“it’s not a question of punishing people”
The website “Svidomo” asked Volodymyr Vyatrovych, Head of the Central Branch Archive of the SBU [Security Service] about the court case over Holodomor which the Prosecutor General and SBU qualify as genocide of the Ukrainian people and specifically about whether there was any point in examining a case against people no longer alive.
Volodymyr Vyatrovych: “It must be said first that the Holodomor investigation did not begin as a criminal case. It has been continuing already for many years, and became more active in recent years. Historians, archivists, scientists know that Holodomor happened, but that is a historical assessment. However the need arose to give some kind of legal assessment for this crime. After all there are documents, facts, which confirm that a crime was committed which can be qualified as genocide, as a crime against humanity.
It was over this that members of various civic organizations on a number of occasions approached the authorities.
Who specifically came up with the initiative which led to the case being opened?
In May last year a number of members of the public, for example, National Deputy Hryhoriy Omelchenko (BYuT), Roman Krutsyk from “Memorial” and Ihor Yukhnovsky from the Institute for National Remembrance. It was an appeal to the SBU to initiate a criminal investigation. The SBU, on the basis of the Criminal Procedure Code, Article 442, where it is stated that a crime of such a nature is within the competence of the SBU, initiated a criminal investigation into a crime. The investigation had continued since then, and was completed at the end of last year. The material was handed to the Prosecutor’s Office, and then passed to the court of appeal.
Tell us in more detail about the investigation.
A central group of investigators was created in Kyiv, and groups as well in all 17 regions (oblasts) which in 1932-1933 suffered from Holodomor. In all around 150 people were involved in the groups. Their task was to uncover documents, places of mass burial of victims of Holodomor, talk to witnesses. Around 2 thousand witnesses were questioned. Over a thousand places of burial were uncovered, and a very large number of documents both in Ukrainian and other countries’ archives were gone through. We gathered 330 volumes of material, documents and testimony. We also ordered a number of expert opinions. For example, the demographic opinion produced interesting results – cumulative losses, as they call them, that is, the number including those who might have been born, came to around 10 million.
What did the people who gave testimony say? Why do they do it?
They suffer real pain that they will have to relive those horrors, for the majority this is a trauma for their whole life, and exacerbated by the fact that for so long they didn’t have the right to talk about it. We observed in the people we met a permanent wish to speak their full, to tell their story to everybody.
Who ran the investigation? Did they report on it to the country’s leadership?
The SBU investigation department was directly in charge of it. There was a big meeting on the completion of the investigation with the participation of the Prosecutor General, the Heads of the SBU and the Institute for National Remembrance. Mr Nalyvaichenko told those present that the investigation was reaching an end, all was ready and we were ready to hand the case to the court.
Which countries did you approach for help and which specific documents did they provide?
To archival institutions in Germany, Poland, Italy and Russia for the documents. We received notarized documents from Poland, from their security services which informed the government in 1932-1933 that there was Holodomor in Ukraine. Italy and Germany gave the same kinds of documents. We also approached Russia. Unfortunately there was no cooperation from the Russian side on providing this material.
How important are the documents which Russia is not handing over?
We don’t know exactly what documents they have. However, even despite these difficulties, the specific case nonetheless helped open the Russian archives in response to our active work. Russia has begun in small sections publishing material. In biased manner, however they are publishing the material. A collection entitled “Famine in the USSR in 1930-1934” was published. The concept is clear: extend the geographic boundaries (not only Ukraine, but also Kazakhstan and Russia) and chronologically. It is good that this information is appearing. They are interesting, useful documents.
The accused are already dead. How then can you convict, punish them?
It is not a question of punishing people, who are obviously already dead. They will now receive another punishment at another kind of court. The most important thing for us is that the court gives a legal assessment of this crime. After that, considering that the accusing are death, the charges against them will be terminating. However the fact of the crime and its qualification will remain. That is very important.
Have there been similar cases in the world?
Yes. Even in neighbouring Russia several years ago there was a criminal case over the murder of the Romanov family. There was a criminal investigation. It ended with the circumstances being determined and the historical event qualified as a crime.
From the point of time and subject another, Estonian, case which was investigated and brought to court, is closer to others. This was the charges against two officials of the NKVD who directly coordinated and ran the deportation of Estonians in 1947-1948. In the same way a criminal investigation was run and charges laid.
What influence on society will the recognition of Holodomor as a crime have?
We must not constantly drag into the future the weight of past crimes. While they are not condemned, while they have not been given a historical and legal assessment, they can be repeated. I think that for us a good example is given by how Jewish people are constantly investigating the cases of those implicated in the Holocaust.
[Asked about how long the court case would continue, he said that the SBU had played their role, that he felt there was more than sufficient material but that it was out of their hands].
He was asked about what would happen if another President was elected
I do not think that this process can now be stopped, certain irreversible changes have occurred. I am convince that despite possible changes at the political top, this process will be concluded. And as well, after the court ruling Ukrainian diplomats will find it much easy to push for recognition by world nations of Holodomor as genocide.