Andrew Grigorenko: “Making Russian a State language would perpetuate colonial dependence”


Last year Ukraine commemorated the centenary of the birth of General Petro Grigorenko.  Even if the National Deputies in the Verkhovna Rada at the time were unable to recognize the importance of Petro Grigorenko to Ukraine, others remembered the General with love and respect (see the links below).

The following interview was given by Andrew Grigorenko, Petro Grigorenko’s son and “comrade in arms”, who now lives in the USA.

What do you do in America?

I still partly work in journalism, sometimes have things published, although rarely. I also write on the Grigorenko Foundation website, as well as sending out a publication in three languages (English, Ukrainian and Russian).  The material is usually linked with human rights. For example, at the moment events in Russia are extremely topical with totalitarianism again gaining force. There are already three recorded cases of people being put into psychiatric institutions purely for their views as once happened to my father. The renewed chauvinist attacks are also worrying.

Do you remember your arrests?  How long were you imprisoned?

The periods were not long. All of us who took part in the “Union for the revival of Leninism” were quickly released because my father was declared insane. We were therefore considered victims who had fallen under his bad influence. In that way Father protected us from further repression. Later they arrested me several times more, however it was more a formality, the enforcement bodies needed to show that they were active.

What helped you to endure such mockery when your father, a major general and the head of a military institute faculty was pronounced mad?

Doubts about Soviet ideology gripped me before they did him. My father’s address in 1961 at the Party conference where he called for democratization of the Party milieu merely strengthened our shared views. From then on we were comrades in arms. I tried to somehow make things better for him in prison, give him support.

Why was specifically a “Union for the revival of Leninism” created? Did you believe that Lenin’s cause had simply been corrupted by his successors?

For you young people these days it’s hard to understand that. We were too some extent zombies, like the Protestants who looked in the Bible for answers to problems in Christianity. Lenin and Marx, they were our bible. So we looked there. Only it transpired that that Marxist-Leninist bible was stupid. And time was needed to understand that. Father continued for a long time to clutch at that ideological straw, hoping for the democratic communists of the West. It proved in vain. In the end he rejected that worldview, turned to Orthodoxy.  I had done that earlier.

We know that the General regretted deeply throughout his life his role in the destruction of churches.

That was certainly the case. Incidentally I recently came upon information from Smolensk where they wrote that the Smolensk Cathedral had been destroyed by the criminal Grigorenko.  Let there’s nothing said about those who gave the order. He didn’t come personally after all to destroy an entire building himself, although he refused to take any more part in the destruction.  However that did indeed torment him all his life and evidence of his remorse can be seen in his mention of those events in his memoirs. There were a lot of crimes committed at that time yet to this day nobody has openly admitted committing them. Yet he did.

Perhaps the main problem today is precisely that no one has shown remorse for the past?

There are a lot of problems. The Ukrainian people suffered terrible losses. Just in approximate figures, during the Soviet period almost 50% of Ukrainians were killed (I mean here not ethnic Ukrainians, but all those living in Ukraine).  The losses were horrific. It is pretty hard to regenerate the nation. Yet I see the worst ill of the present as being that the population does not have a historical perspective. You don’t have to look far for examples. Take Odessa, where they’ve erected a monument to Catherine the Great. How is that possible?  That shows one part of the nation spitting at another part. And in Simferopol, not far from the monument to my father in one night they erected a monstrosity in honour of the victims of UPA [the Ukrainian Resistance Army].  The UPA’s victims could well have been NKVD men yet now two Ukrainian police officers guard this architectural structure so that nobody destroys it.

Is the present political situation in the country to your liking?

I’m not greatly enamoured, however there are nonetheless some positive changes. You can even take the fact that nobody is insulted either in Kyiv or Kharkiv if they approach somebody and speak Ukrainian. I was in Kyiv before emigrating to say goodbye to Ukraine. I got off the train and walked up to a taxi stand. When I asked who was at the end of the queue, I was told to speak a proper language. You don’t have that anymore.

That was in 1975?

Yes.  Maybe it’s a small thing, yet the progress is clear. Making the Russian language a second State language would perpetuate the colonial dependence on Russia.

In your opinion who out of the Ukrainian State figures is most promoting Ukraine’s self-identification? Who do you find the most acceptable?

I’ve lived longer in the West so it would be in bad taste for me to talk about likes and dislikes. When I hear how in some country, like for example, Russia they sing Putin’s praise, for me that’s the sign of a grave illness in the country and it needs immediate treatment. While if somebody in America says “Bush is an idiot!”, that’s fine.

Here they often like now to pour dirt on public officials

No dirt is bad.  However a critical attitude is normal. Ukraine is still in transition and that complicates the situation. It’s bad that the branches of power are not clearly separated, after all that is one of the fundamental features of a democracy. The tendency to flirt with the Churches is unfortunate since the Church must be separate from the State. I would even express the heretical view that the traditional existence in Ukraine of Catholic and Orthodox Churches has a positive effect on the people. A lot of people would say I was talking nonsense. I’m Orthodox myself (he laughs). Yet this division forces people to be tolerant since all of them are Ukrainians and Christians. And here you can’t do anything and the State must not interfere in the process. You can see, after all, what’s going on in Russia. They threw off communist and placed Orthodoxy in its place. And when I see former KGB officers standing today with candles in Church, I feel pretty sick. I am a Christian and understand that every person can change and repent.  Yet they have not repented.

Let’s come back to your father?  Is he well-known enough in Ukraine?

I don’t think that he’s known here. Ukraine has been independent for so many years now, yet my father’s works which remain topical have still not been published. The publishing house “Smoloskyp” is only now for the first time going to publish them.

What are they planning to publish?

The third part of his memoirs entitled “In the underground you can only meet rats” and works written when he was involved in human rights work, as well as addresses given from the Diaspora. The book was supposed to come out on 16 October, to mark Petro Grigorenko’s date of birth, however it has been postponed for technical reasons.

Was it your idea to join the commemoration of the centenaries of your father and of Roman Shukhevych? Did they end up having to fight against each other? What did Petro Grigorenko say about UPA fighters?

Oh, he was very happy that he had never had to fight against UPA. He said that it was absolutely likely since after all before the War he had served in Belarus. However fate was merciful and he did not take part in any military actions against that army. He always spoke well of the resistance fighters because he knew from the accounts that they were extremely steadfast. Even in the camps, where there were none who agreed to collaborate [literally: “went to kum”, a KGB officer in the camps whose job was to get the prisoners to inform on others – translator].  Do you know who “kumy” were?  Well, the UPA fighters never cooperated.

Is the level of human rights protection in today’s Ukraine sufficiently high?

Human rights are an issue which will always exist. We are not able after all to create heaven on earth – it was the Internationale – communists who believed that to be possible. No, we will always live in an imperfect human society where there will be corruption, and violations. It is another question how many such violations. I have contact with all human rights defenders, Ukrainian, and Russian also.  The Russian ones are in a very bad position right now.

What can you say about this the centenary honouring of General Grigorenko?

I know that Yushchenko wanted to declare Petro Grigorenko a Hero of Ukraine. That would have been fair, although I have extremely mixed feelings about that honour which is like a caricature of the honour of Hero of the USSR. And some of the Heroes of Ukraine have a far from good reputation. It’s best not to be placed next to them. The main thing is that at the moment I am going to meet young people in a Kyiv school which is on General Grigorenko Avenue. And that indeed means a lot. Coming back to the merging of anniversaries of Shukevych and my father, the joint commemoration was at the initiative of the Ukrainian government. It’s a shame that those in power did not take the opportunity to equate the UPA General with the Soviet General. After all they were both patriots, but on different sides. That is a complicated story. If we look at those events openly then we will finally gain national insight


Andriy [Andrew] Grigorenko was born in 1945. He studied at the Moscow Power Institute but was expelled because of his arrest in 1964 over his involvement in the secret movement “Union for the revival of Leninism” which his father had created. After this he was unable to find work for a long time because he was on the KGB blacklist. He then entered the evening studies department of the Moscow Institute for Construction Engineering, while also taking part in the human rights movement. The Soviet authorities finally giving up against the freethinking nature of the General’s family, in 1975 forced Andriy Petrovych to emigrate.

The interviewer was Marianna Kuzan from the Glavred Magazine

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