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In Memoriam: Stefaniya Shabatura

Stefaniya Shabatura, artist, former member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and political prisoner has died after a long illness. She was 76

Stefaniya Shabatura, artist, former member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and political prisoner has died after a long illness.  She was 76. 

Stefaniya Shabatura was born on November 5, 1938 in the Ternopil region and was very small when her father was killed in the War.  She graduated from two art institutes in the 1960s, specializing in creative embroidery. 

She was also an active member of the Lviv Klub tvorchoyi molodi, or Club for Creative Young People and took part in circulating samizdat literature. 

She was arrested during the second wave of arrests – the ‘pogrom’ of the Ukrainian intelligentsia which began on January 12, 1972.  She was charged under the standard Article 62 part 1 of the Criminal Code – ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’ and sentenced to 5 years harsh regime labour camp and three years exile.  The charges were linked to her circulating the poetry of Vasyl Stus and Mykola Kholodny, as well as the article ‘Amid the snow’ [Sered Snihiv] by Valentin Moroz.

She served her sentence in the women’s camp No. ZhKh-385/3 in a Mordovian labour camp at Barashevo. There she took an active part in protest actions and hunger strikes, demanding political prisoner status and an amnesty for all prisoners of conscience.  She was punished for this by being thrown into the punishment solitary confinement or PKT [prison-type cells], and calculated that in all she had spent 115 days in solitary confinement and a year and a half in PKT.

She was not allowed to paint which led to the women political prisoners declaring a hunger strike in protest. It was only in 1974 that an officer of the Lviv KGB brought a painter’s case and paints, pencils, brushes and paper, after which the camp administration made no more attempts to stop her.

At the end of 1975 Shabatura was taken to Lviv for “re-education”. On 10 December, Human Rights Day, as in previous years, she declared a hunger strike in protest at violations of human rights in the USSR. Despite intense pressure from an officer of the Lviv KGB, Shabatura did not abandon her strike, and was warned that she would ‘live to regret it’.

Immediately following her return to the camp, directly at the guard point, Shabatura was officially informed that 150 of her paintings, taken away before her departure, had been burned either as “abstract works” or where the camp was depicted.  In protest at this in February 1976 she refused to work. She was initially thrown into the solitary confinement cell, then in April she was put in a prison-type cell for six months.  The head of the camp cynically told her: “We don’t shoot people anymore, but we still have other ways of making sure that you don’t leave this camp alive”.  Shabatura declared a hunger strike which lasted 12 days. A wave of protest swept through the Mordovian political labour camps over the wanton destruction of her work, and that of others.

In February 1979 a group of political prisoners and those in exile, including Shabatura, declared their support – and membership - of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group whose founding members were almost all in labour camp. 

At the end of the 1980s Shabatura became actively involved in the national and political revival in Ukraine. She was an active member of the Lviv chapter of Memorial and of the Narodny Rukh Ukrainy [The Popular Movement of Ukraine] (Rukh), and took part in the struggle to re-establish the position of the persecuted Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC).

Stefaniya Shabatura died on December 17, 2014 in Lviv where she had lived for many years.

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