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Dissident movement in Ukraine

BERESLAVSKIY Mykola Oleksandrovych

04.02.2016 | Vasyl Ovsiyenko | Interview from 2.04.2001. Edited on July 7, 2008

            Ovsienko V.V.: Today's date is 02.04.2001. It is Monday and we are in Dnipropetorvsk, at the home of Mykola Bereslavskiy, Vasil Ovsienko recording. Nadia Vasilivna, wife of Mykola Bereslavskiy, present during the interview. Maybe, Petro Rosumniy will join us.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: I would like to show you some documents, concerning my life story. For example, the documents concerning my national position in early 1940s. It's interesting, because 60 years have passed after that. Those times were famous for obligatory, forceful Russification even during the War. I was present during those events and later contacted people who survived the War and the forcefull Russification of 1940s. These letters show a lot about my national position back in those days. Allow me to read a few of them.

Here's a list from 25th of October 1943 and it says: “I live and work the same way I used to. I subscribed for 15 Ukrainian books from Prague: “Kobzar”, “History of Ukraine”, “Geography of Ukraine”, “Culture of Ukraine” and others. Ukrainian emigrants are publishing these books abroad. Those emigrants are nationalists who fled from Ukraine back in 1919-1920 lead by Petliura and others. They still battle against the Soviets for the independence of Ukraine. Back here, these people are called traitors and spies.

I are cross with me because I keep studying. Why? We find ourselves in the current situation only because we are silly and uneducated. So to change this we should learn and yet again – learn. We know nothing, the authorities lie to use and we believe them. This has to stop. Wouldn't it be great if I come a different person? Isn't it great that I am being taught by professors? You say: look at life around you. What should I do? Visit theaters or cinemas? I am subscribed for five newspapers and three journals. I already have 60 books from the institute and have been buying some my self”.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Where were you writing this from?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: From Germany and Czechoslovakia. Ukrainian girls used to address me with questions about the reasons I keep speaking Ukrainian instead of taking life as it is. I gave them all very short answers: “Thank you for your advise, but I'm not interested. How can talk about throwing books into fire? No civilized man would do so. We should love our books and our Motherland. I'd rather throw myself into fire than throw a book there”.

And that was my established point of view.

That's about the period before the War. After the War however, my contacts and relationship with some popular people who had gone through the hell of concentration camps made me a total nonconformist of soviet power.

At this point I would like to mention a friend of mine – Mykola Sokolovskiy-Sarma. He is currently paralyzed, 90 years old, blind, but keeps working everyday. He still writes poetry and his memories. His wife, Varvara Stepanivna helps him of course.But it's still a special example of a person with an immensely strong will... His state is critical, he knows he may pass away any moment, nevertheless he keeps working. He had a long life. Served a sentence in Karelia back in 1930s. Was part of URA, got a death sentence, but at the end survived all of it. 

            Ovsienko V.V.: I have his book “My relationship with the OUN”. It has been published in Toronto in 2000. It's an autobiography. His wife says she keeps recording his stories on a tape recorder, so there's more to come.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Anther book was recently published, and he hasn't sen it yet, with poetry  and memories. He wrote to me recently and mentioned that it should be soon published.

            Ovsienko V.V.: I had intentions of traveling to their home in Novomoskovsk, at least out of respect, even if he would be able to tell me anything. A talked to him over the phone, but it turned out that the time wasn't right, so I didn't go.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: It would be nice if you came. He can barely talk, but it would be nice if you came.

            Ovsienko V.V.: I think I'm not going to be disturbing them with visits. Would you like to pass these documents over to the KHPG?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Well, I'm giving them to you... There's a directory inside, but you'll have to choose some kind of catch phrase from all these writings.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Obviously, I'll also have to write a word about you as you're the author. Our topics are all about oral autobiographies. We need to group them all so we could publish them afterwards. It's a lot of work.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Yes, I understand. Ievhen Zaharov contacted me many times, and I sent him new directories every time he asked, but those were documentary materials, not hand written. It would have been great if all people worked as hard as you do. It is needed to travel around the whole of Ukraine, because most of these people are old and ill like me. You are doing a very worthy job.

            Ovsienko V.V.: I will make everything in two copies. One copy will remain with me and the other one will stay in Kharkiv. Is the copy of your sentence included, or is there just a part of it?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Only a part, because I couldn't find the whole document.

            Ovsienko V.V.: I have a question, the reference present at KHGP has a phrase: “On recommendation of professor-emigrant from Poltava and the Consular of Ukraine from Dresden. Dating from September 1943 to April 1945. You studied at the Ukrainian Economy Academy in Czechoslovakia”. Who is the Consular from Dresden?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: The administrative division of Germany in those days was the next: the Reich itself, the Bohemia-Moravia protectorate, reichscommissariat (Ukraine), General governor-ship (Lviv and Krakow). Apart from that there was the Romanian Transnistria which included Odessa and Mykolayiv up to the river Boog. All the above mentioned territories possessed different statuses. Citizens of the General governor-ship had the right to freely travel to Germany for work. Ukrainian political emigrants young and old were strong there. In Ukraine, on the other hand, people were taken forcefully and shifted to labor or concentration camps in Germany. Dresden had the General governor-ship's office, but it wasn't a council in its full meaning. Factually this council was dealing with numerous Ukrainians who travelled to Germany for work, it dealt with issues on their arrival and departure. Ukrainian representatives of this kind were called consulars, and this guy called himself that.

            Ovsienko V.V.: So, he was a representative of the German authorities, right?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Yes, all the authorities were German.

            Ovsienko V.V.: So a German official on Ukrainian issues.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Yes, they were called consulars.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Right. Tell me please, are there, in the reference about you, any mistakes which we could correct now? We might've missed something important.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: There are a few small things, yes. It says there that I was shifted away to Germany in May 1943, so I would like to add details of that shift. In 1941-1942, when Germans occupied our land, Zaporizhska region, we had visitors from the OUN. On of those visitors, Polishchuk, had plenty of political and scientific literature. He was giving it out to us, and I was distributing it further away.

The police found out about it, so I was called up and questioned: “Are you waiting for you father?”; - “My father died in 1941, and it's now 1942”; - “No, we mean father Stalin, but ok, we'll return to this subject”. They let me go that time and didn't bother me for a long time afterwards. Later on they arrested Polishchuk and shot him down the next day. Some time after that they came to me and deported me to Germany. Later on they started deporting other people to Germany for forceful labor.

I wanted to mention another mistake in the text. It says: “In May 1945, Bereslavskiy ran off to the Soviet Army. Served in Germany and Austria”. It happened on 5th of April 1945, not in May.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Your military passport says: “Recruited and shifted to the military base on 5th of April 1945”.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Yes, that's correct then.

10th of February 1969. When I arrived to the Shevchenko University in Kiev, I wore advertisement boards on my front and back which said: “Stand for the rights of Ukrainian language. Freedom to culture activists!”. I then started addressing passing by students and teachers: “Long live independent Ukraine!”; “Stop discriminating Ukrainians!”. Before entering the University I hid a petrol can near the entrance. I needed it as part of my performance after I made the speech. If I had entered the building with the can, they wouldn't have let me finish my speech. I didn't know when exactly would I get arrested, so I had to prepared.

I was then suddenly grabbed by strong men and taken away to a small room. Not for long though, because they were calling someone, probably, to take me away.

            Ovsienko V.V.: The room was near the University lobby?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: No, right in the lobby.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, I know that place, there's also a dressing room there.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.:  So, after 10-15 minutes KGBs came and took me away to Volodymyrcka str.

            Ovsienko V.V.: building No.33.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: And them to the str. of Rosa-Luxembourg

            Ovsienko V.V.: Which place was the first?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: I think it was Volodymyrska. If I remember correct, it was the KGB headquarters.

The next spot. It says: “Stayed in Mordovian concentration camps – No.19 and No.3. Took part in protests, hunger strikes, for this, was punished many times”. Allow me to add some details.

I stayed in hospital for some time, but wasn't treated well. I was in pain – headaches and other types of pain, I have a gastric ulcer, but they never treated me in time, so I announced hunger strikes because of this.

There was another situation. One young prisoner got to the forbidden zone and screaming for his mother. He was mentally ill, but the guards still shot him down. We decided to protest against that behavior, so we were punished for that with isolation cells.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Where was that?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Camp No.3. There was a territory for mentally ill prisoners between the male and the female parts of the camp.

            Ovsienko V.V.: So he ran to the forbidden zone from that mental territory?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Yes. How, you might ask? It happened during repairs, and the guy managed to get right into the fire range. The guard who did it got a vacation.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Was the guy a political prisoner?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.:Yes, he was.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Do you remember his name?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: No, I'm afraid my my memory isn't as good anymore.

            Ovsienko V.V.: What was his nationality?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: He was Russian. There was another situation once, and it's on the record. We were being forced to conduct repairs around the camp. I stood against such compulsive labor: it was unacceptable for me to be serving an unlawful sentence additionally repairing my prison. So I stood against and was punished for it. And then the prison commander came in once. The order was such that whenever a commander came in, we had to stand up straight and it our hats of. I refused to do so and was punished again, this time – together with Vitaliy Kalinichenko. After that we decided to stand against our squad commanders: they were forcing us to get to work... They were the ones who destroyed my archives. I used to have a big package there – equal in size to a standard butter package which weighed 24kg. I had some unique documents there, very important for me. So one the former German officers – Rakh was his surname, he was from Kuban – would tell in on anyone he found suspicious. One time I told him off for that so he took all my documents and burnt them all. That package had all kinds of materials – political, religious and many more. People had interest in my materials, I had been collecting them for a long time. So I told him off again and was the forbidden to purchase anything.

Upon my release, even though my health was quite bad, I was trying to work with publishing houses like “The Ukrainskiy Visnyk”, “Porohy”, “Monastyrskiy ostriv”, with newspapers “Pivdenna Zoria”, “Svitlo Zhovtnia”... Some of my work even went abroad to America, Canada and later to Frnace. I, sadly, had no opportunity back then to see them my self, but my friends who travelled abroad told me of my publications in America and in Paris. My articles were also used in radio programs, especially by “Svoboda”.

The authorities did apply certain leverage to me after my release. For example, they conducted searches in my flat a few times and confiscated many handwritten materials. Every time they came, they took something away from me. Warned me not to walk out of the house. They threatened my wife at work and my children at school had special attention from the headmaster and the teachers. They even tired to gather a meeting to expel my children from school and send our whole family away from Osypenko.

            Ovsienko V.V.: What is Osypenko?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: That's the village I come from, and the place I stood trial. It's not far from Dnipropetrovsk. It became worse at some point – we were threatened with possible physical violence against us. There was a time when someone attacked me with a knife. Someone named Solonskiy Mykola. All that took place because the authorities spread rumors that I had plenty of hidden gold and a radio to contact America secretly. They stated that I was organizing riots and provocations in Kiev. So they were doing everything to compromise me. However, they never said a single word about the fact that I stood for Ukraine and Ukrainian language. Only those actually heard me talk on the radio or read my articles, only they tried to reassure my relatives that all I ever talked about was Ukraine and Ukrainian language and nothing else.

My family is as follows: wife – Nadia Vasylivna, born 1930. Her maiden name is Zubko. We married the year you were born – 1949. We have three children. Two daughters: Liudmyla, born 1952 and Zhanna, born 1955. We also have a son Mykola, born 1957. Both me and my wife we come from culturally developed families. My grandfather, for example, was first a clerk and then an accountant. That was before the revolution. His brother was an engineer. I had two uncles. One of them was the head of village council and the other one was a teacher. My mother's grandfather worked in a bank. One of my grandfathers was acquainted to Trotskiy and Lenin personally and was part of the social-democratic movement in Russia. I even had a few pictures somewhere, where they are near a lake with their bicycles.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Who was on that picture?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Trotskiy, Lenin, my grandfather and one other guy, but I don't know him. Germans burnt our house down in 1943 so these pictures were destroyed too. I wanted to contact the Lenin Museum or the central Museum of Moscow, but my health and all the constant traveling stopped me. My grandfather had a very bad impression of Lenin. I don't know if they in good relationship with Lenin, but my grandfather's opinion on the matter was very clear – he didn't like Lenin because of his drunkenness, rudeness and intolerance. My grandfather died during the civil war.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Which side did he fight on?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: He was first at the Baltic sea, but then, during the revolution of 1905-1906 emigrated to Sweden.

            Ovsienko V.V.: So his side was?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: I'm getting there. I have his picture. He returned emigration in 1917, when the revolution begun. Quickly arrived to Ukraine from Russia and lead a pro-Ukrainian agitation. He didn't take part in the fighting. There was even a time when the army of General Drozdov were heading from Odessa to Rostov and my grandfather was taken hostage and sentenced to death. So he was sitting in some room and the soldier who was guarding him happened to be a friend, so he let my grandfather go and thus helped him survive. He was already a patriot back then. He was politically and culturally prepared for conducting pro-Ukrainian agitation.

He died in 1919. He was traveling from Russia to Ukraine...

            Ovsienko V.V.: Did you say his name?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: No, I didn't. His name was Kulibko Omelko Panasovych. The word kulibka is a bread loaf in Ukrainian. His pseudonym was Kulibchenko.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Thank you.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: ... So I was called up by the head of police. Polishchuk, the teacher distributing pro-Ukrainian materials was shot down in 1942 and I was one of the people who was helping him. I even posses a document which states that I “... suffered from national-socialistic harassment”. This includes soviet and pre-soviet harassment.

From 1941, when I was 17-18 year old kid, I was gladly taking part in these distributing activities. And then, after one of my runaways, I was sent to the army. After the War had ended I became an interpreter at a German military hostage camp with around 52 000 Germans. That camp was somewhere around Drezden. After that I was shifted to Austria, to Vienna. I worked at the commandant's office. That place had American, Soviet, British and French commandants there. I even still have my pass from those days.

            Ovsienko V.V.: The record has this phrase: “Bereslavxkiy ran away to the Soviet Army” - is it correct?

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: One could say so, yes, but one could also be more delicate and polite. One could say that it was my last runaway, after which I happened to have found myself in the army.

... My name is in the list of nominates for “The Person of the Year”, “Prominent People”, in the dictionary “Who is Who in Ukraine” and “Best Intellectuals of the Year”. I was even nominated for certain foreign awards by different autobiographic communities...

... This is my work “Where are we heading? Forwards or backwards?”, dedicated to...

            Ovsienko V.V.: Allow me to read it. “I dedicate it to my long living courageous friend Oleksiy Ivanovych Tykhiy”.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Not “friend”, no.

            Ovsienko V.V.: What's the right word? “Brother in arms”? Maybe that would be better. “...brother in arms who died in a soviet concentration camp in 1984”, Sicheslav, Ukraine, 1989. It's a big handwritten book.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: Yes, and the book tells of bolsheviks, communist system, the situation in Ukraine, conditions concerning Ukrainian language and culture, national consciousness of Ukrainians at the time. There are many unique documents, never researched before: “Ukrainian language from the October Revolution to the renaissance of Poland”. There are facts and documents dating back to tsar's Russia, then the soviet times and up to the current events - “Ukrainian language after the October Revolution and after the renaissance of Poland”: it tells of what was going on in Poland, in Ukraine, it tells of how we had been suppressed. There's a bibliography of those days, for example the 1920s and 1930s when the repressions began. One can find out many interesting things about Ukrainian language from these documents...

            Ovsienko V.V.: Yes, These books should be published.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: “Migrational situation in Ukraine and the USSR”. “Love her in these dark times...” - that's an optimistic note from Vasil Symonenko's writings: “My people posses the hot blood of Cossacks in their veins”. “So let us be patriots and optimists. Let's have faith in our melodious language and in our courageous, strong and long suffering nation. Let's have faith in our beautiful, honest and singing mother-Ukraine. Let's unite in the fight for national, social and human rights. We should always have strong faith in the righteousness good and justice, in the coming of happiness and wealth of Ukrainian nation and mother-Ukraine. We should carry our national banners with wishes to our Motherland: Live, Ukraine, live and be beautiful, strong, truthful and free!” That's how the book ends.

            Ovsienko V.V.: This package is around 20cm thick.

            Bereslavskiy M.O.: These typewritten and handwritten materials have a few important moments: “Russia as Russia”, “The Golgotha of Ukrainian language”, “Historic portraits and graves”. These are mine, and this belongs to a student, Bereslavska Viktoria. This is no fiction, to write  this I worked through a whole lot of documents. I even said once: “Put them into my grave beside me”.

            Ovsienko V.V.: Grave? Wouldn't it be better to publish these?


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