20 years since the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union
On 7 July 1988 at a rally attended by some fifty thousand people in Lviv the creation was announced of a the Ukrainian Helsinki Union. This was the first mass social, political and human rights organization in the Ukrainian SSR.
It was created on the basis of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group [UHG] formed in 1976 by ten human rights defenders. The UHG never folded, as did, for example, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and committed and courageous people emerged to replace those sent to labour camp for their membership. It was, however, always a small group of totally committed people who knew the sacrifice which would be demanded.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Union emerged both after Chernobyl and during the years of perestroika, and was from the outset a federal association of self-governing human rights groups and organizations from all over Ukraine. The idea to broaden and politicize the Helsinki Group came from Viacheslav Chornovil who, together with Levko Lukyanenko took leading roles in the new Union.
The “UHU Declaration of Principles”, made public at the rally, included: full establishment of Ukrainian statehood, as well as a wide range of rights, including freedom of speech, political, socio-economic and labour rights.
The central press body of the UHU was the samvydav [samizdat] journal “Ukrainsky visnyk” [“Ukrainian Herald”] under the editorship of Viacheslav Chornovil. A UHU newspaper “Holos vidrodzhennya” [Voice of Renewal”], edited by Serhiy Naboka, began coming out in 1989.
The authorities treated the creation of the UHU as a challenge to the Soviet state. The governing Party bodies, KGB and police directed their efforts on countering the newly-emerged and daring opposition, using official and unofficial warnings, intimidation, detentions, administrative arrest, campaigns to discredit and of disinformation in the Party press.
However the UHUs authority only increased as a result. At the elections to the Verkhovna Rada in March 1990 12 members of the UHU became National Deputies, and hundreds – deputies of local councils.
From Union to the first independent party in Ukraine
This difference both in political atmosphere and the size between the Union and the original Ukrainian Helsinki Group was reflected in the fairly rapid move from purely human rights defence to active political struggle. In April 1990 the UHU was transformed into the Ukrainian Republican Party, with Levko Lukyanenko its leader. .