The KGB will keep us busy for life
The interview of the correspondent of the magazine ‘Ukrainska kultura (‘Ukrainian culture). Maliuta with the executive director of the Kharkov Group for human rights protection Eugene Zakharov and a human rights protector, former political convict Vasyl Ovsienko.
Ivan Maluta. Gentlemen, our reader would like to know what kind of an organization is the Kharkov Group for human rights protection and what is the international biographic dictionary of dissidents of the central and East Europe and the former USSR, over which you are working.
Eugene Zakharov. The Kharkov Group for human rights protection exists since 1988 as a branch of ‘Memorial, and since 1992 as a separate juridical person. Now we have about 50 members, 25 working full-time. We publish the bulletin ‘Prava ludyny, carry out educational activities to make citizens juridically competent; we organize seminars and competitions of students, publish much juridical literature, attempt to assist people in concrete cases of abusing their rights by state organs, analyze the observance of some key rights, such as the freedom of expression, protection from torture and cruel treatment by law-enforcing bodies and so on.
I. M. Are you a former political prisoner?
E. Z. Thank God, no! But I was close to it. I distributed samizdat, in the 80s I represented Kharkov in the fund of assistance to political prisoners that was organized by A. Solzhenitsyn, corresponded with friends who were political convicts in concentration camps. All these were dangerous activities.
That is why the project you mentioned is only one from our topics. We realize it jointly with our colleagues in other countries of the Central and East Europe and the former USSR. The project is named ‘East Europe is our common land, and our work is sponsored in the framework of this project. This is definitely a public, not a government, work. It is based on the active citizens position of some people, on the enthusiasm. We are supported by foreign charity funds. No Ukrainian organization has given a grant to us yet.
The center of the project is in Warsaw. One if the results of the project will become a dictionary of dissidents. 180 articles are given to Poland, 210 -- to the former USSR with the exception of national movements; 120 articles are given to Ukraine, other countries will get less. The Dictionary will be published in English, Polish and Russian. Besides, every national partner – and the are practically in all countries of this region – have the right to publish the Dictionary in their language with additional articles. We, Ukrainians, will certainly use this opportunity. We shall introduce several hundred of names. Today we are on the brink of finishing our part. We have prepared 120 biographies with an average of the average size of 5 KB. We have prepared the introductory essay and the short chronicle of national democratic movement, as well as literature references and photographs of each personage. In order to complete such work it was necessary to collect the information in the from of documents, photos, books, memoirs and manuscripts about the latest period of the Ukrainian history related with the moral resistance to the totalitarian regime and political repressions. We gather materials on the history of human rights protection movement in Ukraine from after-Stalin times to the perestroyka. We have made archives, we intend to build the museum to be used by future historians. The time has come for accumulating sources. Most participants of those events are still alive, they must be interviewed, and their interviews must be recorded. These records is a priceless, and sometimes the only source of events, because the materials of court cases never reflect he truth: courts have their own truth, and the accused had their own unsimilar truth, which they often tried to conceal. Now the former accused may speak without fear. We find such people, we take their audio and video interviews, and on the basis of the scripts we write more realistic biographic essays. We try to work on the scientific level, but we understand that such a level may be guaranteed when we shall have no obstacles in the access to information. The access to such cases is still closed.
Now many organizations make their own archives. I have recently learned that some Kyivans donated their materials to Moscow ‘Memorial. This is a loss of national wealth. This wealth must be concentrated in Ukraine. No Ukrainian organization would pay money for such materials, so, I think, that let such materials be collected by anybody. The main thing is to preserve them from loss and destruction.
Soon the Kharkov Group will publish a list or a catalog of the people, who were repressed from political reasons from the mid-fifties to mid-eighties. I mean condemned or repressed in the illegal way (for example, directing people to psychiatric hospitals). In our list there are more than a two thousand of such people.
Vasyl Ovsienko. Ukrainian researchers Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytskiy, Georgiy Kasyanov and Anatoliy Rusnachenko write that during that period attracted attention of the power and were convicted for it approximately from 700 to 1000 persons.
E. Z. Actually, much more. We include participation of the human rights protection, political, religious, labor resistance, and ‘refusniks. I am sure that this is not an exhausting list. The number of such people is much larger. The materials about them we must publish in the convenient manner. We must improve the methodology of the search: whom we search, which category of people. Certainly, we shall make mistakes. This Dictionary and the accompanying lists must be regarded as a first rough copy. So, having got an opportunity, we appeal to the former repressed, to their families, to their friends to contact us. Turn to us by mail: POB 10430, 61002, Kharkov-2, tel./fax: (0572) 436455.
I. M. What will be given in each item of this list?
E. Z. The items will be small. The years of life, main activities, repressions and further destiny. About 5 – 7 lines. Who had two or three terms – a little more. In the Dictionary the biography articles will be lengthier.
I. M. Pan Vasyl, why do you, a philologist, a well-known human rights protector and politician (you are still the deputy head of the Republican Christian party), concentrated on the international Dictionary of dissidents.
V. O. If something has happened, but has not been described, it will disappear. And on the contrary, if something has not happened, but is described and spoken about, then this will exist. Myths that stuck in the consciousness of people are sometimes more effective than historical facts.
Unfortunately, history is what was written, not happened. If the participants of significant social events, if eyewitnesses and well-informed people do not care to write down the truth, then new times will come and new people will appear, who will write history as they understand it, or as they want it to be, or as their bosses will order. So, to make history truthful and just, at least to us, we must fix the history in writing and publish it, and then the science of history will be unable to deceive anybody.
Now I must often prove these words because we, Ukrainians are somewhat unable to care about establishing ourselves in this world. Say, we made 16% of the USSR population, but in every political camp during all the times of the Soviet rule we made about a half of the ‘contingent (there was such wise term). But this means that Ukrainians all the time fought for their human and national rights, although that is true that for similar actions Ukrainian were punished much more cruel than in Moscow. In the period of perestroyka Moscow writers took out of the drawers what they could not publish during the totalitarian regime, but Ukrainian writers had little in their drawers because the Soviet authorities carefully pulled out everything forbidden not only from the drawers, but from their souls, together with their souls. There is another truth that Ukrainians were very firm. They seldom broke in captivity. That is also true that the prison and camp regime was harder for us, Ukrainians, since we were kept in lands of strangers, in Mordova or the Urals. It was more difficult for us to pass a message to the free world, but in concentration camps the protest actions were held mainly by Ukrainians. It is revolting when Ukrainophobs invent jokes about how bad are we, Ukrainians. We a not worse than other peoples.
I have learned that the Dictionary of dissidents was under preparation and that the Kharkov Group for human rights protection represents the Ukrainian part of this project. I would name this Dictionary ‘The Dictionary of resistance. The word ‘dissident means ‘thinking the other way, that the apostate of the official ideology. There were such people in Ukraine, and many of them had no communist outlook from the very beginning. But nothing can be done: the term ‘dissident has become standard in the West, and nothing can be done with it.
Eugene Zakharov, the executive director of the Kharkov Group suggested me to take part, and about two years I have been working as the coordinator of the program. I believe that my participation in this project is useful. Although I am not a philologist, I know the human rights protection movement from within. I was a political prisoner from 1973 to 1988 with the short interval, totally during 13.5 years, among others for the participation in the Ukrainian Helsinki group. I know personally many participants of human rights protection and national liberation movement. So it is easier for me to speak with them. That is I changed my profession to that of a historian of human rights protection and national liberation movements. My political activities also did not decrease. On the contrary, these topics enabled me to lead better the anticommunist, anti-imperial propaganda and educational work. I work as a publicist (and my work this year was awarded with V. Stus prize). As an educator, I lectured in hundreds of students audiences, teachers and students willingly listen to my talks about the figures of the sixties. Senior-grade students willingly listen about Vasyl Stus, whose creations they learn at school. Local branches of Christian parties organized such meetings. I manage to give several lectures a day. Local newspapers, radio, television take interviews from me. At such meetings one must not agitate for his party – it is enough to mention it. Let them judge for themselves what people we are and is it worth to vote for us.
Here is a short fragment of my life. I left Kyiv for Galytchyna on 19 January and returned to Kyiv on 12 February. During 24 days I visited 29 former political convicts and recorded their stories. All in all, it made 72 hours of audio recording, then I went to Kolomya, to visit Chortkov. On the way I made speeches in two universities, seven special schools and some secondary schools. I got invaluable treasures and I had a great pleasure from the process of communication with choicest people, dear to my heart: Dmytro Kvetsko, Grigoriy Prokopovich, Myroslav Melen from the ‘Ukrainian National Front, their successors Zorian Popadiuk, Yaromyr Mykytko and Liubomir Starosolskiy, members of the Ukrainian Helsinki group Myroslav Marynovich, Oksana Popovych, Iryna Senyk, Bogdan Rebryk and scores of others.
I am happy that all of them remained as high-spirited, as I had known them personally or from other people. I would like to say to you that in our times – in 60s - 80s -- the KGB-men picked out high-skilled people for incarceration. It was in 20s – 40s when they took everybody without choice; in the political concentration camps really best people of our times were concentrated, and I had the honor to met them there. And now I visit them, get acquainted with their families, they excellent people. They have fine wives and children who are even finer. For example, Oleksa, the 16-year-old son of Yaromir Mykytko, give me the records of his songs on the words of Lina Kostenko and Vasyl Stus, and the second-grade pupil Vasyl Marmus I heard a chastooshka: ‘Our gallant gnats will not caress, They will bite moskals on the bare ass. His father Volodymir on the night of 22 January 1973, together with other eight men, raised the national flags over Chortkov.
Certainly, such people live mostly in Galytchyna. For instance, in the Kolomya district there exist ‘nests of anti-Soviet people -- in 1958 ten youths were tried headed by Bogdan Germaniuk. They organized the ‘United party of liberating Ukraine. Most of them were from the village of Pyadyky. In the village of Pechenezhyn ‘The Union of Ukrainian youths of Galytchyna was arrested in the spring of 1973 (the leader was Dmytro Grynko). The repressed priest Zynoviy Kars and bishop of the Kolomya and Chernivtsi Pavlo Vasylyk reside in Kolomya. There also lives a legendary rebel and later the organizer of anti-Soviet activities Myroslav Symchych, the man who 32.5 years fought with the Soviet establishment. But in Kyiv and in the suburbs I recorded several audio-cassettes. For example, I got seven-hour-long interviews from Mykhaylo Goryn and from Evhen Sverstiuk. I believe that few people could make them loose so much time, except me. Many former political prisoners, now, having come to Kyiv, stop at my place and then I switch on my cassette recorder. Now I get ready to the journey to the South of Ukraine.
As a rule, I record the vivid, unrestrained stories. I always question:
-- from which family is the respondent (because, maybe, his relatives also took part in the national liberation struggle and were repressed);
-- where did he learn, in which years;
-- in what did he see his resistance, in what was he accused;
-- when he was arrested and tried;
-- where he was kept, which were the most outstanding protest actions behind the bars, dates, demands of the incarcerated, the most outstanding episodes;
-- which publications he has, which publications on his exist;
-- what he did after the discharge.
E. Z. We transcribe these audio interviews and give the text to the authors to correct. After this it became a document. Beside V. Ovsienko we use for the preparation of biographies Irina Rapp and Sophia Karasik (their husbands also did three-year terms for ‘slander at the Soviet reality by Article 187-1, and they themselves suffered from out-of-court repressions), Boris Zakharov, Vladimir Kaplun. Viacheslav Baumer transcribes the records, Olga Zviagintseva does the technical work, Aleksandr Ageev creates the database and makes up all our publications. We want to make and publish a book from these audio interviews. Maybe, not one book. As to video recording, here Vakhtang Kipiani helps us. Besides, we have initiated a new series of publications from our archives – memoirs of people, who participated in the human rights protection movement. I want to show different variants of spiritual resistance to the totalitarian regime. We are preparing to the publication of a three-volume collection by Mikhail Heifitz, to which we included his ‘Ukrainian silhouettes, ‘Place and time, ‘The POW secretary and other creations, in particular about the convicts of Mordova concentration camps of the 70s: V. Stus, V. Chornovil, M. Rudenko, Z. Popadiuk, P. Saranchuk, P. Ayrikian and others. Recently a political convict, the member of the Ukrainian Helsinki group Petro Sichko found the memoirs of his already late wife Stefania Petrash, also a political convict, about their outstanding family (their late son Vasyl Sichko was a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki group; he did the six-year term for human rights protection activity; his another son (Volodymir did the three-year term). Stories told by Petro Sichko will be also included to the book. These stories are about himself and his family, about the verdicts and declarations. We have already published ‘Advocates notes by Dina Kamenskaya, who defended Vladimir Bukovskiy, Pavel Litvinov, Yuriy Galanskov and others. Until now Lidia Nemirovska lives and works as an advocate in Lugansk. She defended Mykola and Raisa Rudenko, Iosif Zisels, Viktor Nekipelov, believers, Khudenko in Kazakhstan. She wrote a collection of essays about ten her cases. She preserved many materials, and we gave her some as well.
Within the framework of the project ‘East Europe is our common land we shall prepare a big Encyclopedia of dissidents. It would be necessary to write not only about the separate people, but also about the most important actions, organizations, and creations of samizdat. First of all we shall have to compile the list of what we want to include.
V. O. ‘A Chronicle of Current Events that was published in Moscow already for some time circulates in the Internet. But nobody cared to send to the Internet Chornovils ‘The Ukrainian Herald and N. Svitlychnas ‘The Messenger of Repressions. But they are priceless sources! And who will distribute the entire Ukrainian samizdat? It will make several volumes. Who will compile the encyclopedia of Ukrainian resistance? I know that the publishing house ‘Smoloskyp named after Vasyl Simonenko is going to of it. I think that we must take part in this work, since we have a lot of prepared materials.
It must be said, The KGB will keep us busy for life. And that will be not enough.
Published in the magazine ‘Ukrainska kultura, No.5, 2000, a concised version.