In Memoriam: Petro Saranchuk


Petro Stepanovych Saranchuk, one of the members of the national liberation movement and former political prisoner, died on 10 September in Mykolaiv, aged 81.  He was buried today in his native city Konyukhy in the Ternopil region, where he was born on 25 October 1926.  He was brought up in a patriotic family and his father was an active member of the Ukrainian association “Prosvita” [“Enlightenment”]

Petro’s school education in a Polish school ended in 1939, with the occupation of Western Ukraine first by the Soviets and then the Nazis making any continuation out of the question.

In 1942 the Germans included him among people from his village to be sent to Germany as forced labour. He managed to escape, and on returning home, joined an underground youth nationalist organization acting under the wing of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists).  In the middle of August 1944, the 17-year-old joined a unit of the UPA (the Ukrainian Resistance Army). 

On 19 January 1946 Saranchuk was captured in an ambush near Konyukhy, and in March was sentenced for “State treason” by a three-strong tribunal of the MGB (the renamed NKVD) to 15 years labour camp in the far North and loss of civil rights for 5 years.

Petro Saranchuk played an active part in the Norilsk Uprising of 1953.  The uprising lasted from 4 June until 4 August. Saranchuk and two other inmates prepared “lightening” leaflets which were hurled over Norilsk from paper kites. The uprising was crushed with the use of tanks, and the inmates were split up and moved to different camps.

In November 1956 Saranchuk’s sentence  was reduced to 12 years since he “had ended up in an UPA gang as a minor” (the loss of rights remained in force).

He returned home in January 1957, but he was sent away from Western Ukraine, living first in the Luhansk region, than later in Mykolaiv. He was constantly under KGB surveillance.

On 1 July 1970 he was arrested and on 18 December sentenced by the Mykolaiv Regional Court under Article 62 § 2 (“Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”) of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR to 8 years special regime labour camp (as a “particularly dangerous repeat offender”). Saranchuk was charged on the basis of verbal utterances, as well as with keeping brochures with material of the “IV General Assembly of the OUN”. In his book “Ukrainian silhouettes” Heifets writes: “Perhaps only the sentences meted out to people of the Church could compete in shamelessness with this feat of the Soviet judiciary.  The main point in the prosecution’s case was a phrase of Saranchuk’s said to someone he knew who was complaining about some everyday difficulties: “Life would be better in an independent Ukraine”.  The main material evidence of a crime was supposed to be a coded note about … the numbers of men in the Ukrainian Fleet during the Civil War”. 

He was returned to Mykolaiv in 1978, but was placed under administrative surveillance immediately after his release.

On 1 September 1980 Saranchuk was arrested on a trumped up charge of “acting as an accomplice in stealing building materials” and was sentenced to 5 and a half years imprisonment. This sentence he served in a penal colony for notorious criminals 10 days before the end of his sentence, at the beginning of 1986, already into the period of “perestroika”, Saranchuk was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for “insubordination, expressed in failure to meet 100% production norms”.

He was freed on 28 February 1989. Saranchuk managed to have the last sentence revoked. On 10 March 1989 the Mykolaiv Regional Court was forced by a protest from the Supreme Court of the Ukrainian SSR to rescind the sentence of 1986.

He was rehabilitated for the political Articles.  After 28 and a half years in captivity, having passed through 30 labour camps and 14 prisons, he returned to Mykolaiv. From the moment when patriotic organizations formed (the Association for the Ukrainian Language, the Ukrainian Helsinki Union (UHU), Narodny Rukh Ukrainy [Popular Movement of Ukraine] (Rukh), the Ukrainian Republican Party (URP), Saranchuk became an active member. He took part in numerous mass events organized by the national democratic forces.

His seventieth birthday was publicly celebrated in Mikolaiv. This was the first time that the birthday of a participant in the national liberation struggle was covered by the local mass media.

Petro Stepanovych Saranchuk died on 10 September 2008. He is buried in his native Konyukhy.

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