In Memory of the Victims of the Solovky embarkation point

On 27 October 2006 at 18.00 near the Memorial to Les Kurbas on the intersection of Prorizna St and Pushkinska St in Kyiv, the informal society “Ukrainian Solovky”, the All-Ukrainian Association “Memorial” named after Vasyl Stus and members of the public will hold a memorial service for the victims of the Solovky embarkation point, murdered in the Sandarmokh Clearing in Southern Karelia on 27 October and from 1 – 4 November 1937.   

Please bring candles.  If you cannot attend, then light a candle for the victims at home or in Church.

On 2 July 1937 the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) passed Resolution R 51/94 «On anti-Soviet elements», in accordance with which the secretaries of regional, area, republic-wide organizations and representative bodies of the NKVD were told within a period of five days to create “special panels of three” [troika] and establish the number of people who were to be shot or sent away.  The operation was to begin on 5 July 1937 according to the Order of the NKVD of the USSR No. 00447 and to last 4 months.  In fact, it was suspended at the decision of the Politburo on 15 November 1938. This was to be the most mass-scale “Yezhov Purge”  of the entire Soviet era, aimed at ridding society of those categories of the population who, in the opinion of the leadership of the USSR, were not suitable for the building of communism.  Over the 15 months of this campaign, the “special panels of three”, without investigation, court hearings, the prosecutor, defence lawyers and, as often as not, without any actual charges being laid, administered 681,692 death sentences, according to their lists. The death sentences were carried out immediately. This was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the directive issued by the creator of the Soviet State, Vladimir Lenin, which enjoined: “Be models of ruthlessness. Shoot, asking no questions and allowing no idiotic procrastination!”

Each republic, region, district was issued with quotes for repression according to categories I and II (I stood for execution (being shot) and II – imprisonment, with the ratio being 3 to 1). Reports were sent “from the ranks” on exceeding quotas, and a socialist “competition” was launched to encourage going over the norms given, with requests and demands to increase these norms, especially in the case of Category I, with “counter-plans” also put forward.  For example, the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR, Israel Leplevsky made three approaches to have the quotas increased, the People’s Commissar newly-appointed in January 1938 made two such requests. And Moscow obliged each time.

The activity of the “threesomes” covered all categories of the population. Those subjected to repression included “kulaks”, “criminal elements”, “counter-revolutionaries” of various shades, “rebels”, “church people”, “spies”, “Trotskyites”,  “saboteurs”, “wreckers”, “bourgeois nationalists”, that is, also the Ukrainian intelligentsia, which, according to Stalin’s definition, “were not trustworthy”. 

The repressions undoubtedly affected all the nations whose misfortune it was to remain in the Russian Empire under the new name of the USSR.  Yet nonetheless it could seem that the Ukrainian nation suffered the most, for it, with its deeply religious, freedom-loving aspiration to be independent and to fend for itself, was totally unsuited for the building of communism, and it needed to be replaced by a newly-created “Soviet people”. 

In carrying out the above-mentioned Resolution, the “purge” also affected the labour camps. For example, the Head of the Solovky Special Purpose Camp (SLON), Ivan Apeter, received the order to draw up a list with the names of 1825 prisoners to be shot

One group of 509 prisoners was shot near Leningrad on 8 December 1937; 200 (in fact, 198) – at Solovky on 14 February 1938.  The fate of 1,116 people, of the “Solovky embarkation point” only became known in 1997.  On 27 October, 1, 2, 3 and 4 November 1937 Captain Mykhail Matveyev shot 1111 Solovky prisoners in the forest clearing in Sandarmokh – “a regular execution site.”” in the south of Karelia, not far from Belomorkanal, where, in 150 pits, the remains of around 8 thousand victims already lay – the builders of Belomorkanal, Karelians, Finns …One died during the journey, and another four people were sent to other places where they were also shot.

For the Solovky embarkation point Ivan Apeter chose members of the intelligentsia of almost all nations of the USSR imprisoned on Solovky.  Among them were 290 Ukrainians.  Labelled  “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists”, those murdered included the neo-classic poet and professor of Kyiv University  Mykola Zerov, the creator of the theatre “Berezil” [“March”], Mykola Zerov; the playwright Mykola Kulish; Anton. Ostap and Bohdan Krushelnytsky, the writers Valeryan Pidmohylny, Pavlo Filypovych, Valeryan Polishchuk, Oleksa Slisarenko, Myroslav Irchan, Hryhoriy Elik, Marko Vorony, Myhkailo Kozoriz, Mykhailo Yalovy;  the historians Academician Matviy Yavorsky, Professor Serhiy Hrushevsky; the scientists Stepan Rudnytsky, Mykola Pavlushkov, Vasyl Volkov, Petro Bovsunivsky, Mykola Trokhymenko; the founder of the Hydro-meteorological Service of the USSR, Dutch by origin,  Professor Oleksiy Vangenheim; the Minister of Finance of the Ukrainian SSR Mykhailo Poloz. 

These were people who could have created inestimable spiritual treasures whose heritage would have brought us, Ukrainians, onto an equal footing with other civilized nations. The very presence of such people uplifts a society, makes it better.  Instead the bullets of the barely literate executioner, Matveyev  implementing the will of the Russian communist regime, which was alien and profoundly hostile to us, changed the course of our history.

Others whose remains lie in Sandarmokh were the well-known Russian lawyer Aleksandr Bobrishchev-Pushkin (defending lawyer for Beylis and Purishkevych), the Moscow literary specialist Nikolai Durnovo, the founder of Udmurtsk literature Kuzebai Gerd, the Belarusian Minister Flegont Volynets, the Tatar public figure Izmail Firdevs, the head of the Moscow Gypsy Camp Gogo Stanesko, the Georgian princes Nikolai Yeristov and Yasse Andronnikov, the Catholic administrator for Georgia Shio Batmalashvili, Professor of History of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) Pinkhus Gluzman, the Cherkiz writer Prince Kolid Abukov, the Korean figure Tai Do,, Orthodox Bishops Alexiy of Voronezh and Pyotr from Samara, the leader of the Baptists of the USSR Vasily Kolesnikov, Father Peter Veigel, sent by the Pope to look into information about persecution of believers in the USSR. 

The victims were made to get down on their knees and Capitan Matveyev shot them in the back of the head. Some were finally killed with iron rods. The bodies were flung into a pit, limestone was placed on top and then earth. They remain unidentified.  This was how the “friendship of nations” was sealed on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the “Great October Socialist Revolution”.

This Sandarmokh was found and identified at the site on 1 July 1997 by the Karelian and St. Petersburg chapters of “Memorial”, specifically Yury Dmitriev, Venyamin Yofe, Irina Ryeznikova. It was on 27 October of that year that those murdered were properly honoured for the first time. . In two days the artist Mykola Malyshko carved a small oak cross with the words “To the slaughtered sons and daughters of Ukraine”. This was taken to Sandarmokh by Yevhen Sverstyuk.  Nearby in the clearing there are Crosses erected by Poles and by Russians, Muslim and Jewish Memorial Stones, while in the forest there are around 150 Karelian signs with memorials. The Russian Orthodox Church has built a chapel. At the entrance to the memorial there is a monument with the words inscribed: “People, do not kill each other”.  The St. Petersburg chapter of “Memorial” brought the stone here from Solovky.

From then on, each year on 5 August, in the forest clearing at Sandarmokh, and on 7 August on the Solovky Islands, Remembrance Days are held to honour the victims of political repression. The descendants of those shot and others from many countries, as well as the consuls of Finland, Poland, Germany and Ukraine come to pay tribute.  Thanks to the financial assistance of the son of the outstanding Ukrainian linguist, Mykola Trokhymenko, murdered at Sandarmokh  – Venyamin Trokhymenko, who now lives in the USA, the Mykola Trokhymenko Scientific Society, the All-Ukrainian Association of Political Prisoners and Victims of Repression, the Kyiv State Institute of Applied Arts and Design named after M. Boichuk, as well as the editorial board of the bulletin “Ant”, an open competition was organized for the design of a monument for Sandarmokh. On 30 October 2002, the entries were judged in the M. Boichuk Institute.  The winning designs were from the laureate of the Vasyl Stus Award, artist Mykola Malyshko and the sculptor Nazar Bilyk.  They were asked to join their two designs into one.

The Karelia Republic Society for Ukrainian Culture “Kalyna” received the first contributions for the future monument at the Sandarmokh Clearing itself on 5 August 2003 – on Remembrance Day for Victims of Political Repression.  However things only began moving when in March 2004 the Chairperson of the Society, Larysa Hryhorivna Skrypnykova, came to Kyiv.  A civic group to support the creation of a monument then approved the plan to erect a granite Cossack Cross over a grave from boulders.  This idea had the support of the leader of the bloc “Nasha Ukraina”, Viktor Yushchenko, who met with Larysa Skrypnykova.  The bloc provided significant financial assistance which made it possible to commence work.

The largest contributions came from Venyamin Trokhymenko, from the Ukrainian community of Karelia, from the bloc “Nasha Ukraina”,  the World Congress of Ukrainians (thanks to the Chairperson of the Kyiv organization “Memorial”, Roman Krutsyk, and the Chairperson of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre, Bohdan Fedorak).  A large amount was collected in America by the Taras Shevchenko Award laureate, Nadiya Svitlychna, who was herself once a political prisoner.  A generous donation was also passed on by Doctor Larysa Kyj, the chairperson of the United Ukrainian and American Aid Committee.

Donations from Ukrainians here were more modest, yet we were grateful for each “poor widow’s contribution”, made by relatives of victims of the repression who don’t know where their relatives were murdered. Not everyone is aware why Viktor Yushchenko has taken this cause to heart. His father worked as a prisoner near to Sandarmokh, on the construction of Belomorkanal.

The Cossack Cross which is 3 x 1 x 1 metres was carved with a machine from slabs of grey granite stone at a factory in the city of Kondopog which is 60 kilometres from the capital of Karelia, Petroskoya (Petrozavodsk).  From 23 August to 14 September 2004 the sculptors Mykola Malyshko and Nazar Bilyk worked there, preparing the inscription “To the slaughtered sons and daughters of Ukraine”, and a group of sculpted portraits among which one recognizes Les Kurbas, Mykola Zerov, Valeryan Pidmohylny, Anton Krushelnytsky, Mykola Kulish, Marko Vorony … On 6 October the Cross was erected in Sandarmokh.  A liturgy was held on 9 October 2004 in the Sandarmokh Clearing for the prisoners murdered in this place. With this, the Karelia Republic Society for Ukrainian Culture “Kalyna” brought to completion a great undertaking.

The presentation ceremony of the Monument took place on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression, 5 August, 2005. It was attended by pilgrims from Kyiv whose coach was paid for by “Nasha Ukraina”.  

This year, 2006, a large group from Ukraine also visit Sandarmokh and the Solovky Islands, and this is planned to be an annual pilgrimage.

Let us remember: Sandarmokh happened because the government of Soviet Ukraine which was not Ukrainian in either makeup or spirit during the 1920s and 1930s surrendered Ukraine’s sovereignty.  It did not even have the right to hold prisoners on its own territory. The forces which wanted to return us to an empire of Evil have still not been overcome. We must pass on to our people just what a tragic hell we are trying to break free of.

The informal society “Ukrainian Solovky”, the All-Ukrainian Vasyl Stus Association  “Memorial” call to a Service of Remembrance (Panykhida)  people of all faiths and nationalities, all parties and civic organizations.

Vasyl Ovsiyenko

Former political prisoner,

laureate of the Vasyl Stus Award and Ivan Ohiyenko Award

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