OVSIYENKO Vasyl Vasyliovych
author: Borys Zakharov
Бо мене хоч били
Добре били, а багато
Тму, мну знаю, а оксію
Не втну таки й досі.
THE FIRST LESSONS
Borys Zakharov: Tell me please about the family you were born into, what moral values this family preached, what your childhood had been like.
V.Ovsiyenko: I am Vasyl Ovsiyenko. My father’s name was also Vasyl, his father’s name – Trofim. My father was born on March 7, 1904, died on May 8 , 1976. My mother Frosyna Fedorivna Pidsukha, was born on Epiphany, January, 19, 1910. (Died on January 29, 1998 ). They were just common people from Stavky village in Radomyshl raion, Zhytomir oblast’. That’s where they spent their whole lives. My father was a peasant, with two years of education. And mother, although illiterate, was known for her refinement, as well as the rest of her family. Probably they belonged to some impoverished nobility, polonized in old times. My mother used to say ( in our family parents were addressed by formal “You” only and referred to in plural), that her great grandfather was a catholic by name of Warszawski, but after marriage had converted to orthodoxy and taken his wife’s family name, Pidsukha. We inherited from him the icon of Virgin of Czestochowa. Supposedly, he had brought these catholic icons to the Russain Empire and was arrested for that. My mother’s father Fedir Talimonovych Pidsukha was a famous carpenter. Nevertheless, he never had his own house – like the shoe maker without boots… Before the revolution he built a house for a rich peasant by name of Sevruk in the area called ‘the Castle”. Indeed, there used to be a castle there, a steep hill leading to Teteriv River; ravines on southern and northern sides, and a moat on the west. Probably, there had been a drawbridge, too. “Do, build me a house, Fedir, - Sevruk used to say – in the end of the day it will be yours”. He died at the time of the revolution, and his tall house standing on a high foundation became grandpa Fedir’s and grandma Yelizaveta’s (maiden name – Novychenko) property. Despite the hard times, people of indomitable spirit were brought up in this house, which had a lot of ancient icons. My grandpa died after the Germans had retreated and grandma lived till 1965 to die at the age of 92. Mother’s brother Luka was also a gifted wood-carver and “Jack of all trades” (he fashioned all the weaving equipment for his sisters, a hand-mill for my mother, which had saved us and our neighbors from hunger during 1946-47), my aunts Hanna and Antoska till early 60-s used to spin linen, my uncle Pylyp kept bee-hives (in kolkhoz, naturally). Everyone sang beautifully, and aunt Antoska played string musical instruments. It was a combined family: grandfather lost his wife and remained a widower with seven kids. He married a woman with two kids of her own and together they had had four more. My mother Frosyna (called at home Khrusinka) was one of those four.
My parents got married in 1930 and became kolkhoz members. For a year they lived with my father’s parents at Khomivka, but eventually have built their own house, considered rather big at the time. It was not by chance that during the war the German had chosen their house and sent the inhabitants to live in a dugout. Mother, though, was allowed to use the stove to cook.
During the 30-s my father served in irregular military units (he had to serve for several winters). When Germans were approaching, he was ordered to herd the kolkhoz cattle to the east. But the Germans destroyed the bridges on the Dnipro river so that millions of livestock were roaming on the right bank…The Germans had occupied the village before father had time to get home. On November 6, 1943 the Reds took Kyiv and our area as well. Then our boys and young men were hastily recruited to the army. Zhukov had sent the majority of them to fight the German machine-guns, without any arms, ammunition or uniforms, in Novohrad-Volynskiy area. That was the punishment for surviving under the German occupation. Now the village has a memorial plaque, written by me: 220 village residents perished in the war. My father was wounded and so had “paid for his transgression with his blood”. He served in artillery, a bit further from the direct bullets, so it was somewhat easier.
Pretty soon the Germans returned: Huderian’s tank army took Zhytomir and Radomyshl back and reached Kyiivan suburb Irpin’. But by the new year 1944(the Germans even had put up a Christmas tree in our house) the Reds organized a counter-attack and finally got back the area. I would not use the word “liberated”, because they brought back the kolkhoz serfdom and the famine of 1946-47. At least, there had been no famine under the German rule.
The previous famine, that of 1933 cost Stavky 346 lives (one third of the whole population). This figure was quoted to me in 1977 by Vasyl Stepanovych Batsyuk, known as Galivey ( meaning, probably, Galiley, because the guy was extremely smart and cunning, God rest his soul). Some people question this number. Naturally: no one counted the dead, and the cemetery had disappeared under the bulldozers of barbarians who had built a road right over it. The crosses were stolen for the fire-wood, the grave stones taken to build homes… Briefly, the human beings returned to ultimate savagery.) My mother recapitulated how at the time of collectivization 50 families have been deported from the village. Not all of them had been “kulacks”. A “paper” came with an order: deport 50 families. Who had to go? The village bosses came up with the list: this one spat into my borshch, that one changed the estate borders, another is not needed in the village at all. In 1937 19 persons were arrested in the course of one night – the book-keepers, the agronomist, all the educated people. As a young boy I would secretly listen to the adults talking about collectivization, about the deportation of the “kulacks”, about the famine of 1933 and about the war. The river mussels’ shells could be found under the houses – people used to eat them to survive during hunger. They taught us about many edible plants and herbs – pigweeds, goosefoot, burdock, hare sorrel, acacia blossom, wild garlic…
The Stavky church was most famous and popular. In 1935 it was dissembled, the timber stolen (for many years the images of saints could be discerned under the white-washed walls of the kokhoz buildings and houses). The rest of construction materials were used to build the village club premises.
There was also a chapel with healing water spring at the village end. I have a picture of it. The chapel was burnt down on the eve of our local church holiday of 7 Martyrs, by the communists: Kalamoltsev, who had worked in the sanatorium, school principal Tovstenko, and a certain Zakhar from Marianivka.
Our village was quite civilized – a palace of the Polish rulers of the 17th century can still be seen in the big and once well-groomed park. The palace was disfigured by the reconstruction of the 20th century. It had been bought in the late 19th century by Pikhno who had married Olha Petrivna Vangenheim, of Dutch origin. In 1895 the lady built a two-storey wooden school-building and a stone house with several flats for the teachers. The school is still functioning. My father reminisced that the children had studied free of charge. They took nothing but their spoon to school, because they had been fed there too. Olha Petrivna died in 1909, and her nephew, Professor Olexiy Vangenheim became the founder of the weather forecast service in the USSR. He was arrested in 1934, sent to Solovky and shot in Sandarmokh on November 3, 1937 as “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalist”. And Pikhno started an agricultural school in the palace, which he left to his adopted son Shulgin, the member of the State Duma of Russian. In 1917 Shulgin failed to come and claim his legacy. He appeared in the village as late as 1961, having spent his life in the European capitals and Vladimir prison. His memoirs were published somewhere, and quoted by Ivan Dzyuba in his “Internationalism or Russification”: Shulgin seems very happy that the Bolsheviks saved the Russian empire from total collapse, although under the guise of the USSR. The agricultural school functioned in the palace till 1934 , and then the premises were used for the children’s hospital and resort. Several years ago it was closed, plundered and now is sitting in ruins.
As early as 1924 the Bolsheviks renames our village Stavky to Lenino without consulting anyone. Till now we cannot get the historical name back. Now we need the general meeting of the villagers where the majority must vote “for the old name”. But who will convene such a meeting? I feel guilty on behalf of my family, because my mother’s brother Vasyl Pidsukha was among the bolsheviks that had renamed our village. Or may be he was one of the members of the Ukrainian Communist Party, because mother, on hearing the anthem “The Ukraine is not dead yet!” remarked “Vasyl used to sing this song.” He was arrested in 1937, but as we learned in early 1980-s from his daughter Natalia Lytvynenko from Tyumen, he had died not in jail, but at the Leningrad front.
We had a big family. My parents had ten children. I was the ninth and the youngest, beause the sister born after me, had been stillborn. Now we are six:: Nadia (Sylenko, 1934), Anatoliy (1940), Mykola (1942), Lyuba (Korotenko, 1945), Vololdymyr (1946) and me – May 8, 194. The eldest son Olexandr (1931), died at the age of 62, Kostyantyn at 26, Serhiy at 12. I never knew Serhiy.We heard the stories about how the father had saved the family in 1946-47. He was selling things, buying calves and killing them to sell the meat in Kyiv; he would go to Halychchyna to earn money.
No cows in the stall,
Only Stalin on the wall.
He is pointing with his hand,
Where sacks of flour stand.
No one talked politics in our home, but somewhat taught me to climb the bench and point at Stalin’s portrait when asked “Who is your father?” He was featured on the green cardboard of the calendar. I felt no ideological compunctions sitting on the fence and singing “hammer and sickle – hunger and sickness”. My mother hit me on the face on hearing that. She used to beat me with the towel, it did not hurt. But father sometimes would get drunk and give my elder brothers a ruthless beating. Sometimes he would beat even my mother. I still can neither comprehend nor forget these terrible scenes, although as a Christian I should be forgiving. I pray for both my father and my mother and it is up to God Almighty to give each their due. May be he did it out of despair – my father was a hard-working man. Without “real socialism” he would have been a very prosperous farmer. Although our family was big, we suffered less than our neighbors even in the worst of times. During daytime my father worked as a stableman in the kolkhoz, at nights he tended to horses and never had time to sleep. He was covered in frost-bites. In the pasture he was attacked by a wolf. When my brothers were big enough, he would send them out to herd the horses at night, and go somewhere to sell something (it was referred to as “speculation” – a horrible word). He would bring stuff from the field – in a bag, or in a bundle, but he never ordered us to go out and steal from the kolkhoz. I cannot describe it any better than Levko Lukianenko did in his brilliant speech delivered in front of the Supreme Rada, when he was nominated for its Speaker: “We never had any thieves in Khrypivka, where I was born, since time immemorial. There was a man or two who sometimes would lift a jar of sour cream. No one would steal anything – and suddenly the whole population was forced to steal. It was a horrendous moral assault on our people. So, if my father would hide from me with a bundle of hay, it meant that he did not want me to see him taking something belonging to someone else. Then later I could take the same bundle without any qualms. And you can imagine how easy it is for our sons to pick that bundle (“Radyanska Ukraina” newspaper, 31.05. 1990.)
We would not dare to reprimand anybody or take something not ours; we would not climb up the trees in other people’s orchards. We had a few apple-trees for which we paid the tax. I still remember how a stranger walked in the orchard with my father. He was called the scary name of “financial agent”, counted the trees and currant shrubs. He peeped into the cattle shed to see if we had had just one cow and one pig. It was obvious that our stern father was afraid of the man, and we feared him, too. We never mentioned any authorities at home but the fear of them persisted. The power was alien and hostile – “them” and “us”.
As soon as the iron chains of Stalinism fell off, my father immediately started an orchard and an apiary, right in 1954. The bees have been sent to him by his cousins from Synelnykove. The whole village was amazed to see bees sent by mail! They have bitten father so severely that he turned all swollen. Later when they would bite him he would not even feel it. Father also planted currants, cherries, strawberries (called simply “berries”). So I spent every summer on these cherry-trees, which were as big as willows, and in the shrubbery. We also used to take turns with my brother Volodymyr in cow-herding. When school was finished my father would take the cow from the herd to keep us busy. But we could have as much fun being cow-herds as soon as we got together. Eventually I started taking books with me.
I studied in Lenino secondary school between 1956 and 1966. I had some academic achievements, sometimes was an excellent student and graduated with silver Medal of Honor. I had only one “four” mark – in chemistry, because during a demonstration performed by our teacher Hanna Yuriivna Hnida with test-tubes, I could not help commenting “it’s like milling the wind”. Since very young age I liked drawing which my brothers Mykola and Volodymyr had taught me. Then I became interested in words: I filled several notebooks with verses. I think now a small collection of decent poems could have been made of them. The first poem was written on my teacher’s Olha Oleksandrivna Ivashchenko’s recommendation. On February 21, 1962 I wrote a poem about Lesya Ukrainka. The last poem was composed in Zhytomir prison when I was 29. Then, probably, I became too old, because poetry is written either by the young or by the gifted. So, that striving for literary activity and, possibly, the awareness that the Ukrainian word in Ukraine does not occupy its due place, led me to the conclusion that the whole system has gone awry. I’ve read the whole text of Khrushchev’s report at the 22nd CPSU congress (“What is the longest joke?” – Khrushchev’s report at the 22nd congress” – “And the shortest one?” – “Communism”). I believe I knew the names of all the Ukrainian writers, all the presidents and kings ( for examples, the king of Nepal was called Mohendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva, while his queen bore the name of Rakna Rajia Lakshmi Devi Shah), all the states’ capitals and population. But since my teens I was certain that it was Ukrainian philology I should study, and I would do it in the red building of the Kyiv University. A neighbor, Vaysl Snitsarenko, who was older than me and studied there by correspondence, gave me the idea. He wrote poetry and recommended me reading “Literaturna Ukraina”. Since 9-th grade and till now I am a subscriber to this newspaper, although it is less amusing than it used to be then. Vasyl was a real lover of truth – as a komsomol organizer of the kolkhoz he participated in a raion conference and there he had revealed the truth about the switched signs in the fields. The essence of the story was that the team leader of a mechanized unit Kasyan Lukyanov managed to grow better corn than the member of the Supreme Rada famous team leader and 22nd congress delegate Hanna Olad’ko. (By the way, the woman was absolutely illiterate. She made her speech in Ukrainian even at the congress. Well, she did not have to say much – just express her deep gratitude to our dear Mykyta Serhiyovych). After his speech a big essay containing criticism against Vasyl was published in inter-oblast’ komsomol newspaper “Moloda Hvardiya”. He was defamed in Kyiv, Zhytomir, Cherkassy and Chernyhyv oblast’. Being afraid that the next step would be imprisonment, Vasyl left for Donbas and went to work in the mines. There was no other way to avoid kolkhoz slavery. Two years later he came back, fluent in Russian, but still willing to study Ukrainian philology in Kyiv University. His public activity, however, came to an end, and he discouraged me from participating in public life.
No one really influenced me at school. I read a lot, though. Our village librarian Raisa Stefanovych allowed me to burrow through the books, but I had to participate in library events; sometimes I would paint something for the library. My teachers were not outstanding personalities, but they were honest and straightforward people. My first teacher Hanna Polishchuk took us to a nearby village Horodske to show us archeological digs of the settlement dating back to II millennium B.C. (“Horodska culture”). The Ukrainian literature teacher Maria Syzon and Russian literature teacher Olena Lytvynchuk introduced me to literature and encouraged in my poetry-writing.
I did not fight at school, as I was not physically stronger than other boys, but I felt grown-up in the 9th grade, when I started writing regularly to “Zorya Polissya” raion newspaper. My peers and elders started respecting me. In 1964-66 Vasyl Skurativsky, now well-known for his very good books on ethnography, used to work in the said newspaper. The books, by the way, were nominated for Shevchenko award. It’s a shame Skurativsky had not been granted it yet. I met him in the literary workshop “The Dawn”, which convened under the newspaper auspices. He familiarized me with “shistdesyatniks” movement (which was not called that yet). It was from him that I first heard about Ivan Dzyuba’s book “Internationalism or Russification?” The book was very popular among intellectuals. I do not know if he had read it himself.
Upon graduation in 1966 I tried to enter the department of Ukrainian philology in Kyiv University, but it was an abortive attempt. Had I gotten an excellent mark for my essay on Ukrainian literature I would not have had to take all the other tests. But I got only “three”, “five” in history and “two” in English. That year both 10-graders and 11-graders finished their studies at school, and post-war baby boom was at its peak. 91 students finished our school and none made it to the university that year. I was very upset by my failure which coincided with another drama – the girl I had courted since my early years, passed a hard verdict on me: “I do not need your love”.
SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM
For half a year I worked in “Zapovit Illicha” kolkhoz as ”Jack of all trades”: drying hops, loading trucks and delivering potatoes to Korostyshev; in winter I painted propagandistic posters for kolkhoz club, getting dumber and dumber in the process, but I never turned to drinking. At the end of 1966 I was invited to Narodychy to work as a member of editorial board in “Zhovtnevi Zori” newspaper (now this town is in Chernobyl zone). In 1967 the raion and, respectively, the raion newspaper, were reinstituted, and deputy editor-in-chief of Radomyshl raion newspaper Dmytro Baranchuk was appointed its editor in chief. He comes from Narodychy himself. So he took me to Narodychy with him. He was very friendly and taught me a lot of things. The newspaper had no vehicle of its own, so in half a year I have covered the whole raion by foot. I had a chance to observe people’s life under the developed socialism with my own eyes. By the way, my stay in Narodychy was illegal. The kolkhoz head Mynenko refused to give me leave from the kolkhoz. I approached prosecutor L.Sytenko, but still could not obtain the needed paper. Then Baranchuk interceded on my behalf. The head of the passport office listened to the member of raion party committee bureau and issued me a passport and certificate confirming my residence – both illegally – with the words “I could not care less about you”.
B.Zakharov: What was your view of the world at the time? What was your perception of power, of things that were happening around you?
V.Ovsiyenko: Sure enough, I was a komsomol member, maybe even a sincere one. Probably I believed that one day I might become a party member as well. But after I have visited these miserable Polish huts, I started to have serious doubts whether everything had been right in our society. Too many lies. I felt like I started lying too… That’s right – recently my meticulous friend revised my articles published in “Zhovtnevi zori” and now he is teasing me as an honest komsomol member and even atheist. What do you want: the editor had to be a censor, too. A copy of the newspaper was sent to the oblast’ censors and they would send back their remarks. The editor-in-chief would share them with us. But somehow he committed a big faux pas himself. Two years later he wrote an article condemning drinking, where he had quoted Marks from memory. As it turned out, the quotation from the communist saint was inaccurate and the diligent Baranchuk had been dismissed from the office without any mercy. I remember him, a member of the raion communist party bureau, humbly negotiating something with first secretary Buksha. It was one proud communist who had grown to despise Ukrainian language and become a real “homo soveticus”. Baranchuk had to talk in “great Russian language” to him to comply. At the time all the first secretaries had to set an example: I remember a certain Fomina, the first secretary in Radomyshl raion: she issued instructions in Russian only and cursed peasants in the field roundly ( I heard it myself!).
Fortunately, in 1967 I was admitted to the Ukrainian philology department of Kyiv University. Here I met gifted young people who used to discuss the surrounding reality in rather critical terms. To be a Ukrainian philologist, well, to be just a Ukrainian in Kyiv meant to be in permanent confrontation with the environment. “Are you from the West? From Trans-Carpathian [region]? A kolkhoznik! I don’t understand you! Can you talk in human language?!” I remember our first visit to the Writers’ Union. We were together with my classmate Yosyp Fedas. On leaving the metro station we asked a “native of Kyiv” for directions to the place. He answered in broken Ukrainian, mocking and directing us to 33, Korolenko str., i.e. the KGB address.
Someone took me to see the I.Honchar ethnography museum in Pechersk. I got hold of “samizdat” V.Symonenko’s diaries with his poems, which have never been published before. It was launched into circulation by Ivan Svitlychny. He also gave me a photocopy of M.Braichevski’s article “Reunification or annexation?” Then I was given the photocopies of the foreign edition of the “History of the Russes” by an anonymous author of the late 18thcentury. The grains were failing on fertile soil. My eyes opened to see our past clearly. The general atmosphere of the university life, various parties and recitals incited my thinking. And in spring 1968 the English teacher Feodosiy Slyusarenko dared to give me a copy of Ivan Dzyuba’s “Internationalism or Russification?” Two copies and the film. I was deeply impressed by this book. I gave it to my friends to read. In secret, naturally, because it was a common knowledge that dissemination of “samizdat” books always ended with expulsion from the university. I was cautious. I never participated in the rallies at Shevchenko’s monument on May, 22. I knew that the students who attended these meetings were the first on the expulsion list. Having found the source of samizdat, I decided to proceed quietly to be able to continue as long as possible. At that time every fall the students had been sent to harvest the crops in kolkhozes and sovkhozes.
In August 1968 a group of boys was sent to work at the construction site in Lybid square (then – Dzerzhynski square). I brought my old photocopying equipment to Kyiv with me and during the month I had spent in my sister’s Nadia flat, I made, I believe, six copies of Ivan Dzyuba’s work. I think, I did it in two sessions. I had two films – one contained 126 pages and the other – 181 pages. I don’t remember the details of my operation, but it was a considerable piece of work. I disseminated the copies among the people I knew. Unfortunately I do not have a single copy now. I shared I.Dzyuba’s and “shistdesyatniks”’ views completely, so by 1968 I have made up my mind.
One can argue that it was a critical view of the surrounding reality, because formally Dzyuba’s work can be classified is neo-communist or national-communist. He criticizes the so-called Leninist national policy from the viewpoint of the same doctrine. It was, as G. Kasyanov put it “a specific manifesto of the critically-minded majority of Ukrainian intelligentsia, who had hoped to resolve national, and, therefore, social problems of their country within the system in force”. (Kasyanov G. “Dissidents: Ukrainian intelligentsia in resistance movement of the years 1960-80-s– in Ukr. – Кyiv, Lybid, 1995. p. 97).I was absolutely certain that people like I. Dzyuba, I.Svitlychny, Ye.Sverstyuk, Chornovil were, in fact, much more critical of the existing system. But, probably, it was tactics chosen by them deliberately.
In 1968, while in my second year of studies, I met Vasyl Lisovy. He was philosophy department postgraduate at the time and read a course of lectures on logics to us when we had been first-year students. Before that he had graduated from Kyiv University and for five years had taught philosophy in Ternopil Medical institute. I’ve talked with him more than once. He noticed me and supplied with samizdat books regularly. As I had learnt later, he was close with Ye.Pronyuk; he knew I.Svitlychny, V.Stus, I.Dzyuba, ye.Sverstyuk, Yu.Badzyo, well, practically all the “shistdesyatniks”. Lisovy had chosen good tactics – he never introduced me to these people in person, because it might have caused my expulsion. In that case there would be no one to disseminate “samizdat” at the philology department.
It was a permanent “samizdat source”. Let’s say since 1970 all the issues of the “Ukrainian bulletin”, from the first till the fifth, have passed through my hands.Issue number six is another story. I did not know who the editor was. Much later I learnt it had been V.Chornovil. There was a book by M.Osadchy “The blind spot”, depicting the arrest and imprisonment. It was a very unusual book, both in its form and contents. I remember an analytical study “The cathedral in the scaffolding” by Ye.Sverstyuk, discussing O.Honchar’s novel “The cathedral”. His smaller essays included “Mother’s day”, “The last tear” – about Shevchenko, another big essay “Ivan Kotlyarevsky laughs”.
By the way, Oksana Meshko later told me the story of how this essay had been written. In 1969 I.Kotlyarevsky’s anniversary was approaching. Oksana decided to organize a commemorative event. She asked Sverstyuk to write the script. He wrote the big essay instead. Oksana read it and said “Well, it is somewhat different from what I had in mind, but it is exactly what is needed”. The essay was disseminated among public at large. I even had my own copy, for which I had paid – through Lisovy- 5 rubles to the people who had printed it out.
One essay was signed Anton Koval – “The voter’s letter”. It addressed the so-called socialist democracy at the time of elections. Only recently V.Lisovy confessed that he had been the author. He did not say it then. I remember an article “On Pohruzhalsky’s trial” ( it was anonymous, but now I know it had been written by Sverstyuk and edited by Chornovil to disguise the author’s style). I have read “What B.Stenchuk is supporting or 66 responses to an internationalist” by V.Chornovi. The CC of the CP of Ukraine composed a brochure “What I.Dzyuba is defending and how he is doing it?” to counteract I.Dzyuba’s “Internationalism or Russification?”.the brochure had to be disseminated abroad. The article, however, was so awkward, that it would have been a shame to publish it in many copies. So it was distributed just among the “CC party comrades” and oblast’ committees’ secretaries. Besides, the name “Stenchuk” in English evokes the notion of “stench”…I remember Chronovil’s book “Woe to the wise or the portraits of the 20 “criminals”, with photos glued to the pages, about the “shistdesyatniks” detained in 1965.
As a student I remember reading in M.Drahomanov’s article “The answer” (1895) the following:
“Only when we show our strength at least on some part of our land, Europe will start paying attention to us. It would be naïve to assume that people, even the most humane ones, would worry for the sake of others only because these latter are beaten. Many people are beaten all around the globe! People are interested only in those who strike back and it is only them that would be helped”. (Literary and social works in two volumes. Volume II. K.Naukova dumka,. – 1970. – p. 441).
I wanted to be among those who fought back. At the time they were “shistdesyatniks”. I looked up to them. My participation in the movement is summarized on p.94 of the most diligent work prepared by G. Kasyanov “Dissidents: Ukrainian intelligentsia in resistance movement of the years 1960-80-s– in Ukr. – Кyiv, Lybid, 1995. “...”Samizdat materials were disseminated among the students by V. Ovsiyenko”. Only I know what that short phrase implies, but as the church teaches us that pride is one of the deadly sins, I am just content with myself for what I have done. Through all my university years I have been carrying “samizdat” written by ‘shistdesyatniks” in my bag, gave the books to my friends to read, being well aware of the respective article of Criminal Code- 7 years in prison and 5 more in exile.
It is one thing to go to battle as a part of a unit, of an army (“Company in distress makes trouble less”) –and a totally different thing (not more difficult, but psychologically different) to stand out of a million against the whole Empire of evil. I do not like pathetic, especially the “faked pathetic”, but in all truth I can say: one should have had a “spark of great fire” (T.Shevchenko) in one’s soul. Those willing to put down that fired have never been lacking.
These “sparks of the great fire” have always been glowing in the people’s souls, to a larger or smaller extent. Sometimes the uprisings, national liberation wars would erupt. My time was the time when the nation had been exhausted by wars, rebellions and reprisals. Then the main thing was to persevere, not to give up or surrender to find oneself in the enemy’s mercy. It was necessary to bring up a new generation, capable of accepting responsibility for the fate of the nation. This situation was brilliantly described by V.Stus. “We are few. Just tiny bits and pieces. Just enough for praying and for wait”. But, significantly, these bits and pieces were there, ensuring the continuity of the cause through generations, so that we would not be remembered as the worst generation. So that we would not disgrace our Cossack ancestors.
Whenever I got hold of a new article, I read it in a hurry to transfer to the next readers as soon as possible. I was very cautious in my operations not to let down myself, V.Lysovy and other people who supplied samizdat for me. I had a firm conviction: if you are caught, you cannot tell them whom you have got the books from. At least, you would invent something to the effect that you had come by a given book by chance. I was very meticulous in the choice of friends, choosing only decent people, those, who proved their honesty in everyday life. Such persons were unlikely to betray you in big things too. Probably, I had some intuitive sense, because no one had let me down in the course of 5 years.
I suspected that V.Lisovy was one of samizdat editors, but I never asked him any questions. Sometimes he would ask me to deliver something to the people I did not know. I recognized them due to special codes and signs arranged beforehand. Once I took a typewriter and left in a locked box at the railway station. I still remember the box code: К507. I took something to the doctor Mykola Zelenchuk in Kagarlyk. In Kyiv I would move some platens from one apartment to another. I believe they had been parts of printing equipment. But I never saw samizdat books printed professionally – only typed or photographed copies. However I handled the foreign editions of “Cathedral in the scaffolding” by Ye.Sverstyuk, “Modern literature in Ukraine” by I.Koshelivets, volume II, “Revival of the nation» by V. Vynnychenko, “Collection of Ukrainian laws” with essays written by Kostomarov, Hrushevsky, Franko and others. I kept them for short time. Every time I tried to arrange for as many people as possible to read it. I did not work alone, but used the “chain”. It happened that the book I launched into circulation was given to me to read with the complete trust. I never revealed my role in the process. The real underground activity. Once my friend from Donetsk Yurko Skachok (who studied in the Russian department) asked whether I knew about any clandestine organization. I answered unambiguously that there was none, but there was a group of people who were very close and trusted each other completely. “So even a revolution can be performed only by the insiders…” remarked Yurko jokingly.
The first book I disseminated was V.Symonenko’s diaries, in late 1967. But by 1968 my operation had gained momentum with the distribution of I.Dzyuba’s book. It had been given to dozens of people. Naturally, all the students I dealt with had been komsomol members, some – members of the communist party. Some were much older than me, and then, there had been professors. In my native place I would give the book to the local raion newspaper reporters Anatoliy Pylypenko and Maria Hordienko, to my relatives. Dissemination of samizdat was my first priority. I always had some book in my bag and my close friend Yosyp Fedas from Rivne oblast’ had been aware of the fact. We studied in the same group and for about three years shared a room. When I had to leave the classroom, Yosyp would watch my bag at all times. During our 4th and 5th years of studies we all lived in the room number 60 – Yosyp, Yurko, Ivan Bondarenko from Poltava region and the first year student from Zhytomir oblast’ M.Yakubivsky. All were trustworthy friends. Yurko, who loved jokes, borrowed a typewriter and started our room newspaper “Satur venter” (“full stomach” in Latin), then “Futurum seсundum” (Future perfect tense). I also participated in the project: collectively we were writing a novel about I.Bondarenko. He was a very good protagonist – most unusual things always happened to him. He was about 6 years older than the rest of us. 6 times he tried to enter the University and finally he made it. He was a hunchback because of some disease which had crippled him in his childhood. His widowed mother could not afford any treatment for him. “When the tax collectors came, my mom threw me at their feet – “Go ahead and eat him!” And I was crawling on the floor and wailing…” Ivan recollected. Without seeking my permission he had given I.Dzyuba’s “Internationalism or Russification?” to the first year student M.Yakubivksy, and the consequences had been dramatic. But I will get to that in due course.
Room number 60 had its own anthem with lyrics written by a romantic poet of early 19th century K.Dumytrashko. The anthem had two tunes – the legal one (the song“We are the smiths with soaring spirit, we forge the keys of happiness”) and the illegal one – that of “International”.
When night would come I’d dry my puttees,
Deep in the oven’s hot inside,
Or smoke tobacco, rank and putrid,
Or mend my pants’ threadbare fly.
During my studies several colleagues have been expelled for the most insignificant links to samizdat. Mykola Rachuk was one of the first to be thrown out, preceded by Mykola Vorobyov. Slavko Chernylevksy was forced to leave by military training chair. Nadia Kyrayan was expelled. Halya Palamachuk was subjected to a trial, i.e. komsomol organization meeting. We had hard time, but succeeded in defending her. We were deeply upset with what had happened to O.Honchar’s “Cathedral”, with Alla Horska’s killing, with Valentyn Moroz’ imprisonment.
DOWNFALL ( GRIM REAPING)
On January 14, 1972 my colleague Valentyn Lysytsya from Boryspil called me to his girlfriend’s Halya’s room and advised that for the last three days arrests and searches had been going on in Kyiv. I.Svitlychny, V.Chornovil, Ye.Sverstyuk, V.Stus; Stefania Shabatura, Iryna and Ihor Kalynets have been arrested in Lviv, like many others.
– So that’s what it means, then,,, I said in despair.
The next day, on January 15 “Radyanska Ukraina” newspaper had published a brief information concerning arrest of the Belgian national Yaroslav Dobosh for disruptive anti-soviet activity.
Valentyn was aware of my activities, that is why he had told me all that. He knew about my contacts with Lisovy and came to his own conclusions. I did not supply him with samizdat, because I had the feeling that he had his own source of literature. Besides, Valentyn Lysytsya was somewhat older than us and the only party member in our course. His personal views, however, were of the national-communist nature. Lisovy himself advised me not to confide in him. His talk sometimes sounded suspicious. The names he quoted were known to me both from media and from samizdat; I’ve read some of their works, in “Ukrainian bulletin” in particular. They were always present in our talks like some divine beings. Now they were beyond the black horizon… I was struck by the news.
The shaping of my personality is the focus of this interview, so it is noteworthy that these dramatic events had coincided with my personal drama – another girl whom I have chosen in the 4th year of studies also had ignored me. It is quite a common occurrence in this imperfect world, and it is not worth mentioning. But without it my further behavior would have been difficult to explain. In the course of my subsequent imprisonment my hands were not bound, but I had no “solid rear” outside to count on. For example, when V.Stus was banned from post-graduate studies someone asked him: “So what are you going to do now?” – “First off, I shall get married”. V.Lisovy, anticipating arrest, did the same. But Valentyna Popelyukha and Vira Hritsenko had made a conscious choice. Being a political prisoner’s wife is worse than being a political prisoner. So for consolation I could only recapitulate the verses, composed by Taras upon seeing Kostomarov’s mother in Petropavlovska fortress courtyard (and Kostomarov was arrested right after his betrothal):
Oh dear God, accept my prayer,
I’ll praise you and I won’t wail,
That I have no one to share
My shackles and abhorrent jail.
Personal issues were of the utmost significance in my own drama. Nothing special – I disliked some girls too and tried to avoid them, so someone might have been waiting for me in vain. You face the music and keep going. But I gave this girl samizdat and never hid from her my activities and their possible consequences. She was aware that my head had always been in air, that it was public good and not my personal benefits that have ruled my behavior. She, on the other hand, “was treading firmly on Earth”, in Lina Kostenko’s words. So probably she had decided I was not a candidate worth of her serious attention. Moreover, I had nothing to offer in terms of material goods, but for the university diploma (in future) and naked enthusiasm. I’ve been living from hand to mouth. Dovzhenko’s father, to avoid mentioning poverty, used to say: “I cannot afford…” I could afford but very few things.
We were still together during our teaching practice in Lvove village in Kherson oblast’, near Beryslav, although it was obviously “one too long farewell” as Stus would write later. I was certain that ever after I would be living only with the half of my whole being, that my life had been forever broken, that I’ve suffered the greatest loss of my life. Only one thing remained: my cause ( I do not like using the word “struggle” with respect to myself; all I’ve been trying to do was acting in accord with my own conscience).
Before the hands-on teaching practice of 1971 I had been intimidated by school. But after it I’ve understood I might have been a good teacher, after all. In the normal society I would be preaching the Word to the kids. I mean the native language, given to us as our ancestral legacy and used to shape the world perception and views. And being a diligent teacher, an educator, bringing up a new generation of Ukrainians is a very important calling. The soviet reality had convinced me that losing the Word Ukraine was also losing its footing; that people deprived of their native language were losing national awareness and heading right to the limbo of history. As it turned out, though, my profession in Ukraine offered no potential for development, was considered redundant and even dangerous for the rulers, as it created an obstacle on the way of the declared “historical necessity” of transforming the Ukrainian people into a component of the “new historical entity – the soviet people” who had to communicate in the language of the international unity – the Russian language. It was a crucial revelation for me. I had to defend myself.
God gives us signs in the critical moments – in December1971 I had a prophetic dream. I am crossing Bessarabska square in Kyiv with my mother. The square is covered by frozen water that reaches the second storeys of the buildings. Suddenly the ice under our feet cracks. I push my mother aside and fall under…
On one of those days I stood at our dormitory’s window and wriote down the words which I’ve heard from nowhere:
White sheet of world is scintillating whitely,
It is the whitest day of all the days.
And content Pagan God, with eyes closed tightly,
Unable to wake up, just contemplates.
This day, fat as a goose, is cackling loud,
(Which instance separates the day from night?)
The seven rainbow colors like a bow
(Composed of the white and shining light).
The seven colors of the white bed-covers,
Of your purity, untouched by any man.
But permanent and never-changing colors
Will never show up lily-white again.
White sheets against a very white background
The whiteness and the white-ache, all in white,
From your lips white bird arose, no sound,
Collapsed of pain and desperately whined.
Your laughter - it was like a sheer lightning,
You laughed, with your teeth so white and clear,
While I, like wounded bird, was slowly dying,
Unfit to overcome the pain barrier.
I called all that “Rainbow synthesis. Color white”. Well, obviously it had been maximalistic attitude of the young. If need be, it could have been diagnosed properly by the soviet criminal psychiatry. At the time I did not think about that.
Yosyp and Yurko aware of my emotional suffering, tried to convince me that “like cures the like” , but it had no effect on me, although I have not lost my interest in studies, but, on the contrary, became even more assiduous in them. Then my friends left me alone. Woodenly I told them about the arrests and mentioned that we might be arrested as well. Yosyp by that time was a party candidate. For Volynyak, whose father had joined the kolkhoz only after his fingers had been squeezed in the door, joining the party had been a difficult decision. However, he wanted to continue his folklore research in post-graduate studies. I almost quoted Lenin to Yosyp on this occasion: “If things keep going as they are now, we will end up on the different sides of the barricade”. Naturally, such utterances do nothing to strengthen a friendship. Meanwhile, we were taking our winter exams, writing our diploma papers, organizing the “last bell” celebration, conducting the V.Chumak literary workshop meetings, where Yurko presided and I edited “Vyr” newspaper.
On February 11 brief information was published in “Radyanska Ukraina”, “Pravda Ukrainy” and “Vechirni Kyiv” newspapers. I remember it very close to the text: “in connection with charges against Dobosh, and also for conducting anti-soviet activity and propaganda in Ukraine I.Svitlychny, Ye.Sverstyuk, V.Chornovol and others have been arrested”. These “others” stood for dozens of people, hundreds of searches, thousands of summonses to KGB. In February or March 1972 V. Lysytsya told that our co-student, a Lemko girl from Slovakia Anna Kotsur, had also been summoned to KGB and questioned with respect to the arrested, especially Ya.Dobosh. Indeed, she would not come to lectures or take her exams. The rumors circulated that she had been detained by the KGB and held in custody for several days or even weeks, then set free. I remember her returning to the University, crying for fear of being expelled. Then she had to hide in Czechoslovak embassy. I wonder, how one could seek asylum with Czechoslovak embassy at the time? But she definitely had stayed there for several days. Finally she was deported to Czechoslovakia. Another Lemko Maria Hostova had been summoned too. Weeping, Maria told us about it, swearing she had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Later, before my own trial, while familiarizing myself with the case, I read Ya.Dobosh’s testimony and arrived at the conclusion that probably he was just a random person. I am not certain, whether he had been recruited by KGB, just naïve enough to meddle into Ukrainian affairs, or really a member of the Union of the Ukrainian Youth with a specific order from O.Koval, the leader of the OUN foreign units. God knows. Anyway, KGB made the best use of him. Dobosh spilled everything – what he knew and what he did not know as well. Allegedly, in Kyiv he made a phone call to Svitlychny, met him, and discussed the persecutions of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. According to Svitlychny there had been nothing new in his testimony and generally, he gave the impression of a person not very knowledgeable in Ukrainian affairs. He also claimed that he had met O.Seleznenko and Zinovia Franko in Kyiv, and Stefania Hulyk in Lviv. That Zinovia Franko through Anna Kotsyk had passed him a roll of film with the “Dictionary of the Ukrainian rhymes” by S.Karavansky. On June 2 Dobosh made a public repentance before carefully selected journalists and TV. I have not seen the program, but his statement (partially) had been published in the media, specifically in “Literaturna Ukraina” of June 6. As “Dictionary of the Ukrainian rhymes” could hardly be connected to spying on behalf of the OUN in the readers’ minds, it was referred to as a cryptic “anti-soviet document”.
Dobosh was allowed to return to Belgium, but his “case” remained open. None of the arrested faced the charges of spying – they would have been totally irrelevant. The charges included only “anti-soviet campaigning and propaganda”. The newspapers, however, never apologized for the libel.
The early1972 situation has been partially described in my book “The light of people”, in my essay about V.Stus. I won’t repeat what is written there, but the feeling was that something had slid down, that a terrible explosion had occurred and now one had to stand all alone in Kyiv totally emptied of people. Only V.Lisovy was free, but he looked more dead than alive. In February 1972 he told me that he was going to write a letter of support for the prisoners. His reasoning was: it is not right for everyone to keep silent. Let them not think that they have “cleaned” Ukraine completely.
Later, during our trials, the prosecutor Makarenko would joke “They were big leaders of small movement”. Well, the movement, in fact, was rather small, he was right, but the leaders were really outstanding personalities. They were people capable of organizing the all-national liberation struggle. They needed some time for that, probably several years. So, from the KGB’s viewpoint, it was a very timely attack. Ye.Sverstyuk once mentioned that there had been no party, no organization, and no underground groups – but when so many good people come together something should come out of it. Indeed something significant should have been born in Ukrraine. The KGB people were aware of the fact, so they attacked. They were wrong, however, in assuming that Ukrainian movement is done with for the next 10 – 15 years. As early as 1976 the Ukrainian Helsinki Group came into being, quite unexpectedly for them.
I remember V.Lisovy telling me in 1969 that under colonial system any activity could be used against us. He gave an example – you, being a linguist, will describe a phoneme, and radio-amateur will use your research and construct a perfect device for intercepting conversations. Hence, you will be working against your own good. Or let us take S.Korolyov, Ukrainian by birth, who devised a rocket. Who is it aimed against? Against us – for the empire’s glory. He also used to say that the national issue, if not resolved, would keep consuming all the best efforts and potential of the people.
V.Lisovy was for me the embodiment of nationally conscious person. Superficially, he, a scholar and researcher, looked most unfit for any political activity. But he got involved in it, for lack of anyone else. In spring 1972 Lisovy said “Well, the two of us- you and me – could organize a demonstration protesting against the arrests. It will last for a minute or two. Will it be efficient? Who will see us? Who will support us? Vasyl Makhukh performed self-immolation right in Kreshchatyk street on November 5, 1968 – almost no one knows about it. What we probably need to do is disseminating the flyers with texts which would affect the public opinion”.
So he started writing this letter. He gave me the first version for keeps. I’ve kept it for some time, then gave it to my friend Petro Romko, who lived in Skybyn village, Zhashkiv raion, Cherkassy oblast’. Petro without my knowledge or permission copied the letter and kept the copy. The original was returned to Lisovy. He amended it. Now I know he was assisted by Yuriy Badzio and Yevhen Pronyuk (They have read it and made some corrections). He asked me to do the same, but I only made some remarks on style.
Lisovy kept the list of outstanding personalities in literature, science, culture and politics – people with more or less democratic views. The idea was to type the letter and send it out to them.
The very last paragraph of the letter read:
“Considering the circumstances under which this letter is delivered, I can hardly believe anyone would respond to it in a constructive manner. Although I am neither a player, nor a witness, nor any party to the case currently known as “Dobosh case”, after this letter I will definitely be classified as on of the “enemies”. This is probably right, because Dobosh is at large, while his case turned into a case against the living Ukrainian people and live Ukrainian culture. This is the real “case” uniting all the detainees. And I feel connected to the case – that is why I request to be also arrested and tried”. ”. (V.Lisovy. An open letter to the CC of the CPSU and CP of Ukraine, “Zone”, 1984, p. 8, p. 148).
His request was satisfied the very next day.
I assisted V.Lisovy in devising this letter.
During that February of 1972 V.Lisovy and Ye.Pronyuk, who also used to work in the institute of philosophy, decided to publish the “Ukrainian bulletin” number six, because the publication was stopped by the editors after number five, in mid-1971. The rumors spread that the arrests were imminent, because, allegedly, the KGB head Nikitchenko had had a conversation with I.Svitlycyhny and said, among other things: “We have put up with you until you became organized. Once you have your own magazine, we will not bear with you any longer”. So, when in summer V.Chornovil stopped the publication of the “Ukrainian bulletin”, it was already too late. Now we know that on June 27, 1971 the CC of the CPSU passed a secret resolution “On counteracting the illegal dissemination of anti-soviet and other politically harmful materials”, and on December 30 the Politbureau decided to launch the overarching campaign against samizdat. (G.Kasyanov. The dissidents: Ukrainian intelligentsia in the resistance movement of the 1960-80-s. – Kyiv, Lybid, 1995. Pp.119, 121).
So, once the editors are arrested they can be charged with illegal publishing. A magazine is an attribute of an organization. The “shistdesyatniks” desperately tried to avoid any accusations of organized activities. So, the charges of magazine publishing had to be excluded.
Next V.Lisovy and Ye.Pronyuk had compiled the short biographies of the detainees. They had the text of the letter written by B.Kovhara (the then employee of the Pirohovo Museum in the open) to the KGB major Danylenko. It was a killer of a letter! The author related how the KGB had “planted” him among the “shistdesyatniks” to spy for them. Once B.Kovhara became aware of the magnitude of the people he had to spy on, he had virtually turned the tables. The KGB men took their cruel revenge on him for betraying their trust. He was interrogated several times, and then shut in the mental hospital, where he was eventually killed with haloperidol shots.
I was in charge of technical support – buying paper, taking it to the print-shop, sorting the materials. I have a vivid recollection of my feelings upon receiving nine or ten copies of the “Ukrainian bulletin” number six (issued as number 9, for unknown reasons) from I.Hayduk. It happened in Shevchenko Park, right behind Taras’s back. I felt like I had held in my hands the most important thing in Ukraine. It was March or April 1972.
Meanwhile the troubles with Lisovy’s letter continued. I took the text to a typist – Raya (Sydorenko) in Nemishayeve. It is a suburban railroad station in the direction of Teteriv. I also brought her the paper to type on and the carbon paper. She had to have everything ready by July 6. In the meantime my graduation was coming and I had to vacate the room in the dormitory by July 2. I said to Lisovy: “May be, I’d better go home, to Zhytomir oblast’, and come back on the 6th to pick up the copies, bring them back to my village, sort them, put into the envelopes, write the addresses, bring back to Kyiv and send them out?” But he retorted: “No need for that”, just go home, you’ve done your bit, we’ll manage from now on”.
As I learnt later from the case materials what V.Lisovy did. Before all the copies have been typed, he submitted a copy of the typed text to CC CP of Ukraine expedition on July 5. It was located in the building which is now occupied by Mr. President. The second copy was offered to the director of the institute of philosophy (Hrushevsky Street, 4). Why had he done it? He knew he had been under surveillance and probably would not be able to submit the letter officially. And he wanted it to reach the addressees.
And that is where the things went awry. On July 6 Ye.Pronyuk went to Nemishayeve to fetch the letter. And he had been followed for a long time by then. In Svyatoshyn station he was detained with the whole bunch of papers, typed on thin sheets, not assorted yet. He was taken to the “Lenin’s room” in Bolshevik factory and searched. The protocol was compiled and he was arrested.
And V.Lisovy on the same day was called to work. He went there to return with the KGB men. His home was searched. Vira Pavlivna Hrytsenko-Lisova, his wife, was 9 months pregnant. She gave birth to a son, Oksen, on July 22. You can imagine her stress. Her first daughter, Myroslava, was 9 at the time.
I received a telegram from the dean’s office of the philology department, ordering me to get back to Kyiv. Allegedly I had submitted some documents to apply for post-graduate studies. In fact I had no right for the post-graduate studies, as I got only “three” at the state exam on the “scientific communism”. Probably this mark was given me to cut short my aspirations for the post-graduate studies at the Ukrainian language chair. With “three” one could not apply immediately. It was possible only after two years of work. And suddenly the dean M.Hrytsay wants me. Obvioiusly they wanted to see whom I would be visiting and follow me there. I arrived in Kyiv on July 7. Apart from the dean’s office and my sister’s place, I had visited only one woman, Lyudmila Stohnota, in Sholom Aleichem street. I went to see her on Lisovy’s advice: she stayed apart from all these things and told me about Lisovy’s and Pronyuk’s arrest the day before. She also advised me not to visit anyone else.
The dean M.Hrytsay ordered me to go to my place of work, i.e. village of Tashan’, Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky raion and check whether my superiors there would not mind my post-graduate studies. How could they object? Anyway, I went to Pereyaslav. The staff of raion board of education were surprised at my arrival; they presented no objections and sent me to see the principal of the Tashan’ school Rodion Kolomyets, who had resided in Pereyaslav. On my arrival I was greeted by his weeping wife “Oh my, the KGB looked for you!” I believe it was July 8. Lisovy had been arrested only two days earlier and here, in Pereyaslav, they knew already that the KGB had been after me… Amazing, considering that I had not been in hiding. I decided to take a hydrofoil - not home, but to Cherkassy oblast’, where my brother’s mother-in-law had lived, just in case. If I am to be arrested, I might as well have some rest before it. I even met my brother Anatoliy on my way. I spent several days with them. The KGB really did not know where I was. Upon my return to Zhytomir oblast’ I took precautions while approaching my home, and, once there, asked my sister Lyuba whether anyone had been looking for me. No.
On my way home I visited Petro Romko in Skybyn village, in Zhashkiv raion. When I found out that Petro without my permission had copied Lisovy’s letter, I understood that the letter had to be rescued. Together we re-wrote it at night, and at home I made another copy with carbon paper and destroyed Petro’s copy. One copy was given to Kateryna Vysotska in Kyiv, another – to Ivan Hayduk in Boryspil, just for safekeeping. I did not dare to make more copies and distribute them, and there was no one to advise me. In mid-August I went to Tashan’ village, to work as a teacher. It was hard
time for me. The first year of teaching is difficult for any young teacher, and I lived in constant anticipation of arrest.
On my former student’ M.Levchenko suggestion in 1996 I wrote a whole essay describing these events. M. Levchenko, from the nearby Shevchenkove village, studied in the 10th, final grade of my school in 1972-73. I have taught the 10-graders Ukrainian language for two months, while their teacher Hanna Halchuk was taking an upgrading course. Mykola was a most gifted student. Shortly before my arrest I gave him O.Honchar’s novel “The Cathedral”, published in “Vitchyzna” journal № 1, 1968, and a collection of Ivan Drach’s poetry “Everyday ballads” (1967). The books remained with him. Only some years ago he found me and returned the books. Now we are friends: almost every year on March 5 he takes us to Tashan’ school in his car. We also deliver lectures in Pereyaslav pedagogical university, sharing his knowledge about V.Stus and human rights movement.
20th ANNIVERSARY OF THE DESPOT’S DEATH
The whole winter of 1972-73 was snow-less in Pereyaslav region. Only at the very end of it some snow covered the earth. Although getting up on Monday of March 5 was hard after the trip to Kyiv on the previous day, the light snow was reassuring. On my way to school I kept thinking: the manuscript, on which I worked late on the previous night, should have been hidden in the basement. I was too lazy to do it. But will they really come today? Oh, let them be, in the evening I’d have to fetch it again, so it is better not to lead them to the secret place.
The snow crunching under my feet helped to recapitulate the events of the previous day. Why I, a teacher, had been summoned for the military training in the middle of the school-year? And the principal would not defend me. Who will be replacing me in the classroom? Bizarre: I was told in the military office that I would be taken to Kyiv. If so, - I deliberated – I’d better transfer the manuscripts to Kyiv first and leave them with someone trustworthy for safekeeping, or, if a chance arises, to take them to my brothers’ in Zhytomir oblast’ – that’s the only place to hide them safely. So I hurried to make a clean copy of the article “Dobosh and the menials, or the end of “shistdesyatniks” movement”, then took it my sister Nadia and hid safely under a desk drawer, where my books are still kept. My sister does not know about it.
One thing bothered me: when I was purchasing a bus ticket to Kyiv at Pereyaslav station, my ticket happened to be the last one. And an elderly man behind me in line (in a good quality sheepskin) asked me in Russian where I was going – if to Kyiv, probably, he could take my ticket had I changed my mind. And then he turned up right on the bus, smiling at me as if we had known each other. We also took the same streetcar from metro station “Darnytsya” in Kyiv (the stations “Chernyhivska” and “Lisova” had not been built yet). His white sheepskin was very conspicuous. Why would he talk to me? Just in case, from force of the student’s habit, I took a place right near the door and suddenly jumped out of the streetcar right at the words “The doors are closing!” He was standing at the next door of the same wagon. I had enough time to see his surprised eyes when the train started moving. I wanted to wave to him, but decided against him not to tease him any further. Let him everything had happened spontaneously.
I decided to go to the university in the hope of meeting someone I knew. In the yellow building, on Taras Shevhcenko Boulevard, I came face to face with Lesya Shevchenko (to whom I have never given any samizdat). She was applying for post-graduate studies at the stylistics chair, headed by Alla Koval. And I was denied these studies, although the chair of Ukrainian philology professor Illya Kucherenko had been willing to take me. He was probably the only chair – non-party member in the whole university. I’ve got “three” at the state exam in “scientific communism”, sot that I could not apply right away – only after two years of work. And the vacancy was filled by Yaroslav, Mykhailo Stelmakh’s son, although he was studying in the institute of the foreign languages. Well, how could I, a son of indigent peasants, compete with the Stelmakh family? To make my failure certain L.Kadomtseva who had promoted Stelmakh, was appointed my academic adviser for diploma paper. She felt awkward, explaining to me that “…your paper will definitely get the excellent mark, but without honors, because of the “three” in scientific communism. Too bad for you…” Well, my constant mocking of the scientific communism simply brought its fruits. Or the KGB already knew something. For example, at the second year of our studies the party organizer of the philology department Musienko, once approached us, a group of boys:
– High time guys to consider joining the party.
– Which one? – I asked like an idiot.
He never repeated his offer.
All right, high time to go to the dormitory in Lomonosov street. In November I have given my hand-written copy of V.Lisovy’s “The open letter to the members of the CC of the CP of Ukraine and the Supreme Rada deputies” to Viktor Polozhiy, right there in the dormitory, with the help of F.Forkun. Lisovy was arrested on July 6, 1972. I wanted to find out whether everything was OK, but could not find Viktor.
– You should not have given him the letter. He has his own problems to deal with– Faina told me.
– And why is Ivan Semyaniv using “the common language” talking in the hall? For everyone to understand?” – I asked distorting the language mockingly. Sometimes we joked like that with Faina who used to tease me for my ardent defense of the language purity.
– Well, now he is Vanya Semenov. He switched to the Russian department, arguing that the Ukrainian language has no potential for future career.
I knew this guy from Snyatyn way back, when he still had studied in the 10th form – he was the winner of the linguistic competition organized by “Molod’ Ukrainy” newspaper, and we, the students helped the editorial board in choosing the winner. Such a pimpled boy always covered in brilliant green. But, lo and behold, now he is a part of the “great Russian culture”. Good I did not give him any samizdat. I had my own infallible test for the people: if one is not honest in small things he cannot be trusted with big things either. For five years I have always carried samizdat books in my bag, given them to dozens of people and no one would give me away. I remember, once we took the same bus with this Ivan. “Will you pass the change to the driver?” – he asked me in Russian. “What, Ukrainian is not good enough, is it?” – I retorted. “Well, I want to become fluent in Russian” – explained my Ivan. “You are all rotten inside” – I thought then, but said “What sort of linguists are we? Who will promote the Ukrainian language if even philologists use it only professionally?”
So, the Ukrainian language is not Ivan’s profession any longer. And that rot was common in Kyiv. To persist in speaking Ukrainian one had to be the real fighter. How many a time have I heard: “You kolkhoz dumb heads! Rednecks! Will you talk in human language!?”
– Since your graduation, everything had come to a dead standstill here, Vasyl…”
– It is not about us, Faina. You are aware that all the leading figures among “shistdesyatniks” are in custody. There is no one left in Kyiv to talk to”.
I visited some younger colleagues too – nothing new. Through Valentyna Shtyn’ko I sent a word to someone: “Tell them I am still alive”.
I spent the night at my sister’s place in Prazka street, and there I had deployed the “bomb” which still makes me ashamed. This time I would not go to V.Lisova’s place, next time probably, they would leave me alone sometime. I could not even fathom how she was managing with two kids, the youngest of which had been born two weeks after her husband’s arrest.
In the morning I visited Halyna Klymenko, who used to live close to where “Chernyhivksa” station is now. It looked like I wasn’t followed. Well, there was no point in surveillance: they know where I stay, where I go, when I plan to leave Kyiv. It’s good that yesterday I got rid of the ‘tail’.
At Darnytsya bus station first of all I noticed my deputy principal’s son Oleh Petrashenko. He was sitting with a stranger not making any attempt to introduce us. So I had to leave them and started reading something. They would not hold the conversation on the way, either. And he was the best friend of my best student Ivan Stipakhin. Earlier he used to talk to me, even though I had not taught him. He finished school the previous year. My 9th-grader Ivan was the first in Tashan’ to get some samizdat books to read and V.Lisovy’s letter as well. He was also the first to hear about Kyiv arrests from me. One evening he came to me round-eyed with fear. My God, I have scared the boy to death. Why on earth should I have given him the letter? He is a mere child…
– Has something happened?
– No, nothing – he answered and hurried away.
(Eventually I learnt he had shown the letter to the deputy principal Petrashenko and that latter had reported it to the KGB).
...My reminiscences were interrupted:
– Vasyl Vasylovych, hold on.
Here I am right in the pasture. Two men, about 30 years of age, are approaching. Inconspicuously alike, standard issue.
– Our car is stuck, will you help us pushing it.?
Indeed, on the left side of the pasture there is a car GAZ-69. It cannot be stuck – there is not enough snow for that. And the ditches are frozen. And the car is sitting on the gravel road. A bunch of kids are hurrying to school. They would be only too happy to give it a push.
And the men are immediately on my both sides, holding me by the elbows.
– We are from the KGB. Keep quiet.
– I see you are from the KGB – I answer, very calmly.
– So, you’ve been waiting for us? Let’s get into the car.
I clean the snow off my boots before sitting down, while they are pushing me into the car in front of my students.
Then it was like a movie... We have covered 30 km between Tashan’ and Pereyasliv within several minutes. I tried to maintain a small talk, but they would answer in mono-syllables only. It looked like their mission had been completed. Besides, I doubt they knew any Ukrainian. And they were forbidden to talk Russian to keep their identity secret.
In Pereyasliv I was taken to the upper storey of militia building – the KGB office had been there. A simian Asiatic-looking man of about 50 introduced himself as colonel Karavanov, senior KGB investigator. He was moving around softly like a monkey. He asked me to hand in the anti-soviet literature, which, according to him, I’ve had in my possession. He added it would make my fate easier.
– I do not have any [books] – I said.
Let’s go and see – he suggested, choosing Ukrainian words with difficulty.
They let me out at the school building. Karavanov followed me to Polich house, where I had been renting a room. On my way I greeted the passers-by courteously as if nothing had happened. Because I remembered a neighbor giving me hard time for failing to greet her properly:” Look at him, we are so proud we cannot even say “Good day!” to a neighbor. And being a teacher, too…”
I felt surprisingly calm. As if everything suddenly fit into place. My worries and troubles, my waiting has suddenly come to an end. All the problems – at school, at post-graduate department, with my own girl (no, not my anymore) are finished. The main thing is the prolonged anticipation, burning dull in my soul, is done with. In fact, I stopped waiting with the coming of a new year, pouring my soul out on the paper. And now they will take everything away, because of my reluctance to get up earlier and move the manuscript to the basement. Later I have come to understand that creative people would always find a way out of crisis – to transform in into creative impulse, to make a work of art out of it. It is like having a baby. You feel empty and exhausted, but your suffering is over.
On our way to the house Karavanov tried to stay behind – probably to prevent my escape. More heavy-set faceless men were bustling about in the yard. My landlady Hanna Polich was standing outside too, with her head uncovered, for God knows what reason. She gave me a thorough scrutiny, as if reprimanding me for bringing disaster to her home. And she used to be good to me, she even told me stories about the famine of 1933.
Once again Karavanov asked me to hand in anti-soviet documents. There was nothing I could do, so I took out the valise with white folder.
– You might be interested in that.
However, they continued burrowing through my stuff. I sat there empty-hearted and indifferent, as if it had been happening to someone else and not in reality, rather like in a movie. The brain, however, kept working: Right thing to do would be tearing several pages with addresses and phone numbers out of my notebook, so that they would not get hold of my friends. I asked permission to go to the toilet. They let me out. Then I sat in another room wondering whether they would find the manuscript of “The end of “shistdesyatniks” article, which I had stuck into a cardboard box with pasta. Not yet. I told them “I’d better eat something. I did not have any breakfast”. They let me into the first room again. I took a couple of eggs, some bread and salt. I drank one of the eggs right away, but felt I could not do the same with another egg. Meanwhile I see them moving pasta boxes here and there, without opening. Am I so smart or are they so dumb? Here, in Tashan’, I started another article, “Dobysh and the menials”, describing the latest developments. Its alternative title was “The end of “shistdesyatniks”. I tried to comprehend what had happened with our society in 1972. The text was rather basic, only the title was good, it sounded right. (This article was published by A.Rusnachenko in his book “National liberation movement in Ukraine. Mid-50-s – early 1990-s. Kyiv, Olena Teliha publishers, 1998. Pp 543-550. He had copied it from my personal criminal file and made a lot of mistakes, like writing the name of the movement in Russian. The dating was also wrong “January – February 1987”. In fact it was early 1973.). I kept the manuscript in the basement, in the pail full of potatoes. But when they had cheated me with military training, I had taken it to Kyiv and left at my sister’s place.
– Here – the pillagers bragged – we put your books in order, because you have had a real mess here”.
A mess, right. I had no book-case; the books used to be piled on the floor, on the old newspapers. They unrolled a roll of wall-paper. I planned to make the envelopes of it to send Lisovy’s letter out. They took H.Skovoroda poster off the wall, rolled and packed it. Well, what is wrong with the poster? Definitely the principal R.Kolomyets and his deputy V.Petrashenko must have given them a hint. I made this poster out of two big sheets of paper for Skovoroda’s 250th anniversary, celebrated on November 2, 1972, then posted it in the literature classroom, and later the principal took it down. One evening he sent the caretaker Chuy to fetch me. I went to school, wading through the mud. Both deputy principals – Petrashenko and Shenchenko – had been waiting for me.
– What the heck have you painted here? The cross, the trident…
– How else should I have painted the church – with sickle and hammer? And a Bible, too. And where is the trident?
Oh, my, they have taken a three-pronged candle-holder for a trident. I had no idea, while painting it. I saw such a candle-holder at Lisovys’ so I painted it. Probably the same happened to Mykola Zerov, who, in his description of Kyiv from the left bank, had written “The bluest sky studded with golden domes”, and ended up in Solovki.
The deputy Shenchenko tried to defend me, but Petrashenko went on with his accusations: carols I rehearsed with my nine-graders before Christmas. We met just twice in my flat – and suddenly my students stopped coming. So this is where the freezing wind came from. Petrashenko, as opposed to the principal, had been a party member, so he had to be vigilant. The principal could not join the party, as he had stayed in the territories occupied by the Germans. Malicious rumors had been spread, that he used to go around collecting milk for the Germans. One woman told him her cow had given no milk. Then he hid under the hay, as he had been of small stature. She entered the cow-shed and milked the cow. Then the principal jumped out of the hay like a Jack out of the box:
– So you said the cow had no milk! But the German soldiers need fresh milk!
As God is my witness, Rodion Vasylovych would beat his chest, swearing:
– I am non-partisan communist!
... I try to defend myself:
– What is this interrogation about, as if I were “people’s enemy”?
– Stop hustling and bustling. It is for your own good. You’d better take care of the curriculum instead of promoting nationalism.
– So the carols are nationalism, right?
– There are no carols in the curriculum. They are religious. You must promote the CPSU program, not carols. And fro grammatical analyses you should use sentences from Leonid Brezhnev’s speeches, not from your Symonenko.
– Everyone is doing one’s bit: I teach kids the language, while you in your history and social studies lessons teach them CPSU program. One can choose one’s burden – a stone or a straw.
Eventually the rumors have spread in the village that I had painted an icon and wanted to show it at school, but the principal would not let me. That allegedly I taught the children how to pray: “Virgin Mary, rejoice, blessed you are among women”… Probably the caretaker Chuy had been eavesdropping at my door and then spilled the beans.
Lisovy’s case was already completed and transferred to the court, while mine had been remanded for further investigation due to my testimony. It was tied to their case. I have been under investigation for 9 months, while investigation for their case lasted for the whole 17 months. I don’t think additional facts related to samizdat distribution affected the case. Pronyuk, I believe, from the very beginning faced 7 years in jail and 5 more years in exile, and Lisovy – a bit less: 7+3. But that is beyond the point. Every piece of evidence meant another person still at large. Probably that person will not be put in jail, but definitely will suffer a lot of hardships. Fortunately, many facts have been invalidated by Lisovy and Pronyuk. They would not give any more names. Pronyuk made only two statements, at the beginning and at the end of the investigation. His habitual answer to all the questions used to be “I understand the question. I refuse to answer it on ethical grounds.” Familiarizing myself with the file later I was fascinated with his perseverance. I kept asking myself: why could not I have done the same? Well, because of the looming threat of mental facility. I surely would have ended up there, had I not capitulated.
The most significant aggravation to the charges against Pronyuk and Lisovy was created by my reference to the “Ukrainian bulletin No 6” (called No 9 on its cover). Although someone had mentioned it before me, I still have compunctions about it. The magazine was never found by the KGB. Another similar magazine, edited in Lviv by Chornovil prior to his arrest and published by M.Kosiv, Ya.Kendzior and A.Pashko, had ended up in their hands. It was this issue that Chornovil had mentioned in his note to Atena, officially sent through the investigator. “Do not send me any more warm socks, those I have are enough. It meant the publication of the “Ukrainian bulletin” had to stop. (See.:V.Kipiani “The Ukrainian bulletin in the underground” – Ukrainska Pravda, 21.08. 2002). As far as our edition goes, I.Hayduk, from whom I had received the whole bunch of the printed bulletin in late April or early May 1972, had been kept in detention for three days, in connection with it. Probably he was expelled from the journalism department. It was my fault, because, intimidated by the loony bin prospects, I had told on him.
I feel terribly guilty for what I have done then. It was a sin. And if there is any sense at all in my imprisonment, which had lasted for thirteen years, I see it as the just punishment for my sins. Possibly, I will have to repent for them for one million years in purgatory. So I want the presidents, current and those to come, to know that I do not deserve the “Hero of Ukraine” title, as I am no hero. Tsymokh was squeezing my friends’ names from me, one by one: Y.Fedas, Yu.Skachok, P.Romko, M.Hlushchenko, F.Farkun, A.Pylypenko…Others were intimidated and confused by the interrogators, so that they would confess. Investigator Tsymokh kept wondering: “All of your acquaintances had received samizdat from you. Komosomol members, even party members were among them! So how come no one would tell us, so that we could stop you!? I studied in the University ten years ago in the law department – why have I never received anything from anyone?” “Because I dealt with honest people…” Lyushenko, the KGB agent, supervising all the snitches of the University, came to see me. He had his office within the rector’s office. “How come I did not know you?” – “But I know you”…
I have had a direct confrontation with some of the “witnesses”. Disgracefully, I confirmed that I had supplied them with samizdat. Will you call me naïve for trying to justify myself by the fact that I could not lie? But that is how it was. Lisovy could not lie either. I have no grudges against Lisovy for providing me with samizdat books; my complaint is that no one had taught me how to act in case of arrest. We had no instructions to guide us, apart from the ethical law. My law proved rather weak. This weakness was aggravated by the fact that I did not consider my own actions criminal and was amazed to hear that the investigators classified them as such. I felt that the KGB officers had been overestimating me, calling me the “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalist” without any grounds. What did I, a peasant’s son right from the University, have to do with the bourgeoisie? I also tried to avoid the word “nationalist” because of the negative connotations, which have been very strong at the time. .
So, willy-nilly, under the pressure, I gave them the professor of English F.Slyusarenko, who in spring 1968 had given me two copies of I.Dzyuba’s work “internationalism or Russification?’ and a roll of film. Probably, he was fired. I also reported on my friend from the village M.Hlushchenko, whom I had given a samizdat folder for safekeeping. I felt so guilty for having betrayed Mykola that he even appeared in my dream. In the dream I told to him to destroy the folder. And he burnt it! I had more of such supernatural “communications”, especially with my family, in the course of the first and the third investigations. The feelings become especially acute in the extreme situations. The folder Mykola had burnt contained the photos of V.Makukh, who had committed self-immolation in Kyiv in Novembr 1968. My Friend M.Hlushchenko was a gifted actor, but had not started his studies in the Theatrical art institute before the events. After them he could not even dream about it! I also have done wrong by Vasyl Skurativsky, from whom I had received a photocopy of the “History of the Russes” and I.Koshelivets’ “Modern literature in the Ukr.SSR”. Investigators would lead you to think that someone else had already spilled the beans, so they were, supposedly, aware of some facts and there was no point in trying to hide them and thus aggravate your own situation. The KGB men were professional liars! Of course, they are guiltier than me for forcing me to make such terrible choices. Nevertheless, my sin still remains on my conscience.
I was yielding bit by bit. Sometimes my “sincere confessions” were refuted by some new evidence. But somehow I have made my peace with the devil – when in summer 1973 I finally had been subjected to the psychiatric evaluation, I was not afraid of haloperidol any longer. The evaluation was conducted by Natalka Vynarska. The whole criminal world of Ukraine knows her. She worked in the 13th ward of the “Pavlivka” [mental hospital], I spent 18 days there. Natalka Maxymivna probably had not received the instructions to certify me as mental case, because I have “spilled the beans” anyway, so she did not try too hard. She was kind to me and had written a conclusion to the effect that I was in fully capacitated. The suspicions about my mental health caused by diaries’ entries (i.e. that I don’t want to live after my failures and the “shistdesyatnks”’ arrests), were attributed to the young age exaggerations, which is very common. By the way, V.Lisovy had also been subjected to a psychiatric evaluation. His mental adequacy was put in doubt because he used to visit his mother’s grave and spend a lot of time there.
Through the investigation my cell-mate was Leonid Kobrinksy, 26 at the time. Allegedly he was from Kharkiv, kept in detention under article 62, i.e. for Russian samizdat. Later, in the camps and after liberation I asked people, whether anyone had met this Kharkiv dissident, but no one would remember him. Although people of different cultures and languages, we did no harm to each other. I was only upset with his smoking.
“Pronyuk, Lisovy and Ovsiyenko case” was completed by investigation team headed by Karavanov around October 1973. Familiarizing myself with the case (27 volumes, 200-300 pages each, if I am not mistaken), I had a chance to read both samizdat and foreign-published books I have not read before. They were a part of evidence in Pronyuk and Lisovy case, in particular the “Collection of Ukrainian rights”. The copies were made on “ERA” coping machine. I wish we had a device like that instead of typing the texts on a typewriter, one letter at a time… Then I read the protocols of Ye.Pronyuk’s interrogations – very long questions, with the repeated answer: “I understand the question. I refuse to answer it on ethical grounds”. Following his example, I did the same during 1981investigation. In the meantime, I understood how I had been set up, fooled, and, consequently, how many mistakes I have made. Reading the protocols of the interviews, conducted with my girlfriend, whom they have also found with my help, I felt the depth of my loss very acutely. Quite untimely tears overwhelmed me, and Tsymokh, to calm me down, lit a cigarette and offered it to me. I took it, although had no use for it. The smokers believe it has calming effect. By the way, Tsymokh also offered to organize a meeting with her, although our testimonies did not differ at all. I refused point blank, afraid of psychological pressure and the interrogator’s presence. And she would perceive this confrontation as a “date” I had asked for. I did not want such perfidy.
I noticed once that Tsymokh had been having hard time trying to present my actions as criminal offense, so I told him: “Aren’t you aware of what you are doing?” His response was: “It’s all right, our cause will survive us.” It did not, Mykola Pavlovych…So, why? No one charged you with anything after my rights have been restored. Probably, the amount of pension you receive from the state against which you fought so ardently is quite substantial…
Before the trial the investigator offered me a list of the defense attorney ( about 15 names) for me to choose. I knew no one, so the investigator prompted me: “Here is Gertruda Denysenko. She is a good attorney”. – “Let it be so. I do not care anyway.” At the time my face had all been covered with some sort of rash, like teenage pimples. The doctor treated them with brilliant green. So at the first meeting with my attorney I looked absolutely miserable. She advised me to tell the court what I have not told anyone yet. Her main message, though, was as follows:
– You are aware, are you not, that all activities are nothing but a mosquito bite for the soviet power?
– Certainly. And mosquitoes are killed for that.
( But lo and behold, Gertruda Ivanivna! Your imperial elephant is dead after all, while I am still around and hoping that my mosquito bites have contributed to its demise.)
The trial started on November 26, 1973 and lasted with intervals till December 6. I had to plead guilty, confessing that my “activity” (as they called my dissemination of samizdat among my friends) harmed the state and that I was sorry for that. I held in my hands the whole bound volume of 100 pages, containing my conviction. For three hours on end I’ve been relating my “crimes”. Pronyuk and Lisovy sat separately from me, so that they could not influence me. It was a shame but I have performed my role thoroughly, till the very end of the show. (Our trial is described in more detail in my essay about V.Stus. I did not dare to change anything as it had been written on the basis of my first impressions). My friends looked extremely depressed, when after testifying, they were taken out of the courtroom. The guards would not let me face the public. Only one law-student, who did not have to testify, dared to greet me with the nod of his head. When they brought in “my girl”, she kept looking at me all time behind the guards’ shoulders, till she was taken away. May be she understood my predicament and did not condemn me (later she even wrote me a letter to the camp).
Lisovy was consistent in his testimony although he gave some explanations. Pronyuk chose the tactics of non-collaboration with the investigation. He had made just one opening statement to that effect. The KGB officials did not fully trust me (because, naturally, it was not the court, that passed the verdict) and I was condemned to four years in prison. I am grateful to them for not setting me free after the trial. Had they done son it would have meant an ultimate defeat for me. With my “increased sense of justice” (N.Vinarska’s definition”), I would probably go and hang myself, nothing else would do. Or, at least, drink myself to death. This was the usual fate of the people who had been broken. I, however, had been sent to the camp, courtesy of KGB, for retraining and rehabilitation.
I still feel very bad about making my friends suffer through my weakness. F.Forkun, I.Hayduk, Y.Kruk, M.Yakubivksy have all been expelled from the university. F.Slyusarenko had been fired. P.Romko and Vasyl Skurativsky have suffered persecutions. Each and every person summoned for interrogation can be considered a victim. M. Yakubivsky, with whom we have shared a room in the dormitory for a year, had suffered more than the others. He had read I.Dzyuba’s work “Internationalism or Russification?” and during interrogation did not hide his sympathy for me. As I have learnt much later, on March 18, 1974 he was expelled from the komsomol - by the special decision of Kyiv oblast’ court on our case the komsomol meeting had convened in philology department to throw him out of the organization. At the meeting professor Margaryta Karpenko said:” You should have reported on Vasyl, so now you would have been much better-off. The way things stand right now, we have to fight for the purity of our ranks! Another professor Valentyna Povazhna gave her own verdict: “Sharing a room with another student and not knowing what he has got in his bag is contrary to komsomol principles!” Oles’ Bilodid, the son of the author of “Ukrainian people’s bilingualism”, concluded: “This is a black sheep that should not remain in our university!” On March 30 M.Yakubivsky was expelled from the university. Moreover, this excellent student and gifted poet was confined to a psychiatric hospital, where he had spent 11 months and received over 500 strong neuroleptic injections. It’s much worse than my 13.5 years in prison. It’s worse than death. And no one was held responsible for this crime! (See his brilliant essay “The soul-killing factory” in “Zona” magazine, # 3, 1992, pp. 191– 201, and also my article “The 25th anniversary”.
Currently I often pass the “Ivan’s hut” at 33, Volodymyrska street. Standing in front of the reception, where M.Hrushevsky’s bas-relief is, I can see a three-storey building. It used to house the KGB “pretrial investigation center” under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Ukr.SSR. They say there are no more cells there. It used to have three or four courtyards shaped like wells- the prison on one side and the walls three-storey’s high on three other sides – for the inmates’ everyday exercise. It is from this yard that Ye.Sverstyuk had once heard V.Stus’ voice “God, what a sky!” Vasyl, probably, was held also on the third floor, for he could see the same TV tower peak, that used to be in Khreshchatyk street then, and the tip of acacia tree, which had been cut down in spring 1973 due to the construction of that house deep inside the block – it had no windows facing the jail, while the side windows were decorated with some pillars.
Balzac, be jealous of my solitude and robes!
As go to bed that early I don’t dare,
I follow with my crazy sleepless glare ,
The TV tower with its ruby strobes,
Piercing the darkness of the quiet night,
Like happiness itself - short-lived and bright.
They would not transport me to the camp for a long time, due to the on-going appellation court proceedings, although I did no submit any appeal. May be Lisovy or Pronyuk did, although all of us had ended up in custody anyway. I asked to cut my hair short, as I used to have an impressive mane of hair prior to arrest. Finally a heavy-set man with the visible scar across his cheek, which looked like a Polissya potato-cake, had summoned me to his office. He introduced himself as Ruban and started talking such nonsense that I had a feeling that one of us must be crazy. He kept asking whether I had anything else to add to what I’ve divulged already, whether I wanted to alleviate my soul, so that there would be no need for another investigation; he kept asking about my circle of acquaintances, professors, students and their opinions; about potential students’ organizations of which I might have been aware. Then, to the main message: you will be sent to a place to live with the people whose arms are covered in blood up to their elbows. So, beware, lest they would drag you into their criminal affairs, while you are one of our own, soviet people. You just made a mistake and our goal is to have you re-educated. According to him I should have been let free right in the courtroom. Anyway, the term of four years can be cut down, if I behave and assist them in preventing further crimes. Finally I had a revelation: they are trying to recruit me as their spy, a “seksot” [secret agent –Rus.]. Later P.Vinnychuk described that “recruiter in his “Boys from the burning furnace”. (Kharkiv Human Rights Group. Compiled by V.Ovsiyenko.- Kharkiv: Folio 2003. – P. 46). Having pleaded guilty at the hearing, I hardly could refuse outright. I mumbled something, so he had to summon me again. I wrote something for him. No, it was not my contract of cooperation, but something about the trends and tendencies in public opinion. But! When I am running for President or at least for the people’s deputy let my opponents demonstrate this paper to prove that I used to be a “seksot”. In our post-genocidal society, where KGB general Marchuk gets 8% of the votes at the Presidential elections, I have absolutely nothing to fear. Especially considering the fact, that I am not running for any office.
THE FIRST TRANSPORT
All the former political prisoners are in the habit of sharing their impressions about the first transport. So I am not going to be any exception to the rule.
From Kyiv “KGB-den” I was taken for the guarded transport around March 28, 1973. I spent 16 days on the road and arrived in the camp on April 12. I was brought there in the closed van and let off in some remote corner of the railroad station. The convoy commander went somewhere and the soldiers started questioning me: what was so special about me to have me transported all alone? One good-looking soldier, definitely Ukrainian (or may be, after a year of investigation, I just forgot what the normal people’s faces looked like?) made a naïve request: "Anti-soviet propaganda and inciting? Go ahead, incite me, then!” It had been neither time nor place to start my propaganda. I was taken to a so-called “stolypin” wagon full of criminals, to the last cell, the so-called “three-bench” close to the guards’ compartment. So I was alone, riding regally in the three –bench cell, while others had to crowd in other compartments. Soon I felt all the benefits of my “special status”. I heard three women talking in the next cell. The ride was long, almost a day and a night. The women were talking to the prisoners in other cells. I tried not to respond, because the guards watched me closely at all times. The women’s speech was heavily laced with Russian four-letter words, in its specific, feminine version. Here it is “the great, the potent, the beautiful Russian language”, whose influence on my Ukrainian had been so detrimental since my student’s years. It was then that I had told myself: “it is not my language, not my culture. I am not going to defile my lips with the Russian curses”. I’ve survived the camps and the cesspits of Vilnyansk and Korosten’, but under no circumstances would I use a curse. Even when something heavy would fall on my foot. Because I do not have that abomination in me.
The criminals would ask: “Hey, girls, sing something for us!” And the “girls” in their hoarse voices would start to the tune of a summer song, popular at the time:
“Oh, I want it oh so bad,
That we’d had enough of fat!
Lardy meal, oh lardy meal,
Will you follow at my heel”.
But I loved another ditty even better:
“Dear girl, both our boyfriends,
Are in jail and stand no chance.
Let us write to comrade Brezhnev,
So he’d set them free at once.
Dear girl, I surely wrote,
But I had a poor luck,
He had answered in his note
“You would better go and fuck…”
A work of genius. Because that is exactly how Brezhnev used to respond.
At night a soldier “originating from the Caucuses region”, as they say now in Russia, reached consensus with one of the girls, and with his lieutenant’s permission joined her on the bench. I could hear the unmistakable sounds. The girl was trying to earn her chance of earlier release due to the birth of a baby.
Then things came to a head. We were brought to Kharkiv, to the famous Kholodna Horka [Cold Mountain – Ukr.] We were sent to a bath-house and our clothes were disinfected to get rid of lice. I was taken separately to the basement. The room had a spherical vault and two plank beds, each made of a single metal sheet, about 10 mm thick, attached to the wall by iron bars. A metal cube served as a chair. The doors had three layers as well. The actual one-piece door was in the middle, while on the outside and on the inside there were grates. When meal was brought I had to stretch my hand out as far as possible to get the bowl. My assumption was that all the other cells in Kholodna Hora were all the same. But once the guy who had distributed meals asked me in a whisper: “What are you here for?” Then it dawned on me that I was on the death row. I would not protest out of fear to be put together with common criminals. Later, listening to the Oksana Meshko’s recorded memoirs, I found out that she had been somewhere nearby, (See: O.Meshko. I testify. Recorded by V.Skrypka, “Respublika” magazine edition, political portraits series. No3.— К.: URP, 1996.— Pp. 32-34) as well as the boys from Rosokhach. (See: the boys from the burning furnace/ Kharkiv Human Rights Group. Compiled by V.Ovsiyenko. – Kharkiv: Folio, 2003. – Pp. 47, 85).Two and half years later I happened to be there once more, and found the inscription “Stepan Khmara, article. 62 p.1.7”. So, permanently overcrowded Kharkiv transit prison had no place for the political prisoners but the death row.
Then – Rusaevka in Mordovia, teaming with lice…No, it was in September 1976 that I had been attacked by fleas. As soon as you lie down on the lower plank bed, they start jumping on you from the upper one. If you choose the upper one, they would attack from the ceiling. I have spent several nights on a narrow bench, where the fleas were fewer. They tried to spread something in the cell (and kept me in the latrine for four hours), the smell was unbearable, but the fleas were indomitable.
Then I was transferred to Pot’ma. There I finally met another prisoner, Kuzin, from the city of Orel. Article 70 which corresponded to our 62. The Russian dissident imprisoned for samizdat, would tell me interesting things, mention well-known names: Sakharov, Hryhorenko, Yakir, Krasin. But in his narration he was using nothing but the four-letter words. Till then I have never heard such a picturesque, vivid profane language. It turned out that any object and concept could be referred to by means of obscenities, enhanced by non-verbal expression and tone. Our half-literate Kuchma stays far behind in comparison! It is an amazing nation that perceives and explains the surrounding world in terms of specific body parts and in light of specific intercourse.
On April 12, 1974, together with the aforementioned Kuzin we were brought to the camp Zh-Kh -385/19 in Lesny settlement of Zubova Polyana raion. The first impression was that of tremendous open spaces. Like 400х300 m. I suffered from real agoraphobia. After having spent over 13 months in the prison cells I felt like hiding in some dark corner, become one with the wall, to have reliable protection at least on one side! (Later I experienced the same feeling in the Vilnyansk movie theater in the open, with three thousand prisoners sitting and seething there!) We were taken to the head-quarters, searched and let out into the “zone” – till commanders would arrive. God almighty, what a crowd! And everyone is equally grey, with short hair cuts, like the slaves in the ancient Egypt. In work robes and hats. How can I tell them apart? All right, everyone has a name-tag, with “Team.. Brigade…etc” on it.
It was spring there too, the trees were about to blossom. Someone had climbed a tree and nailed a birdhouse to the trunk. Later I learnt who the man was - Kuzma Matviyuk. We became friends.
Before the bosses’ arrival a huge guy approached me and introduced himself: Mykola Konchakivsky. He asked about my term of imprisonment. “No worry, pan [polite form of address in Ukrainian] Vasyl, you’ll serve it like everyone else. I’ve been here for twenty five years already out of twenty nine. After I went to the Polish-German war in 1939, I cannot finish my war ever…” Then my four years seemed like a mere trifle to me.
Till then no had ever addressed me per “pan”, and here everyone was “pan”! It turned out that samizdat wrote plain truth- half of the prisoners were Ukrainians! Altogether the camp had about 300-350 inmates. During the day the majority stayed in the working area, but after six – off you go to the residential quarters. Meanwhile I was issued the prisoner’s robe and taken to the first team’s barrack, where the maintenance people lived. I was ordered to report to work on the next day, as a stoker in the gas and power unit. After the supper a “tea party” was set up to celebrate my arrival. About 20 Ukrainians and some non-Ukrainians took their seats on both sides of the long tables and started asking me questions. I was offered a “long-lasting” candy and then a bowl of strong tea, shared by everyone – I was told to take two sips and pass the bowl on. I started my story, but Ihor Kravtsiv, a Kharkiv engineer, warned me: Pan Vasyl, you will have another occasion to repent. Now just tell us your verdict”.
I did not have my verdict with me. A few days before the transport the pretrial center commander, KGB sub-colonel Sapozhnikov took it away from me, saying “You do not need it”. It must have contained too much information (That is why I publish it in this edition). Eventually an occasion presented itself to send the verdict out of the camp and abroad – but I did not have it on me.
One third of the prisoners served their term for anti-soviet activity and propaganda, just like me. Some were equally inexperienced and went through the same drama of blackmail and intimidation. On realizing I had not been alone, I felt better immediately. Naturally, it is not easy to confront the horrendous reprisal machine single-handed when you are only 23 and have no experience of fighting. Especially if dozens millions of people have been crushed by it before, and for the whole year you have absolutely no one to offer you advice or support. Not everyone can carry such a burden…
I was introduced to the elders, the Ukrainian rebels. They were men of uncommon fate, firm in their convictions and morality. I take all the responsibility for this characteristic. For example, Dmytro Synayak, imprisoned for 20 years, or Mykola Konchakivsky - 29 years in prison, Roman Semenyuk condemned for 28 years, Ivan Myron – 25 years, Mykhailo Zhurakivsky – 25 years, Father Denys Lukashevych – 25 years. Vasyl Dolishniy as a boy of 16 had been condemned to 10 years in jail for participating in rebels’ movement; now he had 7+3 for anti-soveit activity. I became close to them, they treated me like a son, although they had never had their own families, having grown old behind the bars. Eternal youths, they have preserved the pure youthful mentality, with deep respect towards a mother or a girl.
Naturally, I made friends with the younger boys too. Zoryan Popadyuk from Sambir, Lyubomyr Starosolskiy from Stebnik became my closest friends. They were somewhat younger than me, born in 1953 and in 1955 respectively. The others were Petro Vynnychuk and Mykola Sloboyan from Rosokhach. Kuzma Matviyuk from Uman’, Ihor Kravtsiv from Kharkiv, Hryts Makoviychuk and Serhiy Babych from Zhytomir oblast’ ( he had tried to escape twice and was familiar with the “special regime”.
One third of the camp was formed by the anti-soviet activists of various nationalities and shades, another third – by the Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian guerillas, and the last third – by the category, described euphemistically “for the war”. Who had been and who had not been guilty of collaboration with the German occupants was not our business.Many of these cases were openly faked, to keep the society in permanent fear: “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten”. So within my first year I have completed the intense “Mordovian University” course, comparable only to my first year in the Kyiv University in terms of my “coming of age”. In this ambiance I quickly regained my bearing and by the end of 1974 already participated in protest action which happened there. The camp regime is described in my book “The light of people”, so I will not dwell on it now. I’ll just mention that I have had only one 24-hours visit from my father, and one – from my mother and sister Lyuba. For the first time my father came to see me after Marshall Zhukov had died. My father had heard the transmission of his funeral on the radio”. He started reminiscing of how the soldiers respected the Marshall. “We fought and you…” “So what have you won for me? The jail?” For the fear of being overheard we switched to other things.
For the second time it was only a short visit from my father. He had traveled two thousand kilometers for the sake of one hour. We sat separated by a desk, with junior officer Masha present at the meeting. (Later she overwhelmed me with an unexpected utterance. She opened my package and said “I see forbidden stuff enclosed here”). Officer Masha ordered us to speak Russian. I started a row claiming that I was not going to talk to my own father in jail-talk. She threatened to cut the visit short. Anyway, my father did not speak Russian. Then she let my father speak in his language, and I had to humiliate myself for the sake of my father. He would not have understood or appreciated my firm position. It was the last time I saw my father. No, in spring 1976 when his health had seriously deteriorated, all my sisters and brothers came to say their farewells, I was there too. I dreamt that my father was lying on a bench in the middle of the room, where the deceased are usually placed, with us surrounding him. But father was still breathing. So he did not die then. About a month later, on May 8, I had another dream that all the fillings have fallen out of my teeth. Then I knew my father had died. I received the confirmation much later, on May 21. God knows where the letter had been traveling.
Zone 19 had quite a substantial library collected by the prisoners. The books could be ordered from a special mail shop, and the subscription to the soviet newspapers – but not to the foreign ones - was allowed to prisoners. Books sent in the parcels were prohibited. The library had a small hall with the few desks and the stacks of the old newspapers. I used to sit there in the evenings and on Sundays, rummaging through the books. About half a meter of the «Russian history since the ancient times” in 29 volumes, by S.Solovyov and slightly smaller V,Klyuchevsky’s “Concise course of Russian history”. Then came the “Russian history since the ancient times” and the “Concise course of Russian history “by M.Pokrovsky. Obviously, I would not find our “bourgeois-nationalistic” M.Hrushevsky in the library. The historians helped me to understand the essence of the Russian empire. Eventually V.Stus also studied them and wrote his poem starting with words “My enemy, if you’re to be forgiven…” Right, “my enemy”, not “my people” as you would find in the major publications. He put it down for me and I’ve learnt it by heart in Urals. It went on as follows: “Oh, state of half the darkness, half the sun!” No! “The state of darkness, darkness and the darkness!” I have read somewhere that Moscow was standing on the former site of Kuchkove swamp, and offered the shortest environmental program ever: “Restore Kuchkove swamp!” Only then the world would be left in peace. Moscow had swallowed too big bites and now was unable to digest them. Its poisoned blood will disrupt the world peace for several centuries to come.
Vasyl Dolishny came to visit:”Right, pan Vasyl, keep studying. That is what you have been sent here for – to learn”. Roman Semenyuk: “So, pan Vasyl, you are studying, aren’t you?” “Yes, pan Roman. And what about you?” _”By now I know everything I need to know.” No wonder, after 28 years of imprisonment.
There is no time to tell everything about Mordovia here. I wrote a lot in my essay about V.Stus, and also in the article “Mordovian Union” – about the joint struggle of the Ukrainians and the Jews against the common enemy – the Russian communist empire.
The so-called Ukrainian public activists, led by the KGB men, came to the camp more than once. Scientists and tractor operators. We would convene for the “Educational talks”. In the course of one of such meetings in October 1975 I talked to them rather firmly. It was the time when the women-political prisoners organized a prolonged hunger strike demanding medical treatment for V.Stus. The poetess Iryna Kalynets, an artist Stephania Shabatura, NadiaSvitlychna, Iryna Senyk, Oksana Popovych and a Lithuanian Niyole Sadunaite participated in the strike. On one occasion Iryna Kalynets stayed without food for forty days. So when these”public representatives” asked me whether I had had any wishes, I answered: “Give the imprisoned women the things which had been confiscated from them, so that they would call the hunger strike off”. The things I was referring to included verses, embroideries, drawings, book-plates. “But if they prefer to go hungry?” Then I lost my patience and called them fascists. For that on October 30, 1975, I was transferred from zone 19 to zone 17, Umor settlement (aka Lake settlement). It was Tengushovsky raion. And October 30 happens to be the Day of the soviet political prisoners. A hunger strike was announced for the day. On the previous day I have prepared a rather harsh statement, addressed “USA, New York, UN, Committee for human rights” and dropped it into the box “For proposals and complaints”. In other words, delivered it to the administration. Later it was used at my third trial.
In early January 1976 I was taken from the zone 17 to the penitentiary isolation cell in the zone 19. Why? For being impolite. The evening before lieutenant Ulevaty came to my place to search my personal belongings. I took my toothbrush and towel and demonstratively left the room to go to the bathroom. Ulevaty followed me into the corridor. “Where have you got this shirt?” - “Have stolen it from you”. This underwear shirt in fact was too white for our conditions – my mom had sent it to me recently. Ulevaty summoned me to his office to talk. He was young and hot-blooded, but so was I. In our conversation I mentioned that he certainly would have to stand trial. As a result, I faced the charges of “Threatening the superior”. Besides, I have forgotten about political lecture and spent too much time at Volodymyr Kaznovsky’s bed in the hospital unit. Result – “missed the lecture on politics, arrived there 5 minutes before the end”. 15 days in the penitentiary cell. In fact, I spent 14 days there, as inmates are transferred on Wednesdays. We spent time there with Avgust Reingold, professor of law from Tartu University. He had no bedding. The plank beds are put down for 8 hours, the rest of the day one has to sit on a tiny stool, about15 cm in diameter, or walk around. We were not allowed to go to work, which means hunger: hot meals once in two days, with no sugar or fat. Daily we received 450 g of bread, boiling water and salt. One evening the hole in the door opened and a hand offered us two thick slices of bread. Reingold and I exchanged glances without a word, took the bread and devoured it immediately. On another occasion the “feeder” opened and two wrapped candies fell on the floor. We ate them right away and threw the wrappings into the latrine (it was a big pail). However, they kept floating on the surface. The door opens, the guard searches us, but finds nothing. Only after Paryir Ayrikyian returned from exile, he asked whether the guard had given us the bread. He had thrown the candies in himself, on his way along the corridor. And he forbade us to tell anyone. I believe now I can do it.
And on February 6, 1976 V.Stus was brought to the zone 17 after his surgery. On that day I was taken to the hospital in Barashevo and kept there till My 8, 1976, so that I would not meet Stus. I had had my hemorrhoids surgery there- the ailment is typical for the jail-birds. So I got back to the zone 17 on May 8, and finally met V.Stus. We had spent several months together. On July 9, 1976 I was taken to Kyiv for the “brain-washing”. I spent two months on the road and in the KGB buildings, 33, Volodymyrska str. The KGB officials tried to “show me the right way”, arranged some visits for me, brought my family, then a female professor from the University, my teachers Olena Lytvynchuk and Mykhailo Kravchenko. The only outcome was that on August 20, 1976 I submitted a statement in which I refused point blank to plead guilty. I wrote that my guilty plea at the hearing had been the result of blackmail, while in fact I do not consider myself a criminal. Then a guy, supposedly from some criminal prison in Bila Tserkva, charged under the article 62, was brought to my cell. He tried speaking Ukrainian, but what he said definitely was not enough for the article 62. I had no doubt he had been placed there on purpose, but what did I care? It might have been even worse. However, while I had been writing my statement, he looked like he was ready to jump at my throat any moment. I did not give him that satisfaction and simply did not talk to him for a couple of days – the best method of avoiding conflicts. I have waited till Friday, which was the day of the commander’s visit, and, in my cell-mate’s presence, asked the sub-colonel Sapozhnikov to separate us. Soon I was called for questioning. When I came back, the guy was not there any longer.
I was transported back to Mordovia by the usual way. During my trip from Kharkiv to Mordovia I met M.Plakhotnyuk: the poor bugger was being transferred from Dnipropetrovsk mental facility to Kazan’. God almighty, that might have been my fate as well! I arrived in the concentration camp #19 on September 11, 1976. Mao Tse-Tung had died a day earlier, that is why I remember the date so well. In the camp I met V.Stus, K.Matviyuk, I.Kravtsiv, K.Dasiv, A.Yukeviych and the aforementioned rebels. Among non-Ukrainians I remember S.Soldatov from Estonia (he was a co-defendant in A.Yuskevych’s trial), K.Lyubarsky and A.Bolonsky from Moscow. In the late 1976 we were joined by V.Osypov. There were Armenians A.Navasardyan, A.Arshakyan, R.Markosian, a Latvian M.Ravinsh – a young boy of 19, very sickly. The Lithuanians were more numerous: L.Simutis, a renowned person, P.Paulaitis, who used to be the Lithuanian ambassador in Spain, Portugal and Italy before the war. R.Smailis, Vilchauskas, Kazlauskas, V,Povilionis were among the younger generation. We became friend with Povilionis while we had been in the hospital together. This was our circle…
Now to the Russians…You know Russians used to have their own circle and stick together. Mainly they were people with monarchist views. They were arrested in 1967 in Leningrad: Averochkin, Ye.Vagin served their terms with us. Sado and Ogurtsov were in the camp in Urals. They were members of “All-Russian social-Christian union for the liberation of nations”. This organization was set up in 1964. There was also Kapranov, who had “sided with them”. Neo-marxist Sasha Romanov from Saratov, who in the camp made an abrupt transition from democracy to monarchism. I do not remember the names of other Russian monarchists.
B.Zakharov: Did you have any quarrels with them?
V.Ovsiyenko: When we organized any actions: hunger strikes, petitions, - usually the Russian monarchists would not participate. However, we had some contacts with them. I would like to mention a Jewish Russian-speaking writer from Leningrad M.Kheyfets. We served time together in the zones 17 and 19. He wrote beautiful essays about us, the Ukrainians – “Ukrainian silhouettes”. They were published by “Smoloskyp” in 1983 in both Russian and Ukrainian languages, and also in our almanac “The field of despair and hope”, К., 1994 (also KhHRG published his collection of works in three volumes in 2000 ). I highly respect this person; he is one of the best men I know. (See my essay “Mordovian union).
We were with V.Stus first in the 17th, then in the 19th concentration camp. He was taken to exile from there on January 11, 1976. We organized a farewell party for him, with a big cauldron full of tea. I’ve written a whole essay about him, so here I mention Stus only briefly.
We were allowed two letters per month. I used to write to my mother in the village and my sister Nadia in Kyiv, sometimes to my other sister Lyuba in Donetsk. Unfortunately few of those letters have survived. The relatives did not care enough. Although rigidly censored, they still contained some information. I have written to the aforementioned girl who had become a teacher, that I had no claims and that I was sorry. She answered and even sent me the poems of M.Rudenko which she had copied by hand. But that was the end of our correspondence. Many years later I learnt that it was on the KGB bastards’ advice.
So, Mordovia had not been easy for me. I’ve suffered many losses. But I had some gains, too.
FREEDOM ON THE SHORT LEASH
Unexpectedly on February 9, 1977 I was taken away from the Mordovian camp # 19. I had about a month to go before my release. So why would they do that? Because the situation presented itself as follows: a released political prisoner goes from Mordovia to Moscow, divulges the latest camp news and the information becomes public for the whole world. So they started escorting people right to the places of their domicile and establishing an administrative supervision upon arrival. The route was the usual one: Pot’ma – Ruzayevka – Kharkiv – Zhytomir. In Zhytomir jail I kept refusing to be photographed in the civil clothes they had given me. And I also sported mustache. Not to look more handsome, but for different reasons. In summer 1974 I was staying in Barashevo hospital and met V.Lisovy there. How we enjoyed our conversations! Neither he nor I had the electric razor allowed recently. We tried to shave with manual razor, it was a virtual torture! To diminish the scope of torture we started sporting moustache. Although our prison photos showed us without it, no one had objected. After the electric razors had been allowed and moustache and beards banished, I have shaven mine off without regret. But three months prior to liberation we were allowed to wear our hair as long as we pleased and to sport moustache, so I had stopped shaving and arrived in Zhytomir mustachioed - exactly the way I looked before the arrest. I refused to shave and so the picture on my release certificate shows me with moustache. On the eve of the release day, however, I was taken to the bath, and my moustache was shaved off by force. By that time I did not protest too much.
While in jail, I had also been taken to Zhytomir KGB. Major Radchenko talked to me there. (Later he was in charge of Dmytro Mazur’s case and interrogated me in connection with it). He gave me all the usual instructions. A rather detailed map of our region was hanging on the wall of his office. The officer let me look at it closely and explained that it was a pre-war soviet military map, hidden in a milk-jar in Bereztsy forest, Radomyshl raion. The children went to the forest to ski and had started a fire to warm up. No sooner had they left the place, than they heard a huge explosion. Sappers were called. It happened to be a bomb from the war time. And not far from the site the sappers had found the jar with the map and paperwork of the UPA field unit, under the command of someone known as “Roman”. Then I remembered (but did not share my thoughts with the KGB officer), that Danylo Shumuk had told me about his units’ military actions in our area. There is a picture showing the famous “shistdesyatniks” in Malyn forests around 1971. I t was Shumuk who had taken them to see “the site of the glorious battles”. And Dmytro Synyak had definitely stayed with his unit not far from my village! Even in my own village two rebels have visited a graduation ball in 1947, disarmed the raion representative and shot at Stalin’s portrait on the wall. One of the Bandera fighters made a speech in front of the graduates. Then they took the officer from the raion and school prinicipal O.Demchenko to a nearby ravine, tied them up and left there. They also tied up the village store guard and threw him into the same ravine. They have taken provision supplies and returned to the forest via Teteriv. In the morning the village council head Serhiy had made a big fuss and called militia from Radomyshl: the Bandera bandits have killed the militia officer, the school principal, they had killed the guard! Meanwhile “the killed” are making their way out of the ravine. A boy bringing breakfast to his grandpa – the store guard, had found and untied him. (The story was told by a friend of mine Ivan Rozputenko, who had then studied at the economics department, and several times visited me in secret).
You won’t believe it but the Earth had quaked before my liberation! Really, there had been an earthquake with epicenter somewhere in Romania. Around 11pm on March, 4, I suddenly felt my bench shaking under me. I had a cell-mate, somewhat older than me. Our beds were positioned at 90 degrees angle. “Why are you shaking the bed?” – “I thought you were the one shaking it”. Then we heard the whole jail hustling and bustling. The inmates started shouting, the guards running around – “The earthquake!” “Why, - I said to myself – I’ve spent here four years, just to be buried under the rabble on the last night…” The prison, however, proved sturdy enough, and so to hell with it.
So I have been kept there till the very last day and released on March 5, 1977. By the time I have reached the bus station (it is pretty close) with my backpack full of books and notebooks, the person in charge of my release had been already there. He bought me a ticket to Radomyshl. In prison they instructed me rather severely to report to local militia before going home. Nevertheless, I violated the instruction and visited a church on my way home, although I did not have money to pay for the candle. Then I reported to militia to hear the terms and conditions of the administrative supervision. That’s it, I am on the hook: I cannot leave my house between 10 pm and 6 am, I cannot leave the raion, I must report to militia every two weeks. That was the established procedure. I tried to bargain, demanded the Ukrainian version of the decision, and, finally refused to sign it. Thus I have laid the foundations for the new confrontation.
In the afternoon the buss brought me home. I enter the court and hear the sound of the hay-cutter in the cattle shed. Mom is preparing the fodder for the cow. But before hurrying to meet my mother, I made a sign of cross and fleetingly touched the doors of my home. My mother had not been expecting me yet: God only knew when I return from that Mordovia…
My next “term” started with potatoes, boiled on the stove, and quiet conversation. The next day I went to see my brother Volodymyr and to the post office to send a couple of telegrams with the news of my home-coming.
The first thing I have done at home was fashioning a sort of antenna out of a length of copper wire, which I had fastened on the pear-tree. Then I tuned an old receiver on and would listen to it mornings and evenings. In the periphery, far from all the jammers, I could hear almost complete programs by the “Liberty” and the “Voice of America” broadcasters, especially considering the fact that they used to repeat their transmissions many a time. I found out that on November 9, 1976 the Ukrainian Public Group for the support of Helsinki Agenda had been set up; that it had been founded by M.Rudenko and O.Tykhy while in custody.
Right after my release I made this fact known to everyone concerned in Kyiv and Moscow. I let them know that I was under supervision, but they’d better come and see me as I had new information. I prepared two copies of the manuscript. Ilyin from Kyiv was the first to arrive. I forgot his name, Ihor, probably. He was sent by V.Osypov. I shared with him the information concerning the latest developments in the Mordovian concentration camps. The paper was written in calligraphic, almost schoolboy’s handwriting. As I heard later, it was published in the “Chronicle of the current events”, No 42 (or 47). I have not seen the publication, but heard about it on “Liberty” radio. I did not bring any written matter from the zone, but I had a lot of notes and two notebooks full of V.Stus poetry. Oddly enough, no one had paid any attention to them, as I have had a lot of copied verses and folk songs. No, I really had Stus’ poetry copied from the magazines’ cuttings. I used to copy them in soda ink between the lines. O.Bolonkin taught me the trick: you dilute baking soda in the water, fill the pen with this ink and off you go. I did it in the prison library, using two pens – one with the real ink, another with the soda. Fortunately I was never caught. If you look attentively, you can see that soda is kind of shining against the paper background. At home I tried to read the hidden text. I passed an iron over the sheet of paper. The text is visible but hardly readable. But, as I mentioned before, I have taken the authentic texts out as well, in my notebooks.
In early April M.Matusevych – a founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki group, his wife Olha Heyko-Matusevych, O.Berdnyk’s daughter Myroslava and Lyuba Heyna all came from Kyiv to visit me. Currently Lyuba is Myroslav Marynovych’s wife. Mykola took the second copy of my notes about the Mordovian events. He said it would be used in the UHG documents. They brought a loaf of traditional Ukrainian bread “palyanytsya”, a runner embroidered with Krolevets pattern, a bunch of guelder-rose, and I’ve heard the “Long live” song addressed to me for the first time in my life. My mother had even shed a tear. In her heart she did not see any future joys. Neither did I.
I received a polite response that my “girlfriend” in1975” had registered (sic! – they were not married in church) her marriage with the local teacher, and now they had a daughter already. (Eventually a son had been born to them as well). I received the letter in the afternoon, so I stayed in the orchard till dark, pruning and stacking the branches, so that mom won’t see my despair. I had no intention of violating the rules of my supervision and did not plan to go anywhere. So I have not seen her for the next 16 years: from1973 till 1989. And my first girlfriend had tied her life with my friend. The administrative supervision hardly gave me any opportunity for “matrimonial plans”, as they say. I had no doubts that I’d be put behind the bars again, so I wanted no girl to suffer or be disappointed. Serhiy Babych says: “A slave shall not beget a slave”. Marx, whom we all love dearly, once said that no man makes one’s dearest suffer as much, as a man who fights for the common good.
I received a letter from P.Hryhorenko, from Moscow.It was a short note on a post-card, written in Ukrainian, though, with some mistakes. He wrote something like that: “It is good you made up your mind so quickly”. That is why in some editions, and in particular, in the book “The Ukrainian Helsinki Group.1978-1982", you can read that I have been the member of the group since March 1977. At that time, however, I have not yet given my consent to become a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. There are UHG documents dating back to summer 1978, with my faked signature, but I consider myself a member since November 18, 1978. Then Oksana Meshko came to see me in Stavky and I gave her my consent, asking her to keep it secret until I am arrested again. I described this encounter in my essay about Oksana Meshko “The Cossacks’mother”.
M.Matusevych and M.Marynovych were arrested as early as April 23, 1977. I was questioned several times in connection with their investigation. I would not testify. The KGB officials had questioned my niece Lyuda Ryabukha, who was unfortunate enough to arrive from Kyiv on that day, so that she had seen these persons. She also refused to testify against them. All she said was, yes, there had been some people, but I have not met them, I stayed in the kitchen, did not hear any conversations. The KGB men intercepted my letter to Lyuda where I had instructed her not to answer any questions. They classified it as pressure on my part. But I offered nothing but advice on how to behave in the course of questioning.
To avoid conviction and imprisonment as a “person without permanent work” I had to start a job as a kolkhoz painter and decorator one month after my release. They wanted to give me a job in the accountant’s office, as it is a conspicuous position, but I refused and suggested becoming their painter instead of my brother Volodymyr who had just left. The kolkhoz head V.Mynenko sought advice from the KGB and hired me. At least I’ve had no job-related problems, unlike other “ex-cons”. I tried, though, to find a job suitable for my qualifications, i.e. as a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature. But both oblast’ and raion boards and the Ministry of education kept sending me the same response: as a person fired for the moral turpitude I could not have been reinstated as a school teacher. As if I had raped a student… Besides, there had been no vacancy anyway. Obviously, it was a lie – definitely there had been vacancies, if not right in my village, then in the next one. I sent these papers to Kyiv and Moscow; some of them had been published in the foreign press (See Ukrainian Helsinki Group. 1978—1982. – Toronto-Baltimore. Smoloskyp, 1983.—Pp. 493-530. Some documents were attached to my other book as the artifacts of the epoch).
About three months after my release some elections were in order. As kolkhoz painter and decorator I prepared all the [propaganda] materials encouraging people to vote, and then ignored the elections myself. At that time it was a competition of sorts between the palling stations – everyone hurried to report that 99.99% of the electorate have voted already. On the next day the official information to the effect that 99.99% of the public have voted for the one and only “candidate from the communist and non-partisan block” was published. I used to tell the joke about the first soviet-style election. “And God created Adam, took his rib and created Eve. And He placed Eve in front of Adam and told him “Choose any wife you want!”
So, about 10 am the secretary of the elections’ commission knocked on my door. “Why are you not voting?” – “’Cause I don’t want to.”
An hour later the head of the elections’ commission accompanied by the kolkhoz head Mynenko knock on my door. “Why won’t you go and vote? It is your right.” – “My right is not a duty. I waive my right”. Next the elections’ commission members arrive with the voting urn.
About 2 am the Hero of the Socialist Labor, head of the raion executive committee arrives, just to have the same conversation once more. “We have 42 thousand strong electorate in the raion, and you are the only who had not voted. Why?” “I do not want to exercise my right to vote. I have my own opinion which I am willing to share” – “OK, but watch out, so the things would not get nasty”.
The district cannot report the early completion of the ballot, the raion cannot do it, the oblast’ cannot do it and the whole Uk.SSR cannot do it! They had been waiting for me till 8 pm, but I have never appeared at the palling station. And Mayakovsky used to say: “One man is nothing, one man is nil…” Certainly, I was not the only one to have abstained from voting; they simply did not dare to put my ballot into the voting urn – I might have come and requested it in the very last moment.
During the potato digging of 1977 Olha Heyko, who had become a UHG member on May 13, had come to visit me. She arrived in a passenger car with some kind of hood over it, like the ones used to deliver food products. A certain Yura was at the wheel. My assumption was that Olha knew her companion well enough to trust him, so I gave her the notebook with Stus’ poetry in his presence. My mom gave them borschtch, and they were on their way. Some days later Olha called me (I had to go to the post office to answer her call) and told me that Yura had turned out a KGB agent. “Now all sorts of troubles are to be expected. My father had had his flat searched and Stus’ verses had been confiscated.” Later she let me know through acquaintances that she wanted to come and visit me with some friends on Saturday (i.e. September 6), but asked to meet them in Radomyshl, so that they could get back to Kyiv on the same day. A day before, on Friday, September 5, I was unexpectedly summoned to the militia precinct in Radomyshl. I’d rather not have my friends visiting me on Saturday, but I had no means to send them a message. Scared, I went to militia on Friday. There I was charged with keeping in touch with”anti-soviet elements”, namely, that I was sending letters to the convicts and their families. Also I sent a parcel of dried apples to Stus, who was in Kolyma at the time. And added a dried bunch of guelder-rose. Later I have learnt that the parcel took two months to arrive at its destination, because the Radomyshl raion prosecutor Sytenko had put all my correspondence under arrest. The rumors reached me that Vasyl Stus had been terrorized in Kolyma, that he had broken his legs. I wrote a letter to the doctors there. It must have been too strong as the doctors had asked the KGB to protect them from me. The protection was ensured…
I stayed locked in a room for about two hours. I suspected they would never let me free again. Probably, I thought, they were writing the arrest warrant. I was terribly sorry – only half a year out of jail, did not even have time for respite, have done nothing good. And what about my mother! But no, they had only renewed and amended my supervision order, making it more rigid: now I had to report to militia on weekly basis and stay at home between 9 pm and 6 am. With this warning in mind next day I went to Radomyshl to meet my Kyiv friends. Olha Heyko stepped down from the bus accompanied by other people: Ye.Obertas, H.Kovalenko and someone else, may be Lyuba Heyna. Captain Horay, my supervisor (to whom I reported) passed nearby quite demonstratively, so I showed him to my guests. We crossed the bridge over the Teteriv river and found a place in the meadow, far from any shrubs, not to be overheard. We discussed the Helsinki group and my own situation. They had no advice for me, for they were walking the razor’s edge themselves.
A couple of days later I was called to KGB office in Zhytomir. The officer was deeply upset: “You’ve just received the warning, and you still keep seeing these people!?” While the questioning was on, that same Yura, with lieutenant’s epaulettes on his uniform, entered the room. I wondered what the point of this dumb demonstration was. To boast of his cynicism? “So, you’ve eaten my mom’s borshtch?’ – “Yes, and it was good, too”. I did not want to talk to lieutenant Yura, but explained to the KGB officer that I had had no means of recommending my friends to stay away. And it would be impolite to skip the meeting once it had been arranged. I had a feeling that the officer believed me.
In the fall the information about my work search, supervision and interrogations in connection with Matusevych and H.Snegirev cases (I only sent the latter a post card upon hearing his address in a radio program) became public thanks to “Liberty” radio. On October 22 I received a warning that if I am caught at any activity harmful for the state I would be held criminally liable, on the strength of the Surpeme Rada Presidium Decree of December 25, 1972. Therefore, I was on the hook once more.
In the village I had only one true friend – Vasyl Kanchur, a bit younger than myself. He was the kolkhoz veterinarian. I could see he was honest, so I could discuss politics with him quite openly. He would visit me in the “club building”, near the office, where I had a shop to do my painting and decorating job. I was under constant observation. The rumor had it that the office stoker and messenger Oleksiyenko used to be a policeman [under the German occupation]. He was the husband of our pharmacist, a drunkard and a hooligan. They were not from our village. He himself was under the supervision of the local militia officer Bazlenko. This latter had his office in the same building, right opposite my workshop. Sometimes Bazlenko would detain Oleksiyenko for 15 days. Obviously, he would diligently obey any instructions from my supervisor. Later he testified against me, corroborating fake evidence. Other fellows would also visit my workshop to chat and borrow three roubles for horylka. “Because the air itself is whispering: find the cash and get the booze!” Sometimes I would refuse to give them money for drinking, and then they would claim they needed it for bread. Bread was in short supply - when it was brought to the local store, the whole village would come running. I used to say “The line is the socialist approach to the counter”, “We have shortage of bread under the developed socialism, so what communism has in store for use?” In due time I had been reminded of my jokes. The incriminating reports had been written by the honored worker of culture of the Ukr.SSR, deputy principal of the children’s rehab facility school O.Demchenko (it was him who had been tied up and thrown into the ravine by the Bandera guys in 1947). The boys would tell about their conversations with the district militia man. The officer would incite Andriy Hryhorovych to keep me late somewhere so that I would violate the established curfew, and be home after 10 pm. “But he would not go anywhere”. – “So get him drunk” – “But he is a non-drinker”.
I felt the increasing pressure. The kolkhoz head Mynenko had called me to his office to reprimand for the violation of the work discipline. He sounded so unsure of himself that I could tell immediately the idea had not been his own. I had to write an explanatory note: I had to go to raion militia for my weekly report).
A couple from Korostyshev had been sent to work in the village – Halyna and Oleh Kravchenko. I had good relations with them. Halyna was appointed the head of the cultural center (i.e. my “club”), Oleh – the coach of the amateur art groups. Both had graduated from the vocational school for promotion of amateur arts, and brought “high culture” to our village: they spoke Russian, organized all sorts of events and exposed our kids to the “great Russian culture”. Oleh was rather morbid, hard drinking. Often he would miss the work, either looking for a drink or drunk already. Halyna, although unhappy with the arrangement, had to work for both of them. So the KGB bastards decided to use the situation.
One could enter the principal’s office only through my workshop. Once a guy, older than me, came in, seeking money for his drink. May be he was slightly tipsy by then, but he definitely was overdoing it: he placed himself in the armchair and pretended to take a nap. Then Halyna called me to her office to look at some album, although she might as well have brought it to me. “I don’t have time” – I told her. She insisted. I stood on the threshold of her office, my painters’ coat covered in paints, brushes in hand, but God himself had whispered a warning to my ear: “Do not enter”. I looked at the album from afar. “Cannot touch it – my hands are soiled. And, after all, I am not that interested”. I returned to my own work. Halyna pretended to be offended, locked her room and went away. The guy also disappeared: the intended show had failed, so there had been no need for the witness. Although one could have been accused of the “attempted rape” without any witnesses whatsoever. The statement from the “victim” was all that was needed.
Eventually, during my third investigation in 1981 major Chaikovsky had arranged a meeting with Halyna. Although I refused to testify the investigator wanted her to give condemning evidence. Instead Halyna (by that time Petrovska), started crying so bitterly at the confrontation, that she could not utter a word! Finally I had to calm her down (off the record). Probably she had felt some compunctions, remembering that she had been forced to fake the scene of “attempted rape” – she knew me and knew what I was like, so the shameful role had been disgusting to her. Probably after the failure she reported that the subject had been immune to her charms.
I was fully aware of my situation and used to walk around the village with the utmost caution. If other passers-by kept a one-meter distance from a car, I would keep two-meter distance. I have not violated the rules of my supervision even once. Several times a district militia officer would come to visit after 10 pm. Once he was accompanied by the village head M.Sutkovenko (my former teacher of astronomy and drawing), sometimes – by the village council members. They would enter my room awkwardly and stay there. I did not initiate any conversations to alleviate their task. Once there came the whole bunch of them. I stepped out with the flashlight. “Why, so many of you! And who is hiding there behind the jasmine bush?” I pointed my flashlight there and saw the husband of the famous agricultural team leader Maria Vasylenko. Soon after that he hanged himself, I do not know why.
God watched over me, and here is an example. Everyone could earn some firewood by cleaning the forest. On Sunday (when else could the soviet people do a bit of work for themselves? On Sunday only!) we went to the woods with my brother Volodymyr. The next Sunday we were supposed to take a bike and burn the smaller branches. My brother advised me not to burn more than three stacks at a time, to keep the fire under control. Suddenly I saw with consternation that the fire was going up the pine tree! I managed to put it down with the shovel… Then I fell to my knees to offer my sincere prayers to the Savior. Had I been guilty of burning the whole forest, I would have never forgiven myself. And the KGB would never forego such a “fortunate” occasion.
Once in the fall, during rain and storm (it was dark already and my mom had gone to bed) my schoolmate, a Soviet Army captain suddenly arrived at my home. He happened to be passing by in a military vehicle and decided to stop by to see me. He asked for a drink to warm him up. I took a bottle out of the cupboard, poured a drink and offered it to him, with something to eat. But I did not drink myself. The captain tried to start a talk about politics but I would not go into it. Then my friend suddenly splashed the drink in my face: “You, a traitor!” In silence I just wiped my face as befits a Christian. No, I washed my face, then mopped it and returned to the table. He apologized and stepped out. Even now I cannot fathom what he had needed it for. The Soviet Union which he had served for 25 years has been long dead, so he might have offered some explanation without offending the deceased.
On the eve of the New Year 1978 Dmytro Mazur from Huta-Lohanivska in the nearby Malyn raion came to see me. He had heard about me on “Liberty” radio program. One should be cautious in my situation, but this man did not look suspicious at all. In 1971, during the “Lenin’s lesson” he had told his students about the famine of 1933, about reprisals, about the soviet “elections without choice” – and was fired as “professionally unfit”. It was good to know that there had been at least one person in our neighborhood that had preserved common sense and proper understanding of our situation. . “Among the swine herds there had been a Cossack”. He visited me several times, always catching me by surprise and coming from different directions. Sometimes he would come right from the woods, to be less conspicuous.
On January 7, 1978 I submitted a petition to Radomyshl visas and registration department, asking for permission to go and reside abroad. I claimed I could not find work meeting my professional qualifications, so that imprisonment remained my only alternative. [I wrote] I’d rather stay in a foreign country, but free, than imprisoned in another alien country. No answer.By and by I learnt from I.Borovsky from Korostyshev ( former political prisoner), father of V.Borovsky, who by then already had worked in “Liberty” station, that professor Chynchenko from Canada had interceded on my behalf and sent an invitation. But a “visa” to another place laid in store for me.
I was summoned to Zhytomir to testify against Levko Lukyanenko, who had been arrested on December 12, 1977. All my letters have been found and confiscated from him. I told the KGB investigators that reading someone else’s letters was immoral. I refused to sign a protocol, because it bore the heading “The protocol of the witness’s questioning”, and I had not witnessed any crimes allegedly perpetrated by Lukyanenko. We had exchanged letters with Lukyanenko who was staying under supervision in Chernyhyv. He advised me to purchase a typewriter “Moskva” for 135 roubles, through “Goods by mail” service.
V. Lisova had visited me several times. Usually she would bring some money, as she managed the Soltzhenitsyn fund in Ukraine. She had told me about “adventures” set up for her. Once she brought a beautiful girl, some relative of V.Lisovy, with her. I at once thought something was not right. I am on the hook, not free to act as I will…Olha Babych-Orlova, Serhiy Babych’s sister came to see me on the request from Oksana Meshko. She wanted to find out how disaster with Stus’ poetry had happened. I wrote that there had been no evil intent, but only negligence on Olha Heyko’s part. A former political prisoner V.Vodenyuk had come to visit me twice from Berdychev. Sometimes boxes with clothing would arrive from Moscow. N.Lisovska took care of me. I conducted a rather extended correspondence with political prisoners, the exiles and their families. I used to write to K.Matviyuk in Khmelnytsky oblast’, to I.Kravtsiv in Kharkiv, O. Bolonkin in Buryatia, I.Kalynets in Chita oblast’, V.Romanyuk and V.Chornovil, in Yakutia, V.Stus in Magadan, M.Kheyfets in Kazakhstan and many others. I wrote a lot to the camps, but it is like writing letters to limbo – you never know whether the addressee got it. That is why I used to send letters with receipt notification. It meant I had to go to the post-office during the working hours. But even these letters often disappeared. I wrote complaints, wasting my time and energy. But it helped me to feel that I was not alone as long as I was helping others to remain in high spirits.
On November 18, 1978 Oksana Meshko accompanied by the sister of political prisoner Serhiy Babych Olha Orlova, who then lived in Zhytomir, came to see me in my village which at the time bore the disgraceful name of Lenino (till1924 - Stavky).
Some of my compatriots spied on, while Oksana Meshko was shadowed by the whole bunch of KGB bastards. Therefore her visit was no secret for the ubiquitous KGB staff, which even brought Oksana and Olha to the village. The regular buses were rare in Radomyshl, so Oksana went in search of a ride to Lenino. And she was lucky – some helpful men in “GAZ” car offered her a ride to Lenino. On the way it turned out that they were going right to my neighbors. What a piece of luck indeed! They dropped them off just at my gate.
It was Saturday and I was helping my cousin O.Overkivska who resided in the next street to cut the fodder for cattle. My mother just brought a bunch of fire-wood from the shrubbery. Oksana started scolding mother right away for carrying the wood not because there was none in the courtyard, but to give herself something to do.
My mother called me home and on my way I had a glimpse of “GAZ” at the neighbors’ gate.
I’ve heard a lot about Oksana Yakivna from my guests from Kyiv, who sometimes dared to visit me, constantly observed though I was. I’ve also known her from “Liberty” broadcasts I would listen to every night and sometimes in the mornings too, because in the mornings it was easier to hear them without jammers.
She was wearing an old, but neat coat for all seasons and well-worn shoes, agile in her speech and movements. She used to speak the language of the old-times, so rare Ukrainian intelligentsia, which, however, did not differ much from my mother’s speech. I washed up all the while talking with Oksana. After the dinner we went out, because we had to drop by my cousin’s and fetch the watch I have left there, and then proceed to the bus station. Ready to see my guests off to Radomyshl, I took along a flashlight. Once out in the street we discussed the matters related to the Ukrainian Helsinki Group.
– Vasyl, we have no one to work in the Group…
I looked at “grandma” Oksana, who almost single-handedly was fighting the whole Empire of Evil, then at myself – whatever you are, you are the one wearing pants here…So I made up my mind. We agreed that at the beginning I won’t be “visible”. Because anyone in charge of signing the Group documents could not expect to stay free for long. I promised to write about the people like myself, under severe supervision, and the political prisoners. It meant that I would be easily recognized and “taken” somewhat later. When the arrest will be imminent, or after I am arrested – then it is allowed to declare that I am a UHG member. I wrote the texts within a few days and sent them to Kyiv, with the help of D.Mazur, if I remember right (and I saw them used in the UHG documents almost without changes: UHG Information bulletins. Toronto –Baltimore. 1981 – PP. 56 – 60; Ukrainian Public Group for the support of Helsinki treaties implementation. In 4 v. V. 3. /Kharkiv: Folio, 2001. Pp. 111 – 116. Later Yu. Lytvyn said that he had edited them).
It is noteworthy that the main strength of our human rights movement of the 60-s and 70-s lay in the openness: people did not act in secret, but honestly put their names and addresses under the documents, marching right to jail. Only the technical issues were kept a secret, so some activists were protected as “reserve” – otherwise it would have been impossible to achieve anything.
And so I made up my mind, although on October 22, 1977 I received an official warning from the prosecutor L.Sytenko; my administrative supervision was extended for another six months, for the third time already, and even increased – for my “contacts with the anti-soviet elements staying in custody” ( i.e. for the correspondence, which was censored after all !) and for the declared intention to leave the country and go abroad on the pretext that here I could not find job meeting my professional qualifications. In a nutshell, my situation was very precarious. Oksana Yakivna was well aware of the consequences of my consent; I too understood it only too well, but there was nothing doing.
Around 5 pm we arrived at the bus station, which was close to our house. The “GAZ” vehicle sneaked in front of us, stopped about two hundred meters further, made a U-turn and hurried towards us. The district militia officer V. Bazlenko and major V.Slavynsky jumped out of it:
– Who are you and what are you doing here?
While I was speechless my guest made a quick assessment of the situation.
– I am Oksana Yakivna Meshko, and who are you and what are you doing here? – and she started getting her passport out of her purse. Olha followed the suit.
– Get into the car, we’ll go to the village council and have things cleared up there.
They were closing upon us although we had no intention of resisting or running away. Suddenly they were joined by another man in black suit.
We barely fit into the car – there was no room for the plain-clothes man, and both Bazlenko and Slavynsky were rather fat courtesy of their militia rations, and the driver had to sit somewhere too. The assailants never introduced themselves, so I had to do the honors, and within one kilometer or our ride managed to tell my guests that Bazlenko was my school-mate, who had attended our school for two years, walking every day from the nearby village of Kychkyry, and had studied at the parallel grade. And [I said] Slavynsky was the man to whom I reported on the weekly basis, coming to raion militia for the purpose. “So these are my keepers” – were my exact words.
There was a big crowd in front of the village council building, because it was a pay-day, and salaries were paid right there, in the office.
– Good day to you all, good people. See how honored we are and what an escort we’ve got for ourselves! – I recited, because I had to say something in this awkward situation. (A drunkard I.Oleksenko later testified that my greeting had been “Long live Ukraine!”, and Oksana’s: “Heil Hitler!”. And investigator asked me about it quite in earnest.)
We were taken to the village council reception room. They started asking questions as if they knew nothing about us. I interrupted:
– Why did you detain us? Have we violated public law and order? Let us go, lest we miss our bus.
Then I was taken to the office of the council secretary M.Serhienko, who immediately stepped out of it (probably unambiguously ordered to leave the premises), and left with Bazlenko by my side. Having nothing better to do, we were just chatting away:
–Why don’t you drink horylka (vodka-Ukr.)? I can understand when one is sick, or does not want to spend money, or the wife would not let him…
I knew why the militiaman wanted to know it: he was the one who had staged several abortive attempts to get me drunk, so that I could be accused of the violations of the administrative supervision regime.
– It is not like I do not drink at all, but my annual doze is the same as your one-time doze. And horylka had never made anyone wiser, so I try to avoid it.
After half an hour the doors opened and I saw Oksana sitting on the sofa with her passport in her hand and “the man in black” sitting next to her. I stopped in the doorway and asked:
– What do they want from you?
Someone slapped the door in my face.
After some time the tumult stopped. Bazlenko was called somewhere, so I remained alone. Suddenly agitated Slavynsky ran into the room:
– Sit down, you mother fucker! Who are these women and why did they come here?
And he prepared to write down the protocol.
– I am not going with you this way. Why were we detained and what do you want from us?
– Sit down, or I’ll have you nailed down for good! I’ll have you put behind the bars! Answer my question!
– I will not until you tell me the reason for our detention.
The militiaman sprang out and brought in a girl I did not know (later it turned out she was the militia typist H.Kovbasyuk who “just happened” to be around) and I.Ovsiyenko, a kolkhoz driver.
– You will witness the fact that the detainee refuses to answer the questions of the militia officer.
– Yes, I refuse because the officer behaves like a hooligan. We did not violate public order.
Then he wrote down a protocol and read it to me. I remarked that everything was wrong and asked the witnesses not to sign it. But they signed docilely anyway. First the girl and then Ivan make their exit.
– You can go too.
I stepped out and was crossing the reception room.
I stopped at the door holding the handle. Then Slavynsky jumped at me, cursing terribly, grabbed my collar and pushed me into the room. I cannot say I was frightened, rather overwhelmed, but I had enough presence of mind to start yelling: “Help! He is beating me!”
But there was no one in the hall. They chased everyone out, even the council employees, and, as I learnt later, stopped paying the salaries. In one word, they banned the soviet power in the village.
However the “man in black” and the village head S.Naumenko appeared in the hall:
– What is up, what happened?
– This hooligan, this cad attacked me and wanted to beat me!
– No one had beaten you. You have no evidence to show.
"Man in black " is obviously the boss, he takes me to the reception and asks to sit down.
– But who are you?
He provides a “little red card”, but keeps holding it in his hand. I read aloud:
– "Smahliy Ivan Yevstakhiyevych, Zhytomir oblast’ department of interior”.
Although Naumenko and Slavynsky heard me reading it, later it turned out that such a person had never existed in the oblast’.
Smahliy recommended me to go home, as no one pressed any charges against me and no action would follow. But he gave me two guys, as an escort to see me home – they told me so themselves.
Several days later I found out that a “Black Maria” was brought to the village council building and Oksana and Olha were half-walked, half-dragged into the car which took them somewhere. Some action had to be taken. I could not have anyone mistreating my guests like that, so I won’t keep silent!
On December 1, like a real gentlemen (the ladies were offended in my presence!) I submitted a long statement to the raion prosecutor L.Sytenko. In it I commented every step of the “law enforcers” from the point of view of the respective articles of the Criminal Code, Declaration of Human Rights, International protocol on human and civil rights and Final Act of the Helsinki meeting. The response was prompt: in a week’s time, on December 8, I had to report again to militia office. I was met by Slavynsky, who was positively shining with happiness:
– Go to the prosecutor’s office, they are expecting you.
I arrived there to hear that the criminal charges have been brought…against me. The news was broken to me by the investigator K.Dyachenko. Allegedly I refused to answer the militia officer’s questions in a village street and also prevented women from saying anything. When brought to the council building I, supposedly,”obstructed the militia operation in all possible ways”, “used obscene words against them”, and then “attacked Slavynsky, who was standing in the doorway, pushed him out of the room, tearing two buttons off his overcoat…”
I wrote the testimony myself to avoid any distortions and to prove total groundlessness of all the charges. But what is the point of proving the obvious to people who are totally aware of what happened really, but are fulfilling the order of their party and its “militant avant-garde” KGB, who are driven not by the facts, but by their “socialist sense of justice” and “inner conviction”? What is the point of appealing to their conscience, if all they have is “party conscience”?
The investigator Dyachenko on the prosecutor’s Sytenko sanction had me sign the promise not to leave the village, on top of the usual administrative supervision procedures. (It happened once that I asked the militia head captain Buhay [a bull – Ukr.] for leave to attend to my niece’s wedding in Kyiv. “No sense in going to binge-drinking parties” bellowed Buhay. My answer to that was:”You probably measure everyone by your own yardstick”. And Kuzma Matviyuk asked me to be godfather, in Khmelnytsky raion…).
After the interrogation, the investigator let me go. I arrived on the last bus, at 7 pm. My mother, worried, was waiting for me in the orchard. I tried to convince her to take it easy. I even tried that evening to get back to my memoirs on Mordovian imprisonment, which I called “The light of people”, having taken the epigraph from the St. John’s Gospel “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”. I had to finish the book before going back to jail. At least something will remain after me…
It was a typed text of 42 pages, on what is now called А5 format sheets. Grayish thin paper used in the writing pads. I was cautious lest I’m sold the “marked” paper. Primarily, it dealt with V. Stus. I finished my work and hid it. If I am not mistaken, I typed two copies. One was later left in the special stash, in care of D.Mazur, who took it from there and gave to someone. May be, that copy vanished after all, just like my own copy. May be the paper was “marked” indeed. When I came back nine and a half years later, I found absolutely nothing in my secret places near my house. My brother Mykola- the only person who had known about the stashes – said he did not take them. I also hid there the letters from Stus, Chornovil, Romanyuk, I.Kalynets and my other respondents, packed in plastic jars. May be the letters were marked at the post office, which made it easy for the KGB men to find them. Mother reminisced that after I had been arrested some people hang around the house at night, but she was afraid to come out.
Then, on December 8, 1978 it became clear to me that I would not manage to break free from their grasp. I bought a new backpack, put it under my bed, so that my mother would not see it and started packing it with things I might need in jail. Meanwhile through the people I trusted I sent a word about my tribulations to Oksana Meshko and Olha Babych-Orlova. Oksana commented: “He is just a scared boy. Nothing will happen.” And she advised me not to participate in the investigation. Well, Oksana Yakivna, I thought, nothing will happen to you, because you’ve served your ten years in full and were restored in your rights after. And I will have to take it big-time. It is not right to keep low profile, it is time to tell the whole truth. I prepared strong defense and actively fought back, both during the investigation and at the hearing. The case was obviously made up. I still believe that I have come out the winner in this trial, although I was sentenced to three years in prison. In the meantime, however, Oksana was wrong, and I was wrong too! They succeeded in finding criminal component in her actions as well – allegedly, she offended the militia officer Bazlenko and even spat into his face! Hard to believe, although it would have been good, had she done so!
The proceedings against her were not instigated considering her venerable age. Well, a year later no one cared about the age: the 76-year old woman was taken to jail after the hearing, which, with the utmost cynicism, was held on the Christmas Eve of 1981.
The investigation did not take long. I’ve been only to two or three questionings. Some of my neighbors were blackmailed to force them to testify. Some of them signed some papers, but at the hearing refuted their own testimony. The court, though, was quite satisfied with the testimony provided by the militiamen Slavynsky and Bazlenko.
Things were coming to a head. I wrote the letters, where I expressed my concern, to everyone and to all places, specifically, to the human rights activists in Kyiv and Moscow, but no one could rescue me at that point. It was a new campaign: fabricating criminal cases against the human rights activists. I wrote to the Supreme Rada deputy, the head of the neighboring kolkhoz Lyubchenko, to Shcherbitsky (See: Letter to V.V.Sherbitsky). D. Mazur suggested that my mother should go to Kyiv to see Shcherbitsky. I did not want to send her on such hopeless mission, but, finally, after the family council, I went to my aunt Antoska to borrow a sheepskin (it was freezing cold) and my mother went to Kyiv. At least she had a chance to visit her daughter Nadia there. At the reception office no one listened to her. The deputy and Shcherbitsky’s staff sent formal letters to the effect that everything would be done “in compliance with the law”. The KGB bastards assumed that such a “case” would pass in a small town. But they also understood that it would be difficult to catch me with some written materials on me, and organizing a search in the village household would be a mere waste of time. The whole tank can be hidden there without a trace. When I was in jail already, they tried to find my typewriter without result, until finally my mother gave it to them so that they would never come again. During a visit, mother related it to me with some fear as to what me reaction might be. “You did right, - I told her. – They will not bother you again”.
One evening my only bosom friend Vasyl Kanchur came to see me. By then he was already working as veterinarian in the neighboring village of Zabilochchya. I was surprised to see him and wondered how he would get back home so late. I noticed my Vasyl looked very worried. The house might have bugged (I saw something in the window!), so we stepped into the orchard to talk. I glimpsed a militia vehicle riding back and forth in the street and directing the lights right into the orchard. “Let us stand under a tree, so they will not see us”. Then Vasyl confessed that he was brought to my place by force so that he could offer me help. May be I would give him some written papers to send somewhere or to give to somebody. I thanked my friend. Later he reported to militia: “He is smarter than all of you taken together”. For being my friend and for his testifying in court in my favor he was expelled from Bila Tserkva agricultural institute, where he had studied by correspondence.
Then the “soviet people as one man” was getting ready to some elections, due, if I am not mistaken, on February 12. As the kolkhoz decorator in charge of visual propaganda I had to paint a lot of banners, although I had no intention of going to vote myself. Those who remembered my demarche during the 1977 election said “They want to hide you away for the time of the elections. After that they will set you free”.
The hearing was scheduled for February 7, 1979 in Radomyshl. I informed my family and many other people, encouraging them to come and behold the soviet justice with their own eyes. I dropped by my school as well. The principal V.Kuts said, without much conviction “The soviet court is the fairest court in the world”. Not a single teacher came to the trial.
I had a very good defense attorney – S.Martych from Darnytsya district Bar Association in Kyiv. He was recommended to me by Oksana Meshko. Earlier he was allowed to represent clients in political cases, but after filing a complaint on detainment of her son O.Serhiyenko, he was banned from such cases. My case, though, was a criminal one. We met at the closing of the case and devised good tactics: not to reveal the names of the defense’s witnesses, so that they could not be intimidated in advance.
I arrived in Radomyshl accompanied by my whole family – my mother, my brother Mykola and my sister Lyuba from Donetsk oblast’, my sister Nadia with her daughter from Kyiv. I had my backpack with me and wore a thick sweater to the hearing as I had no doubts as to its outcome. Eventually my niece, a talented artist Lyuda Ryabukha (who was at the time newly married to the Jew Hryhoriy Holubchyk) made a picture, all in the infernal violet-purple colors, reflecting the event. An old woman in a tightly adjusted shawl and a young man in a sweater are walking through the alley of winter trees. The woman’s eyes are full of fear, and the posture of the man shows he is doomed… It is my mother and I. In the morning I asked my older brother Mykola who had come from Donetsk oblast’ for the hearing, to step out into the courtyard. There I showed him my secret stashes and confided in him: “I wish you knew, Mykola, how reluctant I am to go there…I know everything already, nothing of interest for me there.” But frankly speaking the idea of running away or going into hiding never crossed my mind. The psychiatrist N.Vynarska had once said: “The Earth is round, with no place to hide”. And it was not our way - to go hiding. I did not want to live, but I had no suicidal thoughts, either. Although, to tell you the truth, everyone thinks of it behind the bars. I also mustered the courage to write a letter to “my” girlfriend who had been someone else’s wife with two children by then. I wrote to her that I would be very happy to see her before I go. In my dreams, may be, or from far away. She wrote something back and mercifully appeared just like that – in my dreams, from far away…
Amazingly, it was an open hearing, with the full courtroom. I tried to invite as many people as possible to witness the “soviet justice”. My Mordovian colleague I.Kravtsiv came from Kharkiv. His administrative supervision finished only recently and he dared to come to my trial! I appreciate this courage of real friendship. (See my essay “The fighter”). D.Mazur helped L.Tumanova to come from Moscow and brought her to the courtroom. Then he left because, as he told me, he sensed some possible provocation in the air. Tumanova had a small recorder and secretly recorded the whole hearing. (She was one of Andriy Sakharov’s advocates. Around 1982 she was caught while handing out some of the Sakharov’s writings to a Western journalist. We heard about it on the radio, in our prison cell in Kuchyno. Also the “Izvestia” newspaper wrote about it. She was held in custody for several months, then diagnosed with leukemia and set free. She died a month later. I still keep her farewell letter. They let it through.)
Upon entering the court building, we saw Oksana Meshko sitting in the waiting room and rapidly writing something down. She was accompanied by K.Semenyuk, former political prisoner. She was banned from the courtroom for the whole day, as well as Klym and Olha Babych.
The hearing is not worth relating – it was farcical. One of the “defendants”, the district militia officer Bazlenko was too ashamed to appear in court. He sent a note certifying that he was sick. His former testimony was read. The militia typist H.Kovbasyuk, who “just happened” to be there on November 18, while testifying about my “assault” on Slavynsky, mixed up the respective doors. The head of the juvenile department Lidia Dudkivska also was “on business” in Stavky on the ill-fated day. She supposedly had seen me with the women unknown to her (what a crime!) near the children’s rehabilitation home and called militia. But the children’s home is on the other side of the village, we never came near it. After her lies were refuted, she was ashamed to proceed and stated that she had not seen any assault.
To my compatriots’ honor [I must admit] that the KGB and militia did not trust them, so they brought their own “witnesses” from Radomyshl. Ivan Ovisenko was courageous enough to deny “the testimony” imposed on him by Dyachenko, that he, allegedly, had witnessed the assault. Ever drunk Ivan Oleksenko sobered for a change and did not dare to repeat that he had heard «Heil Hitler!” shouts from Oksana Meshko’s mouth or witnessed the fight (it could not be seen from the outside anyway, the windows are too high and curtained, and the doors too deep into the room – I experimented myself, but the court would not go with my experiments). So he saw nothing at all. The village council head S.Naumenko also said he had not seen any attack or anyone tearing the buttons off the overcoat…So he did not testify against me, but he did not tell the truth I needed so badly either. If he had human and not communist conscience he would have said “Look, compatriots, what are we doing!? Ovsiyenko did not tear off anyone’s buttons. I saw both him and Slavynsky seconds after the event. His overcoat was undamaged!” But lack of conscience is a permanent diagnosis. It is not by chance that in his old age Naumenko resumed his membership in the criminal communist party of Ukraine and died a communist.
Only Slavynsky, a bull of a man, twice bigger and sturdier than me, kept repeating shamelessly that he had become the victim of my assault, that I had cursed him with “profane words”. In the presence of Oksana and Olha, indeed! It is common knowledge that I don’t use this language ever.
The court demonstrates the plain clothes – “defendant’s” overcoat. Two buttons are really missing. But Slavynsky had brought the overcoat as a piece of material evidence 28 days after the event! The judge suggests I try to tear off more buttons. I thought: Why the heck shall I tear these buttons off? It may lead to some unfavorable decision.
My attorney S.Martysh and I requested that the witnesses Meshko and Orlova are questioned, as well as my neighbors. By the way, closing the case the prosecutor’s office did not deem it necessary to summon Oksana and Olha to the court hearing. They came in response to the telegrams I had sent them. Then it turned out that the court also summoned them, but kept as the last witnesses to testify. They have spent the whole day in the waiting area and did not hear the testimony of others. I can hear it even now: Oksana Yakivna presenting her version of the events, holding her passport in her hand (it was the time when existing passports were renewed and the new ones were issued to the kolkhoz slaves):
– I showed them this document – it is as ancient as myself, but still quite decent – and gave my name. They would not give their names, behaved rudely, so I would not give them my ID to hold. They offered a ride to Radomyshl in their car. I refused: one of us is old, the other one is young. “We will go to Vasyl’s place to spend the night”. – “You can’t go to Vasyl’s, he is under supervision”. – “But he is not a leper. So we’ll go to the village council head ( he was let into the building, too.). – “You cannot do that either.” – Then I’ll spend the night here in the village council premises”. Then they grabbed me under the arms, and, as I kept my feet off the ground, they carried me out, threw me into the militia car and gave me such a ride that I felt motion-sick. Yes, I did call them fascists and Hitler’s henchmen. It was late, our buses have left Radomyshl by then. Olha left me at the bus station and went in search of a pharmacy. We spent the night in the hotel and in the morning I went to Kyiv and Olha – to Zhytomir. I would not have come to this hearing, but I know what the accused Ovisenko is facing…”
The court listened to Oksana and Olha politely, but no one needed their testimony. As no one needed Oksana’s petition to O.Honchar, to M.Vynhranovsky and to the world at large.
My attorney S.Martysh and I insisted on calling additional witnesses. The court surprisingly ruled to reconvene the next day, contrary to the earlier scenario: the militia car was waiting for me in front of the court building….
Oksana Yakivna had to return to Kyiv immediately to take care of her son’s affairs, so she left accompanied by K.Semenyuk and Olha. I invited L.Tumanova and I.Kravtsiv to the village for the night. I left my backpack at my uncle’s Luka Pidsukha in Radomyshl to avoid dragging it back and forth.
My brother Mykola, my sister Lyuba and I invited the witnesses for the next day, had our supper, and came back to court next morning. It was February 8, and it turned out that militia organized an unwarranted search at my uncle Luka’s house. The court showed no surprise on hearing this information and did nothing in response to my statement. Other witnesses were heard. They confirmed that there had been no incident in the village street – they assumed we had stopped the car to ask for a ride. But the soviet court could not go against KGB instructions! The deputy prosecutor of raion K.Yakymchuk, left by Sytenko in his stead, asked for four and a half years of imprisonment in the camps of strict regime, i.e. only half a year less than maximum term. My attorney S.Martysh suggested to dismiss the case for absence of corpus delicti and the cause, and also – a thing unfathomable in that epoch – to instigate criminal proceedings against militia captain Slavynsky for the abuse of power and falsifying the facts of the case. The deputy prosecutor K.Yakymchuk protested violently recommending the court to pass a ruling on inappropriate behavior of the attorney Martysh and to notify the Darnytsya bar association.
To cut a long story short, the judge V.Kovalenko made it possible for the truth to be heard in the courtroom. May be. M.Kheyfets in his essay about me wrote that the judge had done his utmost. But I am a “maximalist” – why did not he pass a verdict of acquittal, resign, ruin his career and face the reprisals? At least, he would have had clean conscience. Well, it would have been really a heroic deed. About 13 years later I asked the Radomyshl court to let me see the case files, as I intended to appeal the verdict. The judge Kovalnko silently obliged. But I still have not appealed the case and remain a hooligan, never exonerated.
I started my last word like that:
– All those present in this courtroom – from citizen prosecutor to those guarding the doors – are well aware that Ovsiyenko committed no crime. What is going on is plain retaliation for my civil stand, for my human rights activity. But citizen prosecutor has been lying through his teeth… I had to change the tune not to be stopped right there, so I said:
– I strongly hope to live long enough to see you on trial. I, as opposed to you, will have nothing to make up. I will tell just the truth.
And, looking directly at Slavynsky, but having the whole gang in mind, I quoted from A.Gryboyedov.s “Woe from Wisdom”
The truth about you I’ll share
That’s more appalling than the lie.
And recited in Latin and Ukrainian “Let the world fall down, but justice be served!”
The judge Kovalenko read the verdict. I was sentenced to three years in the strict regime camps. My sister Nadia cried and my mother collapsed. I took my wrist watch off and handed it to my mother – my time had come to an end. The militiamen appeared on my sides with handcuffs. My cousin Maria Los’ from Bilka village lamented loudly:
– Here’s the court for you! That’s some court!
I was taken to militia van waiting outside. On my way out A.Pylypenko tried to shake my hand. I spent the night in militia basement.
My trial had become very famous due to L.Tumanova, and especially, to O.Meshko. My last word was recorded and disseminated through samizdat. Probably, two versions were in circulation, because I had prepared the text “In lieu of the last word” in advance and gave it to somebody. In the courtroom I had to improvise something different. (See.: Ukrainian Helsinki Group. 1978—1982. Toronto-Baltimore, Smoloskyp, 1983.— Pp. 529-530, also: Ukrainian Public Group to promote the Helsinki accords implementation. Documents and materials in 4 volumes. Kharkiv human rights group. Kharkiv, Folio, 2001. V. 3, p. 215-216). Oksana Yakivna wrote a detailed report “Vasyl Ovsiyenko’s trial” (I recognized her style) (See respectively pp. 523-528 and 217-220 of the aforementioned sources). On February 16 the historian M.Melnyk sent a letter in my defense to “Radyanska Ukraina” newspaper editorial board. On February 19 he died. (UHG. 1978-82, pp. 517-521). V.Stus on February 11 sent a telegram to A.Sakharov: “In protest against the verdict passed against V.Ovsiyenko, demanding his liberation and punishment for those culpable of the case fabrication, I go on hunger strike”. (V.Stus. Works in 6 volumes, 9 books. Lviv: Prosvita. 1994. – Volume 4, p. 469; UHG. Documents and materials, v. 3, p. 216). D.Mazur tells me that he had heard A. Sakharov’s speech in my defense on radio, but I never saw it in print.
Now I can refer to and quote foreign media in Ukrainian and in English, “Liberty” broadcasting station, but then I knew nothing about the tumult around my trial, I could only guess. Because I tried to divulge the information and there were people to help. Not because I wanted fame (it is a heavy burden), but to have the whole gang wriggling with wrath and helplessness. The cases like mine revealed the true nature of the Empire of Evil for the whole world to behold. Later, in prison, I found out that the idiots organized “the meetings for the working collectives” were they condemned me.
After I was brought to zone 55 in Vilnyansk, (Zaporizhzhya oblast’) to serve my term, at first I kept receiving a lot of letters, from my friends, among others. And then suddenly, as if the wire had been cut –only letters from my family, dealing exclusively with everyday routine and nothing else. Nevertheless I managed to receive a post-card from Oksana Yakivna In it she wrote something like this: “The water and the morning dew! What other sources of strength do you have? Here we are concerned about you and cautiously we knock on the gate, but it is not exactly St. Peter holding the keys. You are among us”. The last sentence meant that I was declared the UHG member. Not posthumously like M.Melnyk, but post factum. I am sorry I do not have that card any longer.
Since then I call Oksana Meshko my godmother.
In 1990 we celebrated her 85th anniversary in the Writers’ House in Kyiv. M.Horbal’ took a picture of us at the very moment when she was saying in her specific drawl “It was I who put Vasyl behind the bars. At the time I put there a lot of people…”
– Dear Oksana Yakivna! – I tried to defend her from herself– Even if you had not come to my village, I would have been put to jail. They would have fabricated another case. E.g. “rape attempt” as it was in Chornovil’s or Horbal’s cases. In my case I could brag in jail:” For resisting militiamen”. And the criminals would say: “Good for you, pal! Serves them right, the bastards!” When I was trying to explain that actually I offered no resistance, they were amazed: “So why are you here? I would have mugged at least one of them…”
V.Skrypka, the seasoned dissident –“shistdesyatnik”, professor of Kryvy Rih pedagogical institute at the time (he was chased out of Kyiv during the “reaping”of 1972), came to Oksana for three days in row and recorded three audiotapes, four and a half hours in total! She told about her tribulations over the years 1972 – 1988: defense of her son Oles’, setting up the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, persecution, mental facility, arrest at the age of 76 for “anti-soviet activity”, the trial, 108 days of transportation to the shore of Okhotsk sea, the settlement of Ayan, where she almost drowned in snow; return to Ukraine, travels to Australia and to the United States… It is an unsurpassed, meaningful and emotional story of a very wise, refined Ukrainian woman, who unambiguously separated herself from the alien criminal system and desperately opposed it for her whole life of a martyr. V.Skrypka published the interview in “Kuryer Kryvbasu” magazine, No.2 – 7, 1994. I decided to publish this priceless memoir as a separate publication. I’ve got the tapes from Nadia Svitlychna, who is in the United States, listened them through, edited, prepared for publication and had the memoir published for the donors’ money with the assistance from the Ukrainian Republican Party. The circulation was very small, but still it will not be lost for good.
We walk among these people but few would think about recording their words or taking their pictures – these are the priceless treasures of our history. Thanks to V.Skrypka, who did it.
I learnt about Oksana Meshko’s arrest in Septembr 1980 in Lukyanivka prison, from Yu.Lytvyn. Then, with the coming Olympic Games, Shcherbytsky undertook the task of “cleaning up” the city of Kyiv from petty criminals, vagabonds, prostitutes and…dissidents. Yu.Lytvyn, V.Stus, O.Heyko, M.Horbal’, Ya.Lesiv, D.Mazur, Petro and Vasyl Sichko, V.Striltsiv fell victims to that “grim reaping”. Lukyanivka jail was full of legends about this “Olympic team”, and, especially, about an old lady dissident, full of dignity, always neat and courteous. The guards would hold her up as an example to other inmates.
Prior to that Oksana spent 75 days in Pavlov psychiatric hospital (the attempts to certify her as mentally ill person were made), and then, arrested on October 13, 1980. She was sentenced by Kyiv oblast’ court to half a year in prison and five years of exile as “extremely dangerous state criminal”, for “anti-soviet campaigning and propaganda” (p. 1, art. 62 CC of the Ukr.SSR). Ironically it happened on the Christmas Eve of 1981. She was convoyed to the Okhotsk sea shore, the settlement of Ayan, where her son Oles’ Serhienko had been serving his time.
The tough Cossack mother survived all that. ( As she used to tell me in Stavky “I’ll survive Brezhnev”. And she did, and survived the others too). In late 1985 she came back to Kyiv. In 1988-89 she traveled around the world disseminating the Ukrainian idea. Upon return she became a member of the UHG Coordination council. It was on my proposal that on April 29, 1990 she was the one to give the opening statement at the UHG constituent meeting at which the Ukrainian Republican Party was proclaimed. In June 1990, due to her efforts, the human rights organization “Helsinki-90” with its Ukrainian Committee, resumed its operation. Oksana remained its pusher and shaker till her last days. Her inexhaustible energy amazed people and set an example even for the lazy ones. It is not true that no one is irreplaceable. No one will replace Oksana Meshko for us.
By the end of December 1990 she felt sick, but as a lonely person residing in someone else’s house she had to grab her cane and go out. It was slippery, and, on top of everything, her cane was stolen in a store. Oksana fell and suffered a stroke (or in the reverse order). She remained unconscious for several days, but even when she was conscious she could not speak. On January 2, 1991 her heart, which had seemed indefatigable, stopped.
I was in the hospital then after having been mugged by the communists near the Bazar village on November 17, when we tried to erect a cross on the grave of 359 Ukrainian shooters, killed by them in 1921. (See.: The Bazar tragedy). I suffered a liver problem. I was deeply upset, so immediately, “in one shot” I wrote the main body of the essay about her. The different versions of the essay were published in several editions. On January 5 I escaped from the hospital in the borrowed clothes to go to Mykola Prytysk church where the funeral service was held, and to say my farewell to my godmother.
She was buried at Baykove cemetery, in the grave of her mother M.Hrab-Meshko (26.1.1881 – 13.11.1951). No sign that Oksana was buried there had been put over the grave. Having consulted other people I decided to publish a book in memoriam of the great spiritual leader and, by selling it, to collect money needed for the crosses. Ye.Sverstyuk, M.Rudenko, M.Horyn’, L.Lukyanenko, V.Lisova, P.Rozumny, S.Pohulaylo, B.Dovhalyuk, Yu.Murashov and I wrote our memoirs, and had the book printed in the printing center of the URP. The presentation of 1 thousand copies of the book “Oksana Meshko, the Cossack’s mother” took place right on her 90th anniversary. The artist M.Malyshko by then made the design for the Cossacks’ crosses. Within one year we’ve collected sufficient amount of money, the masons from Terebovlya, on the order of “Terebovlyagaz” director V.Venger supplied two blocks of red sandstone, carved them and even decorated Oksana’s cross with an ornament. The cross for Oksana’s mother was carved from the second block by M.Malyshko and his brother. The crosses were erected on October 28, 1995. In spring the Malyshko brothers completed their work and we were happy to have done at least one good deed in this world. (See for detail “The erection of the true crosses”).
“UNIVERSITY OF CRIMINOLOGY”
I spent the night of February 8/ 9 in Radomyshl preliminary detention center. I had a sincere talk with the militiaman that guarded me. I told about my troubles and at the end quoted the words of M.Kalinin, written at the entrance to their raion militia precinct: “Militia is the face of power. The people judge the power by militia actions”. I meant, if Slavynsky and Bazlenko represent power, than it is scary. The guard corroborated my evaluation of Slavynsky.
I submitted a request to be able to familiarize myself with the hearing minutes. Next day I was taken to Zhytomir prison together with a vagabond.
First I was thrown into a big cell, which housed about 100 people. The smoke was so heavy that I could barely make out an electric bulb and a window: everyone was smoking and making tea on a fire made of the newspapers and rags. The stench is terrible. The latrine is clogged. All the plank beds are occupied. A person entering the cell draws no attention, but his backpack does. I was not caught unawares, but made my own arrangements. So two rogues immediately were attracted to my backpack. They pushed aside other inmates and made some room for me: “You will stay here, pal. With folks like that there is no other way”. I turned the mattress and saw a huge knife made of stainless steel. Well, I said to myself, nice mess I’ve got myself into. But suddenly the door opened and the guard called my name. I grabbed my backpack, someone was holding it, I tried to get it back. Someone is dragging a glove from my pocket, I am snatching it out. “What a waste!” – I hear someone lamenting behind. May be the militia guys have given it a better thought: although I am a criminal element, I should be treated differently, so that I would not start a revolution in the big cell. I was moved to a cell with only five inmates, relatively quiet. The cell was located close to the room of the guards and equipped with some suspicious boxes and wires.
I had some treats for my cell-mates, and also I was brought a parcel – so I had some time to write an appeal to the cassation court (although the radio is on all the time, so the inmates have to shout to hear one another). I provided well-grounded arguments. The secretary from the Radomyshl court brought me the minutes of the court hearing, for my familiarization. I made some substantial amendments to the protocol, which later were accepted by the court. But it was of no importance: the cassation court left my verdict unchanged. So I was held in Zhytomir for almost two months.
In the middle of all that jazz I managed to translate from Russian into Ukrainian the St. John’s Gospel (see my essay “God watches over his own”) and to compose a couple of verses. Definitely they were influenced by Stus. Later somehow I could not write any poetry.
* * *
We’ll choose oblivion and rejection and make our feet, though tired and sore,
To move all in the same direction, where our goals loom like swords.
But sacred word, or thought, or action will never cross the finish line
We even do not seek compassion, when we are born or when we die.
But goals of the eternal round spread mighty wings to touch the ground,
In races longer than the life.
* * *
The memories, like enemies, are swarming,
Around the fire, almost dead and gone.
They try with their digging, raking, stirring
To find, among the ashes, Spark of God.
And now burning prickling tongues of fire
Are licking your frozen hands and thoughts,
And you can feel your brain so stale and tired
Wake up, and come alive and slowly thaw.
The darkest corners of you pauper’s den
Are also swarming with the ghostly presence
Of things forgotten, dreamed and even seen,
Which long ago have drowned their essence
In sticky mud of everyday routine…
Oh memory, throw ray of light on wings
Of swans above the ever-stretching meadow.
On poplar praying to the wind of spring
Bending its waist, as slender as the widow’s.
Ukraine, I’ll see you right behind the hill, so soon,
But heavy clouds of my thoughts so gloomy
Are cut to shreds by bloody dagger of moon.
* * *
I saw you once again, oh dear,
In wondrous dream you came to me
And so happy that you’re near,
The iron bars І won’t see.
And prickly slag of purple-grayish
And stone walls I do not mind
The heavy locks have suddenly vanished
And we are by the riverside.
Refreshing breeze is gently blowing
And healing springs run to the bay.
Light-footed like the river flowing,
You bring me peace, you come consoling
And effortlessly take away
With you whitest hand a-glowing,
The sorrows that had marred my day.
If not for you, I’d have been swallowed
By grayish dark and ruthless light
But now you I have to follow,
My saintly angel burning bright!
You spread in kindly intercession
The wings of the unfading love.
And feeling motherly protection
I stand in childish fascination
With your shining light above.
Finally I was called: “And take all your stuff with you!” The van was full to the brim, and other inmates have “eviscerated” my backpack to the bone. I had nothing left. I did not have much food; neither did I care about it. But they took away my underwear and some notes. I had the Criminal Code of Ukraine with commentary (solicitously brought by Oksana Meshko) – they took even that brochure away, thus depriving me of the chance to write competent complaints. At Korosten’ station another group of prisoners was added to our “stolypin”. They were escorted to the psychiatric facility. So I traveled for full 12 days and nights with this bunch. The majority obviously was faking madness, as they did not want to go on trial. Tough guys. Certain Valeriy Petrovsky from Zhdanov (currently Mariupol), provocatively exhales the smoke right into my face. He is waiting for my response. None, whatsoever. Because you can get a mugging for expressing discontent: they are “certified” and so un-punishable. We made some introductions and some “criminal big shots” had some compassion for the “political”. Some of my belongings were returned to me. “But as to the grub - sorry, pal”. “Hope you enjoyed it” – I answer.
I learnt it was better to have nothing when you are convoyed somewhere, then no one will have any claims to you property. I still remember a song from my 3rd form reader, supposedly, liked by Lenin” : Rich man, stupid man, doesn’t enjoy his treasure; poor man, jolly man laughs beyond all measure”. And a concentration camp is a concentrated model of ideal soviet society, where everyone is stark poor. Whatever is available is devoured in one gulp. A sheet or a blanket is burned, to make tea on the ashes. No one cares it will be freezing cold in half an hour.
For several days we stayed in Lukyanivka prison in Kyiv, and then were convoyed to Dnipropetrovsk. There I asked a female guard where I was being taken. “Zone # 55. Volnyansk”. I felt much better – the others were also taken to Vilnyansk, but to the psychiatric facility, zone # 20. For all the duration of the trip I was afraid to be taken there with them. Probably KGB bastards put us together on purpose, to make me aware of the close proximity of the “loony bin”.
Well, my own zone # 55 was not exactly a spa. Almost all the inmates were convicted under the article 14 – “forced alcoholism treatment”. They are tortured by that totally unnecessary treatment, all the insides are damaged with these medications, and their faces are green. Even if someone used to be an alcoholic in his prior life, now he has delirium tremens past him; he’d cured himself over the three months or investigation and trial. The majority of them have never been alcoholics; they just committed a felony in the “state on intoxication”. However, before a court decides that he is sufficiently treated and remove the charges, one cannot expect earlier release on probation. Some of them are released, but then get hold of a bottle of vodka or eau de cologne – and here he is back for the new treatment.
I heard there how an orderly dispensing medication. A patient would complain of the pain in his leg and of head-ache. The orderly would break a pill in two halves: “This one goes for the head and this one for the leg”.
Some of them are fed up with life and looking for oblivion. Four inmates drank some liquid brought to the zone for some industrial process. The others would catch the camp cats, draw their blood and inject themselves with it. The emaciated cats are wandering around the camp…They also add salt to the acetone paint, then distill and drink it. God, how smelly they are! In Korosten’ a guy lost his gift of speech after drinking acetone: when he wanted to say something, only indistinct sound would come out of his mouth” Va-va-va…” Then he would off and run. And no one would take him to the medical ward, because it would mean betrayal. His charges under article 14 are removed.
I believe there had been a special instruction, the so-called memorandum, concerning my treatment in the zone. I was assigned to work in the abrasive materials store-house. Two-three persons would come by it in the course of a day. Then I was switched to the tool-shed. Eventually I was sent right to the workshop where my task was to beat off the slag after welding. At the beginning I felt exactly like white pigeon fledgling, that I had found near the club house and put into the chicken’s cage. The chickens would have pecked it to death, hadn’t I taken it out. Or like a piece of metal in the
sulphuric acid. The whole environment attacks you just because you are different. You are a foreign body. I haven’t been mugged even once, although one inmate (obviously, fulfilling someone’s order) was pestering me too insolently, so that others stood up in my defense. Soon everyone saw that I had no connections with administration, I never joined the council of internal order; I do no wrong, keep my own council, so they let me alone. Some criminal authorities even showed me some respect and offered protection. I tried to avoid any dealings with them. Eventually it turned out that about 10% had been really aggressive. The rest were just the quiet “soviet people” who were caught at some infringements. On the other side of the barbed wire people are just the same, but not caught yet. I found normal people to communicate with, e.g. Ivan Kycha from Berdyche raion, Ivan Blazhko from Vinnitsa oblast’, Mykhailo Drashkaba from Trans-Carpathian region, the engineer Ivan Horbunov from Zaporizhzhya.
The zone is divided into “localities”. So that you can serve the whole in one zone without meeting some people. Rarely the whole contingent or one shift is allowed to watch a movie “on the stage” and then you are awed with huge space and huge mass of equally grey people. First I lived in a small section with no desks or chairs to sit down and read something or write a letter. Then I was moved to a section which housed 80 people. I measured it with my steps and calculated that it had 1.8 sq.m of space per person. Four two-level plank beds were pushed to one wall. The passage was about 70cm wide. I slept on the upper bed, so after reveille, I had to kneel, to do first one half of the bed, then another. Then at the opportune moment I slumped down. The washing tub is inaccessible. The latrine (the outhouse) also. And when the inmates, having drunk the eau de cologne, would use it, the stench becomes unbearable. There is not enough water. One can give one sheet and one pillow case to the laundry once in ten days, or even less often. The engineer Horbunov jokes” A rag in my pipe used to be cleaner than my sheet here!”/ The inmates are taken to a bath-house once a week, or even rarer.
After the TV sets have been installed in the sections, hard times started for me: I had no place to sit and read a book. I ordered the books by mail, subscribed to the newspapers, borrowed the books from the library. By the way the librarian, who was a convict there, once showed me the list of books to be confiscated. Being aware of the fact that such offices were usually given to people “on their way to correction” and members of the council of internal order, I did not show much interest, but remembered that all the works by M.Rudenko and O.Berdnik were banned. One book-pack, ordered by me, was given to me by the political officer sub-colonel Saran. “Why would you need that?” – He asked with respect to “Russian chronicles” by the academician Tykhomirov. “The small land” and “Revival” by Leonid Illich is what you ought to read”. Out of despair I enrolled into the evening vocational school, despite their reluctance to take me, due to my higher education. They taught very primitively there, but by the spring 1980 I had a certificate of electrician-assembler of the industrial machines of the 4th category. The teacher treated me as his equal. I think only two of the students were granted the 4th category. But I am still afraid of the electricity.
The TV (only the first channel broadcasting from Moscow) was allowed between 7 pm and 10 pm. The inmates climb on the upper plank beds, my bed included. They learnt switching channels, getting some movies or soccer games. If a program in Ukrainian occurs: [they would shout] “Switch it off, that bullish language!” The only thing I remember from all these programs is how Brezhnev and Carter, after signing the treaty on restricting the strategic weapons on June 18, 1979, reached towards each other…For a big kiss or what? They kissed indeed, and with such gusto, “Russian way!” “Switch that old pederast off!”
The pederasts live in a separate corner. They do not dare take a slice of bread from the tray brought by an inmate on duty – someone has to give it to them. They cannot touch the water tap, but hold a bowl and someone has to pour the water in it. They cannot even touch the door handle! The “roosters” are untouchable; they can only be kicked with the foot, not to get “soiled”. Oddly enough, the usual intercourse does not lead to the “defilement” of the “active” party. Once I voiced my doubts in the matter – supposedly, they are all the same. Fortunately, the “active ones” did not hear my deliberations. In the mess the “roosters” have their own tables and separate plates.
Homosexual relations in the zone are a horrible phenomenon. They are exclusively results of violence and rape. A man did something wrong, lost in a card game, got some debts to pay, violated some rule of behavior – he can be raped. Or simply because some “big shot” liked a handsome boy. And there is only one way to exonerate oneself – by killing the rapist. Which means either being shot or serving another 15 years in prison. On the other hand, the administration places the pederasts in all “key” positions. For example, they are the keepers of the keys to another “locality”. To get there by-passing the rules, one must give them a measure of tea or a box of matches or cigarettes. And if you are caught in another “locality” by the guards, the keeper of the keys will deny any contacts with you.
Once in a bath house I saw a bunch of the inmates swarming around the water taps. One tap, though, is available, but no one is using it. I moved there. “Hey, pal, you’ll get defiled” – I got the warning. Once you are “soiled” you can be raped too and driven into the “roost”.
The prsioners’ bath-house is really a sight for the sore eye. The camp is of strict regime, so most inmates had been there before, almost everyone has tattoos. You can see all sorts of things there. I am not very strong in interpreting all the codes and signs: tigers, lions, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler…All of it means something. A writing on the back: “Pood[ 16.38 kg] is the limit”. On the legs: “They are tired from wandering”. On the belly:” Working my tail off for you”. On the lids: “The thief is sleeping”. One had Lenin and Stalin with poker and shovel tattooed on his buttocks. When he was moving they would be taking turns shoving and poking his ass. Even penises had inscriptions, but it would not be right to stare too attentively. They would insert “the marbles” – small fiber glass balls. To increase the sensation. I’ve heard a story – a guy had a visit from his wife, but before he was called to the medical ward, the “marbles” were excised, the wound bandaged – now you can go on a date with your wife! When the body is still young these tattoos have some shape. But when a man is getting fatter, thinner or older, they become absolutely disgusting. Now I see it is en vogue even for the girls to wear tattoos. It is disgusting from the very beginning, and what will become of it later?
The language of the convicts is totally jargonized and based exclusively on the Russian language heavily laced with obscenities. It is a potent tool of Russification and deprivation. You would look at a nice-looking guy, but once he opens his mouth – it’s a cesspool. My God, why did you grant him the divine gift of speech? Let him bellow or yell like a bull. Same applies to the language used by the guards, officers and foremen. I can still the picture it(somewhat later, in Korosten’): the warden’s assistant on duty, a major, stands on a platform, with the megaphone in his hands. And he is cursing our head of detachment, senior lieutenant, with officially accepted profanities, for taking our detachment to the wrong location…I had troubles with that, because I kept using literary Ukrainian language in my communications with everybody. I was in Ukraine, after all… “That’s the one who prattles in the bullish language”. As if the bull were prattling…”Bullish, Bandera’s language”… “Are you from the Trans-Carpathian region?” And then mocking and jeering at my language will follow under the guise of trying to “learn it”. The detachment commander lieutenant Kharchenko (if I am not mistaken) became “the last straw”: without any grounds he started cursing me with the foulest words, in the presence of other convicts. Respecting my mother, I retorted “Go and …your own mother, you beast, for having taught you such language!” The convicts were stunned, the commander stopped in the mid-word – no one had ever revealed the meaning of the obscenities he was uttering, to him. The next day he called me to his office. “Well, I am not going to apologize…” That was his way of saying he was sorry.
I’ve served half of my time, a year and a half. I had no violations of the regime – the commander could submit my file to the board for considering the early release on probation, as I fell under the category of those who “had shown the tendency of correction”. I could be sent to “chemical works”. It was Khrushchev’s invention: before the electrification of the whole country, all the chemical industries were served by the convicts – they were the ones that had built the chemical plants. These guys on probation are kept in the dormitories without barbed wire, but with everyday personal checks. Conditions were hard, earnings miserable, while temptations and hazards much more numerous than inside the zone. The majority would yield to them, escape or commit some infringement and get back to the zone. Sometimes the time spent on chemical plants’ construction was not included into the general term count-down. So it was like paying one’s term in installments. Anyway, I did not anticipate such mercy.
Kharchenko introduced me to the supervisory board, made up of the zone staff and raion community activists. He gave me a good recommendation: commits no violations of the regime, meets the production norms, graduated from the vocational school. But would not plead guilty of a crime he is accused of and would not repent. The board members became interested, why. Being aware that KGB put me behind the bars not to be released by the board, I started teasing them: “Without repentance I cannot go to heaven. I never sinned so I do not have anything to repent of. Hence I will not be admitted to heaven”. Then I submitted some petition to the appropriate bodies.
I did not try to send anything out of the jail secretly: I did not feel capable of writing something significant, and I was not creative enough to organize the transfer of materials outside the zone. So I treat the references to my “struggle” with grain of salt. I did not fight. I stood like a stick in the middle of muddy stream, trying not to bend and stand tall. Well, it counts for something, too, but not as a heroic deed – just an adequate human behavior in the times when the predominant majority of people behaved inadequately. The people, humbly, like bad sheep, would go where they had been herded. I just tried to persevere.
I mentioned earlier that I used to receive a lot of letters during the first months of my imprisonment. Then in summer everything suddenly came to an end – only the letters from family, addressing only the everyday routine matters. However, Oksana Meshko managed to send me a post card advising that I had been declared a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. I also received two post cards from Stus, who was in Kolyma, from Mykhailo Kheyfets, some letters from L.Tumanova and a notification about money transfer. I diligently collected all the letters and I have kept them all. Hence I can quote Tumanova: “Friends are so hard to get, and even harder to lose”.
My mother and my sister Nadia came for a day’s visit. My sister was searched so thoroughly, that she had a heart attack. My brothers Anatoly and Mykola arrived from Donetsk oblast’ to visit me. During the visits we can communicate only through the glass, talking by the phone. There are a lot of booths so inmates and visitors are shouting at the top of their lungs. And our phone would go on and off. It was the result of their deficient recording and interception.
I was kept in the zone # 55 (Zaporizhzhya oblast’) in Vilnyansk till September 5, 1980.
Earlier, in the spring of that year I was called to be questioned in Stus’s case. Stus was arrested in Kyiv on May 14. I told them I had not witnessed any crimes, let alone those committed by Stus, and, therefore, refused to say anything for the record, which was a priori called by KGB “the record of the witness’s interrogation”. I was no witness. The prosecutor of Vilnyansk raion Bykov, present at the conversation, yelled at me: “The nationalists like Stus and yourself deserve shooting!” I was questioned by the investigator Kraychynsky, who played “the good cop”. That is their usual trick – a good cop and a bad cop. Then major Chaykovksy arrived from Zhytomir to question me in D,Mazur’s case. So, Dmytro had been caught too... The paper “In lieu of the last word”, written by me, was found in his chicken shed. So they tried to question me as a witness in his case. I refused point blank – no testimony and that is the end of it.
The commander Kharchenko told me “in secret” that soon I would be taken away from the zone. I believed that I would be taken to Zhytomir and connected to Mazur’s case. Because we “entered into a criminal complot”. So I did not enroll for the next year of the vocational school. And they would have accepted me.
I was taken out of jail on September 5, 1980. On my way, in Lukyanivka prison in Kyiv I met Yu. Lytvyn. We spent 10 days sharing one cell! He explained that we had not been transported in summer, so that we would not disrupt the Olympics, which were held partially in Kyiv. Our cell was subject to some quarantine or other, and it turned out for the better – we were given such a good chance to spend time together! I am very grateful to Lytvyn for lifting my spirit. I came to Zhytomir in wonderful mood. I provided no testimony, but filed a petition in defense of the arrested Mazur. The investigator Radchenko, upon reading it, said with certainty:”You are staying in jail”. Dmytro was sentenced to 6 years in camps of strict regime and 5 years of exile, under article.62 p.1.
To keep me close, they sent me on November 17, 1980 not back to Vilnyansk, but to Korosten’, in Zhytomir oblast’, to the zone # 71. I stayed there for several months, acquired a new profession – that of a turner, working as an assistant and a pupil to a good turner M.Samus’. He was a taciturn but friendly man. Here I got my bearings quicker because I’ve had the experience already.
I was overwhelmed by an event I witnessed there. A boy of about 19 took care of a raven’s fledgling – feeding the bird, throwing it into the air to teach it how to fly. Well, I thought, the guy has some human feeling in him. But when the fledgling finally learnt to fly, he tied some rags to its feet, set them on fire and let it go. It was a live torch that flew into the air…Another guy did the same with the rat. But the majority of people remain human even there, so I could find normal people to communicate with – M.Keldysh, T.Shkryabyk.
In May they started renovating the sections, we were thrown outside. Everyone tried to arrange his bench as best as he could. The regime was weakening. The local warden did not allow the staff to steal the food from the kitchen, so with good food and fresh air my health improved, and I started assuming that the KGB guys might have forgotten about me completely.
V.Ovsiyenko. The light of people: memoirs and political and social essays. In 2 volumes. V.1 / Compiled by the author; design and art by B.Zakharov. – Kharkiv: Kharkiv human rights group; К.: Smoloskyp, 2005. – 352 p., photos, P. 82-84:
But no: on June 9, 1981 the KGB investigator major L.Chaykovsky came from Zhytomir and said: ”The decision had been made to instigate new criminal proceedings against you”. Not because I committed another felony, but just like that – a decision! Who made it? I guessed it has something to do with my becoming a member of the UHG. The fact was made public by Oksana Meshko as we had agreed on November 18, 1978, at our meeting. And the member of the Helsinki group cannot remain at large: if his term was coming to an end, then a new case would be fabricated. M.Horbal received a notice to that effect on his pre-last day in jail. Olha Heyko made just a step or two outside the jail. She had been told she was free to go – but right at the gate of the prison there was a militia van waiting for her, to take her to the prosecutor’s office and start a new investigation. That was the fate of the Helsinki group members.
I was brought to the Zhytomir calaboose – and thrown right on the death row. Iron beds, a chain for the inmates, dogs in the hall. I took it all rather calmly – may be they did not have another cell to put me into. The cell was not properly furnished…
Some days later I had a crucial talk with Chaykovsky. He suggested I should write a repentance letter to the oblast’ newspaper. Then they would set me free even before the end of the three-years’ term (and I still had 8 months to serve). I decided that my honor was my last bulwark, which I could not surrender. I stumbled once, during the first investigation. I learnt my lesson. It was not easy to restitute the reputation of an honest man. Now I was declared the member of the UHG. So I am not on my own any more. Some documents of the Group bear my name. This is the most important and most honorable thing. This is that “tiny bit – for prayers and the endless waiting” (V.Stus). We were honored with the utmost responsibility. Whether I am worthy or not, I have to respect myself, at least as a UHG member, although I offered it nothing but my name. The most distinguished people in Ukraine count on me. “What is the worth of salt that has lost its saltiness?” – The Holy Scripture asks. And I have chosen 10 years of imprisonment, 5 years of exile and an “honorary title “of “especially dangerous repeated offender”. I do not like pathetic, so when I am telling this story to the students or schoolchildren, I quote Stus: “But I was not going to bend my head, whatever happens. I had behind me the Ukraine, my oppressed people, for whose honor I should stand to the last” (“From the camp notebook”, 1983) and I add that the honor of the whole people is composed of the personal dignity of each of us. If the index of the national and personal dignity of the majority of population falls below the zero mark, someone has to sacrifice one’s life to restore the balance. Otherwise we’ll drown altogether. My life is no more precious than anyone else’s, so why should I save it? Moreover, I am a free Cossack – no wife, no kids to leave behind. My mother may be.
I understood it was my moment of truth, the moment of crucial decision. So I took my stand, and following the example of Ye.Pronyuk at the time of his trials of 1972-73, refused to give any testimony. I made a statement at the beginning and at the end of the investigation. That was the simplest and the easiest way to do it. Because whatever you testify, it can be turned against you. Sometimes, though, I was tempted to refute the obvious nonsense, to contradict the witnesses lying through their teeth, the investigator, who was shamelessly framing me up to fabricate the new case. For example, they had used the carbon paper as material evidence. The analysis “showed” that I had used it to type the letter to Shcherbitsky (See “The letter to Shcherbitsky”). But I knew for sure that I had burned the actual paper. During the hearing I offered some explanations, only for the sake of my mother, sisters and brothers, Olha Babych-Orlova present there. Olha kept in touch with Group through Oksana Meshko, until this latter had been arrested. After the investigation was closed I familiarized myself with the case files. I was scared upon seeing Olha’s name among the longish green notes issued by Moscow criminal investigation department for all those involved in the case. But was immediately relieved to read that luckily, she had not been arrested.
Chaykovsky said: “We’ll collect enough evidence”. The investigation was short. My petition of October 30, 1975, written in Mordovia, was considered the “sufficient evidence”. It was addressed to the UN, but thrown into the box “Complaints and proposals”, in other words, submitted to the camp administration. There was no “dissemination” to be established there. The second petition in defense of D.Mazur was given in Zhytomir preliminary detention center, to the investigator Radchenko in person, in fall 1980. Only one text, i.e. “In lieu of the last word”, written on the eve of the 1979 trial, was found in D.Mazur’s possession. Nevertheless, the investigator, and then the court classified all that as “systematic production, storage and dissemination of the anti-soviet literature”. But even their own law defines “systematically” as three times at least. So I was not guilty of any “systematic dissemination”. The body of evidence pulled together by the prosecution did not constitute criminal offense, because there is no written campaigning or propaganda without supporting “systematic dissemination”.
B.Zakharov: is it stipulated by article 62?
V.Ovsiyenko: Right, article 62, but part 2. I was brought to trial for the second time under the same article. If we forget about the vagueness of such terms as “anti-soviet» and “libelous”, the evidence collected by the investigators, could somehow be used under article 187-І – “libeling of soviet life”. But even the pieces fit for 187-І were faked and untrue. Many convicts were brought from the zone; they corroborated, partially, what I had said, and partially, what I could not have ever said. They had a very limited opinion of my world view. Hence their testimony: “Called Sakharov an outstanding person of our times”. Heinous crime, indeed! Opined on Afghanistan occupation, on famine of 1933 – hence, "libelous allegations”. And the “evidence” to the effect that I had called the inmates to fight the soviet power could be easily refuted by their former testimony.
However, I have made a faux pas. A small militia van used to take me for questioning from Zhytomir pretrial center to the KGB building, at Paris Commune street. Once the vehicle stopped at the KGB gate. The guards opened their doors, while my door was not closed tightly. I peeped through the opening – and distinctly saw my own sister some three steps away! Unthinkingly I cried out: “Lyuba, I am here!” My sister started, the vehicle sped up to enter the courtyard. The militiamen yelled. I was taken right to Chaykovsky. He started scolding me. I was very worried, I turned red, may be even cried a little. But no punishment followed my outburst. Probably the KGB functionary was not beastly enough.
By the way, around 1995 I heard that the head of the oblast’ Security Service of Ukraine I.Yudin had died, and L. Chaykovsky was appointed as his replacement. I wrote a letter to the SSU head: whom are you appointing? He fought against independence of the Ukraine, and my own case is the best evidence of it. I received an answer: we sympathize with you, but Chaykovsky had not violated any laws at the time. But he had! My “case” definitely was not enough to have me tried under article 62. Then I wrote to President L.Kuchma: you are wrong in assuming that Chaykovsky is a good professional. The fortress he was defending (the USSR), had fallen. He willed the Ukraine to collapse as well. And it is not the matter of professionalism. After all he is not a doctor or an engineer, he used to be a henchman – such people cannot be trusted with safeguarding the new state they had fought against for so many years. I would not say they have to serve their time where I had served mine, but let them at least earn their daily bread now with sickle and hammer. The real ones, not the ones on paper. I received another response from the Security Service, this time less polite. (L.Chaykovksy held this office for three years and then retired. Probably, he is receiving substantial pension from the country he had ardently fought all his life…)
I was taken for psychiatric evaluation to Guyva, near Zhytomir. It did not last 18 hours, like in 1973, but only about half an hour. I smartly answered their questions-tests, because I knew that this time KGB was not interested in making a schizophrenic of me.
Having familiarized with the file, I prepared a well-grounded statement (I remember writing on the yellowish-grey sheets of paper, as it was all I had), and submitted it to the oblast’ prosecutor, through the deputy warden on duty. It disappeared into the thin air. Looking for it would be waste of time.
I shared my cell with several inmates. I forgot their names and surnames. But I still remember Viktor Vynnyk from Kremenchuk.
A handsome guy of about 28, he tried to discuss politics with me. I would not encourage such discussions because it was obvious he had been brought there as another witness. He failed in his mission and was removed.
Another, by name of Lenya, if I am not mistaken, also tried to pose as political prisoner, pretending that he had been convicted under the notorious article 62. I could assess his developmental level and showed no interest towards his supposed “case”, so he stopped referring to it. When once he fell asleep during the day, I peeped into the notebook he had carelessly (or on purpose) left open and saw an unfinished report on me. He wrote unambiguously:” To an operative (name). I bring to you attention…” I did not tell that Lenya anything, but instead wrote a report addressed to the same operative, beginning with the same words and suggesting that they remove the stool-pigeon from our cell. After a talk with a superior, Lenya became more reserved. I did not try again to have him removed, because at least I knew him, and another one might have been much worse.
The third one, Mykola, was an absolutely harmless boy of about 20. He spoke Ukrainian, but his language was very bizarre. I understood what was wrong with him after giving him a humorous novel to read. It was Ye.Hutsalo’s “A borrowed husband” published in a magazine. He liked it so much that he wanted to read something to me aloud. It turned out that he was pronouncing Ukrainian letters as if they had been Russian. He told me that he was born outside Ukraine, and despite his growing up in Ukraine, at his grandma’s, he was excused from the Ukrainian lessons at school. A Ukrainian could not read Ukrainian! And he was not the only one!
For some time I shared a cell with a petty provincial bureaucrat, from Ruzhyn, I believe. He messed up some financial negotiations. He was a bit older than me, an experienced man who did not hide his derisive attitude towards the power. We never got into each other’s way, established a good order in our cell and even devised the cell anthem:
Once Savradym died and was laid on a bench,
His wife hurried for horylka her own thirst to quench.
She brought vodka and the music-playing men
“Now, Savradym, you won’t bully my again!”
The first and the third lines were very solemn, the second and the fourth – very funny. It was a good anthem.
At the hearing I refused to cooperate apart from giving some clarifications. They were very few. An honored worker of culture O.Demchenko, who had been a deputy principal of a school at the children’s rehabilitation home in my own village, was called. I have read his reports to KGB denouncing me: standing in line for bread, I allegedly said that if we lacked bread under the developed socialism, what will communism look like? He made a long lecture before the court praising good soviet power. I did not ask him about famine or reprisals. Even the judge Beletsky felt awkward listening to him. To prove I was a libel-monger he reported that I supposedly referred to famine of 1938, and not of 1933, and had said that the “whole Ukrainian nation had died out”. Well, not the whole Ukrainian nation, but just one third. Otherwise where would I have come from?
It was really a sight for a sore eye – the court forced the illiterate convicts to say the “right” words. One witness was rejected, due to the complete nonsense he was saying. The superintendent from the Korosten’ detachment Unichenko was brought as well as convict Shymansky (or was it Shapyrenko?). One was from Zabilochchya and the other – from Radomyshl; he used to live near the brewery. At the lunch time they were held in a booth close to mine. I’ve heard them cursing me and KGB bitterly. I kept quiet because I did not want additional psychological burden, they would have cursed me roundly. Instead I prayed to God to give me strength to go through this trial with dignity. I was absolutely certain of the final result and was facing it with full awareness.
The prosecutor S.Yevtushenko, reading very rapidly and choking on the false testimony, established that I “supported Bandera bandits” (I felt like specifying that I gave bullets to them to shoot). The prosecutor demanded the maximum punishment. The attorney E.Lysytsky did not dare to say anything on the merits of the case.
My last word was short. I addressed not the court, but my sister Nadia and Olha Babych present in the courtroom. I said I was on trial because of my membership in the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. I talked about honor. I quoted St.John’s Gospel. “Blessed are persecuted for the truth”. “And do not be afraid, nor be scared of their threats”.
The trial lasted for three days and ended on August 26, 1981. The verdict: 10 years in the camps with very strict regime, followed by 5 years of exile. I was classified as an extremely dangerous repeated offender. Of course, the verdict was prepared in advance. Despite the maximum term [I’ve got], this trial was the easiest out of the three for me. I did not submit an appeal, as it would be a sheer waste of time.
After being convicted, I was moved to the cell of extremely dangerous repeated offenders. There were about 5 of them. Here is a thin boy. He robbed his sister: took some pickles from her basement to munch with horylka. He was shivering with cold, because he had been arrested in summer, just with the shirt on his back. No one brings him anything. He has only half of the standard-issue blanket, and shivers under it like a dog. Another repeated offender gave him a sweater. He used it for two days, but then it was tea-time, as we got some tea-leaves from the neighbors“by horse”, i.e. in a small pack on a thread. The inmates have burnt everything they had: towels, half of the blanket. The rags are considered to give more warmth and less smoke. So he takes off the sweater, tears it into shreds, makes the rolls, and burns them under the quart he got on his spoon. He is high for a couple of minutes, and then starts shivering again from cold.
Another inmate made his way to Zhytomir from Orenburg. A one-armed pick-pocket, he lost his arm working the chain-saw while drunk. The one who gave his sweater to the frozen boy commented “The God himself ….your arm off”. The man in question, however, took no heed of the God’s sign – he kept steeling with one arm. He reminisced about different places he had been to. To keep conversation going I asked him on which bank of the Urals river the city of Orenburg stands? Right or left? He did not know how to make left from right. The other one, on purpose, would tell tall tales about spaghetti growing right on the bushes in Italy – and his counterpart would believe him! An inmate believed in earnest that the movie “Alexander Nevsky” was filmed while the main protagonist was alive, and that our jail had been built in the 13th century. Two convicts came to fist fight, explaining to one another how the bricks were burnt. I have never met such ignoramuses and thick-heads before. As I mentioned earlier, no one would bring them anything. Meanwhile, I received two parcels in two months. I knew how difficult it was for my mother to afford it; nevertheless, I shared the contents with everyone. Everything was evenly distributed and eaten in one go, according to the maxim “never put off till tomorrow what you can eat today”. Because tomorrow you can be moved to another cell, or thrown into solitarily confinement – and your ration will be wasted. Well, if I ever put something off for tomorrow, then the next day I had to share that too. So anyway I got the smallest portion. This is the ideal model of the Russian collectivism, i.e. communism. If you have nothing, you are free to go. I started my journey to the camp with nothing but a piece of bread, so it was totally uneventful, also due to the fact that the guards did not dare to put an extremely dangerous political offender in one cell with another prisoner.
My journey from Zhytomir to Urals lasted for 36 days, with a stop in Mordovia. As if the henchmen did not know that the camp of especially strict regime for the political prisoners had been moved to Urals. So, I was taken there via Kharkiv, Ruzayevka and Pot’ma (in Mordovia). On my way I met another prisoner Yu.Melnyk, from Horlvika, a smart man. He used to tell me most interesting things in good Ukrainian. Some ideas are really outstanding, most unorthodox, but his whole discourse is heavily laced with Russian profanities. It always makes me wonder, how can the Ukrainian idea be intertwined with the most vulgar Russian curses? We left him in Mordovia. And I was brought to the wrong place. In Mordovian Sosnovka we found no strict regime camp- since March 1, 1981, it was moved to Urals. I was taken back to Ruzayevka, and then travelled via Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk and Perm. After that a train took me to Chusova station, and at night of December 2, 1981, I was brought in “black Maria” to the zone. For several days I remained in a quarantine cell, with no one telling me where exactly I was. Finally I was moved to a cell # 17, where I.Kandyba, V.Kurylo and three more elderly people served their time, “for the war”, as they put it. I found out it was the settlement of Kuchyno, Chusova raion, Perm’ oblast’. L.Lukyanenko, V.Stus, O.Berdnyk, O.Tykhy, S.Skalych (“Pokutnyk”) have served time there before me. Then Yu.Lytvyn, M.Horyn’, V.Marchenko were brought. I enumerate only Ukrainians here. There were Russians Filipov, (a Mordovian, in fact), then L.Borodyn. Yu.Fyodorov and O.Murzhenko, the “hijackers” were there as well as the Lithuanians V.Pyatkus, B.Gayauskas, the Latvian Gunar Astra, the Estonians Mart Niklus and Enn Tarto. Later the Armenians A.Navasardyan and A.Arshakyan were brought from Chystopol jail, alongside with V.Kalynychenko, I.Sokulsky, H.Prykhod’ko.
“The contingent” – a sophisticated word - was made up, predominantly of Ukrainians. There were some people convicted “for the war“– they were accused of collaboration with the Germans. They were also mainly Ukrainians. There were some “politicized” criminals, who made our life miserable, as they were used as provocateurs (Later the journalist V.Kipiani calculated that altogether 56 prisoners, 36 Ukrainians among them, have passed through this camp between 1.03. 1981 and 8.12. 1987).
We were kept several inmates to a cell, no more than eight per cell. I stayed in various cells - # 17, 18, 19, 20. I spent about 2 years with I.Kandyba, L.Lukyanenko, M.Horyn’, about a year with O.Tykhy and Yu.Lytvyn, and only a month and a half with V.Stus – in February-March 1984. I saw his notebook in blue cover, made of several regular copy-books. In his letters V.Stus called it “The bird of my soul”. That “bird” never left its cage. I am the only person to have read these verses and translations from Rilke. Eleven elegies, probably, also have been destroyed. Some time I’ll tell about it separately. (See the essay about V.Stus).
I was all dressed up to the next- to latest- fashion: striped pants, a coat, a jacket, even the cap was striped. I call it “next to the latest”, because the latest is the wooden jacket, i.e. the coffin. That’s how I joked in my first letter home.
Let me tell you about the conditions of our existence there. The regime really was extremely strict.
The zone was equipped with the state-of-the art equipment of the soviet penitentiary (correctional) system. The only wooden barrack about 120 m long and 16 m wide, was surrounded by at least seven rows of fences, 24 m long in perimeter. They were made of barbed wire, three metres of solid fence, then coiled wire, the second fence two meters high, fire zone, two more barbed wire fences with wire spikes aimed towards the center, with electric current running through them, and another barbed-wire fence. The furrows between the fences were nicely plowed, so that no weeds would grow in them. Detonators to detect potential sapping were dug into the soil. There was a watch-tower with an armed guard at each corner. The laser vision devices are always aimed at the fire zone. At the belt and chest level there were barred windows for shooting into the fire zone. All that was aimed against us, extremely dangerous criminals, especially harmful repeated offenders.
The guard premises (entrance to the zone, or the control point, as Lukyanenko rendered it in Ukrainian), is equipped with several iron doors. Here you are asked “Your name? Your charges? Your service term?” [in original – all in Russian]. There is a special pit, just like in a garage, to search the cars. Inside the road is blocked with the metal bar, which opens like a gate. It has spikes on it, the so-called “hedgehogs” – in case the inmates would get hold of a vehicle, they would not be able to pass the gate. The guard premises also have a high tower with glass walls. The guards have dogs. Almost every hour the guards and the keepers make rounds of the “forbidden zone”.
The whole zone, including the barrack, is divided into two halves. The first houses the inmates kept in the cells, the other –those who are not confined to the cells. These latter are not locked up, they can walk around the courtyard. The inmates can be transferred to this half of the zone only after they had served at least half of the term. The decision is made by the administration if the prisoner complies with all the rules.
The part of the barrack with the cells is surrounded by three-meter fence made of planks. One cannot see anything but this fence from the cell, unless one climbs a stool. Then one can see the tops of the trees in the forest half a kilometer away.
The entrance to the barrack is in the middle; that is where it is divided in two. The corridor runs along the barrack. On the right side there is a medical ward, the warden’s office, the kitchen and “residential” cells , # 17, 18, 19, 20, then the internal guards’ room ( they have another room with the sofa, too). On the left side the offices of the KGB officer and the operative are located, then “working” cells # 16, 15, 14, 13, entrance to the internal courtyards with signals which never worked, small living cell # 12, working cells # 11, 10, 9; 8-а was a tool room. Then a perpendicular hall, under the barrack fronton, facing the guards, crossed the space. The penitentiary isolation cell # 3 was the closest to the guards; then - #4, 5, 6. Opposite the isolation cell # 6 a working cell # 7-а was located; opposite # 3 – 1-а; next there was a bathroom for those in solitary confinement. (# 2).
The doors to the cells were double, the wooden ones, covered in iron. They had a peep-hole, 5 cm in diameter, closed with a lid. Now and then a keeper’s eye would show up in it. The lid has another small hole, about 2 mm in diameter, for spying. The second door is grated. It has a larger opening, through which the food is delivered or a kettle can be handed in. This opening is known as “feeder”. When food is distributed, only the outer door opens. A single keeper is not allowed to open both doors at once. They can do it only in pairs: the first stays in the doorway, while the other can enter the cell. Even if the inmates attack the one who had entered, the first has no right to defend him. He must close the door and run for help. They receive 20% bonus for the “hazardous work conditions”. May be in the criminal zones it makes sense, but in the political ones no one would remember an inmate assaulting a keeper. We used to joke that for these 20% we might give our worst keepers a good mugging once a year. By the way, you cannot open the door all the way: there is a chain that would not allow it to go any further. So that the inmates can leave the cell only one by one.
The space between the windows is covered with the wooden shields, so that one could not throw a “horse” (a note on a thread) from one cell to another. Some devices are attached in the corners, probably, for the night vision. If you stretch your arm outside, through the bars, they would notice it.
The cells have double windows, grates between them. The second grate is outside; it has locks and is locked. The window leaves are also double and cannot be fully opened.
The isolation cells have smaller windows, the bars are denser and double, and they have additional “French blinds” (aka “accordion”), wooden planks, put densely at an angle, so that you can look only upwards to see anything.
The shift of the internal guards consists of four keepers – ensigns and the deputy warden on duty, an officer. One guard is constantly pacing the corridor.
The number of staff in the internal and external guard and service of the zone exceeds the number of the inmates two-three times.
Wherever an inmate goes he must keep his hands behind his back. The doors are opened and closed for him, as if he were a big shot. Naturally, the cell doors have no inside handles.
The plank beds are two-storey. Instead of netting, they are equipped with metal bars 5-8 cm wide. The distance between them is up to 10 cm, so that a thin mattress is falling through leaving the iron bars to bite into your body. They are swinging; one should be very careful turning around, so not to wake up your bedfellow. Sometimes the conflicts arise. We tried to stabilize our beds, filling the distance between the beds and the walls with the newspapers, but during the searches they were thrown away with extreme vehemence - everything should be aimed at making a search most convenient, not t making the life of the inmates more comfortable. Two sheets, a blanket, a pillow. At the beginning it was allowed to lie down before the sleeping time, without making the bed, but since 1983 one could stay on the bed only for 8 hours – between sleeping time and reveille. Even sitting on it at other times was forbidden.
There is a barred niche above the door. It contains two electric bulbs – stronger for the day and weaker for the night. Inmates must sleep with their feet towards the door, so that their faces are always seen. The most one can do is folding a handkerchief four times to cover one’s eyes.
The cell has a table and two heavy benches or stools. There is one bed-stand for two inmates. You can keep books, copy-books and letters there. The inside drawer is also divided in two. It serves to keep a tooth brush and soap. Nothing should remain on top of the bed-stand. No doilies, no pictures or photos.
The clothes hang on a hanger. There is a garbage can, a broom and a rag to wash the floor. Sometimes a hanging shelf was there too to keep food products.
You are allowed an electric razor, but only the guard can plug it in on your request. To call the guard, you push a special button, and they will hear ringing in their duty room. You can ask him to switch the radio on or off. But some might want it on, and the others – off, so the radio is another source of tension.
There is a sink and a toilet - a close-stool on a small platform in the corner. It is covered with a sheet of cardboard. So here you sleep, here you eat and here you shit. No shame in mentioning it – going to the bathroom in a cell becomes one of the most trying mental tortures. You should choose a moment when no one is eating or praying… You are sitting like on a pedestal, unprotected. Many a time we asked to have it shielded, at least by one wall, one meter high and one meter wide. At last, during one of the check-ups, carried out by the warden major Zhuravkov with his retinue, a woman among them, I pronounced a sentence prepared in advance: “You are making us taking our pants off in front of each other…” – “Why are you putting us to public shame?” I expected to be disciplined for that. But no – the walls were installed, even in the working cells. Each and every inmate had to use the latrine at least twice in 24 hours. It was a mental torture, indeed. You are turned into a humanoid beast. Permanent suppression of bowel movement leads to diseases: almost all the prisoners suffer from the intestine and stomach problems, hemorrhoids with bleeding. The cells always stink and sometimes there are problems with water supply. I’d rather not talk about that… There are many smokers – and the others cough and suffer from heart-ache. It causes tension. One wants fresh air, the other is cold. There is not enough air, especially at night.
The cell provides no room for walking. May be in the end, when we were fewer, we could make a couple of steps. Constant presence of other people is depressing: you feel like an ameba on the microscope glass. You are happy when you have a chance to be left alone – in the penitentiary cell or in solitary confinement.
Once a month we were taken to a big hall to watch a movie, later replaced by a TV set. Inmates of two cells have a unique chance of seeing each other. Only seeing, because they are to sit in the opposite corners of the room and are not allowed to talk to each other. Sometimes we manage to shake each other’s hand and go unpunished.
Sunday is a bath day. In the bath-house we also hand in our underwear to the laundry. The prisoners also have their hair cut there, approximately once a month. Inmates younger than 70 years of age are not allowed to sport a beard or moustache.
The number of inmates per cell differs: from two in # 12 to 8 in # 20. Sometimes the prisoners are moved from one cell to another, with complete disregard for their wishes, on KGB’s order or operational need.
You are allowed an overcoat – a striped shirt or jacket, pants and a cap, like a fool’s cap. In winter you get a winter hat and a thick pea-jacket, which can be used for cover. But you might be ordered to take it out in early spring, when it is still cold, so that you are freezing at night and catching cold. One pair of underwear, underpants and undershirt. The change is in the bath-house, you are not allowed to keep it in the cell, but have to take it out into the storage room. Shoes or boots, slippers, socks. A towel, a handkerchief. Inalienable accessory – a name tag, written on a piece of canvas. It is sewn on the left, on your chest.
You cannot have more than 5 books, magazines and brochures at a time in your cell. But everyone wants some hand-book, a dictionary, everyone subscribes to several magazines. A pen, the note-books, a pencil and envelopes constitute the only consolation. Salvation lies in intellectual work. You are making notes, supplying your own commentary. But the note-books are taken for inspection and rarely returned. Those who can exist without writing are much better off. But creative personalities, like Stus, Lytvyn, Sokulsky – they could not help writing and felt very upset when their manuscripts were taken away.
You are allowed one letter a month. Sometimes you cannot even finish it – the keepers would open a cell quietly and take it away “for inspection”. And this is the last time you see it. The letter must be sent within three days. Same applies to the letters received by the prisoners. But in fact this rule was rarely observed. The bosses would advise: “Write in Russian – it will be sent out sooner”. Sometimes a letter would be sent to Ukraine (Armenia, Lithuania) for translation, and only then the censor would decide whether to send it or not. He can notify you: “The letter is confiscated due to prohibited information, libelous speculations”. Or simply “Contents suspicious”.
In fact, our letters, and not all of them, were sent only to the close family. We could receive letters from anyone and in any quantities, but often they were confiscated due to the aforementioned reasons. We received letters from people other than family very seldom.
The main job was assembling the electric irons’ details and attaching them to a cord with the screws. The details are minuscule, the screws are spiky – they pierce the fingers, and the day norm is large (522 cords). Not everyone could meet it. If your keepers need a pretext to make a delinquent out of you, especially before a visit day, they could always find some screws attached not tightly enough, throw away the whole bunch (25 or 10 cords) – and you failed to meet the norm.
We worked 8 hours a day 6 days a week locked in the working cells. If the spare parts are not delivered on time, we would remain in our cells reading. Besides, the inmates are used in public works, i.e. the cleaning up of the territory, up to two hours a day. These were rare occasions. In summer we could mow the grass in the zone, in winter – remove the snow. The majority of the prisoners liked these types of jobs, as it was less tedious than sitting in a cell. At least one could get a glimpse of the God’s Sun, of the far away forest, some green grass. And sometimes you might bring something edible, like new nettle to be put into everyday grub. But no one was willing to go and hoe the “forbidden zone” or to erect the posts there – the prisoner’s conscience would not allow him to make his prison more perfect. Such orders from administration were perceived as direct provocation. The punishment for refusal was anticipated and taken as one’s due, as prisoners are not supposed to build or improve their jail.
The earnings rarely reached 100 roubles. One half immediately was given out to the state ( “for the barbed wire”). From the other half you are paying for ages the court expenses (if applicable), your food, clothes, shoes, purchases in a convenience stall, subscriptions, “Books by mail”, or you can transfer money somewhere. But it was ridiculous – there had never been enough.
There are three courtyards for exercises, each 2.5 per 3 meters. All the inmates are taken there for an hour during the non-working hours. It is forbidden to take your clothes off, but in summer one could see the Sun. These tiny courtyards are basically the wooden boxes, about three meters high, covered with metal sheets from the inside and having the barbed wire on the edges. The guard is walking back and forth on a platform at the level of the barbed wire. If any weeds appear in the concrete cracks, they are diligently uprooted. Everything should be grey and colorless behind the bars.
Prisoner’s meal costs about 22 – 25 roubles a month. The ration includes cereals – oats, wheat, millet, potatoes and cabbage, 15 g of sugar, 5 g of fat, 20 g of meat or 50 g of fish, 600 g of bread (I might be slightly mistaken). Usually they cook a watery soup and gruel. The products are delivered twice a week, so that in case of a riot, the zone could not hold on for long. The cooks are inmates too, so they try to do their best with whatever they have available. The water is dirty, smelly and muddy. If you leave it in a glass a red sediment and oily lid on the surface will appear. We demanded clean water to be brought to the zone, but the administration’s ultimate argument was :”We are drinking it too”. Well, you are drinking it on your own free will, you might be drinking horylka or leave the place altogether!
The meals are paid from your salary. Nevertheless, if you have no money on your account a watery soup and some porridge will be given to you anyway. You cannot, though, buy any food in the convenience stall, only the bare necessities: soap, a tooth-brush, paper, a pen, envelopes.
The additional allowance for food products constitutes 4 roubles a month. If you meet production norms, you are allowed 6 roubles for additional food: a loaf of white bread, some candies, 50 g of tea, fish preserves, margarine, sunflower seeds’ oil, rarely an onion or a carrot, 200 g of butter twice a year. For any violation you are banned from the stall, and then it feels real bad.
A pack or a parcel is allowed once a year, up to 5 kg, but only after a convict had served half of his term. For misbehaving the parcels are banned.
You can get two smaller parcels (up to 1 kg) a year – socks, underwear, candies, dried fruit or berries, tobacco. These parcels are never banned.
Sometimes a doctor would come in the evenings and see the patients in the medical ward. He can issue a leave from work or send one to a hospital in the zone ВС-389/35 at Vsekhsvyatska station. It takes three hours to get there in the militia van.
The inmates can be put into the penitentiary cell for up to 15 days, but upon release you can end up there again in one hour’s time. There you have only your pants and jacket with big letters (SHIZO – abbreviation for penitentiary cell – Rus.) on it, socks, slippers, underwear in winter, or underpants and a tee-shirt in summer. The plank bed is put down for 8 hours. The rest of time you can walk or sit on a stool fastened to the floor. No bedding. It is always cold in this cell. Those who want to know how a prisoner can die of cold when the temperature is above zero are recommended to read the L. Lukyanenko’s essay “Vasyl Stus: the latter days”. (The book “I won’t let Ukraine perish!”, К.: “Sofia”, 1994, pp. 327 – 343).
Sometimes the prisoner is taken out of the penitentiary cell to work – then he is given hot meal, although without any fat or sugar. If the prisoner does not go to work, then he gets hot meal once in two days. The rest of his diet consists of hot water and 450 g of bread. No exercise is envisaged for those in penitentiary cell. The smokers suffer additional torments without tobacco. After two or three stays in the penitentiary cell one can be put into solitary confinement for a year. The diet is even worse there, the exercise constitutes half an hour a day in the courtyard 2x2 meters, one letter every two months, and one visit up to two hours a year. He is not allowed any packages or parcels.
After the solitary confinement a convict, “for systematic violation of the internal regime” can be moved by court’s decision to a jail for the term up to three years.Under Andropov’s rule (January12, 1983) article 183-3 was introduced. It stipulated 5 additional years of imprisonment in the criminal camp or in jail, for the inmates who “showed no improvement in their ways”. The regime there was the same, or even harsher. One could end up serving life term.
The visits were allowed – one in a year, up to three days, with the closest family only (no more than two relatives at a time), in a separate room with the entrance to the hall and to the kitchen. The inmate receives another change of clothes for the visit. The visits are announced unexpectedly, so that the prisoner has no chance of taking anything with him. During the search they would look into all the unmentionable places. The relatives are subject to the same procedure. Some prisoners rejected the visits altogether to avoid the humiliating procedures. Three days were rarely granted – usually it was just 1 or 2 days.
A short visit can last up to 4 hours, but usually it was just an hour. You talk separated by a desk and a glass window, through the phone receiver, under constant supervision of a guard who demands that you speak Russian. Some inmates would ask their loved ones not to come to visit – to avoid talking the “jail language”, the language of the prison of nations. As a result some prisoners for years saw no one but their cell mates and keepers.
The prison conditions are aggravated by the “human factor”. In a close space the inmates, no matter how tolerant, would get into each other’s way and become a nuisance for one another. If a conflict arises there is no way to handle it, but keeping silent and avoiding communication.
The guards and officers have their ways, too. For example, the guards Sharinov, Novytsky and Chertanov treated us as if we had stabbed their own fathers with a dagger. When all the cell inmates go out to work [they would pick up] one of the prisoners to take to their guard-room, and have him thoroughly searched, with all the clothes off. On the way to lunch they would pick up the same victim and on the way back – as well. Sometimes I had been searched thrice a day, M.Horyn’ – five times a day. Easy to go nuts…And if you object, then you violate the rules. The deputy warden in charge of the discipline could put his finger on a shelf, trace some dust and have you disciplined for that. Or for a non-ironed collar. Or for “not being open during a conversation”.
Major Zhuravkov had been the warden for themost of my stay, and after his death in September 1985, he was replaced by major Dolmatov, by then – his deputy for political affairs. Before that he was the commander of our special regime unit. He was replaced by major Kondratyev, then major Snyadovsky. Majors Galedin, Gatin, senior lieutenant Saburov performed the functions of the warden’s deputies. The guards (besides those mentioned above) were Navonov, Sidorov, Kukushkin, Inozemtsev, Vlasyuk, Rudenko, Alaverdyev. The operatives – lieutenants Zhuravkov-junior, Utkin.
We had three former criminals in our zone: B.Romashov, V.Ostrohlyad (Sukhov) and V.Fedorenko. The administration would use them to terrorize us.
The communications between the cells looked like this: one inmate would approach the door and listen to make sure there is no guard in the corridor. Another knocks on the wall three times as an invitation to talk. Three knocks in response mean consent, two – hold on, one – not now, because of danger. You climb a stool or a radiator and say a few words into the window leaf, get an answer and step down. If you are caught doing it, you will be severely penalized. We tried to communicate in Morse code, using the heating pipes. But some guards started interfering with our sessions. We had to stop using it.
In spring 1986 we had an adventure. The river Chusova flooded and our barrack faced inundation. On May 7 we were taken in military vans to the zone ВС-389/35 at Vsekhsvyatska station. We had a chance to meet other prisoners and talk to them. We stayed there doing practically nothing till May 18. When we were brought back the trace of water still could be seen in some cells.
I was miserable in Kuchyno. I felt the lack of air in the cell. Something must have been wrong with my nose - it was stuffed all the time. Often I had a cold. It was not always possible to open the window leaf – it was the source of conflicts. I could not sleep at night due to the lack of air. I suffered from arrhythmia and shortness of breath. And the smokers did not help at all…I.Kandyba used to say that the guard is less harmful than your own smoking mate. Some inmates (O.Tykhy, V.Stus) would come closer to the window leaf or the door, depending on the direction of the draft, but others would smoke their smelly pipe wherever, like Yu.Fedorov. B.Rosmashov would smoke anything and used to bring tea from the KGB guard and cook it over the latrine. The guards preferred not to notice. Since then I appreciate the fresh air immensely. Isn’t amazing: the Americans quit smoking, while Ukrainians are buying their disgusting cigarettes and smoking their butts, even women and girls. I would not wish them “good health” because they do not need it. Only those who have a lot of time, a lot of health and a lot of money to waste do it. Instead they have no conscience. You want that tobacco, so go ahead and eat it, but do not poison me in the process! My blood pressure gets higher if I inhale the smoke, I can immediately feel it in my temples. May be it is mental deviation, but I perceive smoking as the sin defined in Catechism as “filth, dirt”.
My knees used to freeze, too. May be a lot of salt has gathered under my knee-caps. During the day, while you are walking, bending your legs, rubbing them, covering them with something it is not that bad, but at night when they get cold, I cannot sleep at all. And if you have some heavy snorer on top of everything, like Mamchych or Ye.Polishchuk, who would snore in any position…I felt sleepy as a fly in winter. I could barely meet production norm. I asked the administration to separate me from Mamchych, and Mamachych supported my request. He hoped to be switched to the “open regime”. But they found a different way to separate us: Stus was left with Mamchych, and I was taken away from Stus. I wanted to stay with Stus as long as possible, may be I would have learnt some of his verses by heart and thus preserve them…
There was another occurrence. Once the doctor Ye.Pchelnykov without my request sent me to the hospital at Vsekhsvyatska station, to the zone № 35. A jail-bird is always happy to have some respite in the hospital. The grub is better and the regime is more lenient, although you are still confined to a cell. It is always an adventure: you will get new impressions, may be, talk to someone from the other zones. Because with nothing going on, the time drags on infinitely, and then there is nothing to remember, and it feels like it has been compressed. I have always enough of ailments, but I had no aggravations at the time. The physicians were somewhat surprised to see me in the hospital. But once I was called and injected with something. I should have objected because no injections had been prescribed, only pills. About a month after my return, while being together with Horyn’, Kandyba and Kurylo (who is a doctor himself), I suddenly felt aversion to food, especially fatty food. I remembered the feeling from my childhood, when I used to have jaundice. The bile decomposes the fats, it goes into the blood and then the body, and especially, the face and the eyes, become yellow. I had no mirror, so I asked a mate to examine my eyes by daylight. The eyes were yellow and my face as well. I asked for a doctor’s appointment.The doctor Kondratyeva said nothing was wrong with me. I asked to look at me by the window, where there is more light. Then she was concerned because the Botkin disease is very contagious. When I had it at the age of 14 both my room and the classroom where I studied had been sprinkled, while I was kept in the infectious diseases ward. And here I was not isolated at all, nothing of the kind! I tried my best not to contaminate them. Kondratyeva said it was the blockage of the bile ducts. May be, she was the doctor, after all. Earlier we were sold some onion in our convenience stall (it was a rarity), and I used to eat one or two a day with gusto. May be the onion affected me.
So, I could eat nothing but dried bread. The very look and smell of food caused vomit. Kondratyeva demonstrated humane attitude by prescribing the IV. Once I was receiving my IV treatment in the ward and suddenly V.Stus was brought in for an injection. He stopped in the doorway: “Vasyl, I did not recognize you.” – “Stus, no talk!” This coming from the ensign Novytsky.
And then I remember that mysterious injection. And I was not mistaken. In a year or two a medical commission arrived in the zone, and I, by chance, overheard doctor Pchelnykov almost whispering to another doctor, while showing my medical history: “Botkin disease”. So he knew what he had been doing. After release we learnt that I.Svitlychny was infected with jaundice in the hospital and then taken to Altay. The transport lasted for two months - as a result he was paralyzed. D.Mazur had been kept on purpose in the same cell with a TB patient, and then with the man who had jaundice. It was impossible not to contract infection. He almost died from these diseases.
On another occasion I had an inflammation of a head nerve. Every heart beat resounded heavily in the back of my head, all the way to the eye, by night and by day. I was taken to the hospital and given some red pills. And they have terrible draft and cold there, with one of the windows broken. I have been staying there for two weeks, curled up and bundled up in everything I had. God forbid anyone suffering such pain.
And after Stus’ death, in the cell # 20 my blood pressure suddenly made a leap, just out of the blue, in the morning. The guys helped me to the upper plank bed and I did not go to work, because even a slightest movement of an arm causes nausea and I was close to vomiting. The guard Sydorov after yelling at me for some time went to look for the doctor. Pchelnykov arrived and I asked him just to let me be, not to move me anywhere. He gave me some medicine and the attack was over.
In the same cell on another morning I suffered a terrible kidney attack. May be a stone started moving there. It was only Gunar Astra’s helping hand and a hot-water bottle that prevented me from dying of pain.
Similar attacks, not caused by any obvious reasons, happened to other inmates as well. If we consider them in connection with some utterances of our dumbest administrators, it is easy to arrive at the conclusion that they had an order to dispatch us to the better world, but the times having changed, they would not use Stalinist methods and face the responsibility. For example, the KGB officer Vasylenkov told Balis Gayauskas: “You might never leave the place. You might be killed”. And, indeed an attempt at murdering was made by the criminal B.Romashov (See essay “Museum in Kuchyno –the conscience of Russia”).
I tried not to aggravate relations with my cell-mates, although some conflicts occurred. It was a routine thing, and the best way to handle it was just to abstain from talking to one another for several days, and then some opportunity would present itself to resume communication. A prison cell is the best school of mutual tolerance. As a young man I was easily annoyed, intolerant, and here I learnt to tolerate all sorts of people, without degrading either them or myself. And also I’ve come to love solitude. It was a rare and happy occasion to be left alone in the cell ( both the “residential” and the”working” one), at least for an hour or two, or for several days. I was not penalized either by penitentiary cell or by solitary confinement, but, I believe, I would not suffer from loneliness if placed there. V.Stus, for one, spent a year in solitary confinement. It turned out his most productive year, for his translations and poetry: “The poet’s time/ Dichtenszeit”. [No, wrong: it was during the investigation, in 1972].It is hard for an evil man to stay alone, for he will eat himself alive. While a good and spiritually rich man is in accord with himself and finds consolation in creative work and communication with God.
I wonder if I’ll have another chance to mention the criminal B.Romashov. He was from Arzamas, Gorky (currently – Nyzhny Novgorod) oblast’. A killer. While serving his term, he “earned” another charge – “anti-soviet campaigning and propaganda’, article 70 of the CC of the Russian Federation. He was moved to the zone of special regime in Sosnovka, Mordovia. From there he managed to send out some notes in a box with the manufactured goods. They were found as far as Vladivostok after his release. Besides, he covered his military ID card with a lot of stupid slogans and threw it through the fence to the military commissar’s office. He was sentenced to 9 years in prison and 5 years in exile. He said his file contained a note certifying him as psychopath. He had a lot of conflicts with V.Stus, with me…When he was chain-smoking in the working cell, cooking his KGB tea, I tolerated him, although my blood pressure would heighten. But in the fall they installed the double windows, the window leaf was small, I felt short of breath, and my pressure was leaping. I could stand it no longer, so I got up and pushed the button to call a guard and ask him to take me out of that stifling place. It was an act of despair – one convict does not tell on the other. Romashov saw me off with the words “Don’t come back to the cell”. For several days I was kept in the solitary confinement cell, not as a means of punishment, but as an interim solution, until they had agreed with KGB what was to be done with me next.
We had another tough cell-mate, O.Murzhenko. One of the “hijackers” Viktor Pyatkus used to say that his company was worse than penitentiary cell. I was afraid of ending up in a cell with him. And Yu.Lytvyn, demanding to be moved from the cell # 12 to get rid of him, in the fall of 1983 went on hunger strike for two weeks, then for 26 days, thus ruining his health. Painful things to remember…The KGB bastards enjoyed having tension in the cells. That Romashov threatened Stus with a mechanical screw-driver, but Vasyl decided to defend himself with another screw-driver. Both were sent to the penitentiary cell. I remember Vasyl asking the bosses “Why did I have to stay in the penitentiary cell for 5 days?” Romashov also tried to kill Balis Gayauskas with the screw-driver: he hit him several times on the head, in the working cell. Balis fell under the table, and Romashov stabbed him with the knife, aiming at his chest… But Balis fell on his side, so the knife went askew, and did not reach his heart. So what? Romashov supposedly was sentenced to 15 days in the penitentiary cell. He kept making his KGB tea there: once instead of the usual outside exercise I was sent to mow the grass around the barrack, so I could see the sheets of foil under his cell’s door. Balis returned from the hospital 12 days later with the diagnosis “slight body injuries “. He swayed in the wind, he could not sit, his head ached and his wounds hurt. I have no doubts that this murderous assault was organized by the KGB man Vasylenkov. We had such KGB officer – Vasylenko-v. L.Borodin would tease him for “not being a real Russian”. To prove his “authenticity” he would take revenge on his compatriots Ukrainians and “ethnics” as well. As is well known from Lenin’s times “the Russified foreigner usually shows excessive zeal towards his compatriots.” The captain, and later, the major Snyadovsky was another “Russified non-Russian”. He was a mouse of a man, with pock-marked face. You felt uncomfortable looking at him. Probably he felt that people kept averting their eyes, so he hated the whole mankind. And this man, full of hatred was assigned the commander of our special unit. He introduced most severe rules, like constant frisks, during which even the bare necessities, like underwear, were confiscated. The winter jackets were not allowed in the cells starting certain day in spring. So we had to freeze. A summer cap must be left in a store-room, and we stayed in the winter hats. Frisks on the way to work, from work, on the way to the yard, on the way back. He banned visits for everyone. God forbid you are found sitting down on your bed during day time: you can stay on the bed for 8 hours only, between sleeping-time and reveille. So you are just taking a nap over a book on the desk. And he claimed to be Ukrainian; his Polish name allegedly was that of his stepfather. He claimed to speak only Ukrainian with his children, to read Oles Honchar and Petro Zahrebelny, although Zahrebelny’s name is Pavlo. I complained that the letters were not delivered on time because I used to write to my mother in my native tongue. The letter is sent to Ukraine for translation, then comes back, and then the decision whether to send it or not is made. The law stipulates sending out or confiscating the letter within 3 days. I cannot notify my relatives about the banned visit, so they will come in vain and suffer big losses. Snyadovsky rejected my accusations with vehemence and suggested I write another letter right away – out of turn – for him to send. I deliberately wrote a letter that would have been banned by any censor. But Snyadovsky sent it without reading.
The guard Novytsky, an ensign, was an elderly person, described by the inmates as “rotten” in the sense of “experienced”.He was from Donbas and long ago has distanced himself from anything connected to Ukraine. He hated everything Ukrainian infinitely and took his revenge upon Ukrainians. It was a “complex of the loss”. But what a disgusting person! Once he got mad with someone, the victim had not a moment of peace. Every time you pass him, he would find something to pick on you. We anticipated the shifts of his duty with fear. May be some people would be ashamed to admit it – but God loves truth – the fear is always present in jail. It is an overwhelming fear that things might get even worse than they currently are. Today you have your jacket in the cell – tomorrow it is taken away from you, and you can freeze and get sick. Today you are looking forward to a visit – tomorrow it is forbidden. Today you are in you cell and tomorrow you can end up in the penitentiary cell. The less freedom you have, the harder the loss of its remains is. But you have to overcome this fear for the sake of honor and dignity. Finally, you are not here for your own sake.
Novytsky got an order to pester me. Several times he addressed me as “boy” in public, although I was 33-34 at the time and looked my age, I believe. I barked back at him: “You old geezer, old trampled boot”. It worked. Once he stormed into the cell drunk and started a hubbub. I approached him and sniffed the air. Stinks, indeed. I whispered to a guard: “How do you allow it? The man is drunk!” My God, they compiled a report on my libeling the ensign, with the doctor’s certificate attached! I don’t remember, whether I had been punished or not, but that was the idea of intimidation: don’t you dare to contradict them!
To cut a long story short, the regime was unbearable and people were dying one after another. The rebel AndriyTuryk was the first to go on September 12, 1980. He was born in 1927, sentenced to 25 years in prison, serving his term since 1957. In1983 Mykhaylo Kurka died. He was an elderly man, around 70. On May 5, 1984 Ivan Mamchych died right in the zone kitchen. He was from Myrhorod, convicted on the charges of collaboration with the Germans. Later we learnt that on the same day Oleksa Tykhy, taken from our zone on March 7, 1984, died in Perm. He was 57 ( See essay”He rebelled and perished”). In 1984 37-year old Valery Marchenko was brought to join us. Before, he had served 6 years under the strict regime plus 2 years of exile. He had nephritis – a kidney disease. He spent only about two months in the cell # 19 (with Ivan Kandyba, Mykhailo Horyn’ and Leonid Borodin). Then he was transported away. Later we learnt that he had died in the Leningrad hospital for the prisoners (named after Ivan Gaaza and known as “Gaza” among the convicts) on October 7, 1984 (See essay “Valery Marchenko’s funeral”).
Yu.Lytvyn. He had survived two stomach surgeries and one surgery for varicose veins. But then he had the stomach ulcer. Besides his teeth were prepared for the crowns, with enamel layer removed, and then they did nothing for 9 months! He could not eat anything, either cold or hot, and finally he could not take it anymore. I cannot claim he committed suicide – there are grounds to assume that KGB, or possibly, doctor Pchelnykov, played their sinister role in that. On August 23, 1984 he was found in his cell with his belly cut open. His mates came for lunch, Lytvyn was raving “Have you brought the teeth?” Yu.Fyodorov raised the blanket and saw his belly open, but no blood. Lytvyn was taken to a hospital in Chusova. The surgery was performed negligently, his belly became all swollen. Then the second surgery – and he died on September 4 or 5, before reaching the age of 50. (See essay “Love. Goodness. Freedom”).
There was the Azerbaijani Akper Kerimov, a good-natured man also accused of collaboration with the Germans. He suffered a lot from kidney disease. He was taken to Vseshsvyatska, to the hospital for prisoners, and died there on January 19, 1985. So everyone was thinking who the next would be. V.Stus was the next – may be, because he was the only one who managed to send out his notes, that he named “From the camp note-books”. They were published by Nadia Svitlychna. And there was a rumor that Heinrich Boll had nominated him for the Nobel Prize of 1985. This prize, as you know, is awarded to the living only, not to the dead. In 1936 Adolf Hitler learned that his prisoner Carl Ossietzky won this prized and gave an order to release him. (Now I’ve read that no documents on nomination had been found, that the Ukrainian community in the West started the process too late and failed to publish the translations for the 1986 nomination by 1985. Also that Carl Ossietzky had died in prison…(See.:V. Kipiani. Stus and Nobel.” Demystifying the myth”, http://kipiani.org/gulag/index.cgi?705) And Gorbachev in his turn did not want either to have a Nobel laureate in prison, or to set him free. The issue was resolved in the traditional Stalinist way: “No person – no problem”. Several imprisonments in the penitentiary cell…On August 27, in particular, he was accused of lying down on his bed in his overcoat, and “being reprimanded by the controller, started talking back to him”. The next day he was sent to the penitentiary cell for 15 days. As the charges were false, Vasyl went on hunger strike, and never finished it. He died on the night of September 3-4, 1985 in the penitentiary cell # 3. (See in more detail the essays about Stus).
The regime never slackened after that. Just fancy: it was the time of the “Babel tower reconstruction” (as Ye.Sverstyuk put it), Gorbachev was already sitting on the Moscow throne! It was only as late as1987 that the regime became somewhat milder. Some time in summer they allowed me to stay outside the cell. I was sitting with Enn Tarto in the working cell, assembling the cords. He was telling me about the Estonian history and the history of Ugro-Finnish people. Then they made me responsible for laundry and the bath-house. I worked there for three months. Once they ordered me to plaster the furnace. I asked Ye. Polishchuk how to do it. But the admixture of cement and sand proved inadequate: my plaster cracked and rolled. The colony warden major Dolmatov arrived with his retinue and started scolding me. I told him: “I am a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature, not plastering specialist, and anyway I have no business in your Russia.And you are plastered yourself, you stink!” That was not called for, later I reprimanded myself for giving vent to my despair. I was disciplined somehow, but not sent to the penitentiary cell. They treated my words most seriously, used the “posse” as witnesses and even procured the doctor’s certificate to the effect that Dolmatov was not drunk. I can’t fathom why they should need it. I needed it even less.
It is noteworthy that I had not been put to the penitentiary cell even once while in Kuchyno. I was deprived of visits, convenience stall, not allowed to receive parcels, but God in his mercy saved me from the penitentiary cell. For some reason this Dolmatov was less cruel to me than to others. Anyway, the instructions on how to treat whom were issued by the KGB officer. First it was Cherkasov, then Chentsov, who was of my age, with a geographer’s background. This one even tried to recruit me as his ally. My complaint that my letters were not sent on time became the pretext he used, promising to send my letter without any censorship. I gave him the letter and he sent it. Then he called me again and started a kind of slimy talk. Then it dawned on me that KGB was not like a dog that can bite your finger off. KGB is like a venomous reptile whose bite can contaminate your whole body. I cut him short.
Some people, like I.Kandyba, for example, ignored the KGB calls completely. It made sense, but it made sense to respond, too, because despite their well-fabricated lies, we, being not dumb, could extract some information and come to certain conclusions. Considering our complete isolation even this information was welcome. Such talks were infrequent, but returning from a meeting with a KGB official or even with warden, everyone considered his duty to share the information obtained during this meeting.
I plan to describe our everyday life there in more detail in the essays dedicated to the deceased V.Stus, Yu.Lytvyn, O.Tykhy and V.Marchenko. Here I only share briefly my own experience.
An amnesty was announced on June 18, 1987. Almost all of us had our terms reduced by one third. My new term was to come to an end 1 year and 4 months earlier than the previous one, on February 13,1990, and exile - on June 13, 1993. We were amazed, as none of us had asked for anything or written any petitions. It was obvious the empire was on its last legs. A hope to come alive out of the death camps glimmered. The Moscow mass media already were publishing things which would have been considered unconceivable and “libelous” only several years ago.
In November 1987 I was called by the commander of our unit major Kondratyev and offered the cook’s position as there was no one left. Otherwise the food had to be brought from the neighboring zone in the thermoses. I knew from my experience in the Mordovian zone # 17 that we would get nothing but leftovers, so for the public good I agreed. I.Kandyba and M.Horbal took turns in teaching me the new trade. But my cooking lasted for only two weeks: on December 8, 1987 a whole gang of militia officials arrived in the zone and after a thorough search we were put into their vans and taken away from Kuchyno. I remember this date because earlier on that day L.Lukyanenko was taken for a transport out: on December 12 his term was coming to an end and he was taken to the place exile. So he left without learning that it was the last day of the Kuchyno camp of special regime. That day Gorbachev met with Reagan in Reykjavik and he needed some lies at least for the day. “They are no longer there”. That is, in Kuchyno. The 18 of us were taken to the Vsekhsvyatska station, to the zone ВС-389/35, where we, the repeated offenders, were put into a hospital wing. The regime there was slacker. For example, in Kuchyno, prior to sleeping time we were not allowed even to sit on our beds. And here M.Horbal is lying on his plank bed, when the major Osin suddenly enters. Mykhailo jumps up, but the major says: “Don’t bother, stay as you are”. For about two weeks we did not work. So we would take walks in the birch grove, making small paths in the snow around the birch trees. Then the sewing machines were installed and we were trained to make green tool-bags. I knew how to sew since Mordovian camp # 17, but I kept the fact to myself. I met the day’s norm of the bags within 3-4 hours.
We read in a newspaper that foreign journalists arrived in Vsekhsvyatksa zone of strict regime (for the first time in GULAG’s history!). Although they were not given a chance to talk to the inmates, it was a sign that GULAG was on the verge of collapsing. The KGB officials from Moscow started persuading us: “Can’t you write anything, like, that you were mistaken, that you have repented, that you are sick. Or let your family come up with something”. We heard that at the strict regime zone the prisoners had written something to that effect and were released. But we, the special regime prisoners, stubbornly refused to write anything at all. “Now you are in trouble, aren’t you? You need to have “human face” in front of the whole world? OK, do have it, set us free, make allies of us and together we’ll proceed with “perestroika”. But no way! They started setting people free in 1988, one or two at a time were taken to the oblast’ center and told that they had been “pardoned”. V.Kurylo, M.Horyn’ and S.Skalych were released earlier, in 1987 due to grave illnesses. Kurylo had the whole bunch of diseases, and the old man Semen – even more. He had been suffering from the bones’ TB since he was 17. I’ll tell you plainly: M.Horyn’ was the first candidate for the better world. His kidneys caused him a lot of troubles, and his heart was palpitating “like a calf’s tail” in his own words. He had severe oscillating arrhythmia. I had it too, but in lighter form. Mykhailo’s heart could stop any time after three-four beats. You would check his pulse and find none. It was scary. May be the new doctor Hrushchenko could not guarantee to the KGB men that Horyn’ would stay alive. And they did not want more dead. Sometimes that Hrushchenko – God bless his soul – would stay with Horyn’ for nights on end. He saved him. Mykhailo was taken to Lviv and returned more dead than alive, but on July 2 he was summoned to the guards’ premises and released immediately, leaving his belongings behind. His brother Mykola arrived from Lviv to take him home (I learnt that after my own release).
Some time in March 1988 the Latvian Gunar Astra was released from the Vsekhsvyatska zone. About a month and a half later we learnt that he had died. On July 2 I.Sokulsky and P.Ruban were released right from the penitentiary cell. I must tell you that the two of them as well as I.Kandyba, M.Alekseyev and Mart Niklus were put under duress in the penitentiary cell, so that their status changed to that of political prisoners.
Mart Niklus got hold of an Estonian newspaper and found out he was free already! He called the warden and announced hunger strike. The hunger strike lasted for 48 hours only: the papers arrived from Moscow and on July 8, he was released, alongside with H.Prykhodko. The frisk was so hasty and Mart was so smart that his bag containing two sets of the repeated offenders’ uniform had not been checked! Later he paraded in the striped robe at the rallies. (Naturally, I learnt that later).
Only five of us remained: the Estonian Enn Tarto, the Russian M.Alekseyev ( who was from Kazakhstan, but prior to arrest lived in Zhytomir), I.Kandyba, M.Horbal and myself.
THE LAST TRANSPORT, HELP US GOD
On August 12, 1988 M.Horbal, I.Kandyba and I were called out with all our belongings. What were our belongings? Some underwear and books. We could not have more than 50 kg on us, especially for transport. A convict is always ready for the transport: I sorted the books out in advance, planning to take one bag and to leave another one behind. Later I could request them. (No one ever sent them to me). For three days we were kept in the visit room. We understood we were about to be set free. Therefore, only Enn Tarto and M.Alekseyev remained in the zone. Ahead of time I can tell you that they were released as late as December 2. Meanwhile the three of us were taken to Perm prison and held there for a week without any further action. We wrote petitions, announced hunger strikes – we were kept in prison without any grounds. At night of August 21 I was taken, as the first one, for the transport. I had a special convoy: two soldiers and an officer. They brought me to the airport. The soldiers related that they had already escorted many prisoners, even mentioned some familiar names. They also said some Central Committee secretary had to be in the airport, so they let us in before him. It made sense – the repeated offenders were scarcer than Politbureau members in Kremlin. I was taken to the rear of the plane. A soldier on my right, a soldier on my left and an officer in front. They kept the handcuffs ready but never put them on me. In 1976 I also had the special convoy, but then the handcuffs were put on me prior to boarding the plane. This time I managed without. But still people were giving me dirty looks, thinking, probably, I was some kind of a cut-throat. The air hostess, however, calmly served me breakfast, like any other passenger.
The Sun was chasing us – we had permanent sun-rising through our whole flight to Kyiv! In Boryspil I was held in some box-room for several hours. Through the wall I could hear my guards calling Kyiv and asking for a jail-van to be sent for me. As it was Sunday there was no van. Just fancy how excited I was! I kept repeating all the prayers I knew to calm myself down. Finally the van arrived. I was taken to Lukyanivka, but Lukyanivka won’t take me in. “He is not our charge. Take him to KGB”. They took me to the KGB premises in Volodymyrska street. They always welcome guests like me there! I even recognized a familiar face of a militiaman. They told me I would spend the night and be sent to Zhytomir the next day. They ordered me to take only toiletries to the cell. I was so reluctant to go back to the calaboose... And my convoy does not want to stay in Kyiv either, they would be happy to deliver me to Zhytomir and go back to Perm. God heard my prayers: in the end they found another van and took me to Zhytomir. We arrived shortly after lunchtime. They brought me there and gave a package to the local officer. When opened the package revealed the paper with the words “Upon receipt of this [the subject] is free”. I asked on what grounds. The Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR on granting pardon of August 12. “Granting pardon!” Lo and behold: they “pardoned” us! We are inveterate criminals and they showed mercy!
Indeed, we were taken out of the zone on August 12. So we had to be released the same day. But the relevant papers had not arrived from Moscow. But it’s your problems: I have a trump card. I asked them about the pardon. I had not filed a petition to be pardoned. I demanded release and restoration of my rights. “For good work and conduct which shows improvement”. Here you go! As if before imprisonment I used to be an idler and a hooligan…
The KGB official suggested I leave my belongings there (i.e. my books and papers), the next day, supposedly, they would be taken to my place. Today, he said, is Sunday, so there is no one to check them. No, said I, I do not trust you. I am going nowhere without my stuff. I will sit down at the jail’s wall and keep sitting there till I have my things returned to me. The KGB man looked through some books himself and let me go without taking anything away. Well, when they gave me the black garment, worn in the strict regime camps, I felt sorry for my striped hide. I always dragged my jacket along, and it helped a lot in the cells. A prisoner without a jacket is like a soldier without a machine-gun.
They asked me if I had any money. I told them I did – on my account, but where was that account? The KGB man gave me one rouble with some small change for a ticket to Radomyshl.
So I was released. Can you understand what it meant? Within less than 24 hours you are suddenly set free! I started walking towards the bus station, with my backpack weighing almost 50 kg. It is not very far to walk. But the KGB man took mercy on me and sent someone there to get my ticket. He also gave me ten more roubles. I did not want to take it but it had turned out for the better I did. I arrived in Radomyshl around 8 pm, when no transportation to Stavky was available. I used the ten roubles to take a taxi-cab, which took me right to my door. My goodness, I could not recognize my own street! I remembered a bare road – and now it had some two-storey buildings on both sides. There used to be a hop plantation right there – now it was just a field. And my willows have grown so tall! Here is the gate made by me, but the huge bush of the guelder-rose was not here before. Yes, it was, planted by me in spring 1977. Everything was bright, shining, wholesome, strong and gorgeous! I have not been here for nine years and a half!
About half past eight I was already at home, alone with my mother… Last night I still was on a plank bed in Perm jai – and here I am “Out of darkness, stench and prison…” in Taras’ words. Less than in 24 hours I’ve made a journey to heaven…It was a real God’s miracle.
B.Zakharov: What was your activity like after you were released from the camp, under independence? What is your attitude towards the new Ukraine, your forecasts for the future?
V.Ovsiyenko: Within the next 24 hours I almost came around (adjusted myself, as they say these days), and on August 23 went to Kyiv to see my sister Nadia and my niece Lyuda. At “Darnytsya” metro station I met Mykola Horbal’s wife Olha Stokotelna and asked her where I should go. She was very excited, because KGB officials told her that her husband would arrive shortly. They brought him to his wife’s apartment in Borshchahivka in the late evening of August 23, in his striped clothes, jacket included. And I, on Olha’s advice, for the first time attended the meeting of the Ukrainian Cultural Studies Club, at D.Fedoriv’s place, # 10, Olehivska street. The Club convened in the orchard and counted about 50-70 persons. Many people, whose names I would not even try to remember, greeted me there. Probably, former political prisoners Oles’ Shevchenko, Vitaly Shevchenko, S.Naboka, K.Semenyuk, V.Gurdzan, O. Heyko, L.Milyavsky were among the guests.
During my next visit, on September 3, I had my first public, although informal presentation. It was the eve of the Yu.Lytvyn’s and V.Stus’ death anniversary – they died on the same date, a year apart from each other. Lytvyn died in 1984, and Stus - in 1985. So I talked about them, recited Stus’ poetry from memory. Yu. Badzio’s wife S.Kyrychenko – her husband was still in exile - said my recital reminded her of Stus’ way of reciting his own poetry. True, I was imitating him, to a certain extent, because I have seen and heard him reciting. Even now it annoys me to hear professional performers read his verses with wrong stresses. P.Borsuk asked me to copy and send him the verses for his daughters to memorize. A very colorful team was present that evening: Ya.Danyleyko and T.Kompaniychenko. The boys were around 19 at the time; they were wearing folk costumes, so beautiful, and they sang to bandura accompaniment. They also addressed each other by formal “You”. My God, how handsome our people are, how wonderful the Ukrainian world. And in jail the grey color only prevailed…
In Kyiv they raised about 300 roubles for me, so I could buy some clothes. Some more arrived in a parcel sent by the Ukrainian Diaspora. So I had money to pay for my trip to Donetsk region to visit my sister Lyuba and my brothers Anatoliy and Mykola. And also to go to Lviv. For three days I stayed at Chornovil’s place, in Levitan street. But the host did not stay at home, he was constantly traveling. No one had time to spare for me – I was just shown the right direction and off I would go and explore “the unknown Lviv” (V.Symonenko). In Lviv people make their way between cars like between sheep. I found the Art gallery and listened to the brilliant explanation provided by B.Horyn’.
Prior to that, I had visited D.Mazur’s parents in Huta-Lohanivska, Malyn raion, Zhytomir oblast’. I learnt that after 6 years of Mordovian camps Dmytro was sent to Buryatia. There he was severely beaten and threatened to be thrown off the 4th floor balcony by some komsomol activist. Under the circumstances Dmytro had nothing to do but run away from exile. He hid in his own village; his mother used to bring his food to the forest. But when the fall came he went to hide at a friend’s place in Korostyshev – that’s where he was caught. Got a year in jail. Now he was serving his term for the second escape. He was kept in a cell with the prisoners with TB and jaundice, and, naturally, got infected. Now he was perishing. Actually I came to Lviv to organize Dmytro’s rescue. The Task Force for the defense of the Ukrainian political prisoners was already operating there. It was set up by Mykhailo Horyn’. Mykhayio said to me:” As you happen to know more than anyone else about Mazur, go ahead and write a telegram to Gorbachev. Then send it on behalf of the whole Task Force. And we will disseminate it”. I t was a long telegram, the whole page long, it was even sent in hand-written copy. “Liberty” radio station started talking about Mazur. Evidently it worked: Gorbachev “pardoned” D.Mazur, L.Lukyanenko and Yu.Badzio in the Decree of December 8, 1988.
Dmytro returned totally exhausted; for a long time he used to have severe head-aches. He even did not remember meeting me on a forest road not far from his village. In several years he got better with the help of alternative popular medicine. But his mother was diagnosed with cancer and died in early 1990. His father was disabled. Due to excessive weight he could not even cross the room unassisted. So he had to take care of him for another year. The time other political prisoners, me including, used to find their place in the new society, was lost. And D. Mazur is very gifted and wise man. Till now he is leading lonely life in Huta-Lohanivska, but he is optimistic as ever. He keeps poultry and cow. Coming to Kyiv he would bring milk and eggs to feed the whole URP secretariat. Or he would gather blue-berries and mushrooms, or hunt down a doe. He would have made a good leader of a political organization. (Now Dmytro no longer keeps a cow, but visits me as often as before).
Meanwhile I visited my bosom friend from Mordovian times Z.Popadyuk in Sambir. He lived in a spacious family house at 12, Rivna street. He worked loading bakery delivering trucks. He was released in February 1987, after serving a14-year term, and married his Oksana! The same Oksana he used to tell me about in Mordovia in 1974: “She will wait for me”. I was skeptical: Zoryan then had 7 more years of imprisonment and 5 more years of exile to go. Oksana, in fact, had married someone else, had a son, but once she saw Zoryan… In a word, it is a very romantic story which resulted in two great kids: Lyubomir, born in 1988 and Iryna, born in 1989. I know a number of very devoted couples and I admire them, because I am single. One of such wonderful couples are the Popadyuks. Zoryan eventually held the offices of the mayor, head of the city executive committee, President’s representative in Sambir raion, head of Stary Sambir state administration. The power, however, has not spoilt his honest soul. His mother Lyubomyra Popadyuk was a renowned member of resistance movement. She died in 1984, leaving behind two elderly ladies, with no one but Oksana and Zoryan to take care of them. Otherwise Zoryan, talented as he is, would have held the highest offices in the country.
In Zhytomir region I was the only member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. The Group resumed its operation in late 1987, and on July 7, 1988, at a rally in Lviv, made public its new documents as the Ukrainian Helsinki Union. Its program and statute provisions were devised by the Horyn’ brothers and Chornovil. Every month I was invited to the UHU Coordination Council meetings. The Council authorized me to set up the Zhytomir branch of the Union. But I had to find at least ten members to that end. Whom should I approach? I knew there were two appropriate persons in Zhytomir: A.Shevchuk and Ye.Kontsevych. The former was a political prisoner who had been convicted in 1965, while the latter had not been put to jail only due to his disabilitiy that he had had since the age of 17. I knew Anatoliy’s “address” from his brother Valeriy’s writings: the Shevchuks used to live near the place where the Kamyanka river flows into the Teteriv. I went there and made my inquiries. It turned out to be in Chudnivsky lane. Anatoliy received me without a shade of suspicion: jail-birds of feather flock together. He told me about “Civic front for promoting perestroika” operating in Zhytomir. It was headed by Ya.Zaiko, a Belorussian, a journalist. Two economists, V.Melnychuk and O.Suhonyanko were active members. But it was another journalist, A.Yaroshynska, who enjoyed the greatest popularity. They address social issues, avoiding national question. Though Russian speakers, they were people of progressive thinking. They bring together a lot of active people, and it is in this milieu that I had to recruit potential UHU members.
But first of all I asked A.Shevchuk to take me to Ye.Kontsevych’s place, as it used to be the hub of Ukrainian spirit in Zhytomir. Since then I became friends with Yevhen and his wife Maya. Every year, on May 5, which is Yevhen’s birthday,( he was born in 1934), I do my best to come along and bring other people with me.
In Zhytomir I was given the names of the young journalists: V.Vrublevsky, V.Danylenko, S.Vasylchuk, M.Syrorzhevsky. I also visited Ya.Zaiko. He met me at his home, not far from the bus station, all buried in papers. It turned out he spoke quite fluent Ukrainian. But the members of the “Front” were penning their leaflets in Russian, thus contributing to the further “Russification” of the region. Eventually Zaiko started publishing the “Holos hromadyanyna” [The voice of the citizen – Ukr.] newspaper, predominantly in Ukrainian. The names of doctor V.Ivasyuk and A.Malyarenko also came to my knowledge. During my following visits I made my acquaintance with these people. Ivasyuk and Malayarenko would even come to Kyiv to attend the meetings of the UHU and of the Ukrainian Cultural Studies Club. Nevertheless, in the course of winter we failed to find ten persons we needed to set up the Zhytomir branch.
The spring of 1989 came. At the UHU meeting V.Kolosivsky from Zhytomir spoke up! I was happy to have found such a nice and smart boy. He was a captain who had abandoned his military career and returned from Moscow to stay with his mom. He had been transferred to Moscow from Chornobyl right after the disaster. There he met A. Dotsenko, whose broadcasts we used to listen to on “Liberty’ station, both in Russian and in Ukrainian. It was Valery who succeeded in bringing together 11 persons within several following months. On July 16, 1989 we held the constituent meeting of the Zhytomir branch of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union. M.Horbal’, the then executive secretary of the UHU, came from Kyiv to attend it. I was elected the head of the branch, with Valery as my deputy. To tell the truth, it was V.Kolosivsky who actually headed the branch. As opposed to me he had the talent of an organizer and lived right downtown, while my residence was in the village, about 80 km away.
It should be kept in mind that my mother had 6 hundred square meters of vegetable garden and some poultry (we did not have a cow by that time). It is hard every day chores. And my mother was used to doing things proper way. So I had to do everything as best as I could, as mom would order. What a huge amount of soil a peasant has to turn over! Fortunately, my sister Nadia with husband Leonid used to come from Kyiv to give a helping hand.
Three months after my release I had to start working in kolkhoz. Once again I was given the job of artistic designer. However, almost every weekend I used to go places – either to Kyiv or to Zhytomir. It was hard, but I could not relocate since I loathed leaving my mother alone. By the way, even before the school-year started I hurried up to submit a formal application to Radomyshl education board to be reinstated as a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature, according to my training. I took my application right to the board head. His name, if I remember right, was Petrovsky. “How can we trust you with up-bringing of our kids, if you called for massacring and hanging communists?” I was considerate enough to take my two last verdicts with me, so I challenged him to find respective charges in them. The head of the education board found nothing of the kind in the verdicts. So he told me he had no vacancies left and I had no place for me at the raion schools.
The next school-year, 1989/1990, a vacancy presented itself in my own village: the female teacher of Ukrainian took her maternity leave. I applied once again, but her classes were given over to the Russian language teacher. For some time he had held the office of the village council head, but then came back to school to bring up kids in the spirit of communism. While I had to remain the kolkhoz “painter” making shop signs, the lists of socialist commitments, the yields of milk, field tags, car plates… The party organizer I.Ovsiyenko used to be my direct supervisor. The times have changed, so the kolkhoz head O.Bilozersky and the party organizer would put less pressure on me, because no one put themselves under pressure.
So I, willy-nilly, became very active in my operation. But not in my own village, as I had no one to work with. After having lived in Stavky for a year and a half I could not bring together even three persons to set up a local branch of the Ukrainian language Society, let alone Popular Movement or UHU. My fellow villagers would approach me when drunk, but avoid me when sober. So why would one need a drunkards’ society? For having another drink, apparently. And I abstained from drinking on principle. I tried thus to set example for my brother so that he would quit drinking. But all my efforts were in vain…
A propos, my Zhytomir friends wished to come to celebrate my 40th anniversary on April 8,1989. I warned them there would be no alcoholic beverages served. They came in a small buss. The Vasylchuks, the Kharchuks, Kolosivsky were among the guests. We marched from the village office carrying a banner. The celebration indeed was non-alcoholic (though some people would procure something from under the table, but I pretended not to notice). Everyone enjoyed the celebration, but the next year no one came. Anyway, I never celebrate my birthdays as they coincide with the Lent.
Almost every Saturday I would go either to Kyiv or to Zhytomir: I was invited to UHU, UCSC, ULS, to the rallies. I did my best for my trips not to interfere with my working schedule in kolkhoz. I used to carry a knife and a flash-light on me at all times. I cannot say I was not afraid to walk home from Radomyshl in darkness, but I did it anyway. Sometimes I would sing aloud to chase my fear away. And when I heard a car approaching, I would hide behind tree trunks. I knew I had to be cautious: while other people would give a wide berth of two-meters to a car, I would give four meters.
Once in early spring I took the last bus from Zhytomir, leaving at 9.00 pm. I had it in mind to get off in the woods facing my village. That would mean walking only 7 km instead of 10 km from Radomyshl. Upon approaching the Teteriv river I was amazed to see it overflowing with black water! The ice was up and on the verge of breaking! I had to walk several meters to reach the dam. I preferred to walk back to the road, and then, to cross the bridge from Radomyshl. I did not hail the rare night cars passing by, but, on the contrary, I hid from them. I was a brisk walker. That night I covered about 28 km to arrive home at around 5.00 am. I knocked on the window at my mother’s bedside. My mother recognized my knocking. It might have been inclement with respect to my mother, but the times being tumultuous, I could not stop…At 9.00 am I reported to work. Although I was no good at working, as my legs hurt for another week.
I failed to become popular with the villagers. The majority of them did not care either way, and even those sympathizing with me were in no hurry to make their feeling known, just in case: the time was unstable. The inertia of fear takes long time to die. For 15 previous years I’ve been a “boogaboo” for these people!
Here are some telling occurrences, which happened when I lived in Kyiv already. The oil crisis has just broken out, Russia had closed the tap, and there was no fuel, so the regular buses would not go to the villages. I was walking from Radomyshl to my mother’s place. Suddenly I hear a villager from behind his fence: “So you have to walk on foot in independent Ukraine, don’t you?” – “I am better off walking on foot wherever I please, than being taken in a police van, where I don’t want to go”.
Another envious man heard I was restored in my rights: “Look at him, he got the compensation!” -“There are people who would envy even my fate”, as Shevchenko said. Why wouldn’t you go behind the bars to be recompensed later? And I remember reading that “Law on restoring the rights” of April 17, 1991, riding in a street-car. Sure thing, I was happy. But as soon as I reached the clause on the compensation amount, I felt so bitter, that I decided not to claim it. What could I buy for that amount of money at that time? A portable Yugoslav typewriter “UNIS”. And it was the price of 13 and half years in jail! The law said that the compensation should have been claimed within the next 5 years. I thought that I might receive it if I fall ill or have any other emergency. But time has passed and I lost it. On the other hand, since about 1992 I have a card certifying that I have been restored in my rights, which entitles me to free rides in municipal transport and suburban trains. It is not a slight matter for me, given current price rates. By the way, I myself never applied to be restored in my rights, because that would have implied that I had served my term without any grounds that I had been merely a terror victim. No, I did do something to bring the Empire of Evil to its downfall, and it appreciated my efforts. Although it seemed to overestimate me, but it would know better, of course.
Since 1994, when my sympathizers bought this apartment for me, I have been paying but a half of the communal services cost. It is also a significant saving, considering my earnings. At that time I was the URP secretary. Together with P.Rozumny we examined 5 apartments. Finally I said to Mykhailo Horyn’: “ May be it would be possible to buy a one-room apartment, so that I could live in it as long as I am the secretary?” Horyn’ made a mental note of it, and managed to raise some money during his visit to the US. I.Kolyaska was most instrumental in this money collection. You know, he used to be a Canadian communist, born on October 5, 1915 in Canada. His family comes from Bukovyna. Around 1963-64 he was sent to Kyiv to attend the Higher Party School under the CC of the CPSUkr. He had a chance to become the leader of the communist party of Canada. But once he came here, he saw what communism was like with his own eyes…He became close with B.Antonenko-Davydovych, I.Dzyuba and I.Svitlychny. He started collecting samizdat publications, materials addressing the Russification of Ukraine. Just fancy: he would put samizdat texts between book covers, having some experience in book-binding, and he would send these books out with the help of the Society for Cultural Relations with Ukrainians abroad! Through KGB, in fact! He was arrested, held in custody for several months and then deported. On the way to Boryspil airport, his guards told him: ”Behold the Dnipro river, Ivan Vasylyovych. You will never see it again”. I.Kolyaska has written a book about colonial policy implemented in Ukraine titled “Education in Ukraine” (published in both Ukrainian and English languages). He made a tour of the whole Canada and half of the US territory and brought about the downfall of both Canadian and partly, the US communist parties. And he was among the first to come to Ukraine right on the day of August 19, 1991, when the coup occurred. He helped the URP a lot: raised money for the purchase of 50 typewriters, voice recorders, brought us our first computer. He was not rich himself but was good at fund-raising, enjoying the trust of Ukrainians. It was he, God bless his soul, who raised money for my apartment. He died on October 21, 1997. He spent his last year at L.Lukyanenko’s place at Khotiv and was buried there. (See obituary in “Narodna gazeta” № 44 (325).
Let me tell you here how Ivan Vasylyovych (he did not like being addressed as “pan” [“sir” –Ukr.] ) campaigned for the secretary general of the Canadian communist party William Kashtan ( a Jew from Stryi) when the latter ran for senate. According to his words, he visited each and every voter in his constituency. So his electorate voted predominantly for Kashtan. In the whole electoral district, however, he collected the least amount of votes. The majority of votes were given to the candidate whose program read: “As soon as I get in, I’ll resign”, i.e. hand back the mandate. He said his office was in the local pub, second table on the right. See, communist parties abroad were all supported by the USSR, as agents of the CPSU/KGB.
Getting back to my apartment – it was bought in my name. I told Horyn’ I’d rather write a receipt. “No way. It was for you that I raised the money”. And he was right, because when in 1996 I was expelled from the URP, they would have taken the apartment away. The way it is I have at least, the roof over my head. In fact it serves as a transit flat for the former political prisoners. When they come to Kyiv they lodge at my place. “No kids crying, no wife to chastise me, quiet as in paradise. God’s grace everywhere, in my soul and in my abode…” (T.Shevchenko).
But let’s get back to spring 1989. The elections to the Supreme Council of the USSR were in the offing. The new head of the Ukr.SSR KGB Halushko, I remember it for sure, was nominated the candidate from our electoral district. He had been recently brought from Kazakhstan to Kyiv, like a cat in the sack. And he was running for an office to represent us in the Supreme Council! I found out that the candidate was coming to our village to meet the voters at the animal farm. I took my bike and rode there. Naturally the bosses were not happy to see me. Halushko was saying the usual soviet stuff. The milkmaids, certainly, had no questions to ask him. I, though, did have some questions in store for him: could he imagine running for minister’s or deputy’s office in France not speaking the French language? Could he even consider becoming a bus driver there? Does he have an intention to work for the revision of the former political prisoners’ cases? And how should the fabricators of criminal cases, specifically, my case, be dealt with? Is he aware that in 1933 346 people starved to death in our village with fewer people – 220 – perishing in the war? I was tried and convicted for revealing these facts, but what’s to be done to those who took away the villagers’ grain and organized the famine? Halushko gave civil, but vague answers. I would have asked more, but a party-committed maid hissed at me. Sure, Halushko made it to the parliament, and after the independence had been declared, he plundered the archives of the Ukrainian KGB and escaped to Moscow. So Moscow knows about us all it needs to know.
In Zhytomir the journalist A.Yaroshynska was nominated as a candidate to the Supreme Council of the USSR from the CFSP through production teams. Unwilling to vote either “for” or “against” Halushko, I took an absentee ballot and went to Zhytomir to vote for Yaroshynska. She triumphed over “Kavun champions” with flying colors (V.Kavun was the first secretary of the CPUkr.) She won the voters over with her social program: expropriated the criminals and redistribute the goods among people. At the time she disclosed the party bosses’ abuses in distributing public housing. But as soon as Yaroshynska embraced the office, the Union collapsed. Alla threatened to come back from Moscow as president of Ukraine. “Only on the Russian tanks”, - I commented. Instead she became Yeltsin’s advisor in Russia and never returned to Zhytomir. May be for her it’s ubi bene ibi patria. The Zhytomir residents were deeply disappointed, while her decision had far reaching consequences. “There is not much to choose between all of them”…
In April 1989 I went to Estonia together with L.Lukyanenko and Ye.Pronyuk to attend the Meeting of the Democratic and National Liberation movements of the USSR nations. I told my supervisors at the kolkhoz that I was going and that was the end of it. You can fire me if you will. The bosses did not allow me to go, but did not discipline me either. In Loodi we, the UHU, were severely criticized by H. Prykhod’ko and V.Sichko for the clause “on confederation” in our program. They were right, of course, but at the time it was considered that any radical moves could rebuff the intimidated public. It would remain a petty “extremist” group. So, the UHU started campaigning directly for the independence since September 1989, when it had already set its branches in all oblast’s and numbered about two thousand members.
Some time in June or July 1989 I was summoned to Kyiv by Mykhailo Horyn’. At the time the idea of bringing the remains of V.Stus, Yu.Lytvyn and O.Tykhy back to Ukraine from the Urals was in the air. So Horyn’ invited people to the first meeting at I.Bondar’s place. (I.Bondar is no longer alive). The meeting was attended by D.Stus and D.Korchynsky. This latter suggested turning the funeral into a political event. Stus’ family opposed the idea. “Don’t forget Stus has got a son”. – “Too bad”, Korchynsky retorted. At that point Horyn’ rose from the table, leaning on it, and snapped at Korchynsky! The culprit bolted out of the room. That was my first encounter with that notorious provocateur and scoundrel.
I was the only former political prisoner from Kuchyno to go to the Urals both with the first and the second missions. These trips received more detailed treatment in my essay about V.Stus. During the first expedition led by the movie director S.Chernylevsky (my university fellow student and mate) we visited the settlement of Kuchyno on August 31, 1989. First we filmed the zone and on September, 1 the burial ground, where Vasyl and Yuriy have been buried. That time we were not allowed the exhumation on the pretext that sanitary and epidemic situation was unfavorable. We had received a cable to that effect. Obviously it was a lie, but we managed to do our research. Eventually our footage was used in the film "The candle black of road shining bright”. After we left the KGB gang bore upon the camp, destroyed the preventive zone, tore out windows and doors, locks and bars. Our footage became even more precious. Starting 1993 Perm’ “Memorial” society has been reconstructing the wooden structure, using it. They are setting up the Museum of political reprisals and totalitarianism “Perm-36”. It will be a site of world significance. Fortunately there are people there who grasped the importance of the place – the last remaining political camp with special regime. They are really dedicated to their mission. The structure, regrettably, did not survive: it burnt down on September 22, 2003. (See my article “Kuchyno museum – the conscience of Russia”).
I collaborate with Perm “Memorial”. I have visited Kuchyno twice already – in September of 1995 and 1996 (I have also visited it twice in 1999 and 2000. I am a board member of the Museum.) They organize annual conferences on the issues of totalitarianism, reprisals history and human rights. The Museum has been inaugurated already, which is a good thing. They are talking about the “hand of Moscow” in Ukraine, so I believe this Museum is the “hand of Ukraine” in Russia, aimed at raising the awareness of Russians. It will take about two hundred years to make good neighbors of them. Then we will coexist as good neighbors.
In spring 1990 I.Sokulsky and I went to Armenia, but the Meeting of democratic and national liberation movements of the USSR nations never happened due to the complicated political situation. It turned out that the Armenians had sent us a note advising not to come, but we never received it. Nevertheless, we were accorded a warm reception, we met our former jail-mates A.Navsardyan, A.Arshakyan and R.Markosyan. We spent the night at the military headquarters, surrounded by armed men. Guys armed with machine-guns and grenades took us for a sight-seeing tour of Yerevan in a jeep. Not a single militiaman dared to stop them, despite the fact that they were driving disregarding any rules. The Parliament building was also encircled by the armed men. They were getting ready either to defend or to storm it. I could not tell for sure.
It’s a pity I kept no diary at the time, because I was still cautious of KGB. One of theirs came to see me in Zhytomir. He was a tall man, whose name slips my memory. It sounded something like Khoroshkovsky. Once he came during the lunch-time and scared my mother. Next time he met me in the field near the grove. I was riding my bicycle when he stepped out of his car and offered going into the forest “to gather mushrooms”. Cautious as I was, I had no fear of being kidnapped or murdered. And I did not want to aggravate my relations with KGB. Sure enough, I did not express any joy at seeing him. On the contrary, I demonstrated my discontent: “Will you ever leave me at peace!” Still I did not refuse point blank to talk to them, although I tried to make the conversations as curt as possible. KGB officials were very concerned at the time about “extremists” within the informal groups. This man tried cajoling me: “We know you to be of moderate persuasions, while so-and-so…” I responded I was always guided by the jail rule: “know no other names but your own”. Although the KGB guy asked me not to mention these meetings to anyone, I deemed it necessary to divulge this information to L.Lukyanenko, lest someone suspects me of collaboration. Levko responded calmly: why would I, with my record in camps, suddenly break down, being free?
Indeed, we sensed that more courageous people stuck with us, former political prisoners, the way we were revered, the way fear was subsiding, the way enthusiasm among public was on the rise, the way critical mass was accumulating for the decisive attack. We could not give in, with the eyes of the people on us. I made speeches at the meetings of the Ukrainian Language Society in Zhytomir, of Polish and Jewish Communities ( Jews were especially taken in by my mentioning the “hijackers” and M.Kheyfets who used to be my cell-mates); I talked about V.Stus in the libraries, in the oblast’ branch of the Writers’ Union, at the rallies. I was extremely critical in my speech at the CFSP constituent meeting. This speech was read on “Liberty” program by Nadia Svitlychna. However, I was never drawn to “extremism”. Later, together with V.Vasylchuk and O.Igamberdyev (we were nominated as candidates to the Supreme Rada of the Ukr.SSR from three Zhyromir constituencies) we even had to restrain some CFSP members, who called for storming the oblast’ party committee.
In winter 1989-90 in Zhytomir rumors had it that the pogroms were planned by the extremists. We made arm bands, went to militia precincts and declared that we were going to patrol the city together with them.
What great people joined the Zhytomir UHU branch! I still love them all: V.Kolosivsk, A.Tymoshenko, O.Zazymko (who died in a motor accident later), I.Lukyanchuk, Ya.Honchar, O.Batanov, O.Tsyhanok, O.Pryshchepa, Natalia and Oleksandr Kharchuk, I.Lavrynenko, O.Nessen, Yu.Balaban…A gifted youth, 10th grader M.Bannykov joined us and was admitted before he was 16. Minors S.Sukhachov and Ye.Naumov (Somehow in Zhyromir the most die-hard “Ukrainian nationalists bore Russian last names) joined us too. We did not engage them into “criminal activities”, they were longing for action themselves. S.Sukhachov used to brag that the airplanes and ships were the only objects on which he had not stuck the leaflets, for the former were flying too high, and the latter were not to be found in Zhytomir. М. Bannykov edited a very funny newspaper “Polisska Sich” single-handedly in the number of 50 copies. Once he came with me to Radomyshl to talk to vocational school students. I kept wondering how such a young person could be so knowledgeable and use his knowledge to such good purpose. I recommended him as a delegate to the constituent convention of the UHU and he even took the floor there requesting that the membership age should be reduced from 18 to 16.
At the time of March 1990 election, the Zhyromir UHU branch numbered 28 members, with 18 of them residing in Zhytomir. So we took part in the elections to the Supreme Rada of the Ukr.SSR. True, the “informal” UHU could not be election subject – we were nominated under the auspices of the already registered Ukrainian Language Society. Everyone was of the opinion that I had to be nominated. I was a bit scared, like a Gipsy in the kolkhoz. I would rather spend my time in the library, behind the stack of books, or deliver a lecture to the students…
I was nominated by the Ukrainian language society and two production teams, one of the “Vulkan” plant and another one. At “Vulkan” meeting I had to compete with the young communist V.Kravchenko – and we won. To tell the truth the most profound points of my speech were prompted to me by D.Mazur – what a wise man! He knows the people’s needs from the inside.
The electoral commission procrastinated with registering me as a candidate. I went to the Central Election Commission, and with D.Pavlychko’s help we made them register me on the last days. Sure we lost a lot of time. Probably my short biography and verdicts were the most convincing documents. A repeated offender to be elected to the Supreme Rada! (At that time I was not exonerated yet.) It was intriguing. Besides V.Kolosivsky, we have appointed professor V.Hornostay and the activist of the Jewish society J.Koretsky as my representatives. At the meetings with the electorate I felt more and more confident. We were aware that we won’t win, but our goal was broad campaigning for the democratization of the society and for independence. We did it. We hoisted the blue and yellow flag in Zhytomir: the city council was the first to have it hoisted on this side of Zbruch river. We even preceded Kyiv in that.
January 21, 1990 came, with its “chain of unity”. In Zhytomir I headed the organizational committee. We managed to involve the whole city in the event. It is common knowledge that not all the organizations believed in the “chain’s” efficiency and stayed aside from the action. Even in the leadership of the PMU it took M.Horyn’ a lot of effort to persuade the pessimists. But when I.lLukyanchuk appeared in the Zhytomir streets in his car with two huge flags attached to it (he made the metal sockets himself), and myself reciting slogans through the loud-speaker – it was a triumph! People from Halychchyna came to join us. At “Spartak” stadium I met the rebels R.Semenyuk (28 years of imprisonment) and D.Synyak (20 years). Dmytro Synyak stood surrounded by the forest of banners crying. “Could I ever imagine that I would live long enough to see Zhytomir full of our flags? I used to fight in these woods with my military unit...”
We won 6.5 thousand votes at the elections and ranked the third among nine candidates. The first position was occupied by the economist O.Suhonyanko from the Civic Front, the second – by the first secretary of the local branch of the Communist Party M.Zhurba. In the second round Suhonyanko triumphed over the communists. In the course of the election campaign Suhonyanko became Ukrainian due to our influence, although he was starting this campaign in “common” language. Now he is one of the most prominent personalities in Ukraine.
So I was a member of the UHU Coordination Council and when the idea of transforming it into a political party came into being, I had no choice. L.Lukyanenko insisted that I should be one of the secretaries of the Ukrainian Republican Party and move to Kyiv. It was at the UHU constituent meeting on April, 29 – 30, 1990 that the majority of the delegates decided upon setting up the URP on the basis of UHU. The URP council convened during the lunch-break and sent V.Kolosivksy and me to the hall outside, so that the others could decide who of the two Zhytomir representatives would go to Kyiv. Neither of us wanted the office. He had his own plans for Zhytomir (to get married and start a farm in Levikiv village near Zhytomir), while I had no future in Stavky. I just did not want to leave my mother alone, but when I told her that she supported my decision: “Here in the village you will gain nothing. No one would give you even a school teacher’s position. Go where they want you.”
URP rented a one-room apartment for me and another party secretary P.Rozumny from Dnipropetrovsk region. We shared it. He was already alone, and I still a bachelor. I’ve never had a better “cell-mate”. He was also a former convict, a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. I held the office of the URP secretary till October 14, 1996, i.e. for 6 and a half years. I was primarily responsible for the publishing activity. We edited the URP Information bulletin, which was one of the first in Ukraine to be posted on the Internet. We also published the Secretariat circular almost on weekly basis and the newspaper “Samostiyna Ukraina” [Independent Ukraine – Ukr.] I edited all the materials of the URP congresses, of the council and secretariat meetings, preparing them for publication. A lot of brochures, useful at the time were edited by me and published. In particular, I compiled the brochures “Oksana Meshko, the Cossack’s mother”, “I testify” (her autobiography), “The heart warmed by goodness” (about I.Brovko), my small book “The light of people” (at my own cost, but using the URP printing equipment). URP at the time was a strong party with serious potential.
In November 1990 we restored the grave of 359 militants, shot by the Bolsheviks near the village of Bazar. It was the Zhytomir’s organization initiative. I was mugged there…No pains, no gains. I told about it in detail in the essay “The Bazar tragedy”.
In November 1991 the crosses and plaques with names were installed. It was on the eve of the December 1st Referendum. I represented the presidential candidate L.Lukyanenko. We worked 24 hours a day. Levko used to say: “You don’t need to elect me the President. But please vote for the independence” (See an essay “The fate of Ukraine – his fate”).
I am still considered the co-chair of the Ukrainian Committee “Helsiki-90”. As a matter of fact, after URP was formed on the basis of UHU, we remained without non-political human rights organization. So O. Meshko insisted that people who had been active in the Helsinki movement of the earlier period should set it up, preventing other people from doing that. The constituent meeting took place on June 19, 1990 – hence the name: the Ukrainian Committee “Helsiki-90” First V.Lisovy was elected as its chair, but later two more co-chairmen were added – Yu.Murashov and I. So I was responsible for these issues, too, but of late I have been negligent. I see that now the violations of human right have taken a different turn, so let other people, with adequate legal background, and deal with them.
I hold no office in all-Ukrainian society of the political prisoners and reprisals’ victims, but I do a lot for these organizations.
The unfortunate developments in the URP started as early as 1995, when on L.Lukyanenko’s motion, the leadership of the party was changed. That is, M.Horyn’ was removed. I saw the faults of the new party leadership headed by B.Yaroshynsky and O.Pavlyshyn, and now and then would criticize them - not so much for their activity as for their inertia. They did not like it. In particular, at the URP Council meeting on October 13, 1996 I criticized the leadership rather severely for its inaction, numerous violations of the Statute and Program. So the party discussion started. Naturally after the 7th congress which convened on December 14-15, 1996 I was not offered a single office in the party. I exposed the abuses in leadership elections, and was expelled from URP on February 19, 1997, in absentia. So it goes. And on March 15 M.Horyn’, Mykola Horbal’, M.Porovsky, B.Horyn’ and O.Shevchenko were also expelled. Earlier L.Horohivsky renounced his membership. So, only L.Lukyanenko and Ye.Pronyuk remained as founding members. Well, Pronyuk did not attend the meetings, but I can’t understand L.Lukyanenko voting for our expulsion. Well, it is another story.
V.Ovsiyenko. Svitlo lyudey. [The light of people –Ukr.] Memoirs and essays. In 2 volumes. V.1. Compiled by the author. Artistic designer B. Zakharov – Kharkiv. Human rights Group. K. Smoloskyp, 2005. – 352 с., photoill., pp. 120-128:
Since February 1, 1997 I have been working in “Memorial” named after V.Stus. This is a noble name. The “Memorial” head Les’ Tanyuk did not offer me any official position. We are preparing several books for publication, I am the editor. I see it expedient concentrating on this job – there is a lot to write, a lot to publish. I was not sorry to leave politics. In fact, I am no politician, I am philologist, and even in politics I used to work as such. I never intended to make my career in a party, governmental or political arena. It was just the call of the epoch – to go in for politics. I was “dragged” into politics by the KGB officials as a young man, so I kept going till now. But what I really wanted was the freedom of operation and the freedom of expression. If it had not been for the colonial oppression, I would have been a diligent scholar, or may be a teacher. But as long as the national issue is not resolved, it absorbs the whole potential of the nation. V.Lisovy told me so as early as 1969.
I fulfilled my political mission as best as I could. Some one else might have done better, but the fate has dealt this hand to me, with all my flaws and frailties. It is too late to get back to scholarship or teaching at my time of life. I lost the touch of things and my qualifications. But I insist firmly that we have already won the freedom of speech. I have a piece of advice for the blabbermouths: now you can enjoy the wind of freedom, just stand in the open and babble what you will.” And “no one would put you in shackles” (T.Shevchenko). If a newspaper does not want to publish you, start a newspaper of your own. You can’t have your book published? That’s another story: you have not got the money or the talent. Type it as we used to do. Now people are dumping their typewriters and getting computers. Now that I can have my say and write what I want, I’ll make use of that freedom. If I write something, I’ll find a way to have it published. And I’ll leave politics to other people who have the knack for it.
B.Zakharov: Would you care to provide a concise definition of the terms “shistdesyatniks” and “dissident”?
V.Ovsiyenko: Some young Ukrainian intellectuals started calling themselves “shistdesyatniks” in the late 60-s [ “shistdesyati” in Ukr.], but it was half-jokingly, by analogy with the Russian movement of the 60-s of the 19th century. This term became “official” name for the whole generation much later. Firs it was taken into inverted comas. I think this phenomenon refers to the epoch between 1956 and 1972, i.e. between the XX CPSU Congress, when Stalin’s cult was denounced, and the arrests of January 12 .
It was neither an underground movement, nor a structured organization. Everything happened due to the personal contacts. But by the late 60-s the infrastructure needed for the production and dissemination of samizdat books in fact was in place. The samizdat authors were cautious enough not to call for the change of the existing regime. But within the system the “shistdesyatniks” restored the social and psychological values of exterminated intelligentsia: natural self-respect, individualism, appreciation of common human values, unacceptability of injustice, respect for ethical norms, abiding with the law and legality. The moral and cultural spirit of this community was high; it was very responsive to the new ideas. It opposed both official totalitarian ideology and primitivism. It brought together people of different backgrounds and nationalities, who never treated one another as enemies: at the time everyone needed freedom, and the state sovereignty of Ukraine seemed the most probable guarantor of that freedom. For decades the rulers of the country were cultivating the faceless crowd and total fear, and suddenly an Individual – the core figure of the European culture – appeared on the stage. “Do you know you are a human being?” – asked V.Symonenko in early 60-s. The cultural demands of the Individual inevitably transformed into political anti-imperial movement, because the colonial oppression was the main agent guilty of devastating Ukrainian cultural authenticity. V.Symonenko’s poetry, probably, was the first reflection of this “coming of age” in terms of political demands: “My people live. And they will live forever. And no one will cross them off the page”. It was moral and ethical protest coming from brilliant cohort of the Individuals, by then capable of launching large-scale national-liberation movement. Colonial power to be was well aware of that. From that perspective they attacked the “shistdesyatniks” right on time...
The shistdesyatniks’ movement first manifested itself in literature, poetry, in particular. Even O.Dovzhenko’s “Diaries” (the author died in 1956) are considered within the framework of the movement. Also the first collections and selections of verses by L.Kostenko, V.Symonenko, M.Vynhranovsky, I.Drach, the first articles by I.Svitlychny, I.Dzyuba and Ye.Sverstyuk date back to late 50-s. By early 60-s this generation found its unique voice. 1962 can be defined as literary dissidence, breaking free from rigid norms. (“ The artist is not bound by the norms. He is the norm and law unto himself” (I.Drach). But the “shistdesyatniks” movement became utterly politicized. After the meeting between the Horyn’ brothers, I.Svitlychny, I.Dzyuba and I.Drach, which took place in Lviv in May 1962, the Lviv native Mykhailo Horyn’ organized the production and dissemination of samizdat political writings. For example, the “Collection of the rights of Ukriane” was published abroad and photocopied here. Same applies to the excerpts from I.Franko’s “What is progress?” criticizing Marxism. They were followed by publications not only of cultural, but also of political and economic nature. That’s how the political “shistdesyatniks” movement started.
Now, to the term “dissidence” imposed on us by the West. “Dissident” means “of different mode of thinking”. In other words, a critic or revisionist of the dominant ideology. “Renegade” is the correct definition of the one who abandoned his former comrades. But there were people who never adhered to the ruling ideology. They are not dissidents. They have their own ideology. Since people of different persuasions and opinions opposed the totalitarian occupation regime between 50-s and 80-s, I would call this movement “resistance”. This definition was proposed by V.Moroz, who titled one of his articles “The movement of resistance”.
No one defined oneself as dissident, but whoever you would speak to in that society, was discontent. Most likely those sharing official doctrine constituted the minority, while all the others were either dissidents or people with completely different view of the world. (The fact was noticed by H.Snegirev).
I can specify the most crucial moments. First, the arrests of August 25 – 26, 1965 and conviction of the “shistdesyatniks”: both Horyn’s, Hel, Zvarychevska, Osadchy, Zalyvakha, V. Moroz in Halychchyna, I.Rusyn, Ye.Kuznetsova in Kyiv, A.Shevchuk in Zhytomir, M. Masyutko in Kherson oblast’, S.Karavansky in Odessa and others.
The second wave came with the arrests of 1972. In fact, the “shistdesyatniks” movement was close to its end.
The third wave is related to the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, 1976 and the years that followed. It was a very significant phenomenon in our society. (For more details see the article “Human rights movement in Ukraine”)
The time line should begin with “perestroika”. As early as 1987 the Ukrainian Cultural Studies Club started operating in Kyiv. More or less at the same time the “Lion’s society” and “Lviv community” were set up in Lviv. On December 30, 1987 the resuming of the UHG operation was announced. On March 11, 1988 its membership list was made public. On July 7, 1988 the Declaration of the UHU principles was made public, as well as its Statute. The Union was growing rapidly and by the time of the constituent congress of April 29, 1990 counted 2300 members. It has become a political party. URP marked the beginning of the political pluralism in Ukraine. URP was the first political party in Ukraine to be officially registered. It happened on November 5, 1990. The Communist party of Ukraine had not been registered yet! We, the URP, were registered under No 1.
Obviously, many other political organizations came into being. They also played a significant role, especially Rukh [the Movement - Ukr.]. But Rukh in fact was also created by us, the UHU members. By the way it was the UHU that sent Mykhailo Horyn’ to be the head of the secretariat there. He was playing the leading role.
B.Zakharov: How would you define the samizdat role in the changes that occurred in the soviet society?
V. Ovsiyenko: Recently I heard from a computer specialist that even if the “shistdesyatniks” had not been distributing samizdat, the USSR would have collapsed anyway. Because the true information would have been disseminated by the Internet. And, in the way of justification, he added “I am not saying that they should not have done it”. So, the Empire of Evil was destroyed by Truth. The Truth versus Lies – an eternal confrontation. The number of people reading samizdat publications was not large. But the word of truth was spread by the “Liberty” and the “Voice of America” radio stations. The fact that samizdat authors acted openly without concealing their names, was of the greatest importance. At least, the names known to everyone were on the surface, with some underground activity underneath. Reserves, so to speak. The information on who and how produced samizdat books was kept secret. The human rights activists had a huge moral advantage entering the battle with the regime with their visors open. They were not clandestine guerilla fighters. Had they worked in the underground they would have been discovered, tried in secret and it would have no impact on society. I always underline the moral advantage of our movement.
In fact, I can give you an example. L.Lukyanenko was brought to Kyiv in 1969 for a “brain-washing”. General Hladush, the deputy head of the KGB, had a talk with him. First of all he expressed his regret that Lukyanenko had not been shot in 1961, and then he said: “Well, how numerous are you, the nationalists? May be fifty people in the whole Ukraine! And the rest of the Ukrainian people are building communism”. “That’s right – Lukyanenko retorted – may be, we are no more than fifty, indeed, in the whole Ukraine. But even if I stand alone as the last conscious Ukrainian, then Ukraine is still there”. So from that small group (as V.Stus nicely put it “We are few, just a handful of us, for the prayers and eternal wait”), from that “handful” a potent movement emerged! It was gaining momentum since 1987-89, when it still had but few activists! Mykhailo Horyn’ was dismissed from his office more dead than alive on August 2, 1987. V.Chornovil came to see him. “Mykhailo, in Moscow S.Hryhoryants is already editing the “Hlasnost” magazine. In Lithuania they have “Sajudis” already. It is high time for us to do the same. Let us renew the “Ukrainian bulletin”. – “Slavko, let me catch my breath first. Get someone else.” Chornovil tried to find someone else and got back to Horyn’. – “Can’t find anyone”. –“OK. Let us go ahead”.
And now, God be praised, the whole generation has grown up under the yellow and blue flag, and it cannot be so easily deceived. So, you see, we have the upper hand here. I am less pessimistic than many people that anticipated very rapid changes. When these changes did not occur quickly, they felt disappointed. But I know one thing: we, the Ukrainians were destroyed ruthlessly. This satanic selection started in 1917 and lasted till recent times. The best part of our nation has been destroyed. Instead all sorts of human trash were brought to Ukraine, aggressive and foul-mouthed. Now try to shape a new nation out of that admixture of people! Dozens of years are needed for the task! I understand the renaissance is occurring very slowly. Look at the 20-s – what a wonderful national renaissance happened then under very restricted freedom. But at that time the nation was Christian, morally healthy, if illiterate. The people got educated and the real outburst followed. Moscow was afraid lest we become its equals and annihilate the very idea of communism. So they drowned us in blood, murdered us with hunger. So, what are we to be reborn from? We are absolutely emaciated. We must bring up and educate the new generation. It will grow, eventually. The Holy Scripture refers to forty years – so we need at least that long to come out of the “Egyptian slavery”.
Another example. Prior to OUN and to the Ukrainian Rebel Army the “Prosvita” [Enlightenment – Ukr.] society had operated for 70 years. So we need to work that long too. There is enough work for the rest of our lives. And I try working in this direction.
B.Zakharov: Thank you very much.
P.S. Preparing this book for publication I amended this interview given in March 1997 with a lot of new materials, without disrupting the chronology. However, it would be a pity to omit some opinions and ideas expressed in the later interviews.
The collapse of the USSR and declaration of the Ukrainian independence became the most significant event of my life. Despite the irretrievable losses, I consider myself a happy man. Because dozens of generations before us were suffering under the yoke, the most prominent people sacrificed their lives to the cause of independence, but only our generation was blessed by God and granted a chance of free life after ages of humiliation. So we have some purpose. We are to obey the God’s will and fill Ukraine with the Ukrainian content. Let us not miss this chance. Because God has no patience with the idlers and deprives them of His mercy, according to M.Rudenko.
Being a single man, I do not have a lot to do in terms of my personal life. So all my time is devoted to the public cause, which I see in filling Ukraine with the Ukrainian content. My contribution is small, but some things might not have happened or would have happened differently without me. Let us say, revealing the truth about the Russian concentration camps of the years 70-s – 80-s in Mordovia and the Urals, or telling the life stories of V.Stus, Yu.Lytvyn, O.Tykhy, V.Marchenko, O.Meshko. Telling about Solovky and Sandarmokh. I intend to continue working in this area.
I am no more active in the human right movement per se, because I see that currently specialists in legal professions are required to do this job, and I do not have appropriate qualifications. I told a client once “Had you come to see me 20-30 years ago, I would have helped you – to end up in prison alongside with myself”.
I was not among the bright-eyed optimists at the time when Ukrainian independence was proclaimed. I was aware that we are a totally exhausted nation, devastated by the Russian occupants. For decades strangers were performing satanic selection on us, exterminating the best and bringing in people with totally different mentality. They cannot be driven out of Ukraine, so we have to live side by side with them. On the other hand, we cannot expect immigration to Ukraine, either from the East or the West. The current rulers of Ukraine do not want it. On the contrary, they make the most active people leave the country. We will have to work long and hard both for the national rebirth and for the transformation of the remains of soviet militarized economy into the national economy. The independence, however, brought hope that the Ukrainian component will prevail in Ukraine. That the Ukrainians will become the owners of the grain – the largest national resource. The history teaches us that whenever the Ukrainians had an opportunity of setting up their own state it has always been democratic, while other ethnicities have not been discriminated either.
(The Epoch of Princes, the Cossack state, the UPR, the program documents of the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council),. But using our weakness, the power in the country was usurped by the people not fully Ukrainian (there are people that are not fully human, and there are Ukrainians not fully Ukrainian), fascinated with Kremlin, or total strangers. They do not see Ukraine as their motherland, but only as a field for plundering and robbing. It happened because we are still “beheaded nation”; we do not have right leaders or proper national elite. Such leaders were impossible under the colonial regime: gifted people were brought up in the imperial tradition, and those who opposed it were destroyed. They are still being destroyed. And the place of elite is occupied by half-literate cads with the criminal background.
We lack positive clear-minded persons among our politicians. Now I know only one such person, that needs no “image-making” as the saying goes. It is V.Yushchenko. He is a born Ukrainian and a true Christian. This man would not trample on his own people. Because it is his own people and Ukraine for him is not a place for business, but something taken very close to heart.
Many people criticize Yushchenko. They would want him to parade on a horse in front of their sad toy army waiving his wooden sword and shouting “Down with…!” and “Long live!” But Yushchenko is aware that he has to lead the majority, not the extremists of the nation. The “old man of the Sich” I.Yukhnovsky described him quite aptly: “This man has not committed a single mistake yet”. In fact, had Yushchenko committed a mistake, he would be treaded down very quickly, both by the enemies and by the supporters. All the efforts to find some discrediting facts against him were doomed to failure, because such facts do not exist and no one would believe that Yushchenko had deviated from the moral code in anything. Those who are now, at the time of the elections, trying to find Yuschenko’s weak points and use them to sow the seeds of doubt as to his potential, are acting for the detriment of Ukraine. Now the whole “retinue” is to “play the king”. Yushchenko came out of the affair with his discharge from the prime-minister’s office with flying colors, having demonstrated the highest moral and political standards, while the retinue failed to bring one hundred thousand people to the Supreme Rada. Due to his name the opposition won the elections of 2002, but the retinue started falling apart, when it turned out that not only the businesses but also the whole lives should be sacrificed for the sake of Ukraine. The minority scared the weakest, bought the “majority adherents” and thus became the majority itself. In other words, they won the elections after elections. Several days ago the “not fully Ukrainians” have betrayed the Ukrainian cause again. And now the question is to gain Ukraine or lose it. Shall we “Rule, brothers, in our own domain” or keep weeding beetroots at someone else’s plantations? Let us rule. Because the process of Ukraine’s floating into the limbo of history has come to its end. Ukraine is gaining strength and is sure to triumph.
Right, I am not happy with the power. But I am even less happy with the ….people. They should be…replaced. I mean, the mentality of the “little Russians” should be replaced with the mentality of the Ukrainians. So that people would be their own bosses, while the power would be only regulating the relations between people instead of ruling their lives. It should consist of the conscious Ukrainians and not some strangers-newcomers. It should be clear: for all the people residing in Ukraine, including non-Ukrainians, the state with legal structure characteristic of Ukraine, will be the most efficient form of governance. Look at Russia. It is reversing to its natural authoritarian –monarchist rule. Russia and democracy are two concepts incompatible. It will take a very long time to make a good neighbor of Russia. That is why I advocate the everyday nationalism: so far everything Russian is potentially dangerous for us. Once Ukraine stands firmly on its own legs, we will treat everything Russian with equanimity, same as everything Chinese or French.
As to what I have been doing in recent years – see my “Bibliography”. The most important things are the publication by Kharkiv Human Rights Group of the documents and materials of the UHG, a booklet of autobiographies of the members of Rosokhata group “Boys from the burning furnace”. I also submitted the books “Three riots of the Sichkys” and “The Union of the Ukrainian Youths of Halychchyna” for publication. We need many such books about the former political prisoners. I have about a hundred and fifty stories. Let our truth become the truth of history.
While I’ve been Cossacking around at modern Zaporizhzhya Sich, my peers have become the doctors of sciences, members of the Writers’ Union, were awarded various prizes. They have also married the best girls and now have wonderful kids and grandkids. I am envious only of this latter part of their achievements: they ensured the continuity of their families. That’s what man’s happiness is about. And my life was spent in – pardon my lofty style- ensuring the continuity of the nation, which so far, has been very unlikely. You come out into the street, and, instead of the Ukrainian people you see “the Russian speaking population”. I am sorry to admit that, but they are strangers to me. This is the result of the mass deviation from the norm. I want the Ukrainians to return to their natural state, to the Ukrainian culture in the broad sense of this concept. If it had not been for that, I would have been involved in something else. I did not want to fight; I just wasn’t given any choice. There was no way to live in the USSR as Ukrainian. It is still difficult to live as Ukrainian. You should constantly fight for this right not only for yourself, but also for your compatriots. Stus used to say:” This is the destiny, and the destiny is not chosen. If you do not accept it, then it will choose you by force”. So far I keep my head on my shoulders in this ongoing struggle, and even can promote my truth in the society. But the best of us are gone…
After I was restored in my rights in 1991 I lost the only honorary title I’ve ever had – “especially dangerous repeated offender”. However, on January 12, 2000 I was granted V.Stus Award to recompense me for my losses.
I thank God for allowing me to meet the best personalities of my time. I love them, and, I hope, they love me. Some love me from the better world already. I do not feel hatred towards anyone. Only sorrow and love.
February 5, 2004.
Овсієнко Василь Світло людей: Мемуари та публіцистика. У 2 кн. – Кн. І / Упорядкував В. В. Овсієнко; Худож.оформлювач Б.Є.Захаров. – 2-ге видання, доп. Харків: Харківська правозахисна група; К.: Смолоскип, 2005. – 352 с., фотоіл. (Додатковий наклад, з виправленнями – Харків: Харківська правозахисна група; Права людини, 2007) – С. 6-128. (V. Ovsiyenko. Svitlo lyudey. [The light of people – Ukr.] Memoirs and essays. In 2 volumes. V.1. Compiled by the author. Artistic designer B. Zakharov – 2nd edition, amended. Kharkiv. Human Rights Group. K. Smoloskyp, 2005. – 352 p., photoill.(Additional copies, with amendments, Kharkiv. Human rights Group; Human Rights, 2007, pp. 6-128.