war crimes in Ukraine

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Politics and human rights

Why I filed a suit against Moroz

The office of Authorised Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (the Human Rights Ombudsperson) is one of the most important in a democratic country. At a recent press conference for journalists from Luhansk the Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Yevhen Zakharov pointed out that the specific feature of this post is that the Ombudsperson is at once a civil servant and a person whom people approach with complaints when they believe their rights to have been violated by state bodies. They do so, however, if they trust this individual.

It is only possible to trust a Human Rights Ombudsperson only if s/he acts in strict accordance with the law, regardless of who or what bodies are involved. It is specifically for this reason that in Ukraine, as in other countries, stricter requirements than for any other posts are imposed on those who hold the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson.  For example, not only does the Ombudsperson not have the right to be a Deputy, member of a political party, or combine the post with another job, but where such infringements of the Ombudsperson’s powers do arise, they must be eliminated within 10 days.

Unfortunately the previous Human Rights Ombudsperson, Nina Karpachova, was sworn in as State Deputy back on 25 May 2006, yet remained in two positions (as Human Rights Ombudsperson and Deputy) considerably longer than 10 days - until 17 November, in fact.

On 17 November the Verkhovna Rada suspended ahead of term Nina Karpachova’s tenure. Following this the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada or Deputies (in the latter case, at least 25 %, that is 113 Deputies) had 20 days in which to put forward new candidates for the post. They did not however do so. As a result, the Verkhovna Rada profile committee on human rights declared the start of a new timescale for proposing candidates, this expiring on 28 December.

Two candidates were put forward during this second period. 121 State Deputies signed their names to a submission proposing Yevhen Zakharov as candidate for the post of Human Rights Ombudsperson, while Oleksandr Moroz put forward for a third term the very person who had violated the law Nina Karpachova.

I would point out that Ukrainian human rights organizations have been fairly unanimous in calling for Zakharov’s election.  They want to ensure in this way that the position will not under any circumstances be apportioned according to party “quotas”.

On the other hand, the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson is too important for citizens of Ukraine to find it acceptable for the position to be vacant for three months. A particular role in this regrettable situation has been played by Oleksandr Moroz.

Pursuant to Article 6 of the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson, voting for a new Ombudsperson should take place no earlier than 10 days, but no later than 20 days after the expiry of the period for proposing candidates. Since the period ended on 28 December, the Deputies should have voted between 8 and 18 January. The Deputies were prepared to do so and the vote was even included on the agenda for 11 January 2007. However on 9 January Oleksandr Moroz postponed the voting. Furthermore, according to media reports, he took this step entirely upon himself. This means that he himself violated the norm set out in Article 6 of the Law.

It is frustrating that the law in Ukraine is broken by those in charge of legislative bodies. It appears that they pass laws not for themselves, the ones with power, but exclusively for the “riff raff”. This is no way to build a law-based and democratic state.

Given the parliamentary break, it will now only be possible to elect a Human Rights Ombudsperson after 6 February when the third sitting begins. This means that over all that period, citizens of Ukraine will have been deprived of the opportunity to turn to an Ombudsperson appointed by law. There is no such position in law as an acting Human Rights Ombudsperson. And there should not be such, since the holder of this position must be a person enjoying the public’s trust.

According to Article 55 of the Ukrainian Constitution, citizens of Ukraine are entitled to turn to the Human Rights Ombudsperson for protection of their rights.  Due to the unlawful actions of the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, it is impossible to exercise this right.

Bearing in mind that in Ukraine the Constitution guarantees that all are equal before the law, I lodged an administrative suit against the actions of the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada. I asked that his actions be declared unlawful and that he be ordered to stop violating my constitutional rights. This means that he ensure the voting in the Verkhovna Rada for a new Human Rights Ombudsperson in strict compliance with the law.

Oleksiy Svyetikov

Luhanskaya gazeta [Luhansk newspaper]

Why Ukraine Needs an Independent Ombudsperson

The civic campaign of putting forward a politically independent candidate for the position of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner has entered its final phase - right after the return of the members of parliament from the parliamentary vacations on February 6, an anonymous voting will take place in the Verkhovna Rada to determine who will be defending the rights of the Ukrainian citizens at the highest human rights defense position in the state during the next five years.

Only two rivals for this position are left - a candidate from the governmental "Party of the Regions" Nina Karpachova and a civic human rights activist from Kharkiv Yevhen Zakahrov who does not belong to any political party and whose candidacy was put forward by the oppositional parliamentary fractions of Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Bloc and "Our Ukraine". At the first glance, it might appear that it is more beneficial for the ruling coalition to give this post to "their" person, yet a more detailed analysis of the situation testifies in favor of appointing a politically neutral candidate to the position of the country’s Ombudsperson.

Traditionally, the institute of the Ombudsperson in the vast majority of European countries is headed by a passionless legal referee, who guarantees the abidance by human rights and freedoms in the relations between the state and the citizen, and also ensures the conduct of a dialog between them solely in the legal field and with the use of legal methods. Given the circumstances of the Ukrainian political establishment, which is notable for a strong conflict of power, all political forces with no exception are ought to be interested in the appointment of an independent Ombudsperson, including the pro-governmental ones, since none of them can be confident about never ending up in the opposition and being subjected to suppression on the part of the government, as it was often happening in the previous years.

Namely the today’s opposition, represented by Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Bloc and "Our Ukraine", was the first one to take into consideration the public opinion, and despite all controversies between its parliamentary fractions, realized the necessity of appointing an independent candidate to the position of the Ombudsperson. During Kuchma’s authoritarian presidency, the representatives of these political forces faced the violation of their elementary rights, guaranteed to them by the Constitution and Ukraine’s international agreements. When they came to power in 2004, the situation changed to the exact opposite - the representatives of the former pro-governmental parties started complaining loudly about the suppression of their rights and cases of persecution - mainly, SDPU(o) and "Party of the Regions", both of which suddenly found themselves in the opposition. A corresponding section titled "Suppression and persecution" appeared on the official website of "Party of the Regions", where specific examples of human rights violations of the members of this party for their political views were featured. "Party of the Regions" was accusing the "orange" government of unjustified criminal persecution of its leaders Borys Kolesnykov and the deceased Yevgeniy Kushnaryov, whose criminal cases were investigated with numerous violations of the procedure. The remarkable aspect is that the Ombudsperson of the time and a member of "Party of the Regions" Nina Karpachova proved to be unable to influence the existing situation.

The reason for Karpachova’s helplessness was a lack of trust for the office of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner as for an independent legal instance on the part of the society, government officials, and the international human rights community because of the Ombudsperson belonging to one of the political forces. In contrast, the appointment of a politically neutral human rights activist with high moral standards will lead to the de-politicization of the institute of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner, causing the increase of the citizens’ level of trust for the government as a whole, part of which he is, regardless of their political views, and correspondingly, will increase the interaction of the institute of the Ombudsperson with the other branches of power.

Both of these factors, in their turn, will increase the level of credibility for the Ukrainian Ombudsperson on the part of the European community. As a result, Ukraine will not only get rid of the shameful monitoring of the human rights situation in the country, currently conducted by PACE, but will also obtain the reputation of a lawful state, in which the law stands above politics and the mercantile interests of specific persons and financial groups. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has already expressed its wish to see a politically independent figure holding the Ombudsperson’s position in Ukraine. The negligence of this wish can lead to a significant worsening of the relations between the Ukrainian government and the democratic European governments, which, in the first place, is not beneficial for the Ukrainian large businesses, the lion’s share of the production of which is being exported to the Western countries. This primarily refers to the major heavy industry enterprises, most of which are owned by the representatives of the governmental "Party of the Regions".

The Ukrainian society is soon to find out whether its opinion is accounted for with the "people’s elects". The candidacy of the politically independent human rights activist Yevhen Zakharov has gained wide support among non-governmental organizations of the entire country, the majority of which, by the way, represents Ukraine’s eastern regions, where Zakharov is widely known for his human rights activism and which are forming the electoral field of the ruling coalition at the moment. It has already become apparent that the political independence of the institutes called to defend citizens’ rights (in particular, the institute of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner) is the way to uniting the country and creating a lawful society, in which certain citizens are not "more equal" before the law than others.


Author’s translation

Thirst for freedom

12 January marks a bitter anniversary – 35 years since the beginning of the second wave of KGB operations against the Ukrainian intelligentsia (the first was in 1965).  The repressive actions were preceded by a decision from the highest Party bodies to destroy free speech and free thinking in the USSR.  On 28 June 1971 the Central Committee of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) passed a secret resolution “On measures to counter the illegal dissemination of anti-Soviet and other politically harmful material” which within a month had been duplicated by the Central Committee of the CPU ((Communist Party of Ukraine) having added “of local material”  On 30 December of the same year the Politburo of the Central Committee ruled to begin an all-Union campaign against samizdat in order to destroy the infrastructure for its preparation and circulation. 

For the Ukrainian movement a separate “detective story” with “spying passions” was played out.  On 4 January 1972 Yaroslav Dobosh, a young Belgian national of Ukrainian origin and member of the Union of Ukrainian Youth was arrested.  A highly “compromising” document was confiscated - a copy of the “Dictionary of rhymes of the Ukrainian language” written by political prisoner Sviatoslav Karavansky. As it became clear later, Dobosh was forced to repeat a story about having been a contact between émigré anti-Soviet centres and their “agent units” in Ukraine. This was used as the justification for the arrests. In Kyiv on 12 January the arrests were made of Zinoviy Antonyuk,  Mykola Plakhotnyuk, Vasyl Stus,  Yevhen Sverstyuk, Ivan Svitlychny, Zinoviy Franko and others. A little later, on 15 January Leonid Plyushch was arrested in Kyiv and Viacheslav Chornovil, Ivan Hel, Iryna Kalynets, and Stefaniya Shabatura in Lviv. In all around 20 dissidents were arrested in January and over the next year and a half more than one hundred people in Ukraine.

The atmosphere in society was oppressive. Any who refused to testify against those arrested or showed the slightest sympathy for them were subjected to administrative repression, dismissed from their jobs or expelled from their institutes. They lost any chance of career advancement or opportunity to have their works published, to hold exhibitions, etc).  Thousands of searches were carried out and tens of thousands of people were terrorized through being interrogated as witnesses.

Almost all the leading Shestydesyatnyky [Sixties activists] received the maximum sentence (7 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years exile). Their “crime” consisted of wishing to freely express their thoughts in their native – Ukrainian – language. This wish was labelled nationalism and made punishable. If the renaissance of the 1920s is justly referred to as the “Executed Renaissance” [“rozstrilyane vidrodzhennya”], so the renaissance of the 1960s could be termed “stifled”

From 1975 the Day of the Ukrainian Political Prisoner, at the suggestion of Viacheslav CHORNOVIL, was observed in the political labour camps and prisons, and by people serving periods of exile, on 12 January. On that day political prisoners issued political statements of protest against repression and announced one-day hunger strikes.  On 11 January 1981 Serhiy Naboka, Larisa Lokhvytska, Iryna Chernyavska, Leonid Milyavsky and Natalka Parkhomenko pasted up around Kyiv several copies of a leaflet reading: “Fellow citizens! 12 January is the Day of the Ukrainian Political Prisoner. Support them!” They were all arrested and the first four paid for their “crime” with three years imprisonment.

“The criminal acts” which were once harshly punished are now no longer considered such. We have, albeit limited, nonetheless the freedom to gather, worship, express our views, print what we want to (given only that we have the money to do so), etc.  We are able these days to quite legally defend our freedom from the encroachments of the State. We can even take a state authority to court and win.

Yet the State to a large degree remains just as anti-people and indifferent as before. This is demonstrated for example in the attitude to the socially vulnerable – the disabled, pensioners, large or single-parent families. It is enough to look at the 2007 Budget. Criminal law policy remains harsh, judicial reform is being stalled and the law enforcement agencies, as previously, want to control and watch over absolutely everything. 

In a word, we see clear confirmation of the old adage that the State treats people the way they allow themselves to be treated. So the only solution is to stop being meek lambs for the slaughter, to know our rights and to stand up for our freedom.

Whereas in Soviet Ukraine it was impossible to even think of creating a human rights organization, now a human rights community has virtually from scratch developed which is successfully upholding human rights. I could fill many pages with stories about the successes achieved by my colleagues.

The strong sense that human rights in Ukraine are not fully protected is explained by the fact that these successes, substantial as they may be, are lost in the huge mass of human rights violations, and are therefore simply not noticed. There is no other option but to grow, learn, become stronger in numbers and in quality, to have impact on the State and its agents, to accustom both the state and society to the idea that human rights are not to be violated.

A major role in this can and should be played by the Authorised Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (the Human Rights Ombudsperson), i.e. the highest independent public official whose work should be directed at affirming and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as at public control over how these are fulfilled by state authorities, bodies of local self-government, their officials and functionaries. This post is extremely important for civic society and for nongovernmental human rights organizations and therefore the latter are so active in lobbying for a candidate from civic society.

Eight years have passed since the creation in Ukraine of the office of Human Rights Ombudsperson, and through all of that period the post has been held by Nina Ivanivna Karpachova. We should acknowledge what she achieved during the period when the office of Human Rights Ombudsperson was still becoming established. Bearing in mind the difficult conditions in which Ms Karpachova had to carry out her functions one can speak of her considerable contribution to the cause of human rights protection in Ukraine.

However time does not stand still and today reform is needed of the office of Human Rights Ombudsperson with systematic changes needed in human rights protection. The Human Rights Ombudsperson should be a representative of civic society – a person who is effective, tolerant, independent of any party influence and not connected with any political force and a person with considerable experience of human rights work.

Politics and human rights protection are incompatible: politicians seek power for their political force, whereas human rights defenders are concerned solely for the rule of law.

One of the main resources for improving the efficiency of the office of Human Rights Ombudsperson is its cooperation with human rights organizations (HRO).  If one compares the functions and the mandate of the Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO and considers the work they do, it is entirely possible to consider the Ombudsperson and his/her structure as just such an HRO, only acting on behalf of the state, and to view their activities from this position

Powers need to be delegated at a regional level and regional representative offices of the Ombudsperson created. The Human Rights Ombudsperson should appoint representatives in 24 regions, Kyiv and Sevastopol, and the Crimea, with these people living in the given area, having experience of human rights activity and high standing in society. They need to work on a permanent basis, cooperating with human rights organizations, assessing the situation with regard to observance of rights and freedoms in that area, uncovering violations of human rights and freedoms, and informing the Ombudsperson about them, and in specific cases submitting complaints to the Ombudsperson about such violations

Development is also needed of the positions of specialized Ombudspersons. In Ukraine there should be three such Ombudspersons responsible for the rights of the child, the rights of minorities, and for access to information and personal data protection. They would head the relevant departments in the Secretariat of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, and would be delegated powers by the latter, with procedural independence being ensured for the three posts.

Since the Human Rights Ombudsperson receives a huge number of complaints which his / her office is simply not able to analyze and consider in good time and comprehensively, HRO could act as a kind of filter which could identify from the vast numbers of complaints those that really do deal with violations of human rights and which the Ombudsperson should consider in accordance with his/her mandate.

The Human Rights Ombudsperson and his/her representatives would also be able to review appeals regarding violations of rights in specific cases directly from the HRO.

In order to work efficiency with complaints sent to the Human Rights Ombudsperson, an electronic database must be created. The development of an internal network within the structure would make it possible within the space of a few minutes to obtain information from any computer in the network about the content and stage of review of any complaint. In order to improve the efficiency of human rights defence it would be a good idea to create a special fund (financed by nongovernmental sponsors) to pay for the work of lawyers in strategic cases.  The system of communication with the public also needs improvement which could be achieved by daily updates of the website of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, with an English language version, regular publication of a bulletin describing and analyzing violations of human rights violations, and fundamental freedoms, as well as giving accounts of successful precedents in defending human rights. There could also be television programs on Ukrainian Television Channel 1 with direct contact between the Human Rights Ombudsperson and the viewers.

The Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO could combine efforts on raising the level of knowledge of the authorities and society about human rights and on providing human rights education and awareness raising. They could jointly produce a series of educational leaflets “Your rights”, approved by specialists and endorsed by the Human Rights Ombudsperson, which would include provisions in legislation on human rights in the situations of conflict which are most often encountered. There could be leaflets on, for example: “Your rights during detention and arrest”; “Your right to defend your name and reputation”; “Your right to assistance on the birth of your child”; “Your right to a housing subsidy”; “Your right to land”; “Your rights if they cut off your power, heating, water or gas”, and so forth. These leaflets, endorsed by the Human Rights Ombudsperson, could then be printed in large numbers and distributed among the public at various public events, in educational institutions, enterprises and organizations.

It would be sensible to prepare, publish and distribute not only printed matter, but also audio, photographic and video materials on human rights.

It is vital to inform professional groups on international mechanisms for protecting human rights. This include, for example, helping judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers to become familiar with European legal principles, norms and standards, in particular by using the European Court of Human Rights, standards of the European Committee against Torture and Ill-treatment, Directives of the European Union and others. Joint preparation by the Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO of translations of digests of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the publication and distribution of the corresponding anthologies would be extremely beneficial in changing legal paradigms in the profession milieu.

No less important is developing human rights awareness among children and young people, as well as monitoring educational curricula and textbooks for secondary schools and higher education pertaining to human rights. Various activities could be run under the aegis of the Human Rights Ombudsperson such as competitions and special events to mark Human Rights Day, International Children’s Day, etc.  Such public campaigns and actions would help raise awareness of human rights among the public.

It would make sense to create working groups from experienced representatives of HRO, together with representatives of the corresponding departments of the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson to carry out regular monitoring of certain rights. These working groups would follow all changes in legislation and practice, and would be able to initiate amendments to legislation and other normative acts and influence practice. The annual analytical reports on the outcome of the monitoring could become an integral part of the Ombudsperson’s annual reports.  

An important task of the Ombudsperson is to create, in cooperation with HRO, national preventive mechanisms against torture in order to implement the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). In my opinion, there need to be particular mechanisms for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Department for the Execution of Punishments, the Armed Forces and other state bodies which are in charge of places of deprivation of liberty. In order to ensure openness and transparency of the Ombudsperson’s activities, reports should be made public about staffing, expenditure, as well as annual reports about the work of both the Ombudsperson and the Secretariat, and so forth.

Changes are needed to the law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson. It would be desirable to increase the role of the Human Rights Ombudsperson and the significance of his/her decisions.  It would therefore be advisable in the new version to add the following rights:

  • to initiate amendments to legislation in the interests of safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • to approach legally established institutions asking for a check to be carried out of court rulings, after they have entered into force
  • to issue formal warnings to public officials responsible for human rights infringements;
  • to call for the abolition of acts which allow for human rights abuses, including by turning to the courts him- or herself;
  • to approach the bodies which public officials responsible for human rights infringements are subordinate to with a call to bring proceedings against them under current labour legislation, and call for the dismissal of individuals who have repeatedly or flagrantly violated human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • to call for the state authorities or bodies of local self-government to dismiss individuals who have repeatedly or flagrantly violated human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • to inform the public via the mass media about violations of human rights by public officials, or cases where public officials have not responded appropriately to appeals from the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

The activities of the Ombudsperson also need to be guaranteed, through legislating the obligation of state authorities or bodies of local self-government, and their officials, to review within a month recommendations put forward by the Ombudsperson and to provide a response in writing as to measures taking to reinstate the violated rights or providing reasons why the recommendations have not been heeded.  Secondly, by allowing for administrative (and, where necessary, criminal) liability of public officials for deliberately or repeating (systematically) ignoring formal requests from the Human Rights Ombudsperson to be given material, documents, information or explanations.  There should also be a limit on the same person holding office for more than two terms in succession.

To conclude: I recently watched a marvellous documentary by Mykhailo Tkachuk “The mystery of the Norilsk Uprising”. The overwhelming majority of participants in this uprising were Ukrainians. The film demonstrates very vividly the “virus of rebellion”, the thirst for freedom, the will to freely determine their own fate, all of which were so strong in Ukrainians. This was what inspired the Shestydesyatnyky, it was this, at the end of the day, which brought people onto Maidan [squares throughout Ukraine] in November – December 2004. I am strongly aware of the profound link of modern human rights defence with that very yearning for freedom – “our age-old sin, and our age-old pride”. And I am glad that my friends and colleagues consider ours the old European rallying cry: “For your freedom and ours!”

Day of the Ukrainian Political Prisoner 35 years on – what has changed?

A press conference was held on Wednesday 10 January to mark the 35th anniversary on 12 January of the wave pf arrests and the day which came to be commemorated as the Day of the Ukrainian Political Prisoner. It was held early because of the imminent election of a new Human Rights Ombudsperson – scheduled for 11 January but cancelled virtually at the last moment. .

It was at the suggestion of Viacheslav Chornovil that the Day of the Ukrainian Political Prisoner was first, was observed in the political labour camps and prisons, and by people serving periods of exile, on 12 January. On the day which marked the beginning of the second wave of arrests in 1972, political prisoners issued political statements of protest against repression, human rights violations and the brutality of the regime, and announced one-day hunger strikes. The camp administration sought out pretexts for punishing those who took part in such hunger strikes. From 1983 the refusal to eat was treated as an infringement of the regime for which you could be punished. As a sign of solidarity Ukrainians were supported by political prisoners from other national groups

Beginning on 12 January 1972 and for the next year and a half more than one hundred people in Ukraine were arrested, thousands of searches were carried out, and tens of thousands of people were terrorized through interrogations as witnesses, thrown out of their jobs or institutes. Almost all the leading Shestydesyatnyky received the maximum sentence (7 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years exile) to be served outside Ukraine – in Mordovia or the Perm region of Russia (Zinoviy Antonyuk,  Viacheslav Chornovil, Ivan Hel, Iryna and Ihor Kalynets,  Vasyl Lisovy Mykhailo Osadchy, Yevhen Pronyuk Stefaniya Shabatura, Oles Serhiyenko, Vasyl Stus,  Yevhen Sverstyuk, Ivan Svitlychny, Nadiya Svitlychna, and others).  Those who refused to give testimony (Mykola Plakhotnyuk, Leonid Plyushch, Boris Kovhar, Vasyl Ruban) were thrown into psychiatric hospitals.

Isolated attempts to protest against the arrests were ruthlessly suppressed (Vera LISOVA, Mykola LUKASH).

The press conference was attended by the former political prisoners and public figures Yevhen Sverstyuk and Zinoviy Antonyuk, as well as by the candidate for the post of Human Rights Ombudsperson Yevhen Zakharov, Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group. It was run by the coordinator of the “Maidan” Alliance Viktor Garbar.

Yevhen Sverstyuk and Zinoviy Antonyuk spoke of the events of 12 January 1972 and shared their impressions about what has changed over the last 35 years in Ukraine as far as human rights are concerned.

Viktor Garbar spoke about the present campaign “Zakharov should be Ombudsperson!” initiated by the civic network OPORA and the “Maidan” Alliance, as well as about the press conferences and roundtables which took place in 17 cities of Ukraine on 9 January in support of Yevhen Zakharov.

He noted that it was to be regretted that the Verkhovna Rada had postponed the election for Ombudsperson until the next parliamentary session beginning on 6 February. 

Yevhen Zakharov presented his fundamental principles for the effective work of the Authorized Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada (the Human Rights Ombudsperson), these being:

the organization of cooperation between the Ombudsperson and nongovernmental human rights organizations;

the creation of a network of regional representative offices of the Ombudsperson;

the establishment of specialized Ombudspersons – on the rights of the child, the rights of minorities and the right of access to information and personal data protection;

improvement in the communication channels between the Ombudsperson and society through daily updating of the website, issuing bulletins with accounts of human rights infringements and successful cases of human rights defence;

television programs on one of the national television channels;

monitoring of the human rights situation;

creation of national preventive mechanisms against torture.


The press conference ended with questions from journalists.

Civic society calls for an independent Human Rights Ombudsperson

On 9 January press conferences and roundtables were held throughout Ukraine to find out about Yevhen Zakharov’s program and thoughts about the role of the Authorized Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada (the Human Rights Ombudsperson) and to express support for a candidate who has no political affiliations  

The number of civic and human rights organizations who have come out in support of Yevhen Zakharov’s candidacy has been staggering. Well over 300 organizations have expressed their support and their concern that the next Human Rights Ombudsperson be honest, independent and totally committed to defending human rights and civil liberties in Ukraine.

Yevhen Zakharov, Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group,  was put forward as candidate for the post of Human Rights Ombudsperson by hundreds of Ukrainian civic organizations (the list in Ukrainian is available at

Thanks to their determination and the coordinated work of civic activists, the requisite number of State Deputies (MPs) put forward Yevhen Zakharov as official candidate.

The campaign has united activists of civic and human rights organizations from all over Ukraine, from Transcarpathia in the West to Luhansk in the East, from Sumy to the Crimea.

Members of the public, aware of how their interests are best protected, wish to see the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson held by a person who is honest and independent, as well as having more than 30 years experience of effective work defending human rights and civil liberties.

Yevhen Zakharov has the support of the following:

-  Public figures and former political prisoners during the 1960s – 1980s: Zinoviy Antonyuk, Mykola Horbal, Josif Zisels, Larisa Lokhvytska, Myroslav Marynovych, Leonid Mitlyavsky, Leonid Plyushch, Hryhory Prykhodko, Yevhen Sverstyuk, Inna Chernyavska-Naboka and others;

-  Writers and poets: Yury Andrukhovych, Tymofiy Havryliv, Georgy Hrabovych, Iryna Zhylenko, Oksana Zabuzhko, Moisei Fishbein, Mykhailyna Kotsyubynska, Andriy Kurkov, Kostyntin Moskalets and others;

-  Scientists and academics: Iryna Bekeshkina, Natalya Belitser, Yevhen Bystrytsky, Ihor Burakovsky, Tamara Hundorova, Ivan Dziuba, Yury Drozd, Volodymyr Kadets, Georgy Kasyanov, Serhiy Kvit, Viktor Lysytsky, Oksana Paklyovska, Vsevolod Rechytsky and others;

-  Journalists and public figures: Kyrylo Bulkin, Taras Voznyak, Olena Zvarych, Vakhtang Kipiani, Bohdana Kostyuk, Nataliya Ligachova, Rostyslav Martynyuk, Andriy Mokrousov, Volodymyr Pavliv, Olena Prytula, Andriy Pavlyshyn, Taras Ratushny and a huge number of concerned citizens (there is a very large on- and off-line petition).

-  Support for Yevhen Zakharov has also been expressed by the world-renowned human rights defender, member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and one of the authors of the Polish Constitution Andrzej Żeplinski, human rights defender and Andrei Sakharov’s widow, Yelena Bonner and the first Human Rights Ombudsperson of the Russian Federation Sergei Kovalyov who addressed an appeal to Deputies of the Verkhovna Rada.

During a press conference in Kyiv,  Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammerberg stated: “Our experience shows that a Human Rights Ombudsperson works effectively only when s/he is independent, and that includes independence from political forces, because s/he has no right to represent a particular part of society

Sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina comments that one of the three main positive events of the past year was “the proposal as candidate for the post of Human Rights Ombudsperson of Yevhen Zakharov by civic organizations, the support given his candidacy by the political factions “Nasha Ukraina” and the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT) and, most importantly, the decision by the profile committee of the Verkhovna Rada. This little publicized event proves that Ukrainian civic society has already reached the level where its views are taken into account by politicians, and not only during the times of Maidan [i.e. events like those of the Orange Revolution – translator]. It is absolute clear (it was obvious already after the Orange Revolution) that it is the decent people from the civic sector who are able to rescue our politics.”

Against torture and ill-treatment

Around 2 thousand people received KHPG assistance during the Campaign against Torture and Ill-treatment

These figures were given on 9 January by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group’s legal expert Arkady Bushchenko. He explained that the campaign had been initiated in 1996 by the KHPG Co-Chair Yevhen Zakharov. 40 complaints from Kharkiv residents alleging torture or ill-treatment are presently awaiting consideration in the European Court of Human Rights. More than 100 people have received free legal defence from KHPG in courts, and several thousand have received free consultations. Arkady Bushchenko also noted that the book published by KHPG on violence in the law enforcement agencies had changed the attitude to this issue among the higher management of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (for example, a system of mobile MIA groups has been created for preventing torture and other forms of abuse. Victoria Tiutiunnyk More information about the KHPG campaign can be found at:, as well as under torture and ill-treatment at

The right to a fair trial

Yevhen Zakharov: “The Ukrainian judicial system needs urgent reform”

The Ukrainian judicial system does not meet European standards and urgently requires reform. This was the message in an interview for Deutsche Welle given by the Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and candidate for the post of Human Rights Ombudsperson Yevhen Zakharov. The latest proof of this, he said, could be seen in the increasing numbers of claims from Ukrainians lodged with the European Court of Human Rights.

The Supreme Court of Ukraine is overloaded with appeals against the rulings of local courts and cannot review them in the legally established time periods, Yevhen Zakharov stated. “If on 1 January 2005 there were twenty thousand cases still awaiting consideration in the Civil Chambers, on 1 January 2006 the number had reached thirty thousand. I don’t even know how many there are now.” Another reason for the increase in claims is the reluctance of the prosecutor’s office to launch criminal investigations over incidents of torture and ill-treatment of people detained by law enforcement officers. Earlier the Head of the Supreme Court Vasyl Onopenko acknowledged the existence of systemic problems in the work of Ukrainian courts and bodies to implement their rulings. He stated that the number of claims to the European Court would not decrease until scientifically based judicial reform took hold in Ukraine.

Freedom of expression

Temnyky [directions on what to cover and how] in the Russian media to Moroz’ taste?

The Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Oleksandr Moroz believes that Ukraine lacks balanced information state policy aimed at ensuring that the media presents the real state of affairs in the country.

 Moroz stated this at a meeting in the Odessa region during a one-day working visit to Odessa yesterday.

The Speaker cited as an example the information broadcasts of Russian television channels where there are usually reports on issues of concern to everybody, coverage of events of national importance, as well as the state of affairs in the regions.

He also said that in Russia they develop respect for the state and a feeling of patriotism which are affirmed by specific examples and actions of the authorities, public organizations, in social, economic and political spheres.

Moroz said that on Ukraine’s central television channels such information policy which efficiently and fully gives coverage, including of the regions, was more often than not lacking. He asserted that this state of affairs needed to be changed radically.

Law enforcement agencies

Kharkiv Regional Appeal Court reviews alleged beating of two adolescents by the police in Bily Kolodyaz

In September 2006 two young lads – one 14, the other 16 from the village of Bily Kolodyaz in the Vovchansky district of the Kharkiv region were allegedly beaten by the police who had been called in after a row broke out outside the disco, during which the boys were claimed to have used obscene language and disturbed the peace.

The father of the 14-year-old – Oleksandr Skrypnyk – approached the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group on behalf of the two lads.

The Vovchansky district prosecutor’s office twice refused to launch a criminal investigation over the police officers’ actions. These refusals were twice revoked, first by a higher-level prosecutor, then by the court.

However the Vovchansky district prosecutor’s office, instead of looking into the case, establishing all the circumstances and passing a lawful resolution, decided to use the appeal court to overturn the court’s ruling.

On 18 January the Kharkiv Appeal Court reviewed the appeal lodged by Senior Assistant to the Vovchansky district Prosecutor. The Skrypnyk family was represented by KHPG lawyer Aigul Mukanova. We are pleased to report that the Appeal Court rejected the appeal and upheld the original ruling revoking the resolution of the prosecutor’s office which refused to launch a criminal investigation. It is cheering that the Judges of the Appeal Court treated the case in a principled manner and reminded the prosecutor’s office of their duty to observe all Ukrainian legislation.

The case is continuing. We will see what happens later, whether the  Vovchansky district prosecutor’s office will rectify their previous mistakes and finally do what the laws of Ukraine require of them.

Our correspondent

NGO activities

Monitoring human rights in the Odessa region

On 31 January a press conference called by the Odessa Regional Section of the All-Ukrainian Civic Organization “The Committee of Voters of Ukraine” presented the results of their project “Monitoring of the observance of human rights and promoting their defence in the Odessa region – 2006” The project is no chance undertaking, since human rights activities are an integral part of the activities of our civic organization. In 2005 we successfully completed a similar project. This project began in July 2006. It was aimed at systematically monitoring how human rights are observed in the Odessa region, at informing the public both about their rights and the level to which they are being complied with, and ensuring protection of these rights in the Odessa region. The monitoring was carried out by gathering and analyzing information regarding violations of constitutional rights and liberties of people in the region, making formal requests for information from the authorities on the basis of data from our public reception centre, as well as analyzing publications in the mass media. In implementing this project we hope for constructive cooperation with civic organizations, the mass media and all those who are interested in ensuring that human rights are safeguarded in our region. To receive statistical information and determine the main trends as far as rights violations are concerned, as well as to analyze the situation with access to information, the project’s lawyer prepared 55 formal requests for information which were sent to law enforcement agencies, executive bodies, bodies of local self-government and other official institutions in the Odessa region. We received 48 responses. 3 of these were refusals to provide information, in 10 the information was given in part and only 10 provided it in full. The least open structures, as previously, were the law enforcement agencies, the prosecutor’s office and the courts. On 6 December as part of the project a roundtable was held in Odessa on observance of human rights at the regional level. This was attended by members of human rights organizations from the Luhansk, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Rivne and Kherson regions, the departments for housing and communal services and for healthcare of the Odessa City Council, the central department of employment and social policy of the Odessa Regional Administration and the media. We also invited representatives of the prosecutor’s offices in Odessa and the Odessa region, as well as the city department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the department of healthcare and medicine of the Odessa Regional Administration, however these for reasons unknown to us ignored our invitation. Information was presented at the roundtable about the human rights situation in the regions mentioned. In addition, the participants discussed ways and mechanisms for improving the situation. The suggestion was put forward that the post of regional ombudsperson be created through the appropriate decision being taken by the Regional Council, and that a council and / or association of civic organizations be formed to coordinate their efforts on protecting human rights. As part of the project, a public reception centre gathered information about violations of human rights and also provided free legal consultations. The centre can be contacted everyday except weekends and public holidays by telephone 743-70-13 or by e-mail [email protected]. Over the 6 months of the project the centre was approached by around 400 people, and documentary evidence was received of over 80 rights violations. In comparison with a year earlier, the number turning to the centre had doubled, and the geographical range had broadened, with more than a third living in the Odessa region. We also carried out an analysis of actual practice in applying the Code of Administrative Justice of Ukraine in order to defend human rights. An analytical report about the human rights situation in the Odessa region has been put together and published on the basis of our findings. Since this project is part of an undertaking on a much larger scale – “Human Rights in Ukraine – 2006, our report will be included within the nationwide report of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, which will be widely published both in Ukraine and abroad. The project was supported by the Democracy Fund of the US Embassy in Kyiv. The Press Service of the Odessa Regional Section of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine

Point of view

Yevhen Sverstyuk: “We will need to view the Orange Revolution as a rehearsal”

“We know so little about the secret of life”

- Yevhen Oleksandrovych, before touching on present-day reality, I would like to look back to the past. Clearly your moral choice was to a considerable degree programmed by what life gave you.

My parents’ influence was vital despite the fact that they were not educated people. I grew up in a very pronounced Christian family. My elder brothers also influenced my development. There was Vasyl who died of tuberculosis, Petro, Yakiv who was in the UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army]. I still remember the lads who balanced between life and death – the resistance fighters. That was something special, romantic, a living legend. There was a general feeling of being spiritually uplifted. The mournful, yet at the same time unyielding resistance songs, the nationalist literature … Everything was entirely determined in childhood.

– You have succeeded under all circumstances in remaining yourself, whether speaking from the rostrum, or behind barbed wire. What is the secret of such steadfastness?

I never played  anybody else’s role. Even when they wanted to expel me from university for what I said about Hitler and Stalin. They suspended the case because they were too frightened to write the protocol. When they questioned me, I said nothing against my own conscience. I explained: “I have a rather different perception from yours, since my history is different”.

And they understood that.

-  How was it possible to not break, to remain firm? You always remained firm: during your trial in April 1973 (on the day of Christ’s crucifixion), and even earlier – when you stood up for Viacheslav Chornovil and Valentyn Moroz, and when you spoke about the fire deliberately lit  in the Kyiv Central Scientific Library  [The fire, lit by Pogruzahlsky, probably working for the KGB, destroyed a huge number of works on Ukrainian studies and archival documents – translator]

«Troubled waves of anger disappeared, the founding light breaks through, the first, single essence of all rises up, the essence of everything – love” – this was what I once expressed in poetic form. I continue to believe it.

– In a letter to Professor Yury Lutsky from 27 October 1981, you stated: “We know so little about the secret of life, but we imagine that it is nourished by the joy of sun-filled moments. Without these there is only slow fading of the light”.

One needs to understand that there is a field of honour. And that the main weapon remains the word … I cannot call myself brave, although I don’t like timid nonentities. And when I know that it is impossible to retreat, I don’t retreat. And then I gain the right to take the offensive. Here you have “secrets”.

“A major moral and cultural conflict is gathering”

Yevhen Oleksandrovych, in November and December 2004, during a conversation we had, you said that we were seeing not merely the consecration of Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] in the capital, but that the nation was finally awakening. Some time has passed since then. 2007 will clearly be yet another serious test for Ukraine. And not only in the political field.

Every historical period is crucial in its way. Each has its chance. It is a different matter how we make use of this.  At present the development of events is not totally unpredictable. It’s the worst variant of the possible. And we will need to view the Orange Revolution as a rehearsal for another revolution. And the force which is today in power cannot ensure social harmony at a decent cultural level. It lacks the elements of social humanism, the social perspective. These are people who want power, and are trying to share it out without very clearly understanding why. For that they simply lack the culture. For that reason, as if for a laugh, with no understanding of what religion really is, in post-communist Ukraine, they put a communist Popov (probably also because of his name) at the head of the Committee on Religious Affairs. They probably remembered that over fifty years the communists learned to govern the Church. It’s like a malicious joke. The same applies with Dmytro Tabachnyk.

- We can recall in this context the joint Christmas greetings of 2007 and the parting prayers on Volodymyr Hill in Kyiv at the end of December.  Viktor Yushchenko took part in them together with Moscow hierarchs and priests and the first Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Adam Martynyuk.

For me Orthodox atheism, which is the modern revived religion of the communist party, is basically the religion of the Moscow Patriarchate passed on from Stalin. It is a political religion. I am not joking. It is like an exact definition - Orthodox atheism.

- Yet the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church [UAOC] did not simply play up to Moscow: Its head – Metropolitan Mefodiy Kudryakov – during the last presidential elections was an authorized representative of Viktor Yanukovych, whom the Kremlin was counting on. We can recall how the editorial office of “Nasha Vira” [“Our Faith” – the monthly newspaper Yevhen Oleksandrovych is editor of] was driven out at the wish of the Head of the UAOC.

I could easily talk to Mefodiy if I wanted to descend low enough to speak with him  For me he is worse than an atheist because the latter can be decent people. For me he is worse than any priest since he is not a priest , but a person who attracts criminal dealings. . There would be no point in talking to him. And if one recalls Mefodiy’s mission, you have to say that he headed the criminal gang who attacked “Nasha Vira”. And, obviously, that operation was agreed with the relevant non-Ukrainian security service. That was unequivocally thought out. It was all connected with Azarov and with members of the order of St Stanislav. They just needed premises. And it was very important for them to crush our newspaper.  Primitive people (among the Kyiv journalist and writer fraternity as well) don’t know that it’s important. None of it happened by accident. The informed bodies know who is who.

-  The other wing of the UOAC is headed by Archbishop Ihor Isichenko. How are your relations with him?

Normal. He is a Christian and Ukrainian patriot, and a truly spiritual person.

– At the end of the day virtually all our problems are linked with spirituality. Or will perhaps the most important tests which our people will face in 2007 be of an economic nature?

A major moral and cultural conflict is gathering already now. The Party of the Regions is essentially a negative regime. It is a regime that is against, and what it’s for is not clear. It is running up against Ukrainian forces which are trying to establish the sort of system in Ukraine which is needed in a normal country.  In this sense they have nothing in common with the Regions.

During this holy festival what would you wish your fellow country people for the coming year?

I would hope that they rise to a high enough level to understand the defeat which Ukrainian politicians have organized for themselves. This involves division, inability to unite and the incapability to make elementary calculations regarding winning situations.

The constant squabbling over individuals, the inability of small leaders to rise above their own ambitions to think at a national level.  2006 brought us a lesson: the defeat of Ukrainian national forces lies specifically in the fact that they are not nationally aware or responsible. I would hope that they can learn a lesson from this. A hard lesson.

Interview taken by Viktor Berbych, 18 January 2007


Yevhen Sverstyuk, prominent Ukrainian writer, philosopher and former political prisoner, was born on 13 December 1928, the seventh child in the family of Oleksandr and Yevhenia Sverstyuk in the village of Siltse, Horokhivsky district, Volyn region.   He has written many books and numerous essays and articles on literature, psychology, philosophy, and religion, as well as translations from German, English and Russian. He is a laureate of the Shevchenko State Prise, and the International UNESCO Award. In Ukraine and in the West he has been known since the 1960s as a participant in the national liberation movement, and was one of the organizers of Ukrainian “samvydav” [samizdat].  He spent 12 years in the Soviet labour camps and in exile for his literary works, in particular for his book “Sobor u ryshtovanni” [“The cathedral under scaffolding”] (Paris, 1970).  He is presently editor of the National newspaper “Nasha Vira” [“Our Faith”], and is also the President of the Ukrainian PEN-Club, and a co-organizer of the civic organization “Hromadyanska pozitsiya” [“Civic Stand”]. 

Please see  for more details about Yevhen Sverstyuk’s life

Basic Instinct: Diagnosis

There is neither opposition nor coalition in Ukraine. All is illusion. We were all grossly conned. In Ukraine there is conflict awaiting resolution.

This conflict is not a confrontation between political forces. That kind of confrontation in fact in normal law-based states and where there is a developed civic society and guarantee democratic running of elections is resolved by the voters. Moreover, that is not a fundamental conflict, but an active demonstration of unity and battle of opposites, supposedly the essence of the important factor of social progress.

However that’s in normal countries, whereas we have a state that is abnormal, downright dysfunctional and ridden with a poison of external origin and the remains of local shit.  And also prone to sadistic attacks against those whom according to the widespread myth it should be serving. No suggestion of a law-based state. Yet this is with a developed civic society (a nation that is self-aware, self-sufficient and uncompromisingly free within).

However that is where there are democratic elections. Excuse me, but the assertion about the final democratic nature of the elections of 2004 and the almost total democratic nature of the 2006 elections is sly deceit. In the first of the two – because a side effect of that electoral competition was the deviant “political reform”  [the constitutional amendments]. In the second -  because each can put hand on heart (for example) and with all severity ask themselves whether it was possible to name this electoral process (in fact, the last also) the functioning of a mechanism for transforming the interests of citizens into politics.  That is, into policies at state and local levels? At least questionable is it not?

We must therefore with deep regret state the empirical fact that the single real, constant and for now inevitable legacy of the actions under the code name “elections in Ukraine” is the change in decorations and rotation of people among a prostituted nomenklatura (interesting, incidentally, where there is such a thing as a nomenklatura which isn’t prostituted). And that’s all.

And all the twitching of politicians and minor political intriguers, all those mutual recriminations, fountains of passion, fireworks of pathos, deputy fracas, the schizophrenia of the political reform and saintly fool bliss of memoranda, universal and other, the head-spinning political cons, behind the scenes agreements, the factional wrestling, ritual dances around the rostrum, the total betrayal by all of everyone, the piles of foul compromising material – it’s all crap. “All fucking crap”, - as a character from Andrukhovych’s “Moskoviada” said.   Con, pretence and foam. A spectacle for those who still have a bit of bread. Camouflage to use in conditions of civil war. They’re taking the Mickey out of us.  So that we don’t set up the barricades, they show us a doll exhibition with barricades out of paper mache. Or plasticine.

So, there is an unresolved conflict – the election-proof conflict between those divided into autonomous clans with the code name leaders (both state officials and shadowy figures - what counts here is not formalities but possibility for influence) and citizens. The latter are theoretically “sovereign”, yet in practice are squeezed by the “elite” And it’s a shame that we have still not fully recognized this state of military rule and our inevitable status as party to this conflict, its depth and existential nature. Those who have not yet got properly high on the surrealist grass from the Donetsk grow-your-own, with its overtly hallucinogenic honey  – will soon be helped. And therefore, having long served up (previously with fans’ drive, then with the interest of a researcher, and ever more often with so far restrained revulsion) the variety show “Little Russian political world”, I have finally formulated for these individuals a highly topical question. And it’s not about repeat attacks of conscience but about whether they have a survival instinct. Or about the unvarying domination as basic instinct of untrammelled insatiability.

In the last instance one of the extreme versions of the reasons for the extinction of the dinosaurs should come to mind. They suffocated on their own miasma.

Dissidents and their time

Oleksa Tykhy: Citizen of Ukraine

The press recently reported that the memorial plaque to Oleksa Tykhy at the Druzhnivska City Library had been desecrated.  The following letter was received from Yevhen Shapovalov in Oleksiyevo-Druzhkivka.

“I am a businessman producing small mosaic jewellery. I see all that is happening in connection with Tykhy and feel so ashamed for all of us, for our Donbas area. Yet this is my native land, I love it as Oleksa loved the Donetsk region. And so I made this memorial plaque and had it placed there. And now let the authorities explain what happened. Let them claim all the credit. That’s not what’s important. The main thing is that in the school there is a memorial to Tykhy,  a memory to the truth, memory to Ukraine, and that children see it every day. Those children are our future. Maybe their lives at least will be easier.”

The businessman sent a photo of the monument: there is an opened book with a portrait of Oleksa Tykhy and his words. And a torch. The presentation of the memorial is scheduled for 11 a.m. 26 January in the Oleksiyevo-Druzhkivka school which Tykhy finished in 1943, and where he taught from 1954-56.  This worthy undertaking has the support of the school, the settlement council, the city department of education, as well as of journalists.

On 27 January 2007 it will be 80 years since Oleksy Ivanovych Tykhy was born in the farmstead of Yizhivka, Kostyantynivka district of the Donetsk region. Tykhy, a consistent and uncompromising opponent of Russification, teacher, human rights defender, was one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group in 1976.  He died in the prison hospital of the Perm political labour camps on 6 May 1984.  Five years later, on 19 November 1989, the reburial of Oleksa Tykhy, Vasyl Stus and Yury Lytvyn, all imprisoned as “particularly dangerous state criminals” and “repeat offenders” in Baikove Cemetery (Kyiv) was attended by more than thirty thousand people from all over Ukraine.

Oleksa Tykhy graduated from the Philosophy Department of Moscow State University, having first studied at the Zaporizhye Agricultural Institute and at the Dnipropetrovsk Institute for Transport Engineers, then. He worked as a teacher in schools in the Pryazovske district of the Zaporizhye region and in the Kostyantynivka district of the Donetsk region, teaching physics, maths and Ukrainian language, as well as on a building site and as a fireman.

He was first arrested in 1948 for criticism of the only “candidate” as Deputy, but was released after a “preventive talk”.

The second arrest was on 15 January 1957 over a letter he sent the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) protesting against the occupation of Hungary by the forces of Warsaw Pact countries, and also for “anti-Soviet agitation” and “slandering the CPSU and Soviet reality” through his critical comments about Soviet schools, made at a teachers’ conference on the restructuring of schools. He was sentenced on 18 May 1958 by the Stalino (now Donetsk) Regional Court under Article 54-10 of the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”) to 7 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years deprivation of civil rights.

He served his sentence in the Mordovian political labour camps, Camp No. ZhKh-385/11, the station Yavas, Zubova Polyana district.  There he worked as a joiner on a power-saw bench.  Among fellow prisoners whom he communicated with were the composer Vasyl Barvinsky, Levko Lukyanenko and Josyf Slipy. He was released in 1964.

Tykhy wrote several articles on the Russification of Donbas, on the woeful state of the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian culture in Donbas, as well as articles on the problems of the Ukrainian village (in response to an article on rural problems in “Literaturna gazeta” [“Literary newspaper”]). In an article on the Ukrainian language and culture in the Donetsk regions from 1972 Tykhy supported the collective form of management, yet suggested nonetheless giving more freedom to those working on the land.

Since he was not allowed to work in his field, he worked as a fitter, a fireman and as a brick firer. His work was in shifts and he had the opportunity to visit friends from the camps and human rights activists, and he also circulated samizdat material. 

Oleksa Tykhy put together a book for teachers, an anthology of quotes by prominent people entitled “Mova narodu. Narod” [“The People’s Language. The People”] which received praise from scientific institutions, as well as a dictionary of the Ukrainian dialect of the Donbas area. Tykhy’s language was a model of pure literary Ukrainian.  He spoke correctly, disarming his hearer with a gentle smile.  He combined an iron will with the rare qualities of extreme tolerance and willingness to accept others and kind-heartedness.

On 15 June 1976 during a search of his home, a text of the collection “Mova narodu. Narod” was removed. Tykhy himself was held for two days “on suspicion of having robbed a shop”.

In November 1976 Tykhy became one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG).  He was arrested again on 4 February 1977 and charged under Article 62 Part 2 (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”) and Article 222  “illegal possession of firearms”) of the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR  The second charge related to an old German rifle sealed up with clay from the War found during the search in the attic of his shed.  The trial of Oleksa Tykhy and Mykola Rudenko took place between 23 June and 1 July 1977 in the town of Druzhkivka in the Donetsk region.  Tykhy was accused on the basis of the articles “Ukrainske slovo” [“Ukrainian word”], “Dumky pro ridnu movu” [“Thoughts on our native language”], “Silski problemy” [“Rural issues”], “Rozdumy pro ukrainsku movu ta ukrainsku literature na Donechchyni” [“Reflections on the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian literature in the Donetsk region”], the texts of the Declaration of the UHG and the Memorandum No. 1 of the UHG, the latter two Tykhy having taken part in discussing and signed. The court did not prove a single fact of defamation of the Soviet political and social system in Tykhy’s articles and utterances, restricting itself to the statement that he referred to “the supposed Russification in the Donbas area”, still less did they provide any evidence that he had aimed to undermine the system.

He was sentenced by the Donetsk Regional Court to 10 years special regime labour camp and 5 years exile, being declared a particularly dangerous repeat offender.

He was sent again to the Mordovian political labour camps, this time Camp No. ZhKh-385/1, the settlement of Sosnovka, then was transferred to the hospital in Nizhny Tagin.

Tykhy took an active part in the protest actions of the prisoners and signed collective letters and appeals. In  April 1978 he began a hunger strike which was to last for 52 days. In the summer of 1978 Tykhy and Father Vasyl Romanyuk produced a document with the title “Istorychna dolya Ukrainy. Lyst ukrainskykh politvyazniv. Sproba uzahalnennya” [“The Historical fate of Ukraine. A letter from Ukrainian political prisoners. An attempt at an overall view”).  In it the authors proclaimed the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be the highest principle for the co-existence of all peoples and nationalities, distanced themselves from the politics and practice of the CPSU both with regard to the national question, and in terms of its treatment of the concept of democracy.

In the section on the historical fate of Ukraine, the consequences of the joining of Ukraine to Russia were examined, and the wish for Ukraine’s future independence expressed. In the section “Possible forms of resistance”, the authors proposed passive resistance in the form of resisting Russification, including the following:

-  “Using only our native language in our native land, and through this changing ourselves and our people;

-  Not sending children to kindergartens and schools where the  teaching is in Russian, seeking to have schools and pre-school education provided in our native language, or teaching our children ourselves;

-  Refusing to study in schools and other educational institutions where the  teaching is in Russian, trying to find schools, technical colleges and higher educational institutions with tuition in our native language and studying independently, taking exams as external students;

-  Speaking our native language not only in the family, but at work, in public activity and in public;

-  Refraining from drinking vodka, using bad language and smoking;

-  Refusing to serve in the army outside Ukraine and under commanders who do not use Ukraine;

-  Not leaving to work outside Ukraine;

-  Defending our rights and the rights of others, freedom, honour, dignity; standing up for Ukrainian sovereignty;

-  Uncovering and publicizing all violations of the law for which there should be no impunity.

Unfortunately none of these words have lost their force and relevance. The recommendations on how to survive as a Ukrainian in Ukraine remain immediate since Ukrainian language and culture continue to be in the position of a national minority in many parts of Ukraine. “Yet where do we find that freedom is achieved without sacrifice? Is it really fitting to live as trembling animals, governed by our stomachs, bringing up our children to be rootless children of the twentieth century?”, the authors ask.

In October 1978 Tykhy began a new hunger strike and was moved into a solitary confinement cell. The doctor refused to treat him.

On 18 April 1979, into the seventeenth day of another hunger strike, Tykhy suffered an ulcer haemorrhage.  He was only taken to hospital after 18 hours with blood pressure of 70/40, since the Head of the Camp claimed that Tykhy was pretending. The surgeon, Skrypnyk, demanded before operating that Tykhy make a written renunciation of his previous activity, in response to which Tykhy accused him of blackmail. “Your life will be short and full of pain”, the doctor told him. It was a week after the operation before Tykhy regained consciousness.

In January and February 1980 Tykhy was held in a punishment isolation cell with only short breaks for around 40 days. He was punished, the administration said, for ripping off his breast tag, for not getting up when those in authority entered, for refusing to work and for having a bad influence on other prisoners.

From 27 February to 1 March 1980 all the prisoners of the special regime unit, including Tykhy, were moved to the Perm political labour camps, to Camp No. VS-389/36-1 in the village of Kutchino, Chusovoi district of the Perm region. One prisoner died during the journey. In the camp Tykhy was on many occasions punished for not fulfilling his work norm, for refusing to shave off his moustache, for protest hunger strikes and other reasons. He was kept in a cell-type punishment block for 6 months for ‘violations of the regime’, and again went on hunger strike.

From 1983 Tykhy’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. He lost weight (at 1.78 m. he weighed 41 kilograms). He had to be held when brought to his last 40-minute visit from his son Volodymyr, yet he  laughed, recalled the Sermon on the Mount. This Don Quixote of the twentieth century with the face of a European president went to his death as his predecessors had gone to the stake.

Oleksa Tykhy died in a cell in the Perm prison hospital on 6 May 1984.  His son was not permitted to take his father’s body.

With Presidential Decree No. № 937/2006 from 8 November 2006, to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords (the Ukrainian Helsinki Group), for his civic courage, selfless commitment to the struggle for the ideals of freedom and democracy, Oleksa Tykhy was awarded the State Honour “For courage”, First Class (posthumously).

Iryna Rapp and Vasyl Ovsiyenko

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2007, #01