war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

I am happy because it has been my good fortune to be in charge of a worthy task!

Larisa Skrypnykova, Chairperson of the Karelia Republic Society for Ukrainian Culture “Kalyna”
Monument “To the Slaughtered Sons and Daughters of Ukraine” in the Sandarmokh Clearing (Karelia)

.. And they bore their crosses in the world (O. Oles)

The dream of many Ukrainians throughout the world has come true. On 5 August, on the Day of Memory of the Victims of Stalin’s Repressions, the official presentation took place of the Monument of the Cossack Cross “To the Slaughtered Sons and Daughters of Ukraine” in the Sandarmokh Clearing (Karelia). Behind these simple words lie the huge and selfless work, efforts and inspiration of many people in Karelia and Kyiv, America and Canada …

How did it all begin?  On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of “October” and of the NKVD, on 2 July 1937 the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) passed Resolution R 51/94 « get rid of unreliable and socially dangerous citizens once and for all». This was the beginning of a mass campaign of repression.

A Directive from the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs, M. Yezhov, gave the following instruction to A. Apeter (the Head of the Solovky Special Purpose Prison): «...Point .3. The Solovky Prison has been assigned a quota of 1200 men to be repressed».

The intelligentsia of almost all national groups of the USSR arrived in the “Solovky embarkation point” to then be imprisoned on Solovky. Among them were nearly 300 Ukrainians. For a very long time nobody knew where the last resting place on this earth of prisoners from this embarkation point was …

Members of the Karelia chapter of “Memorial” spent many years searching for the place of execution near the capital of the Belomor-Baltiysky kanal, the city of Medvezhyegorsk.  The first witnesses had indicated a likely place for the mass burial.  In the summer of 1997, thanks to the unrelenting efforts of the Karelia and St. Petersburg chapters of “Memorial”, and with the assistance of the local administration, the fate of those from the “Solovetski embarkation point” became clear.

The Chairperson of the Karelia chapter of “Memorial”, Ivan Chukhin (and after his death – Yury Dmitriev, Petrozavodsk) and Venyamin Yofe, have loudly, for all the world to hear, revealed the truth: from 27 October to 4 November Capitan Mykhail Matveyev with his henchmen shot 1111 prisoners of Solovky  in the Sandarmokh Clearing of the Medvezhyegorsk district of Karelia. Yury Dmitriev was finally able to discover the secret burial area, and since that time the terrible word “Sandarmokh” has become known far beyond Karelia.

In the cold and beautiful earth of Karelia lie the remains of thousands of innocent victims of the killing, representatives of different nationalities – Finns and Russians, Armenians and Belorussians, Karelians and Germanys, Poles and Ukrainians … our fellow Ukrainians.

Sandarmokh is the last earthly resting place for the pride of the Ukrainian nation. In the lists there are more than 500 names. And this figure, tragically, is not all of them. I will not name the world-renowned writers, ministers, scientists, artists, for we are all equal before God. I would mention only that among them there are the names of 139 women who were very young – from 24 to 30 years old. Dear God, the torment they endured! They suffered together with the men, together with them all they froze and became bloated from starvation; they collapsed attempting work for which they lacked the strength.  And yet, and yet – they were young and beautiful, and it is terrible to imagine how they were also raped and humiliated. As though it were uncomfortable to talk of such things, we ashamedly lower our eyes and yet it all happened. Instead of the tender arms of their husbands, their fiancés, they had the lewd sneers and groping hands of executioners!

Lost, murdered lives …

We know a lot and yet there is still more that we do not know. We will never know what those who suffered thought about in their final moments. Did they long to live?  Or did they perhaps pray to God to put an end to their suffering? For the torment was inhuman: emaciated, tortured people were undressed, their hands and feet were bound, a gag was placed in their mouth, and only then they were shot.

Long before that time Mykola Zerov wrote: “… I stand numbed and live already drained of all strength …” Terrible to read!  What was it – a premonition of his end?

God grant that nobody ever should experience such a fate. And that never again will we see the terrible roads that led to Sandarmokh and Bykivnya, Levashov and Krasny Bor, Byessovets and Sulazhgor, Siberia and Kolyma ..And this list could go on and on.

Forgive us, Oh Lord!  For all that I am not to blame, nonetheless, I want to fall on my knees and cry so that all the world could hear: «Forgive us, Oh Lord!»...

In October 1997, the government of Karelia took the necessary decisions and a Memorial was opened, where the memory of all those murdered in the Sandarmokh Clearing could for the first time be properly honoured.  A monument with the inscription: “People, do not kill each other” was erected (created by the sculptor Grygory Saltup from Petrozavodsk).  Members of the St. Petersburg “Memorial” brought stone from Solovky. Memorial services for the innocent victims were held by priests of different confessions, and the administration of the city of Medvezhyegorsk organized a memorial funeral wake. The opening of the Memorial was attended by a Ukrainian delegation led by the poet and public figure, well-known both in Ukraine and beyond, Ivan Drach. The former political prisoner, Yevhen Sverstyuk, brought an oak cross which was prepared by the Kyiv artist, Mykola Malyshko.  Since that time, every year in August, a Ukrainian delegation comes to the Memorial, and services in memory are held near the oak cross.  We, the members of the Society for Ukrainian Culture on Karelia regularly come to Sandarmokh, and near the Cross plant flowers, pray, read the poems of Ukrainian political prisoners, and honour our countrymen and women.

Yet we still dreamed of creating a true monument, the work of a professional sculptor.  Within a year a member of our Society, the artist Oleh Chumak had created a sketched proposal for the monument. This was sent to Kyiv, while at the same time I held talks with Ukrainians from America about possible assistance for the building, however unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately (how can we know?) at that time there was not enough energy for this task.  In the spring of 2003 we received a phone call which was to be momentous for our task. It was for me a great honour to talk with the State Deputy, Viktor Yushchenko.  He asked me to be in charge of building a Ukrainian chapel (designed by Ivan Kushnir in Kyiv).  Obviously I was happy to agree, however for objective reasons the building of the chapel never eventuated.

In March 2004, I had a meeting with Viktor Yushchenko, where it was definitely decided to erect a monument to the murdered Ukrainians in the Sandarmokh Clearing. The first significant contribution was received from the bloc “Nasha Ukraina” [“Our Ukraine”], personally from Viktor Yushchenko.  It is possible that not all are aware that Karelia is connected for the current President of Ukraine with his own personal sorrow. It was here, on the building of the Belomorkanal that his father, Andriy Yushchenko, worked as a political prisoner.

After this, an initiative group of well-known Ukrainian human rights activists came together, headed by Yevhen Sverstyuk. We discussed all issues involved once again, and considered the design for the monuments of the winners of the competition – the artist Mykola Malyshko and the sculptor Nazar Bilyk.

While we in Karelia were dreaming of building this monument, our fellow Ukrainians in Kyiv, America and Canada, were filled with the same longing. We were gathered together, united and our general efforts coordinated by the indefatigable and uncompromising publicist, laureate of the Vasyl Stus Award and ardent son of Ukraine, Vasyl Ovsiyenko.

It was only then, when we joined forces, that our plans really began to move. At Vasyl Ovsiyenko’s initiative, the World Congress of Ukrainians and the Kyiv chapter of “Memorial” published through the entire world appeals “To the Slaughtered Sons and Daughters of Ukraine” requesting donations towards building the Monument. I, on my part, wrote about the building of the Monument to newspapers in Ukraine, Russia and America.  And people from all over the world responded. The actual work commenced.

67 years ago a black day took place for Ukraine. On 3 November, in one single day in Sandarmokh, 139 Ukrainians were murdered.  These included the well-known language specialist, Mykola Trokhymenko. His son – Venyamin Trokhymenko, a citizen of the USA,  may God grant him good health and a long life, took charge of the erection of the monument, in memory of all the lives destroyed, not only that of his own father, but of all Ukrainians. It is specifically thanks to his financial assistance, that in Kyiv in 2002 the All-Ukrainian Association of Political Prisoners and Victims of Repression, the Kyiv Institute for the Applied Arts and the editorial board of the bulletin “Ant” were able to organize and run a competition for the best design of a monument in Sandarmokh, gave consolation prizes to those who participated and chose winners – the artist Mykola Malyshko and the sculptor Nazar Bilyk. An enormous amount of work in this direction was also carried out by Roman Selivachov.  It was Venyamin Trokhymenko who made the biggest contribution towards the actual building of the monument. One can say without any exaggeration that it was his generosity which allowed us to achieve everything in such a short space of time.

The first step was to receive land on which to build the monument. Thanks to the Head of Administration of the city of Medvezhyegorsk, Volodymyr Karpenko and his deputy, Yevgeny Mykhailov, this question was resolved in record time. In general, less than a year was to elapse between the time when we obtained permission to build the Monument and full completion of the work!

I cannot say that it was an easy task. Firstly, absolutely all the organizational work was done entirely on a voluntary basis. And the amount of work was considerable: from carrying out the design of the place and agreeing it all in various institutions to looking for materials, skilled craftsmen, transport and a lot of other big and small problems.  Perhaps it really is true that a person who genuinely wants to do something finds a way and the financing, while a person who doesn’t want to finds excuses?  I think it is exactly like that. Nobody was in any doubt as to what material the monument should be made out – only granite, since this is the strongest stone in existence, which withstands freezing temperatures, changes in temperature and moisture.  The Monument – a Cossack Cross must stand a long time, it is being erected to last centuries. The designers opted for grey granite from the Mansurovsk quarry in the Urals. At the end of September 2004 the monument was finished, the only thing now in the way was organizing the foundations. On 6 October it was planned to bring the monument from the factory and stand it on its foundation. Finally, the monument – the Cossack Cross – “To the Slaughtered Sons and Daughters of Ukraine” for ever took its place in the pine clearing, where Orthodox and Catholic Crosses, Muslim and Jewish Memorial Stones already stand. To tell the truth, there were doubts as to whether our monument would not be out of place in the Memorial. All the other Crosses are wooden, and ours is made of granite. And yet, incredibly, our monument not only fitted, but now it seems as though for the complete sculptural collection it was specifically that which was missing.

Behind the Cross we planted a huge snowball bush which a generous Ukrainian, Lyudmila Kostyukevych, had grown in her garden.  May a nightingale alight on this bush, and give its song and provide solace to the souls of the murdered, may it convey our grieving thoughts to them.  We planted also periwinkle, brought from Ukraine and marigolds. There is now one cross more in the world. It stands in a pine forest, in far off Karelia. It stands so that people will not forget the terrible, accursed Stalin period. This Cossack Cross stands, a mute symbol of our long-suffering, our free, independent, cherry-rich Ukraine!  A granite plaque was added which states that the Monument was erected thanks to the donations of citizens of Ukraine, Karelia, America, Canada, the Society for Ukrainian Culture of Vorkuta. However without God’s help, without an understanding of our patriotic feelings on the part of many people whom we were to turn to, we would have experienced far greater difficulties. And the help came from people of different nationalities: Mykola Kovtun, Ukrainian; Oleh Misilyuk, Ukrainian; Oleksandr Lyallya, Finnish; Leonid Tatarov, Greek; Lana Mihynova, veps [a people from near Karelia]; Yevgeny Mikhailov, Sergei Koptyrin, Viktor Mogutin, Yury Dmitriev – Russians; Viktor Krysevych, Ukrainian; Volodymyr Karpenko, Ukrainian… On 9 October 2004 the Ukrainian community of Karelia came to the new monument. The priest, Father Leonid conducted a memorial service for the murdered innocent sons and daughters of Ukraine. The news that the monument was completed we passed on in the first instance to Viktor Yushchenko, remembering that he himself had played a direct role in this task.  When the main work was finished, I realized it would be a shame if after a few years the history of building this monument were forgotten and nobody remembered the people who had been involved in it.  And another idea emerged: to write a book about it. Fortunately, a benefactor was found - the president of the concern “Ormi”, Aleksandr Kolosnitsyn, with whose help this book was published.

On 4 August 2005 we met valued guests – the delegation from Ukraine and of Ukrainians from Moscow, Tula.  The Chairperson of the State Committee on Nationalities of the Republic of Karelia, Yevgeny Shorokov, the General Consul of Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Mykola Rudko, the Co-Chairperson of the Association of Ukrainians of Russia and of the Federal National Cultural Autonomy “Ukrainians of Russia”, Valery Semenenko also took part in the commemorative events. The book “To the Slaughtered Sons and Daughters of Ukraine”. Sandarmokh” was formally presented.  The official opening of the Monument took place on 5 August.  Everybody was very nervous, wanting the event to be something which would never be forgotten.  Was this achieved? I would have the temerity to say that yes, it was achieved! I saw tears in the eyes of many of those present. I saw and heard such words of gratitude from Venyamin Trokhymenko that could never be forgotten! I am happy because it has been my good fortune to be in charge of a worthy task – the erection of this monument!  And, although the difficulties were incredible, all will be forgotten, and the monument, I believe, will remain for ever!

I would like once more to thank all those people who in word or deed were involved in this sacred task. Finally I would once again quote the words of the great Ukrainian, the martyr of the seventies of the last century, Vasyl Stus:

“Whether your path be to paradise, hell or captivity – all will pass, be able to endure.

Travel your path – that path which you named your own, that which you chose for all eternity.

To this you pledged yourself from childhood, to this God himself has predestined you”.

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