war crimes in Ukraine

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To the slaughtered sons and daughters of Ukraine (In Memory of the Victims of the Solovky embarkation point)

Vasyl Ovsiyenko, Ivan Ohiyenko
The granite Cossack Cross at the Sandarmokh Clearing near Solovky stands over the last resting place of victims of the Stalin terror, among them 677 Ukrainians.

On 2 August 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” [troika] and establish the number of people who were to be shot or sent away.  The operation was to begin on 5 August1937 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”  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 the ranks” on exceeding quotas, and a socialist “competition” was launched to encourage 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”, “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 (STON), 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  One died during the journey, and another four people were sent to other places where they were also shot.

For the Solovky embarkation point Ivan Apeter chose members of the intelligentsia of almost all nations of the USSR imprisoned on Solovky.  Among them were 290 Ukrainians.  Labelled  “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists”, those murdered included the neo-classic poet and professor of Kyiv University  Mykola Zerov, the creator of the theatre “Berezil” [“March”] Les Kurbas; the playwright Mykola Kulish; Anton. Ostap and Bohdan Krushelnytsky, the writers Valeryan Pidmohylny, Pavlo Filypovych, Valeryan Polishchuk, Oleksa Slisarenko, Myroslav Irchan, Hryhoriy Elik, Marko Vorony, Myhkailo Kozoriz, Mykhailo Yalovy;  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, Dutch by origin,  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.

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. I travelled there 7 times, from 1999 to 2005.

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 as well as the press of the Ukrainian Diaspora.  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.  A generous donation was also passed on by Doctor Larysa Kyj, the chairperson of the United Ukrainian and American Aid Committee.

Donations from Ukrainians here were more modest, yet we were grateful for each “poor widow’s contribution”, made by relatives of victims of the repression who don’t know where their relatives were murdered. 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.

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.

Not so very much time passed between 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 – It should be mentioned that pani 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.

In a letter to me dated 9 October 2004, Yury Dmitriev congratulated me “on the victory over international Russian-Ukrainian bureaucracy. The method of people’s democracy – the Cross is there!  - is much more successful than all the bowing by presidents.

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 Rudko as well as the consuls of Poland and Finland,  Among us there were relatives of the victims of Sandarmokh: Venyamin Trokhymenko, Valentina Bobsunivska, Tetyana Krushelnytska, Eleonora Vangengeim, Boris Romanchuk, Olena Kocharyan, Yevhen Chervonyuk, former political prisoners, young people, journalists and historians who have been  writing about this subject all their life. The  Cross was blessed by Father Volodymyr (Cherpak), the  Head Priest of the Svyato-Pokrovsky Church. Father Volodymyr read out the names of all the 677 Ukrainians and people from Ukraine shot at Sandarmokh.  It was thanks to Yury Dmitriev that all the names are known.

The Ukrainians made their pilgrimage also to the Solovky Islands and took part in a Day of Remembrance on 7 August.  Their journey lasted 12 days.

Each year in Kyiv on 27 October at 18.00 Ukrainians gather around the Monument to Les Kurbas at the intersection of Prorizna St. and  Pushkin St.  A number of civic organizations, and mainly the informal society “Ukrainian Solovky”, organize a a Service of Remembrance (Panykhida)  and a meeting in memory of the Victims of the Solovky embarkation point. 

This year, from Kyiv a large group has set off for Sandarmokh and Solovky, led by the Chair of the All-Ukrainian Association of Political Prisoners and Victims of Repression Yevhen Pronyuk and member of the Council of the All-Ukrainian Vasyl Stus  “Memorial”, Valentina Skachko.

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.

Vasyl Ovsiyenko, former political prisoner, laureate of the Vasyl Stus Award, and Ivan Ohiyenko

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