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Dissident movement in Ukraine

KOKHAN Vasyl Ivanovych

04.02.2016 | Vasyl Ovsiyenko | Interview with Vasyl Kokhan in Kyiv on April, 5, 2003

V.V.Ovsiyenko: Vasyl Ivanovych Kokhan tells his story on April 5, 2003. Vasyl Ovsiyenko records the interview.

V.І.Kokhan: I, Kokhan Vasyl Ivanovych, was born in the Zakarpattia Oblast that at the time was called Pidkarpattiia Rus and was a part of Czechoslovakia. I was born into a poor family. My family always aspired that Ukraine would be reunited. I was born in the Village of Kosyno, Svaliava Region on November 18, 1926.

I went to school in our village, later I went to the high school 7 kilometers from us in the Village of Chynadiyovo (Mukachevo Region). I finished this school. But when in 1938 there was a large movement of OUN from Great Ukraine, here the Carpathian Sich was organized. I was an activist in it. I finished the master sergeant school of 1938 in the district of Black Tisza, not far from the Mountain of Syvulia. (At the age of 12?--V.O.)

Following the forced division of Czechoslovakia and its partial incorporation into Nazi Germany, Zakarpattia Ukraine obtained autonomy. Hungary and Germany tended to liquidate this autonomy. We rose in arms to defend our independence. I was a machinegunner. (At the age of 13?--V.O.)

We were defeated, because we had light armament only. A part of our Sichovyks went to Yugoslavia; there is an area of Kerestur in Croatia[1]. These people came from Zakarpattia. In Kerestur they speak like we do. A part went through Romania to Kerestur, and we went underground. Our underground was concealed very well. When the Hungarians came, they got their hands on everything. I studied, and when the soviets came--so we called them--all of us were voluntarily conscripted into the army. It happened already in 1944. I did not want to go, but we were recruited; a double duty detail transported us to the front.

V.O.: Where were you recruited?

V.K.: I was recruited near Mukachevo. And already in three days we took the field. We were not trained properly; nevertheless they threw us into the fray.

I found myself in a paratroop division, then we were transferred to 129th Alpine Zhytomyr Division and threw into the fray to free Remen (is it a name?--V.O.) towns. There were very heavy fights in Tatra Mountains: Gmina Poronin, Zakopane and Gmina Czarny Dunajec. I was wounded there; they did not discharge me to undergo treatment, but made me a telephone operator. As soon as I had convalesced, they sent me to the front again. Then Vistula, Cracow…  There were also very heavy fights. I was wounded there for the second time. When I recovered I became a machinegunner, submachine gunner… where it was the most difficult. Then I was shell-shocked and acquired contusion deafness. I was wounded once more. I fought in the 66th Division of the First Ukrainian Front. On the territory of Poland and Czechoslovakia I fought until May 26. The war was over on May 11 and we fought until May 26. After that we were transferred to the Soviet Union. There was famine, we starved terribly, but no one was released home. They did not discharge us to prevent reinforcement of the UIA. We were held as hostages.

V.O.: Where were you held?

V.K.: In Kamyianets-Podilskyi, Chernivtsi, where the UIA was very active. They held in place in order to have trained soldiers and prevent our going to the UIA. And we would have humped ship to the UIA, beyond question. So we were kept six years until Shukhevych perished. When Shukhevych died, they released us. When we were in the acting army, we seized every opportunity to supply the UIA with cartridges and grenades. I gave the whole boxes personally. They knew that we were for Ukraine. Therefore we were kept under control.

We were demobbed in 1950. When we returned, the collective farms had been organized already, and there was a frightful famine.

V.O.: And where did you return?

V.K.: I returned to Svaliava. We had not Ukrainians either from Central Ukraine or from Russia. The government brought border guards there, NKVD and pseudo-NKVD--MIA. Helluva lot. Very many pseudo-UIA members. There were many UIA fighters in Zakarpattia and in the forests. The locals gave them bread, food.

In 1952, I studied in Lviv. At the Institute of Forestry Engineering I finished the course of electricians of mobile power-stations and in 1953 I entered Moscow technical college to become an electrician. In 1955 I entered the Academy of Agriculture in Kyiv, engineering department. I graduated in 1960. I was an engineer-mechanic designing machines, I was a designer. I was assigned to a post in Kyiv. I worked in the research institute of UKRDIPROstanok. They did not give apartments there and I went to work in the Institute of Automation and was a sophomore at KPI, department of automation and telemechanics, evening courses. I was an engineer, but I needed automation and telemechanics for my work.

V.O.: In what year was it?

V.K.: It happened in 1962-1965. In our academy and in KPI there were dissidents and democratic movement. In May we used to go to the monument to Taras Shevchenko. The students were persecuted, but we, engineers, kept going there every year. The students and young people who studied humanities were detained, but they didn’t touch techies. They did not jail us because we were needed for such branches as engineering. They tried to change our minds, but we were good students and ground away on delirious Marxism-Leninism, Marxist philosophy[2], historical materialism, dialectical materialism, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Materialism and Empiriocriticism, State and Revolution. We tired out our lecturers and they fled from the auditoriums. So we showed our disagreement with the ruling regime, because dissident is a person who dissents.

I personally know that Yaroslav Dobosh, who was arrested in Chop. I personally knew Zinoviya Franko, and we were friends with Taras Franko. He was also democracy-minded man. I worked at the Institute of Automation with his son Roland. He had a false front of the secretary of communist party committee of the institute. To make a show of it he allegedly was working to reform me. Later he worked as a diplomat in England. He persuaded England to present its Antarctic station to Ukraine[3]. He lives near the Taras Shevchenko academic theatre[4], second entrance. The late Taras also lived there. And Zinoviya died already. She could not get a job.

I found myself in a really tight situation, though it isn’t easy to press an engineer. I know Kuchma very well; he was a party organizer at our plant, went around with his guitar, used to put on airs of a cool guy. (L. Kuchma was a party organizer at the PA Pivdenmash in Dnipropetrovsk.--V.O.). Often we made business trips and propagated dissident ideas not only in Ukraine but also in other republics. There we communicated with engineers. They saw that we were not afraid; therefore they were not afraid also. We said, “We do not know, what the Soviet power is and nobody knows it.” They opened their eyes wide in amazement. I asked, “What do you call Soviets? Communist party? Lenin told that “communists” was a lame term and they should be rather called “fascists” like they did in Italy.” At the seventh extraordinary congress on March 6-8, 1918 the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (Bolsheviks) was renamed as Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). And Lenin disagreed with the latter name and gave preference to fascists. When he was in Switzerland, he lived with Mussolini on the same street, and he knew Mussolini. Mussolini worked as a locksmith there. And in the manor of Kukushkino in Tataria the Ulyanovs’ family took advantage of people, so that he could live there.

In short, I opened the volume of works of Lenin and showed them, where it was written. I quote: “Communists is a lame name. Maybe Italian fascism might be helpful in this case.” Page 343 or 347, second paragraph on the right side from above.

V.O.: And what volume?

V.K.: I reckon 37[5]. I showed them that Lenin wrote, “We should give battle to Russian chauvinism and give battle to ruffians.” Volume 45, page 340.

V.O.: Did you have samvydav literature at your disposal?

V.K.: Yes, we did. After 1967, when they began jamming the broadcasts of Svoboda Radio, we started to receive materials printed in the west and distribute that printed matter. Ivan Dziuba wrote a study Internationalism or Russification? The son of Yuriy Khorunzhyi, writer, and my children were in the same kindergarten. He had a rotaprinted copy; I took it, read it, and gave it to my engineers, they read and mimeographed it. There were copies in KPI, in the academy, in technical college, all over Ukraine and Russia, because the people handed it over to other readers in person. They sent this book to Kharkiv, from Kharkiv to Dnipropetrovsk and to Kryvyi Rih. They read until they failed to return it. I thought the guy would feel hurt. I met him and said, “You know, Yuriy, I’ve got disagreeable news for you: my friends pass your book from hands to hands. I know that it is in Dnipropetrovsk now and they may pass it to Kryvyi Rih and farther on.”—“Then,” he said “It’s a row of beans, Let them do it.” So we continued to do it. But characteristically, not a single engineer gave away another engineer; not a single volume, not a single book, not a single page, not a single newspaper were grassed up to the KGB. Such was the unity among engineers. The humanists were other cattle of fish; the engineers could not put a finger wrong. At the time we had political indoctrination hours, and we used it to distribute samvydav. Everyone saw that the time had already taken the wind out of party’s sails.

As a troublemaker, the KGB tried to recruit me as a secret agent. When we were in the army, they persuaded soldiers and noncoms to report on each other. Once, when I was conducting tactical training, they summoned me to the chief of staff. I came and the chief of staff, a Ukrainian, said, "I haven’t summon you.”—“Right, I was summoned to the chief of staff.” Knowing my harshness he laughed. “Go there, through that door.” I went in and saw such… sitting there. They were allowed to wear any uniform. I looked at them and felt at a loss knowing not to whom to report. "Who needs me here?”—“We have decided to talk to you.”—“Who are you?”—“This is a special department.”—“Couldn’t you talk with me during the classes?”—“This is a confidential matter.”—“About what?”—“If you hear unhealthy conversations, take note of them and report to the captain.”—“What ?! I am to eavesdrop and report to the captain?! Am not a breezy here to mess with the tittle-tattle. And I will not betray my comrades. The perfidy is your trade and I will have no hand in it.” Then a paunchy shorty with such a muzzle from the North rose to his feet. "You can rely on this one.” And I asked him, "Did you doubt it?” I reached for the door-handle and off I went. And beyond the doors the chief of staff, major, eavesdropped on me. I made tracks, and he laughed. They gave a lot of trouble to me, rotters! I was not summoned anymore, but I constantly was under a press.

They knew that I took Dziuba’s book from Khorunzhyi, but not a single engineer was caught. I said, "You’d better quit it. Don’t pry into it; we’ll take care of it".

My children went to a Ukrainian kindergarten, it was my choice. I applied to the Ministry of Education. And the son of Yuriy Khorunzhyi was with my son in the same group.

When I studied, a Russian lecturer taught mathematics. And I was the mathematical studio prefect. At the time there were mathematical studios. At our meetings we discussed complicated problems. At first we had 25 members, but later only 15 remained as it was very difficult to study. Everybody wanted to be an advanced student. So I wrote on the bits of paper: first, second, fifth, fifteenth, shook them up in a cap and suggested to pick them out. Everybody picked his ticket out. Well, I picked the ticket #15. I stood and waited. And I received an increased scholarship to the tune of 528 karbovanetses, while the ordinary scholarship amounted to 230 karbovanetses. I picked out an examination card about division of polynomials. The lecturer said, “You know this, you know this… Give me the determination of a discriminant, find a sign and I will mark your answer.” In Ukrainian a discriminant is determined as follows: the root of linearized quadratic equation is equal to the second coefficient with the opposite sign plus-minus a square root of the square of this coefficient without a free term. Just try and translate it into Russian. What is Russian for the “root of linearized quadratic equation”? I tried to use my head and he said, “Hey! You need compensatory education for the high school curriculum!” He went to the dean's office; the dean looked at the mark sheet, “Why have you got four out of five for this?” That professor approached us when I was explaining. The dean asked, “What do you think you are doing?” The professor saw that he had got caught and said, “You know, young man, I beg your pardon, we will change it to excellent grade, and we will stamp the sheet in the dean’s office.” And how many such our Ukrainian children they cowed and intimidated there and crushed their soul for life! I did all I could.

Now listen. They failed to recruit me. But, if need be, they could play a mean trick on you. They controlled everything and let you know they were there. I paid no attention to them. We did not hide behind somebody’s back, we were not afraid of either oblast or city committees, or party, or devil, or KGB, anybody.

We were interested in our Ukraine that had been occupied by bolshies on June 20, 1919. We wanted to find the means to liquidate this occupation and make Ukraine an independent state. We knew, how many men they took away from Ukraine and did not return into Ukraine. The posts were won by semi-literate people, while literate people could not take up a post to work for Ukrainian people. They took away many my inventions. For example, I send my invention to the Committee for Inventions and they forward it to Russia. That is they robbed the intellect of Ukraine. We protested against it. We rose in opposition to sending Ukrainians to serve at the world’s end and carry out all dirty work. Russian General Gromov asked my good acquaintance in Afghanistan (he is now lieutenant-general), “Why didn’t you send Khokhols?”; they talked about an injured soldier. That is they did not consider Khokhols to be humans and used to send them into the thick of things. The cadets, who I trained in the army are already colonel-generals, and I never got a promotion.

They jailed me in 1974, when they began to jail engineers. They arrested me in the hospital. Then I worked in the Institute of Publishing, because in the Institute of Automation there was liquidation underway on political grounds. The administration sacked me, and I went to the Institute of Publishing. Then I was hospitalized and the KGB officers took me away from the hospital, so that nobody, even my family, did not know anything.

V.O.: And when exactly did it take place?

V.K.: It was on October 29, 1974. I will show you the sentence; you will find there all information. My sentence is also in the UNO, in America.

V.O.: How were you arrested and where did bring you?

V.K.: Look here. I went out of the hospital and they grabbed me from behind. This hospital is on Yaroslaviv Val Street, near the Lviv Square; I do not know its present status[6]. I was grabbed, shoved into a car and brought to 15, Korolenko St. and put into a solitary cell. I could not phone home, nobody knew where I was. In the evening seven men came and whaled on me.

V.O.: 15, Korolenko St. Is it near the monument to Bohdan Khmelnytskyi? It is Volodymyrska Street[7] now.

V.K.: Yes, near the monument to Bohdan Khmelnytskyi. They kept beating me at night to make me to own up to a crime.

V.O.: To give oneself up? What did they expect of you?

V.K.: They dictated that I allegedly said something against Soviets… They beat on me and I answered in kind. They hit my kidney; I fell down and lost consciousness. They carried me to a one-man cell, where I stayed until I regained consciousness. Then I gave myself up at their bidding. "We will not release you. Nobody knows where you are. Have you happened to read how many people are missing?” And then they drove me… I have no idea where they brought me, because the windows were curtained.

V.O.: To 33, Volodymyrska St.? Or Lukyanivka?

V.K.: Probably, Volodymyrska St. In Lukyanivka jail they kept me later on, when I was sentenced.

V.O.: Who was your investigator? Do you remember anybody?

V.K.: I did not know at first, and then I requested to tell me. According to his ID, his name was Kukharchuk.

V.O.: Where was he from: KGB, militia or the office of public prosecutor?

V.K.: There is no making head or tail of it. I do not know whether he was from militia, KGB or the office of public prosecutor, but his name was Kukharchuk. I read his ID: Serhiy Semenovych Kukharchuk. They never came again. And then there was a trial.

V.O.: When was it?

V.K.: In 1975. I will show you the sentence. Article 187’.

V.O.: It means: “slandering soviet realities”.

V.K.: Goodness knows. Not a single witness, not a single address of witnesses answers the exact place indicated. I wrote down all of them, just to know.

if you only knew how bad they treated me in jail! When I was doing my term, they transferred my apartment to Vladivostok, where there was a base of atomic submarines.

V.O.: Swap of apartments?

V.K.: Right.

V.O.: Wait, and did someone live in that apartment?

V.K.: now I want to return my apartment, I devote myself to it now.

I was released in 1976.

V.O.: What was the term of imprisonment?

V.K.: Two years.

V.O.: And where did you serve your term? Tell us, please, where you served your term.

V.K.: Look here. There were allegedly minimum security camps, though there were tight security prisoners deprived of visits. This camp is situated in the Kharkiv Oblast, no. 313 or something like it. I will show you the documents.

V.O.: What were prison conditions there? What were you doing there?

V.K.: The conditions were terrible. I was a welder. I was compelled. I was a welder and damaged my eyes. We manufactured air ducts.

The conditions were extremely terrible. I even lost consciousness because of malnutrition.

V.O.: Did the whole zone suffer from hunger?

V.K.: It was terrible; I remained in a state of coma for a long time. Paramedic Halyna Diachenko can confirm it. I was in a frightful condition, although it was a minimum security zone. We could not earn our living: 1 karbovanets 73 kopecks a day, one half was deducted by the zone…

V.O.: For the barbed wire.

V.K.: Yes, 33 kopecks were deducted for food. Say, they gave us 10-kopecks-worth of rotten sardelle, bread reworked from the stale bread, 400 grams. It was very hard. I am a war vet, I know what's what. Back at home people looked at me and cried.

Back at home I had neither work, nor accommodations, nothing. They didn’t let me into my apartment, because a man from Vladivostok lived there.

V.O.: Invader.

V.K.: I began to search for truth, but it was impossible. When I went out, I was poor as a church mouse. I thought I would work, because I was able to work, I had operator's license cards of a combine operator, tractor driver, and car driver; I was a licensed electrician and steam-engine operator. We, dissidents, when they sacked us, usually took a job elsewhere. We worked where we could be hired.

So, at the time nobody wanted to hire me. Then I went to the bus stop Paton Bridge and went by bus. I reckoned I could go to a collective farm and find a job there. I began to beat down doors but everybody required a passport. I walk up to a group of women and asked: “Where are you going?” They said, "We are going to the field to gather vegetables.” The collective farms sold vegetables: they paid you 32 kopecks per box, sold vegetables and returned their money. I went to the Head and asked, "May you hire me? I am an electrician, tractor driver, and combine operator.”—“Give me your passport". And I had no passport, only the certificate about my discharge. A yellow one. I said, "I’ve forgotten my passport". You can’t tell that you are from the zone. He said, "No deal."

There stood  group of women and one man. "Where are you going?”—“To the field.”—“And who is he?”—“Team leader". I turned to him, "Can you take me? I will do my best". He said, "Give me your passport and I’ll hire you". Again passport. "But I’ve forgotten it. I will make over my norm on a woman, and this woman will reckon up and give me my money.”—‘It’s a deal, let’s go”. I climbed onto the truck body and off we went to the field. Women took 8-10 boxes each. And there were two trucks with boxes; one was unloaded by woman and I took care of another truck with boxes. For our dinner they brought milk and bread. I work until dinner, and then I took a can of boiled milk and bread and so I spent the night. Women earned 10-11 karbovanetses there, and I made 27, 28, and 29. I spent the night in a haystack. In the steppe it’s cold all the same. I began working at dawn. I earned 945 karbovanetses for a season. The woman whose payroll included my money, I gave 15 karbovanetses for the first time, then I gave it to her for the second time, and she said, "No, it’s too much". I gave her 10, and again 10 karbovanetses for the third and fourth time. I paid her 45 karbovanetses for bringing me to eat, even bought me something in the food store. 895 karbovanetses remained, with this sum I returned to Kyiv…

V.O.: And in what village did you work?

V.K.: Well, you know, it’s over there, beyond Rohoziv, 17 kilometers going on foot. I returned to Kyiv, went to the Lviv Square; there was a clothing store selling at reduced prices. I went in and told the women, “Please, find me something suitable.” So they found a suit for me, shirt, overcoat and shoes, I even bought a business card for me. Well, kind of… with a tie.

I went to the court and asked, “Where is an answer to my appeal?” The secretary opened a filer: “We’ forgotten to mail it.”. I said, “Give it to me now.” She gave me; I wrote in the register that received the answer at such and such time in such and such room, where I was told that they had forgotten to mail it. “What do you mean you’re writing there?”—“Everything you’ve told me.” I fixed it.

Where will I live? I went home, but nobody let me in. It’s the KGB razzle-dazzle.

Then I went to the Moscow Hotel. It is named Ukraine now.

On the fourth floor there was the US Consulate. I was well-garbed. There was also a group of sightseers from the Netherlands. I mixed with this group and entered the premises. Then I broke away from the group, bypassed the post and entered the consular office. I broke inside and caught them unawares, “How have you got here?” I explained myself and articulated my reasons; they asked, “Can you show your papers?”—“I can’t, I have no documents.”—“Do you have your sentence with you?” I had the sentence and my appeal. “Can we duplicate your documents?”—“You’re welcome.” They xeroxed my documents at once. “And you may have this original.” This was the unmailed appeal. They took it and said, “Please, come in six days.” They issued me a pass.

In six days a man arrived from the United Nations, from the Committee on Human Rights. I came, showed my pass and the KGB officers didn’t interfere; I entered and we began to talk. I thought I talked with the representative. From the consulate we went out onto the street, and talked in full view. I told how I was drafted against my will, how they shoved me around, how I was on short commons, neither my father nor my mother were supported, how they sent me to the jaws of death, how I was wounded, how they didn’t let me to undergo treatment, that is how they bullied me. I told him how I participated in the dissident movement, about signing by the Soviet Union of the Helsinki Agreement on human rights which it failed to fulfill, and how I was jailed on the grounds of forged case. He said, “You will acquire a right to go to the United States.” I answered, “With pleasure.”

We returned to the consulate, and they told me, when to come next time. I went down to Khreshchatyk Street and on Khreshchatyk Street a black Volga caught up with me: “Vasyl Ivanovych, get into the car, we will help you to get a job.” What for? “I don’t need it anymore, I want to emigrate.” Nevertheless they put me into their car and brought to the district executive committee. I lived on the Miliutenko Street, which was in the Dniprovskyi District. So they brought me to the Dniprovskyi District Executive Committee and handed me the job placement order in the branch of chemistry. “You will not quit the country”, they began to threaten me.

But I’m nobody’s fool: I’ll manage without your help. I went to the Tysiachnyi Factory. I went directly to the director’s office; he was a Ukrainian, his last name was Momot. And momot in Ukrainian means “manufacturer of barrels, tubs for making butter. Mortars to pound buckwheat, millet. The momots did it. The director was alone in his office. It beats me why he greeted me reciting: “In olden days cannons fired in Ukraine and Zaporozhian Kozaks were able rulers”; he said it in Ukrainian. Well, I was a diligent pupil and joined in: “It did happen in Ukraine: both day and night there was tumult, cannons fired, the earth groaned, caved in, cheerlessly, scary, but the moment you remember the disaster, your heart rejoices.” And he began to laugh out loud, “You were not born yesterday! Well, let’s get down to business.” He knew that I worked in the institute and had many inventions. I also operated an electronic computer for the defense industry, we changed special codes; everybody knew that a man with such specialty could not leave the Soviet Union; and I knew it, too. And he knew it. He was also a war vet and was wounded at front. He took two scraps of paper and wrote 1 and 2. He said, “ I’ve got two problems: unloading and reloading and packing of the ready products. Draw lots, please.” Well, I drew unloading and reloading. He concluded, “Go and begin working.” My wages made 285 karbovanetses.

When I retired, my pension made 100 karbovanetses. Now I get a scanty pension of ₴161. I studied a lot, I got many qualifications, I worked hard and such pension is nothing but mockery. Wait, I will take these papers now and we will go.

Well, I will continue. I worked as a loader and re-loader. What could be done? I looked into a window and saw a jet plane flying and behind it a white stripe, we call it an inversion. And I remembered from the thermodynamics about the "the mean free path of the molecule". I remembered that it in mid air every molecule moves in this way, three by ten to minus eighth power of centimeter, flying velocity 340 meters. I began to reckon and… It’s a real discovery! Here came shop foreman Mykola Ochutenko. He knew that a political criminal came, all communists were forewarned, KGBists, and activists, all and everybody. I said, “Mykola, look here…” I outlined a few sketches for him, "Do it. You’ve got considerable volumes of re-loading and loading, and this here means 132 tons per hour!” They did and said, “Vasyl, you know, it is a miracle!” The 60-ton freight car could be unloaded in 30 minutes. I wanted to draw up an invention, but an engineer went to Russia--there is Dzerzhinsk in the Gorkovskaya Oblast--and brought back a magazine Tekhnika Molodiozhi for me. It read, “The technology in the five-year plan” and they added a photo of the drawing board. I wanted to submit an application, but if it had been published, then a patent would not be granted. I was enraged at such doings! They checked all my papers, all drafts every Friday; I’d already noticed it.

In short, I could not apply for a patent. But they applied my invention in industry. In this way Russia stole our intellectual inventions.

In 1982 I entered a correspondence course in the Leningrad Chemical-Technological Institute in an order to repeat a course and learn the up-to-date approaches in engineering. I repeated the program and got a diploma. This was my third diploma; I will show it to you.

But there was another goal, too. We, dissidents, became masters, chiefs of workshops and carried out education which was officially considered as subversive activities. There were people from Kamchatka, Kuril Islands, Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine, Caucasus, Central Asia. Up to now they keep sending me unique books which I can show you. If you like, I will present them to you. Vasyl, you may need them for your work.

All of it happened in the 80s already. There surged the third wave of jailing the dissidents in the 80s. I was summoned to the KGB. When I went there, I gave my people the phone numbers of the US Embassy in Moscow and the then consular American service in Kyiv to call them, if they jail me. Therefore they did not jail me. When I left the consulate, the employee held my hand…

V.O.: Was it in Kyiv or in Moscow?

V.K.: In Kyiv. I also visited the Embassy in Moscow. They usually tended to grab and tie up. But they could not fix it in the presence of an employee.

V.O.: You’ve mentioned here that you were acquainted with Oksana Yakivna Mieshko. When was it? She was tried at Christmas time in 1981.

V.K.: Probably, I met her before 1980. And I knew her, when she was released from prison.

V.O.: It was already in 1986.

V.K.: You know how it was? We never asked somebody’s last name, we knew each other by sight. Only informers asked the last name. Only when we became trusted acquaintances we told our last names. We had strong connection. We, dissidents, practically ruined that damned empire. We operated not only here, in Ukraine, but across the whole Union.

V.O.: Did you content yourself with conversations or did you distribute some publications?

V.K.: I had some publications. I got them from Lviv Oblast, from my acquaintances, from Zakarpattia, from Kyiv and Kharkiv.

V.O.: What kind of publications?

V.K.: There was the Posyev Magazine.

V.O.: Posyev? It was a Russian magazine.

V.K.: There was Posyev, there were newspapers Ukrayinske Slovo, Shliakh Peremohy. The latter I continued to receive later in time. They were brought from Odesa. And in Odesa there were Ukrainians who were sailing abroad, in particular, to Sweden. My younger son is a pilot, his friends are also pilots, and they brought certain publications. Not that many, but they brought five copies, I got no more. Right, three-five copies. We had no Xeroxes at the time, you know; there were difficulties with copying these publications. Therefore some materials were copied by hand. The institutes had copiers and copied there publications for distribution, too. This was our working style. For writers, journalists, and poets it was more difficult to make copies of their works than for us, engineers. We could also make blueprints. The girls made it in two ticks. I intentionally went to an institute in Russian Federation to be able to carry out this work. Up to now they send me publications. Are you Ukrainian or Polish?

V.O.: I am a Turk.

V.K.: Ukrainian? Because I want to talk with you as a Ukrainian, I trust you, because, you know, I am a slick customer. Therefore I speak only with a man with whom I can perform a reconnaissance mission.

V.O.: Well, do not tell me secrets, you do not have to tell me secrets.

V.K.: Well. I tell you, that they could not recruit me. I hate this KGB and this Communist party very much! They wiped out the place where I was born and where we lived. We had a big khata with a thatched roof, there was a big stove… there is nothing left. There only a sister remains. All family was subjected to repression. But they could not treat me in the same way, because I was acquainted with many a man. The Chinese, Bulgarians, Czechs, and Hungarians were in the same year as I. I know seven languages, I speak Hungarian like Ukrainian. I speak German; however, I have not used German for 50 years now and I do not know how good I am at it. But I speak German, Hungarian, Romanian, Czech and English because I studied English in the academy; I knew and spoke seven languages. But, you know, they shadowed me and I even could not take a newspaper, for example, Moscow News[8]. When I was a graduate--I finished the postgraduate course and became a senior researcher-- only my lecturers had Moscow News.

What else can I tell you, Vasyl?

V.O.: When did you retire?

V.K.: I retired in 1987.

V.O.: Name, please, your father and mother.

V.K.: My father was Ivan Kokhan. He lived in 1898-1967. He died of starvation, it was impossible to help my parents. And my mother lived 99 years--we are long-livers—she died two years ago, in 2001. She was born somewhere in 1900. Her name was Olena Ivanivna Dziamko. One my grandmother was Shyshko, another one was. Kovbasko was my paternal mother, and Ahafiya Shyshko was my mother’s mother.

What else can I tell you? I would like to tell you about safe houses. We had one on 14, Olehivska St.

V.O.: The safe house on Olehivska? Maybe, on 10, Dmytro Fedoriv St.?

V.K.: It was during the adoption of candidates. I was there, I came forward and said that the subjected to repression must be fielded. And Lukyanenko—I would not I take him into the reconnaissance mission with me--sat in a corner: "And what about me?” I said, "I meant everyone." But the assembled company barred me from candidacy and I revoked my nomination. Why did I do it? It was a boneheaded  move, because I listened to the people. The antidemocratic opposition was very strong. Riabchenko, Cherniak, Amosov revoked and I kept them company. It’s a pity, we all were wrong, I’d smash mugs in the Verkhovna Rada on the daily basis.

V.O.: Instead of smashing mugs they need to draw up laws.

V.K.: They need to work for people and draw up laws at the same time. Yuriy Shcherbak, Cherniak, Riabchenko, Amosov and I revoked our nominations.

V.O.: Now you tell us about later times. I’d like to hear about your family as far as you maintain that that all of them were repressed. What kind of repression was used?

V.K.: My brother Mykhailo was arrested somewhere in 1948 or 1947. He was jailed in the Archangelsk Oblast under art. 58. In Ukraine, it is art. 54. They falsely accused him of being a Schutzstaffel, which wasn’t true. He collaborated with the UIA. He did not acknowledge his guilt; nevertheless he got five years. Then the capital punishment was abolished, and he was simply jailed.

My sister Halyna has higher humanitarian education, she is a historian; she was jailed under art. 62. Her married name is Baras. Her husband did five years under art. 62.

V.O.: When did they serve their terms? Just approximately, accurate within a decade.

V.K.: Somewhere in the 80s.

V.O.: What about your relatives?

V.K.: We had a large family. My junior brother worked in Russia. He was killed seven years ago. They regarded him as a Banderivets.

V.O.: Did you have a son?

V.K.: I’ve got two sons. One son is Yevhen, a doctor, and another is Oles. Yevhen was born in 1963 and Oles in 1965.

V.O.: Now we’ll have your CV…

V.K.: I am open about my life. My story looks a bit discursive…

I took part in the democratic movement since 1938. My father went to Hungarian school, I went to Ukrainian. In Zakarpattia they studied Latin, and I was a good student, I read for those people, who visited my father. We got the Ukrainian newspapers and magazines from France. Then there was the Ukrainian university in Czechoslovakia. I read those books, booklets, newspapers somewhere from 1936. People came to our home and I read for them. I acted deliberately since 1938 as I was a school-leaver. It was the initiative of UMO, Ukrainian military organization. The UMO conducted military training of teenagers from 12 years of age. They taught to shoot, to go on secret mission; when I was 14 I became a machinegunner. It happened in spring, 1939… In Zakarpattia, we call  spring “yar”. Our dialect of Zakarpattia Lemky, you know, is different. We live along the River of Borzhava. Lemkivshchyna is situated between Lublin and the Vistula. Beyond the Carpathians there is Boikivshchyna while here we live in Lemkivshchyna. I am Lemko and Lemkivshchyna includes Poprad and Prešov. We are Ukrainians, but Lemky. I must explain you these historical realities.

We knew the rules of conspiracy. Each had a conspiratorial name, and the same about me. I’ve already told you that I knew Shukhevych personally, as he visited us at home. We fought against Hungarians, German fascists, and Commies. They all were fascists--German, Hungarian, Muscovite--they were all enemies for us.

V.O.: You mentioned about burning of the library in Vydubychi Monastery and Central Scientific Library, about Pohruzhalsky…

V.K.: Right, I know about it. We, dissidents, knew how they do away with Ukrainian culture. In the Vydubychi Monastery Colonel Miklashevskyi built his church. There was high shelving, on those shelves stood old books brought together from every corner of Kyiv. And somewhere in December 1966 or in 1967, somewhere in these years, they trucked these old books to the fifth heating plant in Darnytsia and burned there[9]. And we protested against it.

V.O.: How did you protest?

V.K.: We did it every which way: discussed the issue during the indoctrination lessons, protested. I mean engineers.

V.O.: Did you witness the burning of those books?

V.K.: I saw, when they burned, by chance.

V.O.: Do you remember when it was?

V.K.: Well, it was mentioned in my case; then this case was destroyed.

V.O.: The Central Scientific Library was on fire on May 24, 1964[10].

V.K.: You mean the Library of the Academy of Sciences set on fire by Pohruzhalskyi? Right, in May. And in Vydubychi Monastery the library was set on fire two-to-three years later. In 1967, in December, at night. And when I went out from prison, then literally in a few months the university library burned, where there was the lecture-room of physical department. There were books and documents of the Ukrainian People's Republic. Burned to the ground. Then somewhere in 1982-83, where the Sofia Cathedral is, there is the house of metropolitan, the library of architecture of Ukraine was set on fire. I saw photos and took photographs myself. I all of it by chance. I came to the Vydubychi Monastery to see the late Commander of the Guard Kotiv, a war vet, I wanted to see him. He allowed me to walk there[11].

V.O.: What books were there?

V.K.: There were many rarities: both hetman, and Kozak books from 1700, 1705. Those books were brought there from everywhere. Maybe, they’re lost for the world now. Later they trucked everything to the thermal power station and burned. I saw all of it.

V.O.: Were you rehabilitated?

V.K.: I have been fully rehabilitated. I was rehabilitated as early as in 1989.

V.O.: Before the Law about rehabilitation was adopted?

V.K.: I will bring you my certificates. You see it looks a bit confused. Quite a lot was done, but it’s rather difficult to sort everything out now…

V.O.: Don’t worry; I am not going to write a novel about you. A biographic note only.

V.K.: I know, you have a fluent pen. And I am a good techie at that. The techies use more precise wording: heat, scrape, polish, cyanide, from 0.2 to 0.3 mm; we’re used to write with simple sentences and exact wording. When I write, for example, an article, I try and use simple sentences, because I’ve already forgotten the rules of grammar.

V.O.: Never mind, you’re an excellent narrator, thank you.

V.K.: You’re welcome; I haven’t told you even the tenth part of my story. For example, how I passed books to guys serving on Kamchatka, in Vladivostok or on Kuril Islands, in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk or in the Baltic States, Belarus. Those are problems. You need reliable friends. Different things happened to me before, but they could not catch me, as Skovoroda put it, "The world sought me, but did not catch". The KGBists sought me, but could not catch, because I was a trained conspirator.

V.O.: Are you a member of All-Ukrainian Society of Political Prisoners and Repressed? Maybe, were a member of any other organizations? Did you attend the Ukrainian culturological club?

V.K.: Yes, I did. Then I was a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union, I am a URP member still. The Union of Officers of Ukraine, I am a Kozak colonel, I will show you the documents.

V.O.: I don’t need these documents; I do not conduct an investigation, you know. But for our archive I do need the sentence.

V.K.: Look here. I am an old man, we lived a hard life: I survived three starvations, I worked very hard. I am an officer of the Ukrainian army, I was a captain. In the Soviet army I was a sergeant, senior sergeant, company commander. If I provided ammo to the UIA, I had a possibility to do so.

V.O.: You’ve mentioned that you had seen Shukhevych. How did it happen?

V.K.: We received him at home. Then we studied motoring. It was somewhere in 1938. Then he had two conspiratorial names: Shukh and Tur. In Zakarpattia there is a Turya River and villages: Turya-Remeta, Turya-Poliana, Turya-Poroshkovo. There were many aurochs in old times. The Turya River flowed into Uzh. Therefore I thought that he was from there, but he came from this side. By the way, he was Lemko, like we.

My father was twice arrested by the fascists, and Bolsheviks repressed him. The latter were also fascists, because the Soviet Union was a fascist state. In 1939, when the Soviets concluded a treaty with fascists, Stalin said, “You and we are identical; we have nothing to argue about.”

V.O.: End of Vasyl Kokhan’s story; April 5, 2003.


[1] Kerestur or Cherestur is a village in Rumania, while in former Yugoslavia there was Ruski Krstur in Sebia, center of Rusyny ethnic minority (translator’s note).

[2] The Marxist philosophy was never included into the curriculum in Soviet Ukraine (translator’s note).

[3] It was the achievement of Serhiy KomisarenkoКомісаренко_Сергій_Васильович (translator’s note).

[4] At the time it was Taras Shevchenko Kyiv Opera and Ballet Theater (translator’s note).

[5] On these pages there is nothing of the kind (translator’s note).

[6] Now this is a Physiotherapy Outpatients' Clinic in Shevchenko District, Kyiv (translator's note).

[7] The official name Volodymyrska Street exists since 1944 (translator's note).

[8] At the time reading of the Moscow News was included into both school and university curriculums in the Soviet Union (translator’s note).

[9] At the end of Gorbachev era the Director of Vernadskyi Scientific Library in Kyiv dumped several million books and became one of the high-ups in Ukrainian hierarchy (translator’s note).

[10] It was set on fire on the Saturday night (translator’s note).

[11] In fact, the territory of the Monastery was always open from the side of the highway (translator’s note).

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