1960s person”, right?

         Marian B.T.: Yes, that is correct.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Hryts Hayoviy wrote that he was imprisoned a bit later, when Chornovil and Symonenko where already students…

         Marian B.T.: Yes, we were the first dissidents of Ukraine. And not only in Ukraine, but in the whole of USSR. All the others came after us. And your generation, Vasyl, would be the third in line if I'm correct, closer to the end of 1960s, when the last of the first dissidents were released or were being released from GULAG.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Your program has 21 bullet points. When I read it, I thought it was exactly what Gorbachov will have done in 30 years time! So basically you're offering to start Perestroika much earlier.

         Marian B.T.: Yes, that was our goal. I'm also surprised now, when I read this program. I was a very smart guy back when I was 19-20 years old. Many of those things were actually done later.

         Ovsienko V.V.: I noticed that some people are trying to feel compassion for us, they say we were imprisoned for nothing. But you weren't imprisoned for nothing, were you? Your program was a serious thing, since it resonated so strongly that even the Central Committee and Kyrychenko were shaken and ordered to “dig to the foundation”. That is serious!

         Marian B.T.: I guess that was the reason why the security officers kept asking me: “Who’s behind your back? You’re a young guy…” and so on. They couldn't believe that a program like that could have been created by a young man like myself.

         Ovsienko V.V.: That’s regarding the fact that there was no free media. There are a few interesting points here: “eliminate censorship, provide the media with the right to publish different points of view, allow purchasing foreign literature, allow the freedom of travelling abroad, expand the sovereignty of the Republics…”.

         Marian B.T.: The same things that Gorbachov started doing - even though he didn't manage to finish them all. If Khrushev haden't betrayed us, he could have become the great reconstructor of the USSR history.

         Ovsienko V.V.: You mentioned earlier that your imprisonment life had many tragicomic moments. Could you tell of one?

         Marian B.T.: During my trial, there was a very original witness, who was a student from my course - Volodymyr Hubanov. So they posed a question to him: “What can you tell of Marian?”. The first thing he did was “technically dump” me. That’s prison talk. It means that he started praising me but dragging me down at the same time. “Oh, he's such a nice guy! Came in from Moldova, from a small village. I didn't pay any attention to him at first. But then I saw him as an intelligent and interesting person. His speeches were so strong that people starting gathering around him.”, - “What did he talk about?”. And the witness just swallowed the bait straightaway: “He was saying that we should change the system, that single party system doesn't work, then there should be freedom of published materials…”, - “And do you agree with his ideas?’, - “Of course, I did!”, - “Well, we’re going to imprison you together with him then, if that is so.”, - “It would be an honour to be imprisoned with such a person!”.

That was the moment I understood he wasn't provoking or “technically dumping” me. He was simply a sincere but foolish follower.

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