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.