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Dissident movement in Ukraine


04.02.2016 | Vasyl Ovsiyenko | Interview obtained on 17th of February 2001

         Ovsienko V.V.: On 17th of February 2001 I am having a conversation with Evelina Ivanivna Vasylenko, Hubchenko by her maiden name, at str. 8th Shidna, house number 9, Kherson, post code 73035. Ovsienko V.V. recording the interview. 

         Vasylenko E.I.: I am Evelina Ivanivna Vasylenko, Hubchenko by my maiden name, I was born in 1924, on 25th of December, in a family of a worker - a locksmith. My father's name was Hubchenko Ivan Kyrylovych. My mother was a housewife, she did not work because she was raising four children. Our family was a modest one, you could even say what poor. My father often had to apply for social help, I was receiving free lunches at school. Everything was kind of ok. I graduated from the ninth grade in 1941, and then the War started. When the beginning beginning of the war was announced, our teachers told us that we should stay put because the Germans would never come here, and even if they would, they would only stay for a few days. We were told to stay and help army. They told us that the Army needed blood supply, so we went to volunteer to give our. That was my first action in the War.

At some point something very strange started happening. Everyone who could flee - fled, but my father was forgotten, even though he was in ideological communist. Our family stayed on the occupied territories. Just before then I really wanted to leave Kherson, so I even asked my aunt to help me out. But whilst she was preparing, a committee came to draft nurses for the front. I had graduated a reserve nursing school by the time, so I was good to go. However, when I came to the drafting point, I was told that I was no good because I was too little. I feared going into the army illegally, because I was little girl, I was 17 years old, so I decided to leave with my aunt. She was leaving with the Party committee members. We started evacuation on 13 August 1941.

We crossed the river Dnipro in Ziurupinsk, and spent a night there, right of the docks. Our bosses were with us, and they were our local heroes. They tried to organise a transport for us but failed, so we had to walk all the way to Dzhankoi. My aunt tried to send me back to my parents at that point, because she kind of took me away from them. It wasn't easy, because no one was allowed into Kherson any more, it was told that the Germans had already come, but my aunt succeeded, so we were transported back to the town together with the soldiers of the Red Army. I remember that there were many Russians on the ferry, travelling to Kherson. They didn't know whether the Germans were already there, but when they came they saw no Germans. We came into the town to see nothing but empty, raided streets, broken windows and absence of water in the tap. Even in the hospitals were destroyed. We walked to our house with my aunt, and when we approached, a soldier approached us with a question, asking for someone who used to work here, at the town administration. He said he was a military prosecutor and wanted to ask questions about the reasons for the local authorities to have fled the town. My aunt agreed to answer his questions, she told him everything, and in a few hours the whole state of the town administration was back in town, here in Kherson. They started running around organising help for hospitals and several people, making forward and getting clean clothes. And that was our evacuation. My aunt told me then to return to my family, she said that whatever happens to the family should happen to me. I was returning home on 19th of September, in the afternoon, and I still remember seeing the secretary of the town administration in a white shirt with a pistol on his side, you look very sad. After that I came to my family and stayed with them.

The teachers told us that we would be hiding for a few days, but that wasn't the case - we had to do it for months. At some point I thought that we should start doing something, because the war was getting longer. I decided to start working at a can factory, but soon after that my aunt hinted me that I knew German language, so I could easily work with papers, which was nicer then working with cans. I agreed and changed my place of work. I was prepared to do anything just to stay in Kherson, which I did during all three years of occupation. I work at a water tap workshop, a construction company, as a translator at a construction site, even worked at the custom clearance office on the border. My hand was always behind my back caring for me, but I was doing my best too. I was trying to help everyone I could, and the people started noticing me as the girl who always helped those around. If some references have to be acquired - I would do it, I have visited hostages - of which there were many - bringing them food.

Sometimes it was quite tough, because I gained the possibility to stay in Ukraine instead of being taken to Germany only because I was working at the electrical station. Every group taken to Germany where are my age. Every time people of my age were gathered together for the Germany trip I went low profile and worked hard to gain immunity. During my work at the construction company, I bought a piece of cheese in the black market and a chocolate for my niece, because the government only gave us wheat and oil, is that was “appropriate” for Ukrainians. So I came to work and put my bag under the table. When I came back the band was gone. Upon my question I was told that one of the Germans took it and asked me to see him in his office. So I came to him and asked the same question. He told me that Ukrainians were forbidden to get the food I had in my bag, then it was German food, he said those were stolen so he was going to take them away from me. I got angry and told him the Ukrainians used to eat these products and will keep doing so. He answered that whatever happens to all Ukrainians I had already messed myself up. He said I should be thankful that he doesn't see me as a politician, or I would have been doomed.

I got scared, came home and hid there until a new Germany trip announcement was made. After that I went to work and the electrical company. No one wanted to work there because the payment was very low and the job was very hard. I had nowhere to go, so I came to the boss and said that if they needed someone with knowledge of German language, they should take me, but with the condition of immunity from getting taken to Germany. He agreed and I started my work there. When the Germans started retreating I was told to get my stuff and travel with me company, but I said I didn’t want to, as I was born in this town, my parents and the whole of my family were here. I was told I had no choice but to be taken to Odessa if I didn't want to go with them. There was a concentration camp in Odessa, and from there I would have been taken straight to Germany. So I agreed to go with the company, but went to my aunt, gathered my belongings and went into hiding. I told my family to tell everyone that they didn't know where I was. I hid at my friend’s house, not far from where my parents lived. My friend was a good person, so she didn't tell in on me even when the police came searching. Thus I was saved. And later on 15th of December… the Germans were at the river banks of Dnipro then, and our soldiers were on the other side. The two armies were shooting at one another. So on 15th of December 1943 an announcement was made to evacuate Kherson. The German occupants were riding around the town on horses, ordering everyone to leave town. It was scary because it was only December and people didn't know how to survive the winter. People were leaving most of their belongings and running away. My father had problems with his legs, so he was taken to a village nearby, where all the disabled people were taken to. I was separated from my mother and my baby sister. They were taken to one village and I was taken to another village, to a school for orphans. A bit later on I found out the workers were needed in the town so I volunteered to stay close to my parents.

I managed to stay in Kherson. There were seven women apart from me in the village we worked at. And we were doing everything were were told to: peel potatoes, clean footwear, clean the kitchen, do the washing - everything. There was no sexual harassment - everything was very strict, military laws, so we held on. The town was empty. Imagine dead dogs on the streets, lightpoles lying horizontally, broken. When snow fell over the town there were no foot trails. However, the cats state - we had 12 cats where we worked and lived. We had no right to walk around, but I still asked to take a walk to my house, to take a look. When I came by I saw it was burnt down.

On my way back I saw my boss from the previous place of work, he was walking the street accompanied by an armed soldier. I thought that was the end of me, but my boss asked the soldier for permission to talk to me. The soldier allowed us to talk, so the boss asked me of why I ran away from them. I explained that I didn't want to leave town. He asked me of my current occupation, so I told him I was doing everything I had to just to stay and to be with my family: to find food for them and for myself. The times were tough and slice of bread was worth a lot.

I cared for my father as much as I could. Sometimes he infiltrated through all the restricted areas just for a piece of bread from me. We talked, he asked me of the political situation. The German guy at work told me that if I spill at least one word I will get killed. I told all this to my previous boss and he said I was a fool to have declined his offer. He said I could have had a salary and a status, unlike here.

After some time the days I was working at went on the road again so I had to hide once more. Once upon a time, on 31st of December in 1944, the Germans had an order to set off and retreat. We had to go with them, so my boss called me and said that I was either to come with them or go to Odessa. It was a tricky situation, because if we said we wanted to stay, which the Germans already knew of - everything will be lost. The soldiers knew we wanted to stay, we even talked to them about ways to cross the river. They warned that we shouldn't, because our own army wouldn't let us in - they would consider us traitors and spies. The soldiers hinted that all the moment was just for show, the soldiers were taken away in the evening just to be back in town by morning. This was a show for the Soviet Army. That was on 31st of December. Our soldiers started serious advancement much later in March, and it was a good thing we didn't run. If we would've ran we would have died in an empty town.

One of my friends, Ryma Katynska, also a patriot, was a daughter of Kherson university professor, she was 15 years older than me. She was walking beside me, laughing, and a German captain was walking beside her all angry, because the Germans weren't happy about retreating. They said the retreating is one thing, but walking in circles in these swamps was a totally different matter. Roma answered to that by giving an example of when the French fled Russia, wearing female clothes and now the Germans were retreating taking women with them. Roma laughed mentioning that all our female belongings were also travelling with us. I translated her words and he replied that the Germans were not French, he said that the Germans will never surrender. We laughed at this and said the Germany will go down slowly and quietly. We saw clearly that the soldiers were tired of this war, even though their commanders still tried to hold straight.

And so on 10th of March the soldiers told us that they were retreating. Me and my friend Iryna Domashova had prepared our belongings. We really valued our stuff so we can talk a lot of unneeded things besides the bag with food - dried bread, big fat and a bit of water. The column was moving away from Kherson further down from the furniture factory. The whole movement was very disorganised, at some point people started simply running away from the walking column, so me and my friend did the same and turned towards the furniture factory, ran across the Jewish Cemetery and hid in a trench.

It was still daytime, we hid and then heard and motorbike driving nearby. We thought that the Germans were searching for us, and we were right - they started up a chase after us. Later in the night the furniture factory, as well as the buildings around it were set on fire. There was a fight in the village later that night, we already knew how to differentiate German machine guns from Soviet, and that night we heard a both. That's how we met our soldiers. It was sunny on 13th of March, our soldiers were walking all tired and dusty, but we were still very happy to see them.

We started helping them - worked at the train station, and everywhere else we were asked to. We were reconstructing our destroyed country, our burnt town. This kept on until June and after that I entered the University, because this had always been my dream. I entered the Odessa industrial University because it had an eatery and I needed to eat. I was thinking about combining studying with work to earn money. I found a job at the University - I was an assistant at the library. I was considered to be serious person, because I had already “eaten the bread of affliction”.

         Ovsienko V.V.: You studied there from 1944 to… ?

         Vasylenko E.I.: To 1949. I studied, became a secretary of the Komsomol organisation of the mechanical department. I was good student honoured my others. However, things in the family didn't go so well. My father fell ill and died of starvation in a hospital in 1947. I couldn't be present when he died, because my mother told me that I should concentrate on my exams. After his death there was no one to bury him. My oldest brother Victor took a cart and the three men and held the funeral. The neighbours were talking of him as of a communist, who died alone without any help from his government. Because there was no way to make the funeral right or even to call relatives.

When I was doing my fifth year, preparing for a diploma practice, I was suddenly called up to the authorities of the Odessa Northern Black Sea region and accused of having being translating for the Germans during the occupation. They came to me in the night, as, I guess, they did to everyone. Firstly, they denied my pre diploma on practice in Yerevan, considering I was the “enemy of the nation” are something like that. However, they allowed me to do practice in Odessa. My friends started noticing I had changed, became sad. Up on their questions I said that if anything happened to me - they shouldn't trust anyone, who would say bad things about me.

And yes, on 15th of March 1949, I was walking with a friend  - Yuriy Zhabokrytskiy - back home in the evening. Yuri was walking me home to the hostel. I was approached by these men, who called me by my family name and said I should come with them. I entered my room with these men, and you know how it's like in girls apartment - all messy. The men showed me the order for my arrest and then took me away. They took all my clothes and all other belongings. The funny thing is that I had nothing new - everything was previously used. I remember a black Volga car just outside the building, we got into it and drove off to the department. When we came, they started an interrogation straightaway with loads of questions. Some of the questions were very silly, like “We know that you used to smoke, is that so?”. I thought they should be out of their minds, because I never smoked in my life. I explained that I never smoked, and never had any personal relationships with the Germans only work. I also explained that my only thought during that work was to stay at home with my family and the only way to have done that was to be a translator for the Germans.

After all they did not release me. I asked whether I could write letters, but I was told that I couldn't even read, not even one book, even though I was up for my diploma work. But The most important thing was that they wanted to exclude me from the Komsomol. However, the head of the Komsomol denied their request, because there was no valid reason to do so. He said that if I was really working for the Germans at the custom clearance department, there should be an official notice. If there really was one, he would be prepared to overlook the case. But no notifications were given to him because there were none. And later, from the word of Yriy Zhabokrytskiy, the whole faculty found out that I had been arrested. And everyone knew me, they used to see me everyday in the Institute, they saw me studying and living among them. And then suddenly they were all called up and asked to exclude me from the Komsomol as I was “the enemy of the Nation”. It is sad that everybody just lowered their heads and raise their hands to heart for my exclusion. They also voted to completely banished me, became forbidden to contact me.

The interrogations took place at night, of course. The questions they asked were absolutely inappropriate, because there was actually nothing to ask. For example, the officer told me once: “You know, we've got absolutely nothing on you, you're absolutely normal. You've got a nice family, you are a good girl, even during the War you’ve proven yourself worthy. But you'll still get a sentence because these are tough times”. Sometimes my interrogation officer would say: “You know - you're not really a Soviet person are you?”, - “I am what I am, but I know one thing: what ever you do to me, I will still return. As with you, on the contrary, your fate is unclear” -I would say. And the officer would start laughing, saying: “did she really say that? She really hopes yet to gain freedom! Yes, you will be imprisoned. We have been tested by Moscow. Nothing can happen to us”. He would be walking around the room with his hands in his pockets, laughing and talking like that.

So they arrested me in March, and by May I was far away to the North. The the road was very rough. We were travelling in cargo train carriages, and 3-4 times during the night they will be checking on us and counting everybody, to ensure that no one ran away. I called some infection during that travel, so by the time I arrived at the camp I was already sick.

I remember this one time, which happened during the day. It was a long run because the train took long the stops. I remember seeing Ukrainian huts during the carriage bars. I was 24 back then, It was 1949. And there was this little girl, Around 16. She was asking me where were we heading, I pointed her at the huts and said that we were in Dnipropetrovsk region. To which she said that she always dreamed of seeing Eastern Ukraine. The girl was from the West of the country.

We were brought to Uhta, Komi. And I was taken to hospital straightaway. There I met these wonderful people. It was strange, because I thought that there were no old dissidents imprisoned by that time. It should be said that they were also surprised to find out that the old arresting system from 1937 still works. I met a wonderful nurse there, what happened to be imprisoned for espionage suspicion. She offered me to stay at the hospital serving my sentence as a nurse. But I couldn't because the sight of blood makes me feel bad. The doctors in this hospital were of different nationalities: Lithuanians, Estonians, Western Ukrainians and many Belarusians. I remember when two Lithuanians asked to me to apply a dressing to one of the patients with an open skull in injury. I started by taking off the old dressing, but when I saw the puss, the blood and moving bones I fainted myself.

So after that I was appointed to the Power Plant, because I had not officially graduated from the University. My personal file stated “Non-certified engineer”. So I got a job at the Power Plant, I was making timetables, was working on rationalisation.

So I worked there for some time. I had a long sickness period before I got there, and that could be seen in my work. At some point I fell sick again. And just then Stalin assigned a new order: “To send all sentenced under article 54/ 3 (which was mine) for felling”.

So that is where I went. The commander of the process was a good man, he made me a taskmaster, and gave me an assistant who was very strong and was good at chopping trees. We had no electrical tools, all the trees were chopped down manually.

Oh and I didn't even tell you about my last day before the shift between Odessa and Kherson!

         Ovsienko V.V.: Neither did you tell much of your sentence and the imprisonment period.

         Vasylenko E.I.: I was given 10 years, article 54/ 3 of the Ukrainian Code. “helping the enemy on your own territory”.

I was asking them to take me to Kherson for trial because many people knew me there. I was hoping that the people wouldn't lie about me as they knew me very well. I was declined this anyway, but one day they told me to prepare for the shift to my hometown. At the end they decided to conduct the trial in Kherson.

And the trial itself was quite standard. There were nine of us that day, but it was all set up, it didn't really matter what we said or what the witnesses said. I should have a copy of the sentence somewhere.

         Ovsienko V.V.: I should take a copy too.

         Vasylenko E.I.: I can just give it away to you. It says “with confiscation of belongings” - what belongings were they talking about? That hand luggage with old underwear? So we were all sentenced and imprisoned. The guys bought 25 years each, but it's always tougher for them.

         Ovsienko V.V.: do you remember the date of the trial?

         Vasylenko E.I.: No, I don't. You’ll need to check in the sentence notification for that. So anyway, I got 10 years of labour camping with confiscation of my belongings end of three years of rights deprivation.

And then, after the felling, I was taken to a farm and was caring for horses.

One of the women I worked with - Bronislava Lvivna - used tol be the Secretary of Molotov, she was sentenced for anti-Soviet agitation. She was a very thorough professional, and I assume that was the reason for her imprisonment. She was sentenced for 10 years. Some girls we're sentenced for 4-5 years for jokes. There was a girl who used to date an American guy, but as soon as they started planning a wedding, she was arrested and imprisoned, and her fiancé left the country. She got 5 years as a potential criminal.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Did you tell of the lady who used to work in Kremlin?

         Vasylenko E.I.: That would be Broniskava Lvovna Reiter, I did tell of her. She couldn't do a thing. She didn't want to work during the felling, refused to peel potatoes (she told me that she used to buy peels potatoes back at home). She was a funny lady. I did find her a job at the end, she was to be checking the fields so that the horses wouldn't be eating all the grass.

That's how I worked there. After Stalin that the regime eased up a bit. And then in 1955, on 14th of April, if I remember correct, I was released. I got a letter saying that my sentence was shortened from 10 years to 6, and I should be released as I had already served 6 years. By that time I lost any hopes to gain my diploma, but when I came to the head of the Institute, he talked to me, looked at my marks and at my practice sheet, and decided that was a great specialist. Thus I was allowed to graduate officially.

After that I went to the can factory and applied for a job. That place had people working there who used to be my student mates before the imprisonment, so they gave me a place.

So in 1956 I came to the university, stayed there for half a year and graduated officially.

         Ovsienko V.V.: What about your knowledge, did it survive the long imprisonment?

         Vasylenko E.I.: To be honest with you, I had to sit down and refresh them, and I did peek into the book during practice. There was a more serious problem anyway, my brothers suffer because of my imprisonment. They were veterans of the War and they couldn't get into the Party because of me…

         Ovsienko V.V.: When did you get rehabilitated?

         Vasylenko E.I.: In 1971. I applied for it and had no problem with gaining it. They even pay me a refund oh 11,000. The money doesn't cover the trauma however…

         Ovsienko V.V.: Could you say a few words about your life after that?

         Vasylenko E.I.: I worked at the technical school up to 1980 and then I retired. After my retirement however, I kept working at the can factory until 1993. After that I retire completely.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Did you take part in any of the modern organizations at the end of 1980s? Like the “Movement” for example.

         Vasylenko E.I.: The “Movement” has my sympathy, but I decided not to join anymore organizations. Mycelia is part of the “Movement”, but I'm just at home.

         Ovsienko V.V.: You promised to tell a bit of how you met with Mykola Oleksandrovych.

         Vasylenko E.I.: It’s quite personal…

         Ovsienko V.V.: Just a few words, please.

         Vasylenko E.I.: We were classmates in the ninth grade. It just happened so that I like people and people like me, I was a good pupil with high grade and the only person to criticize me was Mykola Vasylenko. He was the one with all the poetry on his back desk, although he was really bad at maths. We lost contact when the War had started.

I came back in 1956 after graduation and one of my friends, who knew me from the factory told me that we had a new electrician at the factory, a nice quiet guy, and that he wanted to acquaint meet with this new comer. That man happened to be Mykola Vasylenko. He didn't recognize me at first, but I recognized him and the first thing I remember was him criticizing me back at school. And I told this to him straightaway. We became friends, went to the movies together… He had a girlfriend in Lviv, and he always said that while she's away he's with me. At some point he said: “Why don’t we get married already?”. And so on 31 October 1956, we got married. And we have been together ever since. We built this house together, his parents helped us.

         Ovsienko V.V.: Thank you. The story was told by Evelina Ivanivna Vasylenko, by her maiden name - Hubchenko, on 17th of February 2001 in the town of Kherson. Ovsienko V.V. recording. [microphone off]

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