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17.03.2011

In Memoriam: Ivan Hel

   

The death has been announced of Ivan Andriyovych Hel, publicist, human rights defender, active participant in the national liberation and Greek Catholic movements from the 1960s, and twice a political prisoner.

He was born on 17 July 1937 in the village of Klitsko in the Lviv region and died on 16 March 2011 in Lviv after a second stroke. He had long suffered from diabetes.

Hel’s father was a former fighter in the Ukrainian Resistance Army (UPA), and later the chairperson of the cultural and educational association «Prosvita» [“Enlightenment”] in his village.  He was sentenced to 20 years in 1950 for helping the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Ivan’s first encounter with the Soviet authorities was at the age of thirteen, when during the arrest of his father, the MGB (earlier name of the KGB) officers beat up both his mother, and then Ivan when the latter tried to protect his parents.

Hel’s first conscious act of civic disobedience was his public refusal to join the Komsomol, for which in 1952 he was expelled from school after completing the first term of his tenth (final) grade. After finishing evening school he attempted to apply for a place at Lviv University, however his application papers were not accepted, the grounds being given that he was the son of a Bandera-supporter[1]. He found himself a job as a mechanic in a Lviv factory for loading vehicles.

In 1961, on the hundredth anniversary of the death of the great poet, Taras Shevchenko, Hel and his friend laid a crown of thorns at his monument in Kyiv. It was at that time that he met M. Horyn who was already in contact with the Kyiv Sixties activists Ivan Svitlychny, Ivan Dziuba, Yevhen Sverstyuk, Vasyl Symonenko and others.

He now began preparing and distributing samizdat material

On 24 August 1965, in his sixth year of studies, Hel was arrested together with other Ukrainian dissidents. He was sentenced on 25 March 1966 by the Lviv Regional Court under Articles 62 § 1 (“Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”) and 64 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR to 3 years harsh regime labour camp for distributing Ukrainian samizdat and for “organizational activity”.

He served his sentence from 1966 – 1968 in the Mordovian political labour camps where he met many representatives of the democratic movement in the USSR.

In 1967 he wrote letters on two occasions to the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada of the UkrSSR in defence of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and demanding the abolition of Article 62 of the Criminal Code.

Following his release, Hel was not allowed either to return to his studies at the university or to get registration in Lviv. He lived in the town of Sambir in the Lviv region.

He printed in samizdat and distributed 11 books, among them “Sered snihiv” [“Amid the snow”] by V. Moroz, which included all the latter’s publicist writing and poetry (Ivan Dziuba’s “Internationalism or Russification?” and others.

In November 1970 Hel sent a letter of protest to the Supreme Court of the UkrSSR in connection with the sentence meted out to Valentin Moroz   On 7 December of that year Hel spoke at the funeral of Alla Horska, calling the murdered artist a faithful daughter of the Ukrainian renaissance of the 1960s and comparing her fate with that of her people.  In retaliation he was issued with a severe reprimand for alleged unexplained absences from work. 

Hel was arrested on 12 January 1972 and in August was sentenced under Article 62 § 2[2] of the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR to 10 years special regime labour camp and 5 years exile.

He served this sentence both in the Mordovian and the Perm political labour camps, and the period of exile in the village settlement Mylva in the Komi Autonomous Soviet Republic.
He returned from exile to Ukraine on 17 January 1987 during the period of “perestroika”. From 1988 he played an active role in public life (as leader of the Committee in defence of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, editing the journal “Khrystiyansky holos” [“Christian voice”] and was involved in the creation of the organization “Memorial” and the Narodny Rukh Ukrainy [The Popular Movement of Ukraine] (Rukh)

 


[1]  Stepan Bandera was the leader of the more militant factions of the OUN and UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army] (translator’s note)

[2]   Also “Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”, but Part 2 was applied when the person was charged a second time.  The sentence was much harsher, and the person was designated a “particularly dangerous repeat offender”. (translator’s note)

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