DROBAKHA Olexandr Ivanovych
V.Ovsienko: It is July 20, 2000. We are talking with Mr. Olexandr Drobakha from Vyshgorod town in Kiev oblast’. First of all, please introduce yourself and then proceed with your story about you and other people.
O.Drobakha: Drobakha Olexandr Ivanovych, resident of Vyshgorod town in Kiev oblast’. I have been living here, in Kiev oblast’ since 1963, having returned to the land of my ancestors. I was born on August 25, 1938. After graduating from Zaporizhzhya pedagogical institute with the specialization in Ukrainian language and literature and German language, I went boldly to work in the land of conscious Ukrainians, i.e. to Halychchyna, as in Zaporizhzhya life for me and the likes of me was virtually impossible because of anti-Ukrainian policy and psychological pressure.
That is how I ended up in Piddnistryany village, Khodoriv raion, and met real people. The principal Mykhaylo Kalynets and the teachers arranged princely welcome ceremony, as if I were a Prime Minister or a President. Introductions lasted till morning and then I started familiarizing myself with local life. I had a few acquaintances there. Halya Leonchenko, a colleague, who knew Dmytro Pavlychko and other writers, was the first. I was much interested in Lviv Ukrainian atmosphere, in literary circles, in particular. Several times I attended meetings of the literature seminars in the University. I started feeling like a real person after I’ve come to Halychchyna in August 1960.
My personality was formed in Zaporizhzhya institute. When I entered it right from the grass-roots, other people, my peers studying there were already aware of the notions “native land”, “mother tongue”. But situation in Zaporizhzhya was a tragicomedy - back in history it used to be the stronghold of the Ukrainian freedom, Ukrainian independence – the Zaporizhzhya Sich, while in our times, i.e. in mid 50-ies it was a Russified, deeply wounded Ukrainian province.
V.O.: What were the years of your studies in Zaporizhzhya institute?
V.O.: And before that you graduated from school, right?
O.D.: Before that I studied in Oleksandrivka secondary school, Priazovsky raion, the same oblast’. It is almost on the shore. Olexandrivka is my birthplace.
V.O.: You haven’t told us about your parents…
O.D.: Our family tree goes with its roots back to Kiev oblast’, Man’kivsky raion, bordering with Zvenigorod raion. The track is lost in the 18th century. They came to steppe from Kryukiv, but their remote ancestors – I know it now – were from Rusalivka, Buky – the Drobakhas. My folks came to the steppe in 1860, when Wild Steppe was liberated from the Nogays. Each man was allotted 4 dessiatinas [1 dessiatina – about 2 and 3/4 acres] of land. And my grandmother Lomonosykha went there. She had 4 sons so they got 16 dessiatinas of land. And it would be fair to say that there the family lived for over 100 years.
When I was completing my studies in Zaporizhzhya I already had some thoughts about the area of Wild Steppe, of how terribly depraved it was in the spiritual sense: one village was Ukrainian, the next was Russian, the third was Bulgarian and the fourth – God knows what. Therefore, it was hard to develop national awareness. The raion newspaper was in Russian, the spirit of Moscow prevailed everywhere. I felt it since childhood. Thank God we had teachers – Ivan Malyarenko, Fedir Viter, Hryhory Melus – who “inoculated” us with conscious national attitude in our high school. Fedir Viter, the German teacher, started his lecture with:”Well, Chukrainians, [jocular-derogatory term for Ukrainians] let’s get to learning German”. So, when I entered the institute, I was not a hick from the sticks. And there our national awareness was supported by the professors and lecturers; they filled us with the spiritual charge of our predecessors, who had suffered reprisals in the 30-ies – poet O.Oles’, writer V.Vinnytchenko, UKP member V.Blakytny and others. We learnt there had been real Ukrainians, who fought for the Ukrainian state. Associate professor Zabiyaka, professor St.Samiylenko mentioned M.Kulish, M.Khvylovy and others in his discourse.
At this point Communist watch-dogs picked up the scent – after we had set up a literary group, when we were feeling a bit of freedom after the 20th congress. Talks, meetings – and here the pressure would start. My cousin Volodymyr Kulik, 4 years older than me, also graduated from the pedagogical institute, also voiced his patriotic views and even showed some literary talent. Maybe he was more active than I, that is why he was attacked more intensely, than we, the younger generation. And they pressed him so hard that he lost any faith in life, and took to the bottle. I don’t know further details; anyway he was sent to Crimea to teach Ukrainian… Can you imagine the atmosphere there in 1959? He quit his job of Ukrainian teacher, came back to our village and became a bricklayer. These “guys” contributed to his end – he perished in the early 60-ies in his native village of Oleksandrivka. It was my encounter with cruel anti-Ukrainian ideological atmosphere which could lead a person to the total disillusionment, if he or she had no support from the friends with whom one could have a sincere talk. He was thrown into that Wild Steppe that destroyed him. He was one of those described by Ye.Sversyuk as “the prodigal sons of Ukraine”. I experienced myself how hard it was to go vas-bank against the regime. At that time I started applying Hashek’s Shweik philosophy. Probably, it saved me, especially when after three months of my work at school I was drafted to the Russian army…
V.O.: What year was it?
O.D.: Still 1960. Probably, they had something on me from Zaporizhzhya, because the pressure was huge. However, if all the teachers would have opposed, may be that would have saved me from service. But I did not object too strongly: either from here or from some other place, they would draft me for two years anyway.
My army Odyssey started in Kiev oblast’ to be continued in Germany. In the course of two years I acquired a very good idea of how the machine worked. In the army I met the boys who had studied for a year in the officers’ schools. In Germany we played a match between the Ukrainians and imaginary “USSR team” composed chiefly of Russians.
V.O.: Just fancy that!
O.D.: And here the supremacy of the cadets became obvious. We, Ukrainians, defeated the “USSR team”. In the evenings we, the cadets, had heated discussions full of humor and sarcasm. 30 cadets are lying down on their bunks in the barrack – 15 are Ukrainians while the other half is “international”. Three thirds of that part are “moskals” [Russians –derog.], 1 Tadzhyk, 1 Uzbek, and the rest - “Krasnopevtsev’ guard” and others. The guys, future officers were strongly focused on national feelings. After these soccer battles and discussions we felt more firm in our beliefs…
V.O.: But where was KGB, the special unit?
О. D.: We had talks with them. Each person was summoned separately. We spent there half a year and then we were demobilized. We had no organizations then, no field to operate except in the area of the humanitarian sciences. And there I saw that we still were strong. The guys who barely knew each other would meet –Ukrainian with Ukrainian – and begin discussing our history, what warriors we’ve had, who fought for what, who was good and who was bad. Obviously, they did not possess enough arguments and facts, but still they perceived themselves as Ukrainians.
After military service, in 1963 I returned to Kiev oblast’ and started working in a school of Borodyanka raion, the village of Lubyanka. The name has a slight flavor of…
О.D.: No, of rivulets and forest. It is located on the road between Borodyanka and Kiev; Bucha and Vorzel are not far away. I worked there for a year as a teacher of German. Finding job as Ukrainian language and literature teacher in Kiev oblast’ was impossible, while the teachers of German language always have been scarce. I was lucky. I started coming to the city from my village to participate in the literary workshop, directed by D.Bilous under the “Molod’” publishing house. There I met Stus. The atmosphere was rather carefree at the time. Kiev was a whirlpool. I was somewhat envious of the boys who were “boiling” there, while the army had barred me from closer familiarization with the treasures of the Ukrainian movement. It was our institute, [we met] our great people; there we learnt the early poetry of Tychyna, all permeated with fire and ash of the reprisals…We knew already about the year 1933; my father had told me about it earlier.
Here let me get back to my parents. My father was from the family of grain-growers, ideology and politics had never been their priorities. I had two uncles and seven aunts on my father’s side, all of them rather indifferent to politics. There were eight siblings on my mother’s side. They were rather active. Due to them I learnt the intricacies of the political life early. My uncle Nechypir, born in 1900, served on “Volya” battleship. Many years later I learnt about April 30, 1918, when battleships Volya”, “Svobodnaya Rossiaya” and others hoisted blue and yellow flags. Uncle Nechypir was a most remarkable man. He was handsome and his temperament was out of common... When he came to the village everything would be singing, dancing, with the music playing…He got himself involved in politics, and perished either in 1918 or in early 1919, slashed by Denykin’s soldiers’ sabers in Melitopol, same way as my grandfather Kharlo. As it happened, the uncle and the nephew were born in the same year1900, and did military service one not far from the other. Their family name was Nemiryuk.
I still wonder about their destinies. I tried to find out when and why the seamen of the Black Sea navy left their battleships. It could not have been as primitive as Korneychuk depicted in his play “The end of the squadron”.
50 years later after my uncle Nechypir’s death, in 1968 I made sideways trip to Chyhyryn and met a man who had served with them in Black Sea squadron. He recounted what had happened. I wanted to clarify, where Nechypir went with his landing party – to Makhno or to some other units. Anyway, all those “Reds” – the village council and executive committee heads had always treated the Nemiryuks, i.e. my mother’s family, with suspicion. They were constantly bullying them, claiming that the family had too much land. We had a house and about 80 acres of land and the authorities left us with only 20, although my mother worked in a kolkhoz and as a teacher in the kindergarten. She had some teacher’s training: incomplete studies in the pedagogical school. Due to her family situation she had to quit school. She was well aware of what was going on. She used to tell me” Beware – and never think of this word “Solovky”. Watch out!” At that time, in the years 1937-38, Kramarenko and Petro Drobakha, our distant relative had been arrested and we still don’t know what happened to them. And my father told me about 1933, and my late grandpa Mykhaylo did – what it was like, how many people died.
When the idol died in 1953, my father surprised me “Why are they weeping over him? They are bandits there!” "And Stalin too?” – I asked. – “And Stalin too.” They were trying to make him join the CPSU, but he would not go. On principle he subscribed only one newspaper “Izvestiya”. So I never cherished these “pioneer-red-tie” ideas in my mind, and it makes me feel better now. I am grateful to my fate, that since my childhood I had never been charmed by that communist rubbish.
While still in Zaporizhzya my comrades were called upon to account for their participation in the literary workshop. One of the members, O.Dzyobyk, reminisced: “So I was summoned and ordered to keep an eye on you and this one and that one, and to report on all of you later”. So I had the whole picture by 1959-60. That is why I went to work in Halychchyna, to feel more or less free.
And after military service I came back to Kiev, presuming that everything was boiling and whirling there, in our core. But no way – I worked in a village, in the middle of nowhere, let’s put it straight. Although I participated in that literary workshop, where I could sense the opposition, and feel like a man. Nevertheless, I decided to go away. I have been fed up with the German language, I never liked it indeed. So I never counted on it. I tried to enter post-graduate studies in order to be in Kiev, but I failed. And suddenly I met a man. His name was Vitaliy Reznik. He was some kind of a poet. He said:” Look here, let us try to get enlisted to the “Komsomol construction project!” And we started travelling – here and there and anywhere. We could find construction job as unskilled manual workers. Especially taking into account that some people whose names I had heard in the workshop and whom I knew personally worked there too. We were hired as steel-fixers in ferroconcrete works.
V.О.: Where is it?
О.D.: In Vyshgorod, Kiev electric power plant. It was not bad, at least not worse than teaching German.
V.О.: When was this plant constructed?
О.D.: The construction started in 1960. We arrived in August of 1964. Everything was in motion in preparation for the future water reservoir – “the dead sea”. Everything was ringing and steaming and clinging, the work at its height. There were many young people – 10 thousand from the whole Soviet Union, many from Ukraine, most exceptional people. As a man of letters and a person concerned about our national revival, I was taken in with all that. Chornovil was becoming conspicuous; later I met him at one of the meetings. I also remember V.Komashkov, one of the boys with whom we had started our patriotic activity. He is no longer alive, God save his soul. He did a lot to raise the awareness of the people. (Born in 1935, died on 10.10. 1997. – V.О.).
I would like to highlight this second wave of the awakening of my national awareness after my studies in the institute. I had to be reformed, had to read and think a lot, to reject certain things. Here we entered the era of Ukrainian spirituality that put us straight on our legs and straightened our spines, which were deformed to a certain extent. It goes without saying. I could name dozens of people who had been members of our group.
However I disagree with the argument that appears more than once in Rusnachenko book and many essays, namely, that it had been humanitarian revival movement, aimed only at artistic or creative renaissance ( A.Runachenko. National liberation movement in Ukraine. Mid 1950-ies to early 1990-ies. – К.: Olena Telyha publishers, 1998.–720 p). Right here in Vyshgorod we discussed political issues related to Ukrainian state building a lot, but we acted less. I explained to the guys that they could not discuss these issues openly with anyone. Many things were, obviously, discussed within a very small circle. With the passage of time the picture of the events will become more and more vivid, when our files from the secret archives will become available. I think the books will be written (I myself feel the duty of analyzing all these events). What was it in Ukraine – humanitarian movement of ethnographic, routine nature or national revival movement?
I would like to stress here: we insisted that Ukraine must be an independent self-sufficient state. We discussed it in a very narrow circle and I warned the guys against talking about our goals openly, lest it all be covered with wet barbed blanket.
It was at that time that I began creating history museum, setting up literary workshops. Formally it was a museum, a literary workshop, but in fact it was a political group. Up to one hundred members were united in it. We organized a trip to Makivka hill. Now we know what Makivka is and can mention it freely. But at the time it was a revelation to me: to go up Makivka, stepping with my own feet. The photos testify to the fact. Bohdan Dyriv was from Halychchyna and had some trustworthy friends there. The forester escorted us to the place, we saw the trenches. He told us about the battles of the World War I. My boys were interested not only in literature and poetry, Symonenko and Svitlychny. We talked about the feasibility of Ukraine’s existence, of its armed forces. We knew the first confrontation with Moscow after hetman Mazepa took place then and there, on Makivka hill. It is a central moment, very important for the history of Ukraine.
I would like to give you the names of my roommates, who had suffered most – O.Nazarenko, V.Kodryukov, V.Karpenko. (O.Nazarenko, born on 27.09.1930 in Zemlyanki village, Makiivka raion, Donetsk oblast’.member of the “shistdesyatniks” movement, printed and distributed samizdat in Vyshgorod, Kive oblast’). Arrested on 26.06.1968, convicted to 5 years of imprisonment under art. 62, p. 1; V.Kondryukov and V.Karpenko stood trial and were convicted to 3 and 1.5 years respectively. Karpenko served his term in Mordovia and the Urals. (Presently he lives in Skadovsk Kherson oblast’ V.O.)Kiev-Vyshgorod trial was the climax of these developments, in December 1968 – January 1969 . Almost nothing has been written about this trial. I don’t believe Rusnachenko wrote anything about it (No – V.O). Some short information was published in the newspapers, but I had to mention these guys anyway. Those were not the happiest years of my life – these came later – in 1989 – 1991, when we were struggling for the Independence and gained it. But in the 60-ies we were getting ready to it. Of course, we had a lot of joyful moments: these first, these incredible steps…
Alongside with three aforementioned persons I have to mention V.Chornovil, whom I knew personally. He served as an example of outstanding courage for us –it was his definitive trait. We were young and inexperienced yet, while Chornovil’s character was honed not only by literature, but also by his contacts with B.Antonenko-Davydovych, Ivan Honchar and maybe other people whom I didn’t know. Those two I also knew. We visited Honchar several times and several times I talked with Antonenko-Davydovych. These discussions made me aware that Ukraine was fighting, that Ukraine existed. Chornovil – that was my feeling – was a human link between these people and the future. We read some of his essays, talked to him personally – all that was precious for us.
I met V.Stus in the literary workshop under “Molod’” publishers. It turned out we were of the same age and same occupation. He graduated from Donetsk pedagogical institute, while I studied in Zaporizhzhya. I sensed immediately he was a man of a very strong personality, unable of conscious compromise. We were different in nature, and, probably, in our strengths. Main thing is I understood that V.Stus was the most firm and the most unyielding in his patriotic attitude. I saw him as an iceberg: his verses, his speeches did not reflect fully his personality. I observed the same at Kiev-Vyshgorod court, when Nazarenko, Kondryukov and Karpenko stood trial, while other 25 persons were present as witnesses.
V.О.: Stus too, probably?
О.D.: Stus was desperately trying to get inside. You know the mechanics – they were letting us in one by one. You could say something or remain silent and off you went, so that you couldn’t stay in the court room. They chase you out so that you don’t hear what your predecessor said. It was in Kiev oblast’ court – a mock of fate – between destroyed St. Michael’s cathedral and St. Sophia – our souls were devastated. But prior to that they tortured us with their interrogations and talks. We’ve been through all that. Naturally, we felt sick at heart, having to weigh every answer – what to say and what not to say; what this one said and that one didn’t say. And one should be courageous enough to contradict. The three guys were different, and the methods used against them during the inquest were different, but the investigators squeezed something out of them. V.Kondryukov, probably, was the toughest of them. I remember our talks with Antonenko-Davydovych, and other people too used to say half-jokingly that in these circumstances the less you say the better, regardless or your so-called “interlocutors’” intonation, smirks and grins. More than once one felt sick at heart and cold inside one’s skin…But I remembered to talk as little as possible. The other guys, though, did not follow the rule. O.Nazarenko talked probably enough to earn full 5 years, although he might have made it less.
V.О.: He used to tell some people he had betrayed others. Same hint was made in “Ukrainisky visnyk”. But in fact his notebook with all the names and phone numbers was seized. So KGB bit by bit put together information…
О.D.: Yes, these things happened too. I talked to the guys who can be called witnesses. I am sorry, Vasyl, that you started digging all that too late. V.Komashkov, God save his soul, knew a lot about it, he was at the very peak of our resistance. It will be two years since his death. He knew Alla Horska, Ivan Svitlychny. I knew Ivan too, and I can say he was a wise man, with very reasonable attitude, but he never made himself conspicuous. In our circle we had some people whose contribution was worth a penny, but who made it look as if it was priceless. Weak is human nature. V.Stus and I.Svitlychny never showed either conceit or vanity.
I mentioned that sometimes I consciously played “Good soldier Shvejk”, because if you didn’t play you might have kicked the bucket. We were young, unprepared for such tribulations. I think the greatest merit of “shistdesyatniki” was that they enabled us to hold the relay-race baton of those who had fought for freedom in UPA. People like Antonenko-Davydovych or Ivan Honchar were not alone after all despite the fact that their generation was 90% destroyed. Our circle was a narrow one but very firm in its Ukrainian strive. Had we gathered 1000 people in Vyshgorod and 100 thousand in Kiev, Kiev would have been Ukrainian, and our current situation would have been quite different.
And so what did we do in Vyshgorod? Apart from our political discussions within very narrow circle, we went for cultural work, organized literary parties and trips to our national shrines. We invited people of the similar persuasions, writers from Kiev. Everyone attneded our parties in Vyshgorod. I tried to involve as many people as possible into the circle of Ukrainian aura. We had some conflicts as the administration tried to introduce some elements of “Malorossiya” [Little Russia – derog. for Ukraine] element. When we were banned from this activity, I organized a literary workshop and called it “raspberry-colored sails”, where I continued my work within a closer circle. But it was closed too. “Why raspberry-colored sails?” -they asked me in administrative offices. – “Do you know raspberry can be yellow too?” How would I know, having grown up in the steppe? I haven’t seen even plain garden-variety raspberry…My idea was that raspberry color -or crimson- pertained to Cossacks as opposed to red, and I liked it. But the “comrades” would start anew:” So why raspberry color? And the sky is blue, isn’t it? See the picture?” And the wolf-dog of an investigator caught up the trail, because we have recorded one chapter of “Ukraina”. It was a lot of mess. “No, you are lying, it is your in-depth plan; we know you and your ilk” It was one total grotesque.
OK, “Raspberry-colored sails” were shut down and I remained without any patriotically-targeted work once more.
Let me try to identify the most important highlights of our life. Let us take, for example, “Ukraina” cinema”, September 4, 1965. One of the torches that enflamed our awareness and provided us with perseverance to hold on. When V.Stus, V.Chornovil, I.Dzyuba…
V.О.: Were you present?
О.D.: Yes, I was, together with Nazarenko, Bohdan Dyriv and some other people from our Vyshgorod circle.
V.О.: It would be interesting to hear your version as different people give different accounts of the events...
О.D.: Yes, right, I’ve read some of them. I can tell you my recollections. Mr.Vasyl, if one could read the diaries of the time…
V.О.: Did you keep diary?
V.О.: Well, you are one daring man!
О.D.: Yes, Mr.Vasyl. Not so daring, maybe, but not a total oaf either. Many things were written in convoluted ways, in innuendos. Had I mentioned Dontsov, nationalism or even Chornovil, Urals or Siberia would have been inevitable for me. Many papers of mine ended up in KGB. But they needed the whole lot of stuff to “fish” something out of them. I noted many things. How could one prove that it was Shelukhin’s “Ukraine”? KGB was hunting for this book. I still have it. When I’ve read its full version in 1989 or 1990 I understood why investigators called it “a bomb”. It contained Celtic theory of the Ukrainians’ origins. The author was a man of high temperament. Books like his about Ukraine are scarce even now. We have read Hushevky’s articles, Symon Petlyura’s essays, but the books of similar depth and passion are few. Why were they interested in this book and not, for example, in Ye. Malanyuk, whose book I’ve managed to get for one night from Nazarenko? It got to Kiev by Kiev-Vyshgorod “shuttle”, maintained chiefly by V.Komashkov…Some books were delivered to 3-4 persons who then disseminated them among 30-40 others. But a bust happened and wolf-dogs picked up the scent of the “shuttle” and about 20-30 persons fell prey to them in 1965...
So, back to “Ukraina” cinema. A sunny September day, an interesting movie is about to start. Ukrainian atmosphere… Suddenly I. Dzyuba made it to the stage. He meant to say something about “The shadows of forgotten ancestors”. And abruptly V.Stus rose also. I believe it was Stus, though some people claim it was Chornovil. And he announced that arrests had been made – that we know already. Then he – I believe it was Stus, after all, commanded:”Those who are against the arrests – rise!” Then Chornovil made a most passionate speech, while people started rising. The lights went off unexpectedly. There were some speeches, some utterances…I could not see the details after the lights went off. But when I heard the calls, when these courageous people started the riot – I could sense it, because we got up from our seats, all of us. Some people turned to have a look at us, but we – Nazarenko, I and Dyrov – stood as if made of stone. After the lights had been turned on again, Dzyuba started saying something, but was interrupted.
And then – the movie, the fire horses… I never expected such interpretation of Kotsyubinsky’ work. Because “The shadows of forgotten ancestors” was kind of ethnographic piece. And this movie sounded like a call to battle for the Ukrainian soul risen from ashes.
After that security forces became more active. They found the books that brought us together. Protests and letters were signed to defend the arrested people. We were summoned to the inquiries: who, what, where, when, with whom – all these tedious, boring talks which lasted for several days. I sensed nothing good would come out of it.
[End of the tape.]
О.D. I would like to dwell on our cultural/political work. We were reading Vasyl Symonenko’s poetry, Ivan Svitlychny, works by Antonenko-Davydovych, the great Ukrainians Dontsov, malanyuk, Shelukhin, “Red guilder-rose”, Hrushevsky, Vinnytchenko. Almost all of us lived in workers’ hotel, met every day, but it was not enough.
V.О.: Where was the hotel – in Vyshgorod as well?
О.D.: Right, in Vyshgorod, in Budivelnykiv street. Currently we changed its name to Bohdan Khmelnitsky street. I’d like to mention here that some of our dreams came true 25 years later. For example, we suggested to change the name of Molodizhny avenue to Ivan Mazepa avenue – a month or two earlier than in Lviv. In Lviv street plaques appeared only 3-4 months later. In Vyshgorod, however, all that red tape dragged as all these “reds” and “malorossy” were against Mazepa street in Vyshgorod. I’ve said it many times and I say it again: “Guys, we’ve lived long enough to see our dreams come true”. And in Kiev, lamentably, there is no street or avenue named after Mazepa.
I would like to stress the importance of identifying one’s living habitat – geographically, and sometimes, may be, ideological, the area of one’s operation. It ensures better quality of life. The thing is a lot of people want to jump very high and to embrace a lot, and often end up with the smoke without fire.
The guys started making photocopies, multiplying documents. Very serious documents, telling about “Holodomor”[famine in Ukraine –Ukr.], terror, trials and arrests. Then they distributed them. It could not have lasted for long. The security picked up the scent.
В.О.: How did they multiply them?
О.D.: With a simple camera and enlarger. We had a small stash in the hotel, where we kept our papers. Having no experience of clandestine work, I made a mistake, a strategic mistake – while I was on vacation, my papers were found alongside with political books and Nazarenko’s papers. Mainly they were rough copies of my literary writings. Luckily, sometimes I used Aesopian language in my notes. Had I been direct, it would have turned out pretty rough for me. Well, that bust happened due to our lack of experience.
It went on like this for rather long time – the years 1964 – 1967. Despite the arrests of 1965, that had scared us, we would not repent. I continued with my history museum in the “dungeons” of our hotel. The director of the construction Strokov was of the Cossack origins, as the rumor had it. He said: “I will give you a room, try it, but we’ve had heroes before your time”. I was not that enthusiastic about museum project, but we needed premises at least to get together and discuss things.
V.О.: And so you were hanging about in the museum?
О.D.: Yes, that is where we used to hang about. We had mammoth’s tusks there, cartridges, coins, old bonds, biographies of outstanding people. I still have the visitors; book with their reviews. We saw our main task in raising the national awareness of as many people as possible. That was the priority. When the guys started copying the documents, sometimes without due skills, like amateurs, I had a sense that we won’t be let alone, that everything could be taken away from us, the way it happened in the 30-ies. And that is exactly what happened. Some boys told their sweethearts about their operation. I was firmly against such “romancing”. Later, when they were caught, they would understand that they were turned in by the very woman, with whom they had been so open and sincere, telling her too much.
Our cultural endeavors ended up in pure politics. We were summoned to the officials. Of course it was not pleasant. I became aware of the fact that my road to literary career was barred point blank, because I had read books of so and so. Many curious things happened in these offices. I was saved by my “Shvejk” attitude. O.Nazarenko and I were heedless enough to copy the most telling extracts from Shelukhin’s “Ukraina” – I remember my reciting them with great inspiration. First I negated I have read this book. But they offered me a tape with my recorded voice. I brazenly claimed it was not me. And then: “Well, I did read it. But it does not mean I shared S.Shelukhin’s ideas. I am a writer, man of learning, to a certain extent, I have to know everything. Will you contradict Marx and Lenin who had stated that nothing human is alien to us?” So sometimes I managed to show them their place, as they behaved in very primitive and rude way. But further developments led to complete crush of my museum.
V.О.: How and when did it happen?
О.D.: It was the climax. The guys became aware they were being chased. In spring of 1968 they moved to Kiev…
V.О.: Whom are you referring to?
О.D.: Nazarenko and Karpenko. Kondryukov lived in Kiev permenently, they met only sporadically. They had all worked in electric power plant, but Kondryukov moved to Kiev around 1967-68. I know for sure that he published some leaflets, Karavansky’s letters, and other protests at his own expense. Vasyl did it alone not to get others involved. When you meet him he will give you more interesting details.
So in 1968 my museum was crushed. America was boiling with Negro protests. We were aware of that. We also knew that young people in Paris started riots, and that something good was taking place in Czechoslovakia with Dubchek and his “socialism with the human face”. We hoped that Czechoslovakia would make a leap towards society ruled by common sense, and Ukraine would be the next.
V.О.: The Prague spring…
О.D.: Right, right. Security and Politbureau started worrying that it could really spread to Ukraine, because there was ground for it. Kremlin introduced preventive measures. Of course we were not happy with such prospects: what will happen? How will it happen? If one could foresee… But we were inexperienced, and I was on hook too, after I had left my papers and rough copies in the museum. My readings and writings occupied an entire valise.
I packed my backpack and using sideways along the Dnipro river went to my sister in Simferopol. I had a subconscious thought that if I am caught I would not have a heck of a chance to see my native country and explore it. I always had a wish to explore Ukraine on foot. Later I traveled a lot, on my bicycle, and on foot. I still remember Pereyaslav, the villages visited by Shevchenko. He made drawings of the church in Pereyaslav and of oaks in Vyunyshchy. When I came there I was consternated – the oaks were uprooted with their roots pointing at the sky. The oaks drawn by Shevchenko in Vyunyshchy… I made a note somewhere: “Cut down and slashed beauty of nature [depicted by Taras]”…
So my travels were not in vain, because I assumed in case I am caught, at least I’d have my memories. In Zvenyhorod raion I traveled on foot for two days. From Shevchenkove I marched to Moryntsy. It was on the verge of thunderous events of 1968.
V.О.: Have you heard that the guys were arrested?
О.D.: No, not yet. But I sensed it was prone to happen. We saw each other for several times when they lived in workers’ hotel in Svyatoshyn. They reported things were looking down, that they were followed, sometimes they saw someone hanging around in front of their windows, or the hotel manager would barge into the door rudely, without knocking. They sensed and still kept flying like butterflies into the fire. They might have taken to their heels and go to Carpathians and let the spies chase them there. And I was on vacation. I did not believe it would happen so rapidly.
V.О.: It was summer of 1968. Nazarenko was detained on June 26.
О.D.: Yes, it was June. But they were not detained all together. Kondryukov was arrested and then released. Vasyl told me. They did it very expertly, not to alarm the others.
I went to see my parents who lived in the steppes. I had to visit them after the whole year, as soon as I could leave school. I went for about 20 days, passing the sites of Ukrainian battles for the freedom on my way. By the way, we repeated that raid with Ye.Obertas in 1996, this time in his car. After these travels I can sit down and write a serious book, because I never write just theoretical stuff, based on something I have heard or read. One of the formulas I use in my work: go yourself, feel it, talk to people, and only then you can tackle a serious book.
And so I traveled to Pereyaslav, to Chyhyryn, to Kholodny Yar, to Kapulivka, to my native Zaporizhzhya, to Mala Khortytsya island…I returned 18 years later after graduation, a grown-up man. I spent one night in Khortytsya. And then I crossed the steppes to visit my sister in Simferopol. Bakhcisarai. Yalta. On my way I spent half a day in Petrykivka (Tsarychany raion) with a renowned craftswoman T.Pata.
On my return to Vyshgorod I found out that everything was devastated. Boys were arrested. It was not something out of the blue; somewhere inside I was anticipating it. I thought about our stash. And the stash had been seized. I felt most crestfallen: if they started digging, deep digging, the professionals would see whom they were dealing with. True, I had about 10 Malanyuk’s verses copied, which I carried with me. But there was prose as well. Later I understood that they had been after Malanyuk and Dontsov, first and foremost. But so far - “no file-no case”.
The ruining of the museum began. Luckily, some things were rescued. The secretary of the komsomol unit was ordered to jump and bite. He started taking out tusks, teeth and other exhibits. The “director” joined him. I shouted at him: “Where are you going!? Now, get it all back, or else…”he didn’t want to quarrel, and left the exhibits.
V.О.: Where did they take all the things?
О.D.: They have thrown them away, what else could they do? Right to the garbage dump. In 1938 my colleague historian and teacher I. Marchuk worked in Vyshgorod. He was putting together a museum in Borys and Gleb Church, up there on the Hill. The locals recounted that his museum was busted the same way. And I could predict it, as I knew whom I was dealing with. I was not affected emotionally, I perceived the disaster on the intellectual level – I knew something had to be done, although I might have been jacketed with wet cloth for that. And that is what actually happened. So I had the presence of mind to say calmly “Go away, it’s not your deed, it’s only human or else I’ll”… I even poked him with my elbow and said: “Go attend to your komsomol duties”. It was the party committee secretary who set the komsomol members to go and crush the museum. They used them…And that komsomol organizer was smart enough not to quarrel or have a brawl with me. He just left. So I managed to rescue two thirds of the museum exhibits. I knew the room could be opened with a key. On leaving I placed 20 leaflets with Cossacks’ passwords on the table – for the sake of the experiment. Let them solve the puzzle, I thought. Well, they took a look, but probably missed the hint.
I could not continue in the hotel. Everything was whirling, boiling and clinging. To a certain extent we even liked it, because we enlivened that lazy existence. So I moved to Topylnya street. Do you like the name of the street?
О.D.: Topylnya street in Vyshgorod. I stayed with a man who used to say “these abominations of moskals…” I asked:”Why would you call them “abominations?”But he went on: “these abominations are getting under my skin, too”. His grandfather was subjected to reprisals. That grandfather was enigmatic all in all. When they started the riot in 1919 – in Novopetrivtsy, Vyshgorod, Stare Silo and a dozen of other villages, the commander of local ChKa comrade Nikolenko perished. And his father was one of the riot ring-leaders. Then that grandfather was brought to heel with imprisonments and exiles so that upon his return he never uttered a word, but to utter the simplest things, like “give me”, “here it is”, “go”. And his relative dared to give me shelter. Maybe they had a talk: “Whom did you rent a place to?” It was partially a shed, partially a kennel and partially an underground dwelling, but it had a stove. I spent a year and a half there. I don’t know how I would survive the terrible conditions I had to live in, but in that shed I did not suffer too much, because one had to survive. I was never sorry for having started all that.
All these talks, [with the majors, the captains, the lieutenants…Naturally I lacked the intellect of Sversyuk’s level. Once I asked: “How could you, Mr.Sverstyuk, talk to them like a philosopher?” And as to myself – what the devil, I tried to make the best of it, I lied and omitted, negated and evaded. Until I was “pinned” to the wall I would not admit any facts. I knew them to be people with no morality, so being moral with them would mean “drowning” myself or rise to the bait and step out with hands in blood. So I gave negative responses even when it meant worse fate for me, but I think it was the right thing to do. I lacked, probably, intellect and high moral stand of Yevhen Sverstyuk. We had a widely spread “cobweb”, with about 25 witnesses. No one knew who could say what. One had to go vas-bank and negate everything till one was pressed to the wall. Whatever they could get out of you was added to your file. These talks took place in Volodymyrska street, in Roza Luxemburg street. By the way, Kondryukov somehow managed to get hold of his file. It shows who said what and what specific accusations were. I was mentioned there twice, although might have been mentioned 222 times. From the entire bulk of materials they have chosen stuff that corresponded to the respective articles of the law.
V.О.: Had it happened in 1937, you would all be sent right to heaven.
О.D.: Right, right, no discussion. But in this case reprisals were selective.
My book was to be published by “Radyanskiy pysmennyk”. Poetry of 1967-68. The poems were reedited, polished, rejected, cut. A writer Hryhory Koval and others did the job. O.Honchar’s “Cathedral” was to be published. I visited V.Pidpaly. He ordered me to go get a bottle of brandy. I assumed my book was to come out of print pretty soon:”Why?” Just go, I am telling you”. I did as told and then he showed me “Cathedral”. I looked at its black and red jacket. It was published then in “Romany I povesti” publishing house, in a jacket and cover paper. I hoped he would mention my book, but it never happened. The whole edition was destroyed, 100 thousand. Maybe, not all 100 thousand copies. They threw some books out into the book market in Lviv and Kiev. Pidpaly managed to save several books. He said :”Sashko, I am giving it to you as a gift” and signed it for me. I still keep it.
V.О.: By the way, I managed to get it too, but later the KGBists took it away from me.
О.D.: Yes, obviously. It was in the fire, when I lived in Vyshgorod, in 1970, after I got married. I had a stash there where I kept my books. I don’t know how it happened, but the doors caught fire. The fire was reaching my books. I saw the smoke accidentally, but when I arrived the doors were already gone as well as some of my books. “Cathedral” lost its black and red super-jacket, but the book itself survived. I grabbed it out of the fire. It is a story in itself. I also have a mutilated book about “Decembrists”, published by “Molod’”. They lost their heads for the second time. What am I driving at here? We talked with Pidpaly, I thanked him and asked about my book. “Oh, don’t ask me – go to the director’s assistant, he knows, and I don’t.” It was the summer of 1968, before any trials. I thought rather calmly that my poetry would never see the light of day. If such things happened to Honchar… My book, however, was published. I forgot to bring it here, so I’ll show it to you some other time.
V.О.: What is it called?
О.D.: "The ferns". But its super jacket was blue and yellow. It is a small book, all in blue and yellow colors. When I received an advance copy – I’ve got goose bumps, either with joy or with fear. Blue and yellow! Only the ferns and the soil were black. The water was blue, the background was blue and all the rest was yellow. I understood my book would end up in the guillotine. And so it happened, without much ado. One of the guys managed to grab a dozen or so in Halychchyna. There must have been a crack in the system, or God knows what.
V.О.: So, Volodymyr Pidpaly edited it. But who were the publishers?
О.D.: "Radyansky pismennyk". It was edited not by Pidpaly, though, but by Hryhory Koval. But we were rather close with Pidpaly. We met at the “Molod’” workshop. Hryts Koval who did the editing, was not a bad guy either, but he removed a lot from the book. I was told that my book might be published or might be not. Ivan Nemyrovych worked there too, and I trusted him because he always showed concern: “How are things in Vyshgorod? Is it boiling? How are you personally involved? What’s up there?” At that time significant polarization happened around Dzuba’s book, and active and patriotically-minded guys were punished. I did not mention either political perturbations or trials to them, because I was not sure of their reaction. We all walked on the razor’s edge as it was. Later when I talked with the director A.Moroz, I found out they used to visit “shuttle-wise” those who made the decisions. So I used to say nothing special was going on in Vyshgorod. Well, there were some books. These talks took place prior to my leaving in1968. I asked whether my book would be published, because my comrades asked me about it. A.Moroz was the director, and D.Mishchenko was editor-in-chief. Maybe, they knew something. But I kept answering nothing unusual was happening. We read Vinnychenko and Hrushevsky, but I would not mention Malanyuk or Dontsov. I mentioned them later, when I sensed he had read the same books, which were considered most seditious.
So they were taking us for questioning, and I still wondered: what happened to my book? In late September or in October I got five copies from the publishing house, but no one would find “The Fern” in the store. Later it turned out someone had written a denunciation concerning me, probably to add to my “case”. Because in the Chief directorate of literature (aka censorship committee) they had no substantial papers, only hearsay and vine-telegraph. I started hunting for my book with no result. In the [writers’]Union they looked askew, pretending they barely knew me…And then all that whirlpool in the workers’ hotel began: how I will live, where I will live, how to get my manuscripts back– and they don’t return my manuscripts, because they wanted to collect as much as possible discrediting evidence against me. So I never found the book. Three or four years later someone told me: “You know, I have about ten copies of your collection”. – “How so? Komashkov told me only one person in Crimea had my book, a writer or something”. Komashkov asked me to present it him but I didn’t have it and told him so. Then he hinted to me who had it. I was reconciled with this situation.
The trial started in December 1968. The situation was quite unambiguous – three persons had to go behind the bars and 25 more posed as witnesses. Komashkov, myself, a friend of mine painter B.Shcherbyna (now he is the head of Vyshgorod KUN organization), girls close to literary circles – Nadia Kiryan ( now she is a member of the Writers’ Union), Lyudmila Sheremetyeva, the spouse of the scholar Yaroslav Dashkevych Maria Ovdienko – now an activist of “Prosvita” society in Brovary. One of our colleagues, Petro Yordan, has left Vyshgorod already. The case was extremely tedious for B.Dyriv and others. Unfortunately, people, apart from Vyshgorod residents do not know anything about it. I’ll have to write about it, using all the materials from the archives, but I think it won’t be an easy task to get hold of them. I tried to do it, but not persistently. I’d like to get hold of my diary for two years – it has a lot of interesting facts of the period. But I do not know how to tackle it.
V.О.: Can you get the diary back? After all, the “case” was his and not yours.
О.D.: Right. But will I succeed in getting my diary back? I’ll give it a try, because I wouldn’t want to miss some important moments of our life, of our youth in that avalanche of memoirs. I have written down a lot of things, but it is one thing, and for you to have it all recorded will be quite another story.
Let me say, even then I had an impression that V.Stus profile looked exactly like that of Danton not accidently. He was a person of extremely firm convictions. Eventually I learnt that he allowed himself an escapade in Donetsk meeting of the students. It was soon after Khrushchev’s speech at the 20th congress. We were all impressed with it. But Stus said bluntly that Ukraine was horribly russified.
I felt sick at heart during that Kiev-Vyshgorod trial, and I did not want to pay obeisance to them and provide them with the testimony they wanted. I saw people banned from the court-room – some were trying to break through, others were leaving. Vasyl approached me asked: “Has it started yet?” -“Yes”. He paced the room nervously, from one corner to another. I tried to address him but somehow it did not seem to work. I remember only his sharp words: “Just don’t talk too much. Just don’t talk too much”. In the extreme situation words are perceived at their face value, 1000% and not 100%, and I believe my colleagues said too much. Had they been more experienced, had anyone prompted them, everything would have turned out differently, and not only in our case, but in the entire Ukrainian history. Well, experience comes with practice only.
V.О.: No one ever coached us on how to behave during investigation.
О.D.: That is right. May be the merit of “shistdesyatniks” is that our political resistance started for us right from the cradle. In one of my essays I wrote “I am a criminal, because I am Ukrainian, I am a counter-revolutionary from the cradle”. We would not be like that if, God forbid, we had the views of the young creative people of 80-90-ies.
They trial ended, the thunderstorm passed. The year 1972 was approaching – the climax in the destruction of the Ukrainian “renaissance” which started in 1956, during the “cold war”. We felt that destruction in Vyshgorod. We were dispersed all over Ukraine. The years of stagnation, the “swampy and boggy” years followed. But we did our bit – everyone was working and writing. Especially Komashkov, whom I saw now and then. In fact he was traveling over the whole empire, all the way to Sakhalin, worked somewhere, and earned something. But he was still writing, and sometimes read his satires to me. Currently his daughter together with other literati wants to publish his heritage. It would be worth it. He never treated his writings seriously, and literature requires tremendous amount of work. His writings are worth publishing to make a part of multi-volume edition of Ukrainian dissident movement history. ( Published: V.Komashkov, Vyshgorod, selected works /”Shistdesyatniks museum”, compiled by O.Rohovenko, V.Chornovil, illustrated by H.Sevruk – Kharkiv:Folio, 2004. – 176 p.)
V.О.: You know, once Mykola Plakhotnyk had organized a celebration in commemoration of V.Komashkov. Unfortunately I did not attend, but I heard the celebration was a success.
О.D.: You raised this topic too, Vasyl, when you wrote about the “shistdesyatniks” decline. (In the aforementioned Rusnachenko’s book, pp. 543-550). It is a very primitive text. Only the name is good. And no one edited it. I could not have written “shistdesyatniks” in Russian! (And the date: 1973, and not 1987! – V.О.). In fact it was the end of a certain period in the political movement when everything had been covered with a wet blanket… I believe the experience we have acquired during the “thaw” era – as Chornovil correctly pointed out, and you as well- was instrumental in the public and political life of the late 80-ies and early 90-ies, at the times of Ukrainian liberation marathon. Without “shistdesyatniks” we hardly could have mustered the courage to do what we have done in many villages and cities of Ukraine.
V.О.: Right, it was the ferment, which V.Stus described as “the tiniest bit – for prayers and endless waiting”.
I am interested, though, to hear how they have treated you as witnesses at that trial. Did you suffer any reprisals? As a rule, they were treating witnesses like dirt.
О.D.: No doubt, Vasyl. First, I have served my “term” of 25 years at school. It was no fun there, even while my wife was a principle. One could barely function there, it was next to impossible. For 15 years I was removed from the literary process and could not have my book published. The road to literature was all dug up according to the orders of those whose faces sport snouts instead of noses.
Meanwhile I was studying the revolutionary history of other nations that have liberated themselves – Italy that had got rid of Austrian yoke, or Greece that freed itself from Turkish yoke. I found regularities which were the part of the Ukrainian revolution and could not be overlooked. Cloning of political parties, for one, was not invented by us. In Georgia they had one hundred parties, in Romania – 100 parties as well. It has a lot of minuses, put some pluses, too. We can’t jump over it, it should be evaluated reasonably, without tearing one’s shirt.
V.О.: Poland had 240 parties.
О.D.: Yes, it is an objective process. It should be perceived at the rational and not emotional level, because heart if let loose can lead you afar.
Over all those years I had tried to do something but never managed to reach beyond raion level.
V.О.: Have you worked in the construction since 1964 and further on?
О.D.: No, I worked as a steel-man for a month and then for another, and another. Meanwhile a school for the young workers was organized in Vyshgorod. I went to see its principal. He asked about my qualifications. I answered I specialized in German and Ukrainian languages. The principal said “That I fine, but my concern is whether you are capable of teaching the workers and finding appropriate people.” I answered I would try. So we started recruiting people. It was back in 1964. I taught at school three evenings a week, while the rest of my time was strictly my own.
V.О.: So, you acted as free Cossack?
[End of tape 1]
V.О.: Tape 2. Mr. Drobakha is telling his story and Vasyl Ovsienko is recording it. Today is July 20, 2000.
О.D.: And then the darkest years of the 20th century came– 70-80-ies. I could find consolation only in the libraries, in bringing my kids up and in teaching young workers. I tried to revive things a bit in the public life, but it was a very slow process. Let us say, I organized a literary school under the auspices of raion newspaper, but it was a far cry from our free-thinking of the 60-ies.
I tried to work in an official body, i.e. in the Society for the protection of the historic and cultural heritage. I was one of the founders of the raion branch of the Society and I had support from the oblast’ office headed by Ostap Pasika – a wonderful man, a patriot. He passed away recently, God save his soul. He was my ray of light in those years – a journalist, a wood carver, one of the founders. He engraved his name in the Ukrainian history, especially in his last years. He supported me and for some time, I believe, since 1976, I gave lectures in Kiev branch of the Society for the protection of the historic and cultural heritage; I traveled all over Kiev oblast’.
I had two lectures – one official, and another – illegal. The first was called “Marxist-Leninist policy of historic and cultural monuments’ protection” and the other – “Culture of Kievan Rus’”. Sometimes I made a mixture of the two. I announced the lecture under one name and started talking about Kievan Rus’. But it did not work twice. Letters from the backwoods were sent to the appropriate authorities. Pasika could only shrug at that: "I must send you packing.” For a year he “dismissed” me officially. Someone sent a complaint: allegedly a lot had been said during the lecture about history, but too little about the preservation of monuments that started in 1917. Sometimes the situation became purely grotesque and rificulous…I would end up (in Bohuslav or Yahotyn) in the company of our compatriots. I had a lot to say to them and they accepted me with their open Ukrainian soul and understanding. Of course, I would not allow myself anything ultra-revolutionary, but I would talk about Hrushevsky, Pokhylevych, Kostomarov, the findings of archeological digs in Trypillya, on Ukrainian traditional runner, which stretched over several thousand of years. In those years it was still possible to touch upon such things. Ivan Honchar was active then, we communicated. And although he was under fire all the time, he persisted in doing the good thing, i.e. in laying the foundations for the ideology of the Society members.
Tron’ko worked at that time, too, as an editor of “The history of the cities and villages of Ukraine” in 26 volumes. Now, from our contemporary point of view, it can be assessed differently, but the thing was that it acted as accelerator to boost the interest towards ethnography and history of the native land. We should give Shelest his due - he rocked a boat of the Communist party of Ukraine to bring it closer to our Ukraine.
The work was hard because access to the archives was denied. Several times I tried to get to the party archives, but it turned out impossible for non-party member with no references. That is why many people remained at the margins of scholarly research.
It was our life. It did not freeze altogether, as it was constantly “injected” with something new; I kept writing. With God’s help I will publish some of those clandestine poems, written at the time when we were “running across the bridge and a Ukrainian maple leaf we would snitch”, as the nursery rhyme says.
It worked out in 1988 when we began our battle for Ukraine. In Vyshgorod we used to have six kindergarten and two schools with Russian as the language of teaching, but two years later all the kindergartens have become Ukrainian-speaking. It was a real job done.
As to Rukh, Ukrainian Republican party, Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, Congress of Ukrainian Intellectuals, - I had something to do with all these organizations as one of cofounders of some, a secret leader of some, but we’ll dwell on that probably some other time, because it is a new page in the Ukrainian liberation movement.
V.О.: But I still insist that you give us at least the landmarks of your life between 1972 till present time.
О.D.: The school of the young workers between 1964 and 1991, when I was elected a deputy head of Kiev oblast’ URP branch. For over 26 years I have worked at school that kept changing its profile – studies by correspondence, night school, young workers’ school. Finally it was closed and we were transferred to the day-time school. Students were few, so I could do a bit of writing while I worked there. Meanwhile I was supplementing my own education, my “ego”, envisaging the future school of tomorrow. I mentioned already there was no way to expand our operation. Our cultural endeavors resembled an iceberg with only its tip visible.
My book of poetry was published only 15 years later by “Molod’” publishing house 1983. It was called “Spring fortress” and represented 1/5 or 1/10 of the whole body of my verses, and nothing at all of my prosaic works. Only lyrical verses were put there. They were so disfigured that recently I had to restore them. I have to do it, because I wrote nothing about “locomotives”. Maybe one tiny locomotive, something about subbotnik. But editors were so vigilant, that it became ridiculous. In Russian poetry they had an expression which can be roughly translated as “secret convoluting” of ideas, i.e. broad use of Aesopian language. However the omniscient Cerberus eye would see real deep. “Spring fortress” meant Ukraine. That was my interpretation of the title. The collection contained some poems indirectly developing this topic. For example, the poem with the same title Spring fortress” finished with the words identifying spring as our Motherland. “Motherland, you are all spring” – was the end of it. I had to use the word “Motherland” instead “Ukraine”. And Motherland is a very broad concept. Now I want to publish a book “Ukrainian spring”. One third or, maybe, even two thirds of its contents will include poems written between 1964 and 1989, in which it is easy to trace the secret development. Poetry, like faith, was a support, a rescue anchor, to avoid selling one’s soul to the devil. Otherwise it would be very hard to oppose.
V.О.: Did you have any other books, beside “Spring fortress”? Enumerate them, please.
О.D.: Yes, I published another book, with which I was more or less satisfied and not ashamed for the verses I have collected there. It was called “Vyshgorod of my heart”. (“Ukrainsky pys’mennyk”,1987) It was a “thaw”; many poems will be printed in the “Selected works” if with God’s help I manage to publish such a book. At that period, in 1984 I delivered another book to “Molod’” publishers. It was called “The Book of changes”. More original poems were collected in the “Vyshgorod of my heart” In the former I collected some politically tinted verses, because I sensed that after 1985 the clay legs of the empire started giving way, and the changes were in the air. Let me recite a poem of 1985. It is very short:
We feel sweet “perestroika” breeze,
While our language’s on its knees.
Has whole Kiev seized.
Ukrainophagi here –
are revolutionaries there.
The year is 1985. The verses are short in their majority. In general I have a tendency towards laconic verse – to show and not to recount or divulge – let scholars tell long stories.
And then the happiest era of my life began in 1989. I don’t know when it ends. I would prefer, as soon as possible, because we made a lot of stupid mistakes during Ukrainian race for liberation. First mistake, in 1991, was that instead of the Independence Act of August 24, 1991, we had to pass an act on the restitution of the Ukrainian statehood of 1918 – 1920-ies. I think, we are on the same page with that. Second – unfair privatization. Third – we did not insist on the law on political parties, and as a result our political life looks like a cartoon. Unfortunately, we were unaware of all that in 1989 and in 1991 – it is only now that we have appreciated that.
But we began the race and we came to the finish line gaining our independence, self-sufficiency and statehood. We reached this stage with immense enthusiasm. I saw it with my own eyes in Vyshgorod. I organized a lot of celebrations taking all the responsibility for it. In my book “Vyshgorod of seven winds” I tied to reconstruct these events, because the people who worked enthusiastically for 10 years, real patriots invisible to the power, deserve being remembered. Especially we should make these memories known in 2001 when we shall celebrate 10 years of Independence. We must help those in power to understand who pushers and shakers of the Ukrainian revolution were, who persevered in the trenches, I mean in Kiev oblast’, Vyshgorod raion. I have about 100 names on my lists, of those who worked enthusiastically, selflessly. It will be a great sin to forget them and not give them their due.
Earlier I mentioned that our beginnings included chiefly cultural and educational events, but for the Ukrainians it was politics as well – kindergartens and schools in Vyshgorod. Prior to political organizations we had the Society of the Ukrainian language named after Taras Shevchenko. Culture and education were not its only goals. From their first steps they considered themselves a political organization. It was set up in Vyshgorod on February 4, 1989, with me as the head of it. Pavlychko registered it as the 20th organization of this type in Ukraine.
We grabbed the bull by the horns – I mean raion party committee. Taras Shevchenko was our banner, in all complexity of his life and work. On March 9, 1989 we organized first really big celebration in Vyshgorod, in full swing. The initiative was mine and I also presided at the celebration. We tried to find common language with raion party committee and their answer was “No politics”. All right, I said, no politics. Well, those guys understood politics when well-known names were thrown around or their infamous deeds were brought to the light of day. You understand, Vasyl, what Shevchenko can be if quoted at the top of one’s voice. For the first time the hall hosted over 450 guests. We talked loftily about poetry, about Ukraine, about Shevchenko, about the direction and goals of our progress. Many people participated.
It was the time in 1990, not in 1989, when our symbols were first introduced, not without raion party committee opposition. We were not required to act without any politics – in the first year. Later the officials started introducing emergency measures. D.Pavlychko grew very excited, either of admiration or desperation, when I told him that they were torpedoing our work by enrolling the entire raion party committee stuff in the Society of Ukrainian language. He said “It is unprecedented case in Ukraine!” I agreed.
В.О.: But there was a precedent, in concentration camps. They had “the council of interior order”, uniting the sons of bitches who helped the administration. The inmates were recruited individually to the council. Naturally an honest man would never join it. But Chornovil (who was a most witty man!) suggested at his peril that all of us join the council and bring it to heel. But the administration refused to accept us. Each member, allegedly, had to be chosen individually, because not everyone “was on his way towards correction yet”.
О.D.: That was a gesture of a very talented man. Napoleon loved such tricks. I’ll give you an example. Sometimes the political departments and newspapers were promoting an idea for a long time, while a gifted man could find an immediate solution. A man with the gun fell asleep in the front line. He had to be executed under martial law. But Napoleon Bonaparte took his gun and stood guard himself to the end of the shift, having given an order to take the gunman to the barrack and let him sleep. When Napoleon was returning from the front line to the encampment the troops were hailing him with “Vive the Emperor! Vive Napoleon!” My point is that we lack people capable of such “tricks”.
When we started with Shevchenko [society] we played a lot of similar tricks. I mentioned some of them already, and I’ll get to the others eventually to keep you intrigued. Maybe, one day it will become a separate story, because they were real epics.
The next year, 1990, I planned to organize the celebration on March 9 just the way we’ve done it before, with the only difference that it would be held under our banner. I had some doubts whether to hoist it or not. Finally we decided to hoist a small yellow and blue flag. Shevchenko was presented at his best. A script ran as follows: I suggested to my colleagues to let representatives of each and every party take the floor in turn. Rukh was there, and the Society of Ukrainian language, communist party too. There were also the first buds of the “green party”. I wondered what communist party representative from the raion committee would say. I spoke on behalf of Rukh, Komashkov represented the Society of Ukrainian language, and the “greens” were also represented by our pal. When I gave the floor to the communist party, the first secretary of the raion committee O.Cherednichenko stepped up and said “Dear comrades! Let me greet you on the occasion of the International Women’s Day!” The audience was struck dumb. I invited him on stage purposefully addressing him as “sir”. While getting there he kept shouting “I am no sir! I am no sir!”
V.О.: But who is he – a cur?
О.D.: The audience reacted the same way “A cur! A cur!” From this end of the hall and from that end. The audience was collapsing with laughter. It was a superb joke, I could not expect or foresee such effect. He made it to the stage turning red and white in turns…He started his speech; “I greet you on the occasion of the 8th Of March!” He still lived in the past because he was disoriented. He barely regained his bearings. I had to call the audience to order. I did not want to do it, clear, so I made a long pause. Meanwhile he was babbling and mumbling something. At the end we started singing “God almighty, save our Ukraine!” But functionaries from raion committee did not get up.
V.О.: They didn’t, did they?
О.D.: No, they did not. Members of the audience began hooting. They stood up, very slowly and just for a second. The effect of the crowd worked. I do not know whether they joined in singing, but at least they could sense the strength of people. And all that was due to us, to Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko. He was in the trenches together with us. If we were labeled, Shevchenko should have been labeled, too as nationalistic and counterrevolutionary poet. That was too much even for them, because they would have discredited themselves ultimately.
Next year, in 1991, I suggested we wrote the following words over the stage: “When shall Washington come to bring us new and fair law? Some day he will”. And we left them without signature - they were Shevchenko’s words. Before the celebration began the raion committee functionaries ran to me: “What has Washington to do with all that? We are celebrating Shevchenko here.” And it was not us, but other people, teachers explained to them that it was a quote from Shevchenko’s poem “Holy fool”. They did not believe them and came back to us, and the whole rigmarole started anew. But it was indeed from Shevchenko’s poem “Holy fool”, for goodness sake! Finally they calmed down. We used to throw such “explosives” written by Shevchenko to the front line.
While putting the script together we made some quotes more prominent, and we stroke off some others – it was another story. I headed the organization committee, and no one could interrupt me or divert me. For example, they suggested we recite “The poplar” instead of “Heretic” or “Caucasus”. They lost, because “Caucasus” was the only true depiction of the events. The people of Caucasus are fighting for their independence from Russia till now. They started insinuating that I was against Pushkin. They brought the teachers so that they would convert me. But I said: “Pushkin glorified tsarism – how can he be compared to Shevchenko?” We won over these “intellectuals”.
Even in the era of independence the polemics between “Slovo” newspaper (former “Svitlo Illicha) and our newspaper “Vyshgorod” (town council newspaper) lasts. “Slovo” editor Linovetsky is eternal “red”. They tried to reeducate him. He was summoned [to the authorities] and asked to pay attention to the changes, but to no effect. The raion power collaborates with him and assumes he is promoting the ideology of the power. They beat their chests, pledge their support to the President, while in fact they support those red barons, who are ruling. President can’t do anything about them. Or he doesn’t want to…
V.О.: You mentioned that in 1991 you have become deputy head of the oblast’ URP branch. Are you still a member?
О.D.: When in 1994 Kiev oblast’ branch was set up another person has been elected. I returned to my raion branch, and I still head it, trying to keep track of the political developments. We have Rukh, Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, URP, and we are doing the same work at raion level. And we work together until someone from the upper echelon brings in some nuisance disrupting the whole work.
V.О.: Do you work anywhere else besides you party work?
О.D.: Yes, I do some job on the side. Officially I am a retiree. After Chernobyl I was granted pension 5 years earlier…But one has to make one’s living, Vasyl. Children help me out a bit.
V.О.: You had mentioned you got married in 1970. Please tell us your spouse’s name and the names of all your children.
О.D.: My wife’s name is Larissa Pavlivna. Her maiden name was Panasyuk. We have three children, but that is not all. When we got married, she already had two kids of her own. Then our three children were born in 1970, 1972 and 1973– Yaroslav, Halyna and Taras respectively.
V.О.: And also give us your mail address and phone number.
О.D.: Vyshgood Kiev oblast’, Dniprovska street, 3, # 59, postal code 07300. Phone 8-(296)-5-42-44.
V.О.: Olexander, will you tell us some more about people with whom you had worked together and suffered subsequent reprisals?
О.D.: I started talking about them already. I would like to tell you about people who had been working in the Ukrainian liberation movement since 60-ies, continued into1989 and work till today. But first – about colleagues with whom we worked together and were friends in the 60-ies.
Now he is living in Kiev. In passing I mentioned B.Dyriv – worker and intellectual from Ivano-Frankivsk oblast’. Now he is living in Kiev. He had been Ukrainian patriot since then, promoting Ukrainian statehood, Ukrainian idea. For many years we have been friends and traveled together. When one of us needed material assistance, he always was the man to rely upon. I think he is still the same. Our roads separated a bit, though, because he had moved to Kiev. But we still see other at the rallies, manifestations, although the occasions are more and more rare.
I also mentioned O.Nazarenko. We were very close with him, even shared a room in the workers’ hotel. We were colleagues and friends. He is from Donetsk region. His Ukrainian nature and conscience were manifested already here in Vyshgorod,may be under the influence of the people with whom we kept in touch: Svitlychny, Chornovil, Antonenko-Davydovych and other people who were “fermenting matter” of that period. He joined the ranks t do his best and he paid high price. Apart from moral damages he was convicted to 5 years in prison. To tell you the truth, the prison could have been avoided. But that is the topic of another conversation.
I have most positive recollection about V.Kondryukov. He was special in a sense that Ukraine was always first on his priorities’ list, while his ego ranked umpteenth. That was a trait necessary for someone who had chosen a dangerous path of fighting an almighty empire. He was a man of few words and few people knew about his activities. We knew each other but rarely came together.It is only now that he told me about his work. He is still concerned about politics, he even joined Vyshgorod branch of URP over which I have presided for over ten years. I invite him the rallies, celebrations to Independence Day in Vyshgorod. I introduced him to people as a real person “from the trenches” who had been punished for his convictions, and people were appreciative and sympathetic. Being a super-modest man, Vasyl did not like it much. But it only adds to his virtues. You know, we have a lot of people whose work was worth a penny, but who presented themselves as real heroes.
V.Karpenko is another man of real deeds and not just words or propaganda. I have a nice word for him too. He is very sensitive man, an admirer of art and literature, like Kondryukov and Nazarenko Ukrainian artists, poets, public figures played a great role in their formation. V.Karpenko helped Nazareno in leaflets printing, both with equipment and money,more than anyone else. They knew what they had been arrested for.
Now some words about V.Komashkov. He was especially instrumental in familiarizing us with the books – they passed through him – and in telling us about A.Horska, I.Svitlychny, I.Dzyuba, about the entire cohort of these obsessed people who made Ukrainian renaissance possible. Talking to him was always interesting. I, for one, was chained to my writing desk, as a slave to his galley, while Volodymyr attended functions and knew everyone. For many of us his word was very important and badly needed. People who did not live in the stifling atmosphere of those years cannot relate to that. Komashkov, in many situations, was a reliable support for me, when we were setting up Society for Ukrainian language, other public organizations, and Rukh in particular. Then he narrowed his operation to church affairs.
We had our achievements and our failures, because people within the organizations were different, including those who were planted there to spy on us. Sometimes we had to react without delay. Quarrels were incited, an attempt to organize an alternative Rukh in the guise of Vyshgorod branch. And a man who did his time in prison – Hryshchuk - was responsible for that. He accused us of organizing an official Rukh while he was suggesting a clandestine Rukh. At a rally we had 5 thousand participants, and we transformed the Society for Ukrainian language into the Popular Rukh council. Of course, it was a reckless step. I suggested it after discussions with my two deputies and other colleagues: whether we are capable of doing that, whether we won’t be busted. At least we decided to give it a try. Suddenly this man from Vyshgorod Popular Rukh approaches us with a note and says:”We don’t’ acknowledge you. We’ll go to a rally right away and tell everyone who you are” Just fancy, Vasyl, this situation! Everyone’s nerves are at the breaking point. And Hryshchuk was led by others, he was of a reckless nature. I. Hryshchuk said once: “I brought up Symonenko for Ukraine. I was nurturing him in Cherkassy! "Can you imagine what he allowed himself. In Vyshgorod he was known as “Chapayev”. Although he had done something good he was spreading sedition among people in the 70-ies. And here we had a very strenuous moment what should we do? I wrote to him: “Mr.Hryshchuk, if you want to persuade us that Vyshgorod Rukh is a real Rukh, and that we are not, come t us and we will discuss it”. We had a board, about 15, everyone active member. They did not come. I asked my colleagues, what we should do. If they failed to arrive it means they were scared out of their wits, they did not public discussion on who was more dedicated Rukh members – they or us. They did not dare.
At an environmental rally they wanted to lead it. We were about 100. Our people organized a live chain, put him in an armchair, and told him: ‘Now you can speak up”. And it was a real sea of people, so many speeches. You know how it was in the beginning - 5, 6, 10 and 20speakers. It was ten p.m. and people kept talking…
The Popular Rukh Congress held on September 8-10, 1989, summarized it all. I stayed at home with paralyzed arm and almost half of my body, considering my options – to go or not to go? How can I miss the congress? It would be for the first time in my life. Overcoming my disability I decided to go. I could barely stand the pain, but history was being formed in front of my eyes!
I recalled only some crucial moments, but they were numerous. We’ve got to write about them. Let this be first swallow. I wish we did it the way it is done in Sweden or Norway, where each region is publishing its own volume. It is not ethnography only. It commemorates outstanding people and events. It would make children’s upbringing much easier. Currently they know next to nothing about the events of the 60-90-ies...
V.О.: If we do not do it, no one will. We must do it. We are doing it right now, together.
[End of tape]
О.D.: Some things are published already. Rusnachenko’s book devoted several sentences to Kiev-Vyshgorod trial (Not a single word – V.О.) What can Kiev residents think about all that??
V.О.: You know that process, maybe, you should write about it? Try to get access to the file. Who else will do it if not you?
О.D.: I hope to reach people who know this technology, with your help.
V.О.: If they are exonerated – and actually all the people convicted under article 62 have been exonerated – then they have access to their case, or they can authorize other people to do it. If they are not alive any longer, then one has to ask family for permit.
О.D.: No, they are still around. What is the procedure of applying or writing a letter?
V.О.: I never did it, but anyway you should go to Security Service of Ukraine. You could ask S.Bilokon’ or A.Rusnachenko how you should proceed.
О.D.: I have worked in archives already researching Ukrainian revolutionary movement in Vyshgorod and Kiev areas in 1917-22. I know they give something out, but hide other materials. I was looking for war leader otaman Struk without even knowing his name. And it was second in size revolutionary rebel army after Makhno’s. Makhno had 30 thousand, and here sometimes the same amount was involved. And we still know nothing. I talked to old men, 90 years old or more. I have recordings of these interviews, but it is one thing to hear them recollecting the names and events, but quite another thing when it can be supported by the archive data. So I uncovered Struk without knowing his name. I went to archive – it was at the time of election campaign, when we were canvassing Chernobyl raion. We visited his native village, Hryniv. In their archive I was offered files of 15 Struks, but there was no otaman [war leader-Ukr.] among them. His file was in the Security Service archive. They probably made an error: among 15 Struks there was just one file of his relative, namely, cousin. He recollected otaman Struk. Then I could reconstruct the scope of the Ukrainian liberation movement in Polissya.It was in fact a most mighty movement, with many people involved and many achievements. Several times they conquered Kiev. Nestor [Makhno] did not dare to do it.
It was obvious from the materials on Vyshgorod raion I have been researching. Relatives of people I knew personally had been subjected to reprisals for participating in this activity. They mentioned it. What do we know about Halychchyna, Kiev area, UPA in Kiev region in 1943-56, about the last battle near Borodyanka? We know next to nothing. Political parties must raise the issue of making the archives available. How long this situation can last?
V.О.: Thank you, Olexandr. We have more or less exhausted our topic. We will copy the recording on paper and you will be able to correct and amend it ad infinitum. Probably it won’t be soon, but we are not that old, after all. Thank you. We talked to Mr.O.Drobakha from Vyshgorod, recording done by V.Ovsienko on July 20, 2000 in Kiev, P.Sahaydachny str. 23.
О.D.: It should be named not after P.Sahaydachny, but after hetman P.Sahaydachny.
V.О.: So be it.
[End of recording]