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Death of Vasyl Stus

Vasyl Ovsiyenko, prizewinner of V. Stus prize
Vasyl Stus – a human rights activist and a poet – died on the night from September 3 to 4 of 1985, in the solitary confinement of the «Institution ВС-389/36» in Kuchino village of Perm Region. At that time I was in the 20th cell of the “institution”, that’s why I consider it my civil and human duty to testify on the circumstances and causes of his death.

Vasyl Stus – a human rights activist and a poet – died on the night from September 3 to 4 of 1985, in the solitary confinement of the «Institution ВС-389/36» in Kuchino village of Perm Region.

At that time I was in the 20th cell of the “institution”, that’s why I consider it my civil and human duty to testify on the circumstances and causes of his death

A portrait from the photo of 1978.

First of all, what kind of shy name is this – «institution VS-389/36»?

The Soviet Government was ashamed of certain terms, that’s why, for example, it called its opponents not political prisoners, but “public enemies”, “especially dangerous state criminals”, «wretched outcasts». During my life time in prison any «citizen convicted» had to address the guard as «citizen overseer».

The history of this last reserve of GULAG is short. From March 1, 1980 to December 8, 1987 only 56 prisoners passed through it. In average it held no more than 30 prisoners at the same time. This «institution» soon became known in the world as a «death camp», because 8 of its prisoners have died, including the members of Ukrainian Helsinki Group such as Oleksa Tykhyi (27.01. 1927 – 5.05. 1984), Yuri Lytvyn (26.11. 1934 – 5.09. 1984), Valeriy Marchenko (16.09. 1947 – 7.10. 1984), Vasyl Stus (7.01. 1938 – 4.09. 1985). Actually, only Stus died directly in Kuchino, and the first three – in prison hospitals. 

A reconstruction of the zone VS-389/36.

The sign of the institution VS-389/36.

There weren't so many prisoners in camps, prisons, psychiatric hospitals and in exile in early 70s – Just a few thousands. The political camps were concentrated in the management of  «Dubravlag», in Mordovia. But too much information started to leak from those camps into “the big zone” (that's what they called the USSR back then) and abroad. Therefore the KGB has decided to destroy the information channels in a radical way: to move the most active political prisoners away from the center. They chose the Scalnynske camp management, located in Perm region in the Middle Urals. The camps there outnumbered the villages..

On July 13, 1972, the first echelon with several hundreds of prisoners of Mordovia's strict regime top secretly arrived on Chusovska station (even the guards were dressed in tracksuits).. It spent three days on the road. It was moving in the nighttime. During the day the prisoners were suffering in the hot “Stolypin” cars (that hot summer saw the burning of the forests and peat bogs). They were fainting. One 25-year old man, Grigoriy Nikityuk from Rivne region, has died in a car. Many of them, when unloading, could not keep standing. They were placed in the areas freed from the criminal prisoners of VS-389/35 (st. Vsehsvyatska, set. Centralniy), 36 (v. Kuchino) and 37 (v. Polovynka).

Another big stage of Mordovia strict regime prisoners arrived to the Urals in the summer of 1976.

Finally, shortly before the Moscow Olympiad, on the March 1, 1980, 32 prisoners of the special regime were transported to Kuchino from Sosnovka, Mordovia. Once again, one of them died during the journey. The stage included the members of Ukrainian Helsinki Group, such as Levko Lukyanenko, Oleksa Tyhyi, Bogdan Rebryk, Danylo Shumuk. For the new «special regime institution VS-389/36-1» was adapted a wooden building of the former sawmill, located a few hundred meters from the high security zone.

At different times and in different cells people were punished, both, the already mentioned members of the UHG like Oles Berdnyk, Ivan Kandyba, Vitaliy Kalynychenko, Vasyl Ovsiyenko, Yuri Lytvyn, Mykhaylo Horyn, Valeriy Marchenko, Ivan Sokulsky, Petro Ruban, Mykola Horbal,  and its foreign members – Estonian man Mart Niklus and a Lithuanian – Viktoras Petkus, who joined the UHG in the most difficult hour – in 1982. I have spent six years of my life here too.  The Head of the Group – Mykola Rudenko, Myroslav Marynovych, Mykola Matusevych were serving their sentences just next door. 19 people in total. Never and nowhere have we gathered before in such quantities (although in different cells), only on solemn meetings on the occasion of the 20th, the 25th and the 30th Anniversary of the Group.

Such Ukrainians as Ivan Hel, Vasyl Kurylo, Semen Skalych (Pokutnyk), Grygoriy Prykhodko, Mykola Yevgraphov have also been through punishment procedures inside these walls. Thus, as in every political camp, the Ukrainians constituted most of its “contingent”. In this really “International” environment Lithuanians Balis Gayauskas and Viktoras Petkus, Estonians Enn Tarto and Mart Niklus, Latvian Gunar Astra, Armenians Azat Arshakyan and Ashot Navasardyan, Russians Yuriy Fedorov, Leonid Borodinh have spent many years. Most of these people were popular human rights activists and leaders of national liberation movements, and when they were released, they became politicians and public figures. Under the Soviet Government they were EDR – “especially dangerous recidivists”. There were a few “dangerous criminals”, whose death penalty was replaced with fifteen years of imprisonment (those accused in collaboration with German invaders, one was accused in spying).

In fact it was not a camp but a prison with the cruelest regime of detention. If the recidivists in the criminal camps were taken out in the workshops of the working area, we were working in the cells across the corridor. We were allowed an hour per day of walking in the buckled courtyard 2 by 3 meters, equipped with the barbed wire on top and with an overseer on a platform. From our cells we could see the fence only 5 meters away from the windows and the narrow strip of sky. There were seven fences of different kinds, including one with the electrified wires. The forbidden zone was 21 meters in perimeter. Our food cost 24-25 rubles per month, the water was rusty and smelly. We were trimmed like the Egyptian slaves, all our clothes were made from striped fabric. We were allowed one visit per year, a package up to 5 kg – one per year after the mid-term, and they often tried to deprive us of those. Some of us have not seen anyone except inmates and overseers in years. Our work was to bolt to the cord of an iron a panel with a bulb bolted in it. The work was not hard but there was a lot of it: failure to comply with the norms was punished, as any violation of the regime, with the solitary confinement, deprivation of visit, of package, of box (each month we were allowed to buy additional food for 4-6 rubles). «The worst violators of the regime» were punished with the solitary confinement for a year, or moving to prison for three years. Under the General Gendarme Andropov, in 1983, to the Criminal Code was added the article 183-3, under which the systematic violations of the regime were punished by the additional 5 years of imprisonment – in the criminal camp. So it opened up a prospect of life imprisonment and also the quick reprisal by the hands of the criminals.

But the most difficult thing was to withstand the psychological pressure. If in Stalin’s times, when the entire categories of population, unfit for building communism, were wiped out, a person abandoned to transform into camp dust was no longer interesting to the Government, in our time the verdict imposed by a court was not final. In our time the people seldom ended up in political camps “for nothing”. They were active people who could rise again after being freed. Therefore the Government closely monitored everyone, determined the individual significance, its potential – and treated it accordingly. It was a kind of expertise: they studied the trend of development (or decline) of a person and were taking precautions, so that it would not grow into a bigger danger for the state. From this perspective, Ukrainian poet and human rights activist Vasyl Stus was really a special danger for the Russian Empire, which was disguised under the name of USSR. Stus, along with other human rights activists, really undermined the Russian communist totalitarian regime, which was hypocritically called the Soviet Government. And it actually fell – by exhausting its economic opportunities, by failing to withstand the military confrontation with the West, by suffering the ideological collapse. We fought on this front – ideological. And we won. On 1991 the Russian Empire collapsed.

After serving 5 years in prison in Mordovia and 3 years of exile in Kolyma, Vasyl Stus was arrested for the second time on May 14, 1980, during the “Olympic Set”: Moscow and Kyiv, where a part of Olympic Games was to be held, were purified from undesirable elements, including the rest of the dissidents gathered in Helsinki Groups. (There used to be a joke going around: there are three types of dissidents: pre-imprisoned, imprisoned and post-imprisoned. The third type become pre-imprisoned again.). After the first detention Stus remained in Kyiv for only 8 months.

The photo for the case № 47. January 1972.



Stus repeatedly stated about his willingness to join the Group, despite the somewhat critical attitude to it, in his letters from exile, starting from October, 1977. But the people of Kyiv cautiously weren’t putting his name under the documents of the Group. And when Stus returned to Kyiv in August 1979, nobody could hold him back: even 75-year old Oksana Yakivna Meshko looked up at his majestic figure.

In Kyiv I have learned that people who are close to Helsinki Group are repressed in the most brutal way. In such way, at least, stood trial Ovsiyenko, Gorbal, Litvin, after a certain time the same happened to Chornovol and Rozumnyi. I did not want such Kyiv. Seeing that the Group remained virtually to the mercy of fate, I joined it, because I could not act otherwise. When the life is taken away – I do not need crumbs... Psychologically I understood that prison gate has already opened for me, that soon it will close behind me – and close for a long time. But what had I to do? The Ukrainians are not allowed abroad, and I was not really eager to go abroad: for who then here, in Great Ukraine, will become the voice of anger and protest? This is fate, and the fate cannot be chosen. Therefore it is accepted whatever it may be. And if not accepted it forces itself upon us... (“From the camp notebook”, record 6. // В.Стус. Твори в 6 т. 9 кн. – Volume 4. – Львів: Просвіта, 1994. – P. 493).

But I was not going to bow down no matter what they had prepared for me. Behind me was Ukraine, my oppressed people, in honor of which I must stand till I die”. (Same, record 4, p. 491.

(It is weird to hear now from certain presumably serious people that Oksana Meshko “pulled” Stus in UHG and that she is to blame for his death. That being said when there are published letters of Vasyl Stus from autumn of 1977 in which from his Kolyma exile he insists that his name should be placed under the Group’s documents, that he is ready “to place his head under the severe beating”. – Volume 6, first book. – Львів: Просвіта, 1997. – P. 295 and others).

With the standard sentence of 10 years of the special regime camps, 5 years of exile and with an “honorary” title “especially dangerous recidivist” Vasyl Stus arrived in Kuchino in November 1980. Here he was monitored with special attention. Most of the things he wrote under strict regime in Mordovia Stus somehow managed to send to freedom, including some items in letters, sometimes writing poetry in continuous line and replacing the sensitive for censorship words (prison – crowd, prickly wire – painful world, Ukraine – motherland). From the Urals he has managed to send only 6 poems in the letters to his wife. The special regime allowed to write only one letter per month. You scrub it all you can – and they still find “prohibited information”, “conventions in the text” or simply “the letter of suspicious content”. And it is confiscated. Or they send that letter for translation to Kyiv and there they decide whether to send it to the recipient. They offered: «Write in Russian – it will arrive faster». But how can you write to your wife, your mother or your child in a foreign language?

We were allowed to receive letters from anyone, but in reality only some letters from the relatives were given to us. In the last weeks of his life Vasyl received a telegram from his wife about the birth of his grandson Yaroslav. Major Snyadovski called Stus into his office, greeted him and read out a part of the telegram, but did not give it in his hands: prohibited information. This fact outraged Stus.

Searches. They were conducted two or three times a month, but there were periods when a prisoner could have been searched several times a day – just to make fun of him. It was allowed to have five books, magazines and brochures in a cell in total. The rest – to be delivered to the depot room. But everyone has to be subscribed to magazines, newspapers, tries to work on something, to learn a foreign language. So a dictionary and a textbook have to be kept. The regime, however,  was inexorable: all additional books were thrown out into the corridor.

We were taking to our work little pieces of paper with the foreign words to learn them (Stus knew German, English, was learning French). They were confiscated. Bringing you to your workplace, they first bring you to the guard room where you have to undress. They will touch every scar, look into each body fold. Even now I can hear Vasyl’s pained voice: «They paw you as a chicken...» Such remark was enough to end up in solitary confinement.

They were especially attentive when the date of a visit was approaching. If the KGB decided not to give you a visit, then to deprive you of one was quite easy: the overseers are tasked with finding a violation of the regime. You were talking through the ventilation hole with the adjacent cell. Or failed to comply with the standards. Or announced an illegal hunger strike. The head of the regime, major Fedorov, personally showed dust on the hanger. That same Fedorov has punished Balis Gayauskas for “not being frank during a conversation”. And if Balis openly said what he thought about the major, he would have been even bigger regime violator. Stus had only one visit in Kuchino. When they were bringing him to the second one, Vasil broke the humiliating search procedure and returned to the cell.

Stus started to be especially “pressed” since 1983. On his Birthday, that is, on Christmas, a search was conducted. They took his manuscripts. Stus called the officer on duty, major Galedin, and asked him to return the manuscripts or devise an act of withdrawal.

– Who took them?

– That new major, I don’t know his name. That Tatar.

There was a filed report that Stus has offended the national dignity of major Gatin. Although he is really a distinct Tatar, but apparently, has already signed up to the superior race – “great Russian People”. Stus is thrown to solitary confinement. At the same time Estonian Mart Niklus was taken to solitary as well:

– Vasyl, where are you?

– In some death chamber of Lenin-Stalin! And Gatin the Tatar!

In the corridor the loudspeaker is turned on.

Later at work, while vigorously twisting the screws by a mechanical screwdriver, Vasyl improvises: “For Lenin, for Stalin! For Gatin the Tatar! For Yuriy Andropov! For Vanka Daviklopov! And a little bit for Kostya, for Chernenko. How does one rhyme him at all?»

Once I accidentally overheard Stus talking with KGB agent Volodymyr Ivanovich Chentsov:

– So you are saying that you put my manuscripts in the warehouse behind the zone. Of course I know that you want nothing to be left from me after I die... I don’t write anything of my own now, only translating. So give me a chance to finish something, at least...

Who could keep himself from writing in captivity – those felt much easier. But an artist, as my cellmate Yuri Lytvyn once said, is like a woman: if he has a creative idea, he must give birth to it. And as it is unbearable for mother to see her newborn child killed, so it is for an artist to see his work destroyed. And also when the child is ripped from the womb prematurely and trampled by overseer’s dirty boots...

In February 1983 Stus was thrown in a solitary confinement for a year. When he left it, I met him in cell 18 for some six weeks. I have read his improvised rough notebook with blue cover (without a title) with several dozens of poems written in free verse, and the notebook with the translations of 11 elegies of Rilke. I was then in grave physical condition (my heart hurt) and was not able to learn any single poem. And I didn’t expect that we would be parted so soon. In the letters from 12.09. 1983 and from December of 1983 Stus calls that collection “Bird of the Soul” and writes that it contains near 40 poems (Volume 6, book. 1, p. 444 and 449), and in the letter from 1.02. 1985 he writes about 100 poems. «And 50 more are yet maturing in the drafts» (p. 483). He also writes: «…In my soul there burns such collection as “Passion for the Fatherland” (p. 479, the letter from November-December of 1984). “I translated “Elegies” by Rilke – about 900 lines of extremely complicated poetic text (p. 444, the letter from 12.09.1983).

That «Bird of the Soul» didn’t leave the camp. Let’s not comfort ourselves with the sweet tale that manuscripts don’t burn. Mikhaylina Kotsyubinska tells: «…the tree of Stus’s poetry – with the crown cut down near the top…» (V. 1, p. 28). This is another crime of the Russian imperialism against Ukrainian culture. From his fife years in Kuchino there were left 45 letters, 6 poems and the text, which is called in the publications «From the camp notebook».

…In the October 2000 I once again traveled to Kuchino, to a scientific conference on totalitarianism. And also as a living exhibit of Memorial Museum of the history of political repression and totalitarianism “Perm-36”, which from year 1995 to 2014 was active in our painfully familiar camp and in the neighbouring strict camp. I met there my cellmate, Lithuanian Balis Gayauskas, and his wife, Irene Gayauskene.

I showed Balis and Irene a xerocopy of Vasil Stus’s manuscript “From the camp notebook”. Mrs. Irene said:

– This is the one I smuggled out...

Balis added:

– It was easier in Mordovia. Many have smuggled information from there. They moved us from Mordovia because there were the channels for information. In 1980, when we were being moved from Mordovia to Urals, someone asked the head of the camp, Nekrasov, where we were taken to. He answered: “You are being taken to the place where you won’t write”.

Thus, Stus continued to write even in the place where writing was considered a crime. Especially the things like “From the camp notebook”. These 16 pieces of capacitor paper took up 12 pages in the book, but their explosive force was so powerful that Vasyl himself was impressed. I believe that one of the reasons for its destruction was the emergence of this text in the West. 

The manuscript by V. Stus “From the camp notebook”.

Another reason was the request for nomination of his creativity for the Nobel Prize. The poems by Vasyl Stus have already been published in foreign languages. The world has seen the talent level of Ukrainian poet not through the prism of dissident movement, but as an outstanding artistic phenomenon.

In my publications of the 90s it is said, that supposedly it was Heinrich Böll, Nobel Prize winner of 1972 and the president of the international PEN club (1971-1976, he died on July 16, 1985) who put forward Stus’s work for the Nobel Prize. H. Böll really knew the value of Vasyl Stus’s work, because it was published in German as well. He has defended Stus at least twice. So, on December 24, 1984 he together with German writers Siegfried Lenz and Hans Werner Richter sent a telegram to Konstantin Chernenko, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union about the dangerous state of health of Vasyl Stus. There was no answer. On January 10, 1985 року H. Böll gave an interview to the German radio about Vasyl Stus. It was reprinted in the press. However, the document of the nomination for the Nobel Prize does not exist, no mention of it can be found.

A historian and journalist Vahtang Kipiani in his publication: Stus and Nobel. Demystifying the myth from 22.07. 2006; also: the Young Nation (almanac), № 1 (38), 2006. – 355 -369, writes: «In the newspaper "America" from December 17, 1985 (Note – it is three months since Stus is dead) we can find the information that in the late 1984 in Toronto was created "International Committee for obtaining the literary Nobel Prize by Vasyl Stus in 1986"».

The Committee included prominent scientists and leaders of Ukrainian Diaspora, authoritative people from around the world. The chairman of the Committee was doctor Yaroslav Rudnytskiy. The Committee has distributed over 100 letters asking to send recommendations to Nobel Committee, organized the translation of works of Stus. But it was counting on 1986.

The Kremlin gang then had its hands full with such Nobel Prize winners as Olexander Solzhenitsyn, which had to be thrown abroad, and Andriy Sakharov, which since the beginning of the Afghan war was exiled to Gorkiy and kept there under house arrest. In the Kremlin they knew that Nobel Prize, according to its charter, can be only awarded to the living people, it is not awarded posthumously. The Kremlin could not allow a Nobel prizewinner, moreover – a Ukrainian (it would have lifted “the Ukrainian cause” to unprecedented heights), to emerge in jail. In 1936 Adolph Hitler found himself in a similar situation. Then Nobel Prize was awarded to German journalist Carl von Ossietzky. But he lived in a concentration camp. Hitler has ordered his release. But while bureaucracy machine was moving, the prizewinner died in captivity.

Moscow dealt with the Ukrainian candidate for the Nobel Prize by Stalin’s bequest: “No man – no problem”. It happened in times of Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s defenders would say that he, most likely, never heard about Stus. But I am sure that our cases were reviewed and resolved at the highest level. There were almost as many dangerous political recidivists then as Politbureau members in Kremlin. You see, Gorbachev wanted to start the “perestroika” without freeing from captivity his apparently first allies – the political prisoners, as usual everywhere. Moreover, he kept us even in 1988, some in 1989, and as he became the Nobel prizewinner for peace he started a new set of political prisoners. Oh look, he spared us. That means that he considered us to be criminals towards which he showed mercy. The rehabilitation occurred in 1991…

I am sure that the administration of the camp VS-389/36 has obtained the task from the Kremlin to destroy Vasyl Stus in any way before he is awarded with the Nobel Prize.

How did it happen? In prison you see little but you determine what happens by the sounds.

Vasyl Stus only briefly came out of solitary confinement. In the summer of 1985 he lived in the cell №12 with Leonid Borodin (a Russian writer, afterwards the chief editor of the magazine «Moscow», died on 24.11.2011). The cell was small, you could touch the walls by stretching your hands. A two-level bed, two stools, one bedside table for two prisoners and a toilet. It was allowed to rest on the bed only 8 hours a day. Sitting on it at any other time was considered a violation of the regime. 

Cell № 12 where Stus lived in the summer of 1985.

One night a soldier was singing loudly in the tower. Borodin was tired, he pressed the call button, called an overseer and asked him to call the soldier and tell him not to disturb the sleep. The next day it turned out that it was Stus who woke up all the prison – and he was thrown to solitary confinement for 15 days. Borodin went to speak with the head of the camp, major Zhuravkov, but he said that he trusted his staff. He already had another task: to destroy Stus.

In several days after the solitary confinement, namely August 27, 1985, – a new disaster happened. Stus took a book, put it on his upper bed and read it, leaning on the bed with an elbow. Through a hole (a small window) ensign Rudenko looked in: “Stus, you are violating the form of making a bed!”. Stus took another pose, which was allowed. But the officer on duty, First Lieutenant Saburov, overseer Rudenko and another overseer have filed the report saying that Stus during working hours was lying on a bed in his outer clothes and reacted to the comments of citizen controller with bickering. 15 days of solitary confinement. Leaving the cell, Stus announced to Borodin that he starts a hunger strike. “Which one?” – “Till the end”.

It happened before, that Stus was holding a hunger strike for 18 days. He said to me afterwards: “How disgusting it is to leave the hunger strike without achieving anything. I won’t do it anymore.

He was a man of his word.

The solitary confinement cells are located in the northern part of the barracks, in a small cross-corridor. Stus has been kept in the 3rd solitary confinement cell, located in the corner, the nearest to the watch. From there no sounds could reach us. On the 2nd of September from our working cells we could hear that Stus was brought down the corridor to some authorities. Returning from there in the corridor he deliberately said out loud: “I’ll punish you, I’ll punish you... You may even destroy me for all I care, Gestapo men!” In that way he notified us that he was threatened with another punishment.

Estonian Enn Tarto in the evening was taking away the finished products (cords for irons) from the working cells and distributing the work for tomorrow. On the 3rd of September near 5 pm he heard, that Stus asked for validol. The overseer replied that the doctor is absent. Then Enn Tarto reported to doctor Pchelnikov and he gave Stus some validol. So, his heart hurt. 

Solitary cell № 3 where Stus has died.

The barracks of the special regime camp VS-389/36. The first window of the pediment is the  solitary cell № 3 where Vasyl Stus has died.

In the far end of the same corridor, in front of solitary confinement cells, in the working cell №7, during the day worked Levko Lukyanenko. When the overseer was not around, Levko used to shout: “Vasyl, ahoy!”. Or: “Ahy!”. Vasyl used to answer. But on the 4th of September he didn’t reply. Instead near 10 – 11 pm Levko heard, that the superiors entered the corridor via a spare exit. He recognized the voices of the head of camp, major Zhuravkov, the head of regime, major Fedorov, KGB agents Afanasov, Vasilenkov. They opened the solitary cell doors, discussing something quietly. And then – some unusual silence. “Even that pagan woman didn’t laugh”, – recalled Levko. She was a master.

On that day in the kitchen the rations were ordered as if someone was being prepared for a shift. In Kuchino we were never given rations for the journey: the way to Perm or to the hospital takes a few hours, we were given rations in Perm. But that rations were forgotten.

There was also the moment when Borodin was ordered to bring Stus’s spoon. That would plant the idea that he stopped his hunger strike.

For several days we on several occasions asked for a reception with authorities. Doctor Pchelnikov is absent. KGB agent Vasilenkov is absent. Major Zhuravkov is absent. The duties of the head took major Dolmatov, deputy commander in charge of policy. He answers the questions about Stus: “We don’t have to reply to you about other inmates. It is not your business. He is not here.

We yet hoped that Stus was brought to the hospital on Vsesvyatska station. But in the late September I was brought there myself. I was kept alone, but still learned that Stus wasn’t there. Maybe they took him somewhere further? On the 5th of October I was called by two KGB agents – some local (like Zuyev or Zubov) and Vasyl Ivanovich Ilkiv, who arrived from Kyiv. In the conversation with them I called the deceased prisoners of Kuchino: Andriy Turik, Mykhaylo Kurka, Oleksa Tihiy, Ivan Mamchych, Yuri Lytvyn, Valeriy Marchenko, Akper Kerimov, Ishhan Mkrtchan, Vasyl Stus…

– Well, Stus... His heart failed. Can happen to anyone.

That moment my heart stopped as well... He dismissed my concern.

It is entirely possible that he died from the heart attack. Note that Stus was holding hunger strike in a cold solitary confinement cell, having on his person only his pants, jacket, underpants, shirt, socks and slippers. The bedding is not given. You may only place slippers under your head. The temperature during the day hardly reached 15 degrees. The sun doesn’t enter that cooler. In the morning in our 20th cell we together with Balis Gayauskas saw ice on the window glass. And Stus had nothing to cover himself with. Nor the energy to make himself warm... Lukyanenko experienced the similar situations and described them in his essay “Vasyl Stus: the last days” (I won’t let Ukraine die! К.: Pub. «Sophia», 1994. – P. 327 – 343). It is a psychologically accurate essay.

The camp administration had to announce the death of her husband to Vasyl’s widow, Valentina Popelyukh. Valentina has ordered a zinc coffin and set out with her sister Oleksandra Loveyko, her friend Rita Dovgan. At the “Boryspil” airport KGB agents strongly advised them not to take the coffin because they will not receive the body. (It should be known that the most humane in the world Soviet law did not allow to take or rebury the body of a deceased inmate, until the end of his imprisonment duration. Thus the dead remained arrested). In Moscow the mother was joined by her son Dmytro who then was serving in the army. They arrived to Kuchino on the 7th of September, and major Dolmatov said to them: “Well then, let’s go to the graveyard”. And brought them to the newly filled grave in the village of Borisovo, three kilometers away from the zone. 

The burial place of the inmates Yuri Lytvyn (№ 7), Ishhan Mkrtchian (№ 8), Vasyl Stus (№ 9). A photo by Mart Niklus 27.09.1988.

A cross at the burial site of Yuri Lytvyn, Ishhan Mkrtchian and Vasyl Stus, installed by the “Memorial” in Perm. A photo by V. Ovsiyenko, 2000.

...On February 24, 1989 46-year major Dolmatov laid beside Stus, just a few meters away. And major Zhuravkov died 10 days after Stus. Zhuravkov jr., lieutenant operative, in the summer of 1987 drowned in the Chasova river. It all brings out serious doubts whether Stus’s death was caused by a heart attack.

Somewhere in one of the solitary cells (Balis Gayauskas says that in the 6th) then lived Boris Romashov, from Gorkiy. He is a killer that “stood on political platform”. He was imprisoned once again for the primitive anti-Soviet slogans, which he wrote all over his passport and military ID and threw them in the recruiting yard. Although he stated that he had a certificate of psychopathy, they still gave him nine years of imprisonment and five years of exile. He had a conflict with Stus: he threatened him in the working cell with a screwdriver. Stus took a defensive pose – and he dared not attack. They were both put in solitary cells for five days, “for mutual fight”. A year before the release of Balis Gayauskas Romashov tried to kill him, hitting him several times with a mechanical screwdriver in the head and in the chest. Balis fell under the table, so the blade hit aslant and didn’t reach the heart. For this Romashov was punished only with the solitary confinement, but a KGB agent was bringing him there some tea.

On our meeting in Kuchino in October 2000 Gayauskas suggested that Romashov was sent there to kill Stus...

But in October 1985 Enn Tarto said, that Romashov allegedly heard that in the evening of the 3rd of September, during the “lights out”, Stus moaned: “Damned murderers…”. In several months I had a chanse to ask Romashov if he confirms that he heard this moan of Vasyl. – “I don’t want to talk about it”.

It could be like that. During the “lights out” an overseer says to a solitary confinement overseer: “Hold the bed”. Because they are holding on pins. The overseer from the corridor through a hole in the wall takes the pin – and the bed falls, a prisoner has to lower it slowly. Under the bed the stool was bolted to the floor, the only place where it was allowed to sit. The overseer could have suddenly taken the pin – and the bed hit Stus on the head...

In hindsight we, the prisoners, recalled and compared all the details. We recalled that on the night from September 4 to 5 in the corridor when we heard a wild boar’s roar of warden Novitskiy’s voice: “Give me the knife!”. Then they launched a version that  Stus hung himself in his cell on a cord. This version in 1996 told me in Kuchino a former overseer, Ivan Kukushkin. But Kukushkin already quit working with us at the time of Stus’s death. In a conversation with Kukushkin on 2001 Lukyanenko dismissed this version. He noted quite well that nobody worked in the second shift in his 7th working cell where Stus was allegedly taken to work. He noted that he was leaving the details on the table. Nothing was moved.

Some evening, maybe the 2nd of September, I heard that Stus asked to give him boots in his working cell. So he worked in other shift in the 8th cell, which is located in the general corridor. I could not have heard his voice from the 7th cell in the corner.

Through a criminal Vyacheslav Ostrohlyad they tried to launch the version about the suicide in the 3rd solitary cell made with pointed awl. But neither the cord nor the awl could get into the cell: Stus was carefully searched.

During the exhumation on November 17, 1989 we didn’t notice that his face was distorted, as it happens with the hanged persons. Only the nasal cartilage (tip of the nose) has sunk. The organizer of reburial Volodymyr Shovkoshytniy wrote: “While the cameramen were filming the body I drew attention of Chernilevskiy [Stanislav, the director of the movie “Black candle of enlightened road”. – V.О.] to the fact that over a temple of Stus there was clearly visible the damaged skin, which looked very similar to the damage that could have been inflicted by the bed which fell suddenly (an overseer could do that)”. – See: Vasyl STUS: a Poet and a Citizen. Book of memories and reflections / Regulated by. V. Ovsiyenko. – К.: Soc. «Publishing houseClio”», – 2013. – P. 640.

Well, actually this exhumation procedure was held in such physical and psychological stress that we couldn’t think of a proper examination. And we didn’t have an expert.

I do not prefer either of those two versions. The mystery of Vasyl Stus’s death is known to its performers. Som of them died soon and there were no accidents. It is known to those who ordered it and some of them still live. But they will not confess.

One thing I am sure of: It was an order from Kremlin to stop a Ukrainian from winning the Nobel prize. Moreover in a cell.

…At the beginning of the article I mentioned that in our home zone ВС-389/36 since 1995 was active a Museum of the history of political repressions and totalitarianism in USSR “Perm-36”. I believed it to be Russia’s conscience. Because one thing is to create a museum in honor of your Fatherland, and completely other is to create a museum of its shame, to clean Russia from Communist filth. Such people were found at the right time and in the right place. They have made a great deed. The Museum under the direction of Victor Shmyrov fell in line with related museums Buchenwald, Oświęcim, Sachsenhausen. Tens of thousands of people went through “Perm-36”. But in 2014 under the pressure from former KGB agents and wardens the museum was closed. His antipode is open there now: “The museum of camp history and GULAG workers”. That means that the museum of political prisoners became the museum of our punishers. The main argument: “The Russian state should not contain a museum for vindication the former Bandera agents and other fascists”. Such as Stus

A monument in his home village Rahnivka of Haysyn district. Sculpted by Boris Dovhan.

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