Ukraine’s Case of the Historians

It would seem that in Ukraine a case has been initiated, very similar to that in Russia, against historians studying the history of political repression.
35-year old Lviv historian Ruslan Zabily has for over a year and a half headed the National Memorial Museum of Victims of the Occupation Regimes “Tyurma na Lonskoho” (the building had previously been a Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] remand unit which was handed over to the Lviv public and since June of last year it has been a museum marking the history of political repression. Ruslan Zabily is an SBU employee and had access to information which is classified.

On 8 September he arrived by train in Kyiv at 7.30 a.m. Six SBU officers came up to him on the platform and asked him to come with them. He was held in the SBU building on Volodymyrska St until 22.10 without a detention order. He was not allowed to inform his family. He refused to hand over his laptop and external memory, but they were taken away anyway, despite there being no warrant. The 14.5 hour detention and removal of equipment were thus carried out without a court order and were therefore illegal – his procedural rights were violated.


According to Ruslan Zabily and the Ex-Director of the SBU [Security Service] Central Archive, Volodymyr Vyatrovych, a part of the external memory contained copies of 16 thousand archival documents declassified in 2009 which have already been passed to the Kyiv Mohyla National Academy, the Lviv National University, the Research Centre of the Liberation Struggle and all regional SBU archives where they are available for general use, as well as other declassified archival documents. 


The laptop holds private information and academic works, including Mr Zabily’s thesis which he does not have a copy of anywhere else. There were no documents stamped as on restricted access containing state secrets.


Today’s press release from the Research Centre of the Liberation Movement states that “the grounds for the detention and removal were a verbal instruction from the Head of the SBU Valery Khoroshkovsky in order to obstruct, using trumped-up grounds, work with previously declassified material and  in this way restrict their circulation”. On 9 September an instruction was given by the Head of the Lviv Regional Department of the SBU to not allow the Directorate and employees of the Museum to their work places and work computers. On 9 September Ruslan Zabily submitted a complaint, addressed to the Head of the SBU: “I demand an explanation from Mr Valery Khoroshkovsky for the actions of Security Service employees and that my private things – computer and external memory devices – are returned immediately. They hold only copies of historical documents, my academic research and private information. I would ask journalist to help through united efforts to stop censorship and pressure which has already extended to history and historians.”


The Security Service’s response was posted on its website:


“The SBU has initiated a criminal investigation over plans by an SBU employee to divulge information which is a State secret, i.e. over elements of the crime set down in Articles 15 § 1 and 328 of the Criminal Code.


It has been ascertained that SBU employee R.V. Zabily collected information which constitutes a State secret without authority in order to pass it to a third party. On 8 September 2010, he was detained on his arrival in Kyiv from Lviv with this information.

At the present time the circle of people for whom the said information was intended is being ascertained.”


Museum staff members assert that the Director is a law-abiding person, and extremely careful and scrupulous research and that he would never have secret documents on his equipment, that this is out of the question.


We would remind the reader that the 16 thousand SBU archival documents declassified in 2009 are only a small percentage of the overall number of documents held in the archive. Millions of documents held there have yet to be declassified although for many of them the maximum term envisaged by law – 75 years – has long passed.


For example, there is no access at all to the Ministry of Internal Affairs archive which contains hundreds of thousands of archival files of those subjected to “dekulakization” in 1930-1931. Ukrainians remain a people effectively without their own contemporary history since access to its sources is closed. In light of this, such “special operations” against historians looks like barbarism, all the more so since we are talking about documents classified by a country which has long not existed – the USSR, which in this way simply concealed its crimes against the Russian, Ukrainian and other nations which had the misfortune to live under its jurisdiction.


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