A kitten on a barb


30 years ago the heart of the legendary political prisoner and nationalist Mykhaylo Soroka stopped beating. His friend Mykhaylo Goryn recollects about him.

On 17 June Mykhaylo Goryn, the head of the Ukrainian Worldwide coordination council, will be 71. This outstanding human rights protector, politician and public figure continues to build and protect Ukraine. His destiny presented him not only many years in Soviet prisons and concentration camps, but also friendship with the main partisans of the national-liberating movement. One of them was Mykhaylo Soroka.

For the first time it was Polish authorities, who incarcerated Mykhaylo Soroka (1937-1939). In 1940, after the ‘brotherly unification’ of the Western Ukraine with the Soviet Union, he was exiled to Vorkuta. In 1949 he returned to Lviv for short two months. Then he was exiled to Kransnoyarsk territory, where he was later tried and condemned to the death penalty, which still later was exchanged for a 25-year imprisonment.

M. Soroka died thirty years ago – on 16 June 1971 in the distant Mordovia. It happened on the eve of Goryn’s birthday. And those victuals that Goryn procured for his birthday party were used at the funeral one.

In what follows we present an extract of the memories of M. Goryn, which tell us about the last days of the inflexible nationalist.

-- The first day in the concentration camp. We, myself and Mykhaylo Osadchiy, were convoyed somewhere. We so a man, who went in the opposite direction: the head was closely shaved, eyes were blue with red veins, very fatigue eyes. He went somewhat strangely, as if on artificial legs. He wore a vest and his torso looked like that of a bodybuilder. Later I learned that he was a gymnast of the European level...

When in summer of 1970 I returned from the Vladimir prison to the 17 thconcentration camp, we decided to celebrate the 100 thanniversary of birth of Lesia Ukrainka. Then it was still permitted to send books to colonies, so my brother Bogdan passed me a volume her poems. The scientific conference lasted for 10 days. I chose a unique topic: ‘A philosophy of defeatism in the works by Lesia Ukrainka’. Mykhaylo Soroka selected the stem report: ‘Life and creativity of Lesia Ukrainka’. He did it excellently!

I have one of his notebooks. One can see which were Soroka’s interests. Look, whim he quotes: Kuprin, Chernyshevskiy, Kipling, Shevchenko, Rylskiy. Young nationalists used to say then: ‘What, to read Rylskiy? But he is a communist dog!’. The spiritual world of this man was wide and rich. He was not a narrow-minded nationalist. There were both Kipling and Chernyshevskiy, but the quotations were, in the final count, aimed at the confirmation of the Ukrainian national idea.

We were very close friends. Every evening we strolled around our barrack and debated on the liberating movement. For several months we strolled, we talked, our souls blending together. By education he was an architect, he drew well and gifted pictures of various birds to my little daughter Oksana. I was thinking all the time: ‘If our resistance were headed by him, and not by Stepan (Bandera. – Editor’s note), then the resistance would be much more efficient. He would ennoble it by his personality. The spiritual level of the leader determines the spiritual level of all the movement’. Relations between people, the ethical level of these relations, nobleness of relations – may be either developing or trampled. I was enchanted with this man.

It should be said that many people in the colony did not know what to do after work, maybe to play chess. It was difficult to co-exist with them. But we, after coming from work threw ourselves at books: read, made notes, debated. These people, who did not know to what apply their intellect, got into brawls and similar ‘occupations’. Mykhaylo was not only the umpire in such conflicts, but also a teacher of normal human relations.

Mykhaylo Soroka sympathized with captives and tried to protect them from degrading. At nights I lectured him on the psychology of human relations, gave him books on physiology and psychology. On the basis of such literature he wrote an interesting brochure about the conflicts among prisoners. As far as I remember, Ivan Kandyba must have a copy. The brochure begins approximately in such a way: ‘I see a picture: a young man stripped to the waist is washing. His colleague, a political prisoner, is standing at his side. The former, excited with cool water in the hot weather, throws some water on his neighbor. The latter exploded. Why did he explode, why he did not see a joke? Why has he such a strained psyche? This is typical: a captive must behave so that no one would thin of aggression...’

In the colony it was forbidden to grow anything except flowers. Yet Mykhaylo planted lettuce and parsley in between. Sometimes we walked along flowerbeds, picking out edible plants and prepared a tin basin of salad. He invited all the Ukrainian community of the colony, about 50 men. We set around the table, ate the salad and talked.

Mykhaylo told that he already had a heart-stroke. Sometimes he showed us gymnastic tricks, to demonstrate what he could. At 60 he was fit as a flea.

On 16 June 1971 after the supper we again went for a walk. This was a path not longer than ten meters between the barrack and the barbed wire fence. It was our usual route. There was a sloping descent, and Mykhaylo told me to go ahead. I asked him what was the reason. He answered that for him it was somewhat difficult to go down the slope. I walked slowly and knew in which place he would catch up with me. But Mykhaylo did not catch up with me. I look behind and saw him bent. I helped him to lie down and ran for a male-nurse. The male-nurse refused to go to the sick, since he had some conflict with Mykhaylo. I was shocked: Mykhaylo was like father to me. I took a broom... Maybe Mykhaylo would die in the colony some other time, but this time his death was accelerated. The male-nurse, who knew nothing about medicine, said that must press on his chest for artificial respiration. There was a convict, Gavrilov by name, who had been a submarine captain, wrote a book and got 12 years for his literary inclinations. That Gavrilov sat down on Mykhaylo’s knees and began to do the artificial respiration. He took Mykhaylo’s wrists and put aside his arms for several times. Then a tear rolled on Mykhaylo’s cheek and he died. We promoted his death. If we did not disturb him, if we left him in peace and gave him some proper medicine, Mykhaylo would, may be, stay alive...

I am convinced that people anticipate their death. There was one Vasyl Pirus, an OUN soldier, a very strong, but somewhat rude man. On the same day I and Mykhaylo we walking along the path and we saw a little kitten hanging on the barbed wire, such a kitten as big as a mitten. It got on a barb and wounded its side, its blood was streaming. Mykhaylo cried out: ‘Look, blood, blood!’ Pirus reacted: ‘Let it be blood! Have not you seen blood?’ I sensed that something was wrong with Mykhaylo: he usually was a very quite man, but this time he exploded. That was the last day of his life...

When we brought Soroka to the medical aid room, Gryts Pryshliak (also from the OUN) took a volume by Shevchenko and read it like a psalm-book. We draw him away... Next day a coffin was brought, and Mykhaylo was brought to the coffin. We did not go to work, and nobody punished us for it.

Recorded by Vakhtang Kipiani and Vasyl Ovsienko

P.S. On the place, where Mykhaylo Soroka had died, Ukrainian convicts planted a dog rose and some flowers. One day it appeared that the bush had disappeared and the flowers had been trampled. It was made by the order of captain Zinenko, also a Ukrainian, who made hell of Chornovil’s and Stus’s lives. He ordered to some criminals to dig out the dog rose and to plant it in front of the administration building. In such a way the colony administration tried to erase the memory from the place, which became sacred for Ukrainians.

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