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In Memory of the Victims of the Solovky embarkation point

Vasyl Ovsiyenko
The Sandarmokh Cossack Cross and a call to pay tribute to the victims of Soviet Terror whose unmarked graves lie in Sandarmokh and on Solovky.

68 years ago, on 27 October 1937, in fulfilment of a resolution of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) R 51/94 «On anti-Soviet elements», in the forest clearing of Sandarmokh in the south of Karelia the execution began of 1111 prisoners of the Solovky Special Purpose Prison (SLON[1]). Among them were 290 Ukrainians – the pride of the Ukrainian nation: the creator of the theatre “Berezil” [“March”] Les Kurbas; the neo-classic poet and professor of Kyiv University, Mykola Zerov; the playwright Mykola Kulish; the writers Valeryan Pidmohylny, Pavlo Filypovych, Oleksa Slisarenko, Myroslav Irchan, Hryhoriy Elik, Valeryan Polishchuk, Marko Vorony, Myhkailo Kozoriz, Mykhailo Yalovy; the former Minister of Education in the Ukrainian National Republic[2] Anton Krushelnytsky, and his sons Bohdan and Ostap; the historians Academician Matviy Yavorsky, Professor Serhiy Hrushevsky; the scientists Stepan Rudnytsky, Mykola Pavlushkov, Vasyl Volkov, Petro Bovsunivsky, Mykola Trokhymenko; the founder of the Hydro-meteorological Service of the USSR, Professor Oleksiy Vangenheim; the Minister of Finance of the Ukrainian SSR Mykhailo Poloz … These were people who could have created inestimable spiritual treasures whose heritage would have brought us, Ukrainians, onto an equal footing with other civilized nations. The very presence of such people uplifts a society, makes it better.  Instead the bullets of the barely literate executioner, Matveyev  implementing the will of the Russian communist regime, which was alien and profoundly hostile to us, changed the course of our history.

As in previous years, the informal society “Ukrainian Solovky”, the Kyiv City Organization “Memorial” named after Vasyl Stus, the All-Ukrainian Association of Political Prisoners and Victims of Repression, and the people of Kyiv plan to hold a memorial service and meeting in memory of the victims of the Solovky embarkation point.  It will begin on Thursday, 27 October, at 18.00, near the Monument to Les Kurbas (at the intersection of Prorizna St. and Pushkin St.]

The memorial service and meeting will be attended by descendents of those murdered, participants in the annual delegation to Solovky and Sandarmokh, as well as members of the public. Both the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko and the Head of the Kyiv City State Administration, O.O. Omelchenko have been invited.

If you are unable to be at the memorial service and meeting, then at home remember to light a candle in their memory.

On 2 July 1937 the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) (hereafter the Politburo) passed Resolution R 51/94 «On anti-Soviet elements», in accordance with which the secretaries of regional, area, republic-wide organizations and representative bodies of the NKVD were told within a period of five days to create “special panels of three”[3]and establish the number of people who were to be shot or sent away.  The operation was to begin on 5 July 1937 according to the Order of the NKVD of the USSR No. 00447 and to last 4 months.  In fact, it was suspended at the decision of the Politburo on 15 November 1938. This was to be the most mass-scale “Yezhov Purge”[4] of the entire Soviet era, aimed at ridding society of those categories of the population who, in the opinion of the leadership of the USSR, were not suitable for the building of communism.  Over the 15 months of this campaign, the “special panels of three”, without investigation, court hearings, the prosecutor, defence lawyers and, as often as not, without any actual charges being laid, administered 681,692 death sentences, according to their lists. The death sentences were carried out immediately. This was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the directive issued by the creator of the Soviet State, Vladimir Lenin, which enjoined: “Be models of ruthlessness. Shoot, asking no questions and allowing no idiotic procrastination!” Each republic, region, district was issued with quotes for repression according to categories I and II (I stood for execution (being shot) and II – imprisonment, with the ratio being 3 to 1). Reports were sent “from above” on exceeding quotas, and a socialist competition was launched encouraging going over the norms given, with requests and demands to increase these norms, especially in the case of Category I, with “counter-plans” also put forward.  For example, the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR, Israel Leplevsky made three approaches to have the quotas increased, the People’s Commissar newly-appointed in January 1938 made two such requests. And Moscow obliged each time.

The activity of the “threesomes” covered all categories of the population. Those subjected to repression included “kulaks”[5], “criminal elements”, “counter-revolutionaries” of various shades, “rebels”, “church people”, “spies”, “Trotskyites”,  “saboteurs”, “wreckers”, “bourgeois nationalists”, that is, also the Ukrainian intelligentsia, which, according to Stalin’s definition, “were not trustworthy”. 

The repressions undoubtedly affected all the nations whose misfortune it was to remain in the Russian Empire under the new name of the USSR.  Yet nonetheless it could seem that the Ukrainian nation suffered the most, for it, with its deeply religious, freedom-loving aspiration to be independent and to fend for itself, was totally unsuited for the building of communism, and it needed to be replaced by a newly-created “Soviet people”. 

In carrying out the above-mentioned Resolution, the “purge” also affected the labour camps. For example, the Head of the Solovky Special Purpose Prison (SLON), Ivan Apeter, received the order to draw up a list with the names of 1825 prisoners to be shot.  He selected the intelligentsia of virtually all the nations of the USSR (perhaps, on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the “Great October socialist revolution”, in order to strengthen the “friendship of nations”).

One group of 509 prisoners was shot near Leningrad on 8 December 1937; 200 (in fact, 198) – at Solovky on 14 February 1938.  The fate of 1,116 people, of the “Solovky embarkation point” was not known. For a long time a story circulated that these prisoners had been drowned in old barges in the White Sea.  It was only in 1997 that it became clear: On 27 October, 1, 2, 3 and 4 November 1937 Captain Mykhail Matveyev shot 1111 Solovky prisoners in the forest clearing in Sandarmokh – “a regular execution site.”” in the south of Karelia, not far from Belomorkanal, where, in 150 pits, the remains of around 8 thousand victims already lay – the builders of Belomorkanal, Karelians, Finns …

This Sandarmokh was found and identified at the site on 1 July 1997 by the Karelian and St. Petersburg chapters of “Memorial”, specifically Yury Dmitriev, Venyamin Yofe, Irina Ryeznikova. It was on 27 October of that year that those murdered were properly honoured for the first time. It was then that Larysa Krushelnytska (granddaughter of Anton Krushelnytsky) and her daughter, Tetyana, Ivan Drach, the bandurist Mykola Lytvyn, Reverend Pavlo Bokhnyak came to Sandarmokh. In two days the artist Mykola Malyshko carved a small oak cross with the words “To the slaughtered sons and daughters of Ukraine”. This was taken to Sandarmokh by Yevhen Sverstyuk. Nearby in the clearing there are crosses erected by Poles and by Russians, Muslim and Jewish Memorial Stones, while in the forest there are around 150 Karelian signs with memorials. The Russian Orthodox Church has built a chapel. At the entrance to the memorial there is a monument with the words inscribed: “People, do not kill each other”.  The St. Petersburg chapter of “Memorial” brought the stone here from Solovky.

From then on, each year on 5 August, in the forest clearing at Sandarmokh, and on 7 August on the Solovky Islands, Remembrance Days are held to honour the victims of political repression. The descendants of those shot and others from many countries, as well as the consuls of Finland, Poland, Germany and Ukraine come to pay tribute.  In 2003, with the support of Viktor Yushchenko’s bloc, “Nasha Ukraina” [“Our Ukraine”], a coach was taken to both Sandarmokh and to Solovky, carrying 50 people, six of them descendants of murdered victims, and many young people and journalists. In 2004 there was a Ukrainian delegation with 11 people.

Thanks to the financial assistance of the son of the outstanding Ukrainian linguist, Mykola Trokhymenko, murdered at Sandarmokh  – Venyamin Trokhymenko, who now lives in the USA, the Mykola Trokhymenko Scientific Society, the All-Ukrainian Association of Political Prisoners and Victims of Repression, the Kyiv State Institute of Applied Arts and Design named after M. Boichuk, as well as the editorial board of the bulletin “Ant”, an open competition was organized for the design of a monument for Sandarmokh. On 30 October 2002, the entries were judged in the M. Boichuk Institute.  The winning designs were from the laureate of the Vasyl Stus Award, artist Mykola Malyshko and the sculptor Nazar Bilyk.  They were asked to join their two designs into one.

The Karelia Republic Society for Ukrainian Culture “Kalyna” received the first contributions for the future monument at the Sandarmokh Clearing itself on 5 August 2003 – on Remembrance Day for Victims of Political Repression.  However things only began moving when in March 2004 the Chairperson of the Society, Larysa Hryhorivna Skrypnykova, came to Kyiv.  A civic group to support the creation of a monument then approved the plan to erect a granite Cossack Cross over a grave from boulders.  This idea had the support of the leader of the bloc “Nasha Ukraina”, Viktor Yushchenko, who met with Larysa Skrypnykova.  The bloc provided significant financial assistance which made it possible to commence work.

Over the spring and summer, Mykola Malyshko and Nazar Bilyk prepared their design.  The Ukrainian media was instrumental in informing people about the plan and about the need for financial contributions (the newspapers: “Ukraina moloda” [“Young Ukraine”], “Literaturna Ukraina” [“Literary Ukraine”], “Shlyakh peremohy” [“Path of Liberation”], “Ukrainske slovo” [“Ukrainian word”], “Slovo Prosvity” [“Word of Enlightenment”]; the bulletin “Prava ludyny” [“Human rights”]; Radio “Svoboda” [Radio “Liberty”] and the third channel of Ukrainian Radio; the newspapers “Svoboda” [“Liberty”] (USA) and “Homin” [“Voices”] (Canada), as well as the press of Karelia. The largest contributions came from Venyamin Trokhymenko, from the Ukrainian community of Karelia, from the bloc “Nasha Ukraina”,  the World Congress of Ukrainians (thanks to the Chairperson of the Kyiv organization “Memorial”, Roman Krutsyk, and the Chairperson of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre, Bohdan Fedorak).  A large amount was collected in America by the Taras Shevchenko Award laureate, Nadiya Svitlychna, who was herself once a political prisoner.  Her list, which is not complete, included more than 50 people (Ada Kulyk, Roksolyana and Bohdan Siri, Ivan Danylenko, Larysa Zyelyk and Natalka Sonevytska – in memory of her mother, Mariya Palidvor, “Samopomich” from New York).  A generous donation was also passed on by Doctor Larysa Kyj, the chairperson of the United Ukrainian and American Aid Committee.

From among Ukrainian citizens, contributions from their hard earnings were made by Valeriy Yermolenko from Komsomolsk in the Poltava region, Kyiv residents Nina Marchenko, Oleksandr Suhonyako, Yevhen Sverstyuk, Emiliya Chernova, Serhiy Shevchenko, Vira Lisova, members of the Kyiv “Memorial”, a guest from Canada, Oleksandra Kovalska. However the most cherished “poor widow’s contributions” were those made by people whose relatives were victims of the repressions, but whose graves have not been found. Maybe they too lie in Karelia.  Not everyone is aware why Viktor Yushchenko has taken this cause to heart. His father worked as a prisoner near to Sandarmokh, on the construction of Belomorkanal (he was sentenced in 1937 to three years for “an infringement of the passport regime”.). 

The Ukrainian State authorities did not play any part in the creation of the monument, although the Civic Support Group did approach the State Construction Department, citing the Presidential Decree “On measures of State support for former political prisoners and victims of repression”,  No. 307/2001, from 14 May 2001, which allows for the honouring of the memory of victims of political repression on Russian territory also. In a letter to me dated 9 October 2001, Yury Dmitriev congratulates us “on the victory over international Russian-Ukrainian bureaucracy. The method of people’s diplomacy – the Cross is standing! – is by far more efficient than bowing low before Presidents”.

Not so very much time was needed from when the plot of land was formally received on 12 December 2003 to the actual construction of the Cross.  And during this time it was also necessary to organize the work, to raise money, obtain material and organize transport – all of these numerous difficulties fell on the shoulders of Larysa Hryhorivna Skrypnykova and her many co-helpers from the “Kalyna” Association – Mykola Kovtun, Viktor Krysevych, Viktor Mohutin and Oleh Mysylyuk who worked with just as much selfless commitment.  The Director of the Museum in Medvezhyegorsk, Serhiy Koltyrin, helped, and the head of the body of local self-government, Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Karpenko (Ukrainian pride through out the world!), and his deputy, Viktor Mykhailov did everything in their power too.  It should be mentioned that Ms Skrypnykova succeeded in getting much of the work done on a voluntary basis, which cut costs. People saw that this national wound caused her sorrow, and trusted and helped her, for this is a matter of honour for any decent person and citizen.

The Cossack Cross which is 3 x 1 x 1 metres was carved with a machine from slabs of grey granite stone at a factory in the city of Kondopog which is 60 kilometres from the capital of Karelia, Petroskoya (Petrozavodsk).  From 23 August to 14 September 2004 the sculptors Mykola Malyshko and Nazar Bilyk worked there, preparing the inscription “To the slaughtered sons and daughters of Ukraine”, and a group of sculpted portraits among which one recognizes Les Kurbas, Mykola Zerov, Valeryan Pidmohylny, Anton Krushelnytsky, Mykola Kulish, Marko Vorony … On 6 October the Cross was erected in Sandarmokh with the help of Mykola Malyshko.  A liturgy was held on 9 October 2004 in the Sandarmokh Clearing for the prisoners murdered in this place. With this, the Karelia Republic Society for Ukrainian Culture “Kalyna” brought to completion a great undertaking.

The granite Cossack Cross at Sandarmokh is the first professional monument to political prisoners outside Ukraine – on the territory of the former USSR strewn with the remains of Ukrainian victims. The presentation ceremony of the Monument took place on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression, 5 August, 2005. It was attended by the General Consul of Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Mykola Oleksandrovych Rudko, members of the “Kalyna” Association, a Ukrainian delegation of 45 people who came in a coach provided by President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko. On 7 August the delegation also took part in a Remembrance Day ceremony on Solovky.

By this time, the Karelia Republic Society for Ukrainian Culture “Kalyna” had published a well-illustrated book entitled “To the slaughtered sons and daughters of Ukraine. Sandarmokh”, which includes a list of 677 people of Ukrainian origin shot here (the list was compiled by Yury Dmitriev).

Let us remember: Sandarmokh happened because the government of Soviet Ukraine which was not Ukrainian in either makeup or spirit during the 1920s and 1930s surrendered Ukraine’s sovereignty.  It did not even have the right to hold prisoners on its own territory. The forces which wanted to return us to an empire of Evil have still not been overcome. We must pass on to our people just what a tragic hell we are trying to break free of.

  15 October 2005

On 27 October in Kyiv those present at a meeting honoured the memory of the victims of the Solovky embarkation point.

[1]  The abbreviation given in the text is from the Russian   (translator’s note) 

[2]  The Ukrainian National Republic (sometimes translated as People’s Republic) was proclaimed in January 1918 by the social-democrat, Simon Petlura’s Central Rada, but survived against the Bolsheviks, and against the background of chaos within the country only for a few months (translator’s note)

[3]  In both Ukrainian and Russian, the word used was “troika”, the word being used more widely for any threesome  (translator’s note)

[4]  Yezhov was People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs during the worst period of the Terror (translator’s note)

[5]  “Kulaks” were (sometimes not much) more affluent and successful peasants.  Collectivization, with the appropriation of “kulak” land and possessions, as well as repressive measures against them, had already  taken place on a mass scale at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s  (translator’s note)

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