The path of nonsense. Interview with BABYCH Sergiy Oleksiyovych
This is a tale for those who succeeded for at least a tiny moment to see above their own like a fish above the water.
Mordovia, camp No.14. September, 1960.
Rivne region, Horodyshche village. Camp No.96, 6.06.1989.
Sergiy Oleksiyovych Babych spent 27 years and 4 moths in concentration camps. 14 years and 4 months out of those 27 were in Mordovian concentration camps for political prisoners and the Volodymyrska prison. In total 24 years were spent in detention cells. His last sentence – 15 years of special regime – was carried out in Ukraine. He had 8.5 months until the end of his sentence (according to art. No.9 of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union from 18.06.87, the sentence was shortened by 1 year 3 months and 28 days), when he was paroled.
My early release was a surprise for me. The evening before that I was taken away from work early for taking photographs. I was surprised: “What's going on? My case has a photograph of me”. They said they needed an additional picture for some special occasion. They took the picture and then took it to the watch and said I was to be released the next day. I asked them whether something happened but they refused to answer, just asked about where I will go. I told them I had nowhere to go. My parents had died by then and I had no family. The only place I could go was the American embassy. “Well” – they said – “We can't appoint you there. Where are your relatives?” – “I have a brother and a sister in Zhytomyr”. So they gave me my release notification and the appointment to Zhytomyr the next day and walked me out of the prison. I had no reason to be happy though – I didn't run away, I had been released. “Perestroika” was up and wheeling up and I would like to say this again: I felt no happiness from my release as well as from the feeling of “Perestroika”. Because I am no builder. I am a destroyer. The empire was destroyed without me. I didn't burn anything down, didn't blow anything up and not once have used any weaponry.
From the interview with Sergiy Babych for the “Prisoner's page” bulletin No.7-8(Moscow), 1989.
– Sergiy Oleksiyovych, you have been released very recently. Tell me please, do the concentration camps and prisons of “Perestroika” period differ from those before them?
– I didn't feel any serious change. The main difference is that I could once spend 4 RUR in the camp cafe and now it's 7 RUR for the same amount of goods. Concerning everything else – it stayed the way it always was until my release.
– You served a term in the criminal prison. Did you feel any difference in treatment for you as for a political prisoner?
– Yes, there was a difference during all 13 years of imprisonment. There had been times when I was picked on and punished for nothing. There had been numerous occasions when I was thrown into punishment cells for, solitary isolation cells, when I was refused dates or the cafe. There were long periods when I wasn't allowed letters. Once , in Vinnitsa prison, I had to write to the regional prosecutor so he would forward a letter to my parents, because they had no incoming letters from me fro several months. And then in 1987 the officials started a criminal case against me on disorderly conduct (a fight). The case was closed only because they failed to find any evidence.
– How many years did you spend in Vinnitsa prison?
– My sentence was for 5 years of prison and 10 years of concentration camps of special regime. I spent 3 years in Vinnitsa and then the administration supported my transfer to a concentration camp. I guess they felt a bit pitiful for me – when they applied for the court and they court tried to decline my transfer, the political commissar – Kryzhanivskiy – intruded and the court accepted my transfer. I was then transferred to a camp in Berdychiv. That was the place I met Meletiy Semeniuk by the way, a long-term political prisoner and a great, trustworthy person. He was previously in Mordovia, in Norilsk on hard labor. He was part of the laborer rebellion there. Sadly, we were soon separated – I was transferred away from Berdychiv. Two years later however, I was back to Vinnitsa prison – I was first taken to Izyaslav from Berdychiv, then to Voroshylovgrad in Luhask region, concentration camp No. 60 and then to Horodyshche village in Rivne region – camp No.96. All these transfers took place because of the KGB and my plans for breakout. Regional court in Horodishche then sentenced me to 3 years of imprisonment on appeal of local administration (it was really the KGB appeal). I spent 6 years in Vinnitsa prison in total. In December 1984 I was back to Horodyshche, where I was then released.
When I arrived to Vinnitsa prison (in September 1976) I thought that it would be the same as in Volodymyrska prison. I was wrong – the terms in Vinnitsa were better. Nobody demanded Ukrainians to be up on their feet from 6am to 10pm, there was no psychological pressure like in Volodymyrska prison. The food was the same. We all visited the cafe, so the was no hunger. I spent all 6 years in the small barrack. It had small cells for 4 people – around 8-9 m2. Unlike in Volodymyrska prison, I set off to work everyday. My job was to create screws for motorbikes all day. Dirty work that was – my hands were always covered with machine oil. On the other hand it was the only place I could feel alone for some time.
There was a library in the prison, but I never visited it – there was nothing worth reading. Besides, I had long come to a conclusion that humanity wouldn't have lost anything if all literature was destroyed apart from “Vanity” of Ecclesiastes. The uncomfortable part of Vinnitsa prison was its contingent: many tough people. Unlike in concentration camps, where majority are totally adequate and open to conversations. The salvation came in working cells – officers gathered non-conflicting people together for efficient work. I spent the first 3 years with these people and had no problems. However, during my second term, from the end of 1983 until 1984, it was absolutely unbearable to stay in both working cells and living cells. There were days when had to hold my self from breaking some fool's skull. The only thing that stopped was the fact it wouldn't help – even I won't be shot down for this idiot, I would be shot down for some other idiot, You can;t beat all of them. And another thing: one doesn't attack the guard locking him up in the same way one doesn't react to dog barking at him. So there's no point in attacking a two-legged dog barking at me. I think that the KGB created this atmosphere on purpose. I didn't want to ask for transfer into another brigade (a brigade consisted of two cells – 8 people). Of course, the administration was using some people for their own needs. That's what the “press houses” in prisons were for. A “press house” is a cell which all disagreeing prisoners were sent to by the administration. Specially chosen criminals were waiting there to humiliate and then kill the newcomer. Vinnitsa prison had numerous cases of similar murders. I clearly remember one murder case – of Viacheslav Kusmin. I knew him a bit – we talked often because he was an interesting person. He originated from Leningrad, his parents died during the blockade so he spent his childhood in orphanages and then he was imprisoned. I never heard a single swear word from him. In August 1979 I was transferred to Berdychiv and then found out that he died when came back to Vinnitsa. He wrote complaints to the administration so they threw him into one of those “press cells” with a few thugs including some guy named Derba – physically strong prisoner. Viacheslav could not provoke him – he was a peaceful person. Derba hit Viacheslav's head against the toile and cracked his skull. Derba was then sent to a prison hospital in Dnipropetrovsk and considered mentally ill there. I had the “press house” experience too. When I arrived in Vinnitsa, I decided to start writing because I had nothing to do. It turned out to be a biographical memoir article. I wrote of concentration camps and things inside them, of “press houses” and prisoners deaths. There was a lot of information about Mordovian concentration camps, about the Volodymerskiy prison and about people I met. The administration found out about this and so at the end of November 1982 they confiscated my handwriting during a search.
I was left alone for a few weeks but was also left off work. Then on 13th of December, on the day of my birthday (1939), the guards came to move me to a different cell. I didn't want this but they took my bed and I decided to go not to show fear (I understood where were they taking me). They took me to cell No.4 situated in the basement. As soon as the door opened the guard shouted: “One thief coming in!”. I entered the cell and said I was no thief. There were 5 people there, no one I knew. They asked me of my suite so I explained who I was, how many years I served for my beliefs and certain actions. I even gave them the “Izvrstiia” newspaper from 1980 with my name in it. I think the article was named “Whom are you defending, gentlemen?”. Something like that, yes. About Amnesty International's deeds. They read it and ripped into peaces for making tea, as I guessed. The moment I turned away somebody punched me in the back and I understood that they started their humiliation game. Three of them started at me and two others stayed ready. I analyzed the situation and understood that they were promised something for beating me up, so they were just doing their job. If I started fighting back – this would become personal and then no one knows what could happen. And “no one knows” is worse than death. It wasn't smart to go down that road. So I didn't hit back – just sat on the bed and tried to secure all the soft spots of my body. The bed was a double-decker, so three people had no comfort in attacking me at the same time and my back was secured by the wall. I kept asking about their reasons. Of course, it was all clear why they were doing it but I decided to play fool, like I knew nothing about the reasons. It's quite horrible you know – it's enough to just be touched by a male penis to become one of the dropped out prisoners and to have no right to use public plates, etc. They didn't give me any answer but two of them backed down seeing I wasn't fighting back. Their leader (Masalskiy from Belarus. Died in a year's time) kept hitting me with his feet dressed in heavy shoes. His attacks hit my arms and chest (it caused a lot of bruising afterwards).
After some time of this beating he stopped, turned around and nodded towards the entrance. It meant: he's done. The door opened in a short while and the guard came in: “Let's go!” I took my bed and walked out of the cell. The guard walked me to the isolation cell and then another guard, a captain, came by and said: “Well? I told you not to write stuff...” I don't know whether that captain had anything to do with the beating but the process was certainly organized by the KGB.
Approximately a month passed after that occasion when I was taken to the head office with two civilians in it. They were the representatives from the Vinnitsa KGB. We didn't talk much about my writings. They said they won't start a criminal case against me. Shortly after that conversation I was back to the working facility.
– Could you tell me about how you got sentenced for the mentioned period?
– In January 1975, I was back from the Mordovian camp. I was planning to find some of my friends from the first sentence even before the release. I was also planning to fulfill at least some of the plans I had in those years long gone. To be precise: I wanted to become a free person – a wolf, not a dog. So even though I was being watched, I secretly traveled to Raimisto town in Volynsky region. Sadly, my trip gave no results. My friend, who lived in this town – Pavlo Androsiuk, aged 62 – the man I helped get out of the concentration camp (I turned the electricity off), got arrested a few months before my arrival and was sentenced to 1 year of imprisonment. I decided to wait for his release. Late spring 1976 I met him at last in Raimisto shortly after his release. He agreed straight away to my offer of creating a partisan group and go illegal. So we had to find some weapons first thing. We had no plan yet but agreed to meet up in a few weeks, make a plan and start the deeds. I returned to Rogachiv and found out that military weapons had arrived to one of the schools in Novograd-Volynskiy region for preparing high school students. I decided to steal at least some of them since even simple arms were good for a start. I needed someone with good eyesight (mine wasn't good) so I took Mykola Radchuk to help me and become part of the movement. It turned out though that we were late – everything we could acquire was a training machine gun AKM without a peen.
I went to Moscow after that theft and met a few popular representatives from the human rights movement – Halyna Salovaya, Liudmyla Alekseeva, Alik Ginsburg and others... Brought two books back from Moscow. One of them was about the Hunger in Ukraine of 1932-33. Soon after that I was arrested by militia. It happened on the highway from Novograd-Volynskiy to Rivne. I was heading to see Pavlo Androsiuk. Radchuk was arrested the same day. I was then taken to Zhytomyr militia department and the militiamen started beating the confession in committing the crime out of me. On my question: “What crime?” they said: “You know very well!”. After a few hours they told me that they arrested Radchuk and were also trying to make him confess in stealing a machine gun. I didn't try to fight them then – just tolerated all the beating, feeling my self as if passing a test, like an American SWAT soldier. At some point it became clear that Radchuk had broken down and told all the details of the theft. It also was clear that he had even taken the militia officers to our hide-out. They were in for a surprise though, because I had re-hidden the machine gun so they found nothing. Later that evening, having proved absolutely nothing, they locked me up in a temporary detention cell. So there I was, stuck arrested but yet thinking how foolish all this was.
I understood very well that the officers had no reason to doubt Radchuk's words. I was in a very tricky situation too. The situation was even trickier, regarding the fact that I hadn't told Radchuk of where I re-hid the guns. If he had known the new place, he would've shown it to the militiamen and I would have just played a fool and never confessed to anything. They would've had nothing on me because I left no marks on the guns. There was no doubt that they would not let me go. I was to stand trial, and if they would lack any evidence, they would just forge them. In addition to all that, books I brought back with me from Moscow were also in the hands of KGB by then. I was sure to get imprisoned and if I had kept the machine guns location a secret they would fabricate a second case even before the first sentence term runs out. And they would be repeating this procedure until I give them the guns. I returned the guns the same day, and thus the case had started. Radchuk had turned the guns in, yes, but he hadn't told the militia of certain conversations we had and of certain intentions I had (he knew about the plane theft too) after steeling the guns. The investigation had soon ended. We were accused of stealing a working machine gun (according to the expertise) – theft of firearms, art.223, p.2. They didn't, however, have any straight evidence of my guilt, because I only agreed with Radchuk and never said anything myself. I decided to use this advantage. So, a few days before the first trial I managed to give Radchuk a note telling him to claim he stole those guns with “Andrew”, he recently met but not me. To provide equal testimony of “Andrew's” appearance I chose a guy we both knew. All I had to do was tell the court that I talked to “Andrew” and he told me of his intentions to steal gun and that I wanted to purchase it from him. Radchuk showed me that he agrees with the terms and destroyed the note. During the trial he nevertheless hesitated. After my speech he was given a word but was so nervous that failed to put two words together. And then when the judged asked him: “Oh, come on. Was Babych with you or not?”, he just said: “Yes”. That was all his testimony that day. The case had stopped to request information on “Andrew”.
They didn't find him and continued the investigation until its end. I got 15 years of special regime with the first 5 years in prison and Radchuk got 3 years in total.
And even though Radchuk failed to lie during the investigation, his behavior made it look like it was all KGB provocation. But that was the only thing which could somehow please me after this battle against the authorities.
And concerning the literature they confiscated during search – they marked it separate but didn't start a case.
– Could you please tell about your first imprisonment?
– I was arrested in Zhytomyr in 1960. The KGBs got me for distributing anti-soviet notes, or to be precise – anti-communist notes. There was nothing about the soviet government there. There was information addressing workers to stop asking and start demanding for their civil rights, it had phrases like “Begone communist system oppression and terror!”. I was arrested on 13th of April. My partner – Volodymyr Tarasiuk was arrested together with me. Most likely someone turned in on us. Tarasiuk confessed straight away although he could've carried out the whole case since the officials had nothing against me. I objected any accusations of my connection with those notes but nevertheless confessed on 15th of April. The court trial took place in May. I got 3 years, Tarasiuk – 2 year and we both went to Mordovian concentration camps. At first I settled in camp No.14 with a small prison for those sentenced by art.62 (agitation and propaganda) – around 200 people. All young, many of them Ukrainians. Thanks to those Ukrainians I found out a lot about Ukrainian life in the past, about URA battles, about thoughts that no social questions would be solved without solving the national question – independence of Ukraine. I became Ukrainian there! And the fact that I stopped feeling myself a citizen of the USSR was much earned by Volodymyr Andrushko – a man I became friends with as soon as I met him. He originated from Ivano-Frankivsk region and was a Ukrainian literature teacher. He told me of what was going on in my homeland (!) in Novemer 1921 – of the tragedy in a town called Bazar, in Zhytomyr region. And then in October we were transferred to Barashevo, concentration camp No.3, and settled us into political prison. It also had around 200 people and Tarasiuk, my partner, among them. We spent the winter there and then were transferred to camp No.17 in spring. We stayed in No.17 until summer of 1962. There were 400 of us, mostly young men serving their first term. All sentenced by art.62. Then in 1962 we were separated into two groups. One half was taken to camp No.11 and the other half, including me – to camp. No.7. By the way, I had a plan to burn the camp down on the night before the transfer. That night we walked around the camp with my friend Vasil Makarenko (from Crimea), carrying cans of fuel, received from Volodymyr Shmul (from Lviv region) who had collected them in the construction area. Alas we failed – one or two burning barracks wasn't enough for me and we had no possibility to burn everything down. I spent around a months in camp No.7 and happened to be in the first group transferred to prison for “breaking the regime”.
A Law came out in 1961, on improving the regime of prisoners. Art.77-1 appeared (Art.69-1 in Ukraine) – sabotage, prison disorder. Punishment – shooting down. New types of regime appeared then: standard, intensified, heavy and special. Political prisoners had only two types of regime – heavy and special. We started being treated differently. Each one to disobey at least a bit was sent to prison. I was in the first group – around 10 people. Regional court arrived, looked through our cases and the administration's applications for our transfer and sentenced us all to imprisonment. We were then taken to Volodymyrska prison with 3- and 5-people cells.. Political prisoners were mainly settled in 1st and 2nd barracks. The 2nd barrack even had women living there – and Ukrainian women too (I remember three surnames – Zarytska, Didyk and Husiak. They 25 years each for taking part in the freedom fight). Soon after that I met two runaways – Ivan Kochubey from Kuban (died in prison) and Mykola Tanashuk from Hmelnitsk region (went insane in prison and that's the last heard of him). They tried to break out from camp No.19 in summer but failed. Mukola was injured during their breakout. They had 3 years of imprisonment each, until 1965 that was. I promised them to help them in their next ry if I don't end up in prison.
None of us newcomers had ever been to prisons like the one we ended up in this time. We had to stay vertical from 6am to 10pm, couldn't even lean against the table. And then the closer bed time came the more we stared at the lamp. The moment it went red we jumped into beds and fell asleep for the next 8 hours. There was no work. My cell had 5 people in it, a table built into the floor about 1 meter away from the entrance – three short steps. That prison atmosphere was very oppressing. However, the worst problem was the hunger. It wasn't long until we felt what it actually is like to be constantly hungry.
After New Year my cell got a newcomer – Kulchar. He originated from Hungary and used to be a P.O.W. He served a long sentence, ran away to Hungary a few times, regretted to have acquired Soviet citizenship. By the time we met he was all unsettle and antsy. He told me of horrible things, of what hunger does to people in prisons. He told me a story f two prisoners who cut their veins open, drafted some blood and drank it or fried it using newspapers as fuel. All this vertical standing, hunger, immobility – are not healthy for one's mind. Hunger was always with us – we had breakfast and dreamed of lunch straight away. Then dreamed of dinner straight after lunch. And dinner, well... 7 spoonfuls of mashed potatoes – just potato with water if you ask me, with no fat or anything else in it. We had bread in the morning and I always split that portion into three. The prison cafe was only for those on standard regime, not us. Prison newcomers automatically got 2 months of heavy regime and those who came in for the second time got 6 moths. Some people spent years on heavy regime. I, for example, had to be transferred back to standard regime after 2 months but wasn't because I managed to miss the “wake up” call. I was transferred to standard regime somewhere around New Year. We had 2.5 RUR per month for spending at the local prison cafe. It was only enough to decrease the hunger slightly. Not all people visited the cafe anyway. Kulchar, for example had no money, because he had no relatives to send it to him. The administration always stressed attention on holding to the norms of behavior. Those who disobeyed were thrown into detention cells or were denied incoming packages (5kg mail delivery once every 6 months). Majority tried to keep to the rules because they felt that standing against would not bring anything. There was this one time with a prisoner, Denisov, around autumn 1962. He accidentally pushed one of the guards and the guard's hat fell to the ground. He was then sentenced according to art.77 (attack against a member of the administration) and then shot down in 1963. That wasn't a single case of such treatment, there were many.
In 1961 prisoners were shot down for having anti-soviet tattoos. You could be shot down for a tattoo saying “CPSU slave” (Communist Party of Soviet Union), “Death to SC” (Sentral Committee), “Death to Khrushchev” and other of that kind. All that was the same sentence – art.77-1, although this article didn't mention shooting down for tattoos. I guess there was a special order for that.
I went very skinny in prison. When I came back home and relatives saw me, many started crying. Even though I only spent 8 months there. Some people spent years...
I didn't know of course that I had another 3 years in Volomerskiy prison ahead of me.
– Tell of your life after imprisonment.
– On 13th of April 1963 I was released and came to see my parents in Rogachiv village of Zhytomyr region. I came back different from what I was when I left. I was like an alien still trying to help someone, do something radical inside this communist empire, although I had a kind of apathy towards everything around. My parents were villagers. My mother's first son died together with her first husband in 1933 from hunger. My parents used to tell of those times. I remember my father's stories of his journey to Novorgad-Volynskiy and dead bodies just lying along the road. Some of those people were still moving.
My parents remembered the times when people were forcibly taken away and no one ever heard of them again. They feared the same would happen to me after my arrest. My mother never tried to stop me, but my father, on the contrary, always stood against all my intentions. He said: “Why do you need all this? Don't you see what people are like?” (he probably thought I was like that idiot who teared his heart out to light the dark road for others. Sacrificing one's self means that you agree to be less worthy than others. No one is more worthy you personally!). No, my father was no coward. I think he risked his life many times during the War. I know he gave shelter to jewish woman during the occupation – Sofia Abramivna. She was a teacher in the village. My brother one my father's line – Vasil – born 1928, lived with us at the time. Here is what he told me: “This happened when the Germans were burning those houses they had certain information on about connections with partisans. Sofia Abramivna used to be my teacher at school. She was hiding with us during the occupation and was present in the house when the soldiers burnt it down. That was the time when my father, together with my mother, covered Sofia and walked her out of that house to hide away from there. She stayed with us for some time after that, but then left and I don't know anything about her fate. She was probably caught and shot down.”
In May, a month after my release, I was visited by Boris Bulbynskiy, the guy I served my term with in camp. No.17 in Mordovia. He told me of an organization, already existing and printing notes in Russian. Even though I was against distributing notes in Russian on the territory of Ukraine, I was very positive about this news. They were spreading notes talking of democracy, of a multiparty political system and of protests against Khrushchev's Stalinism regime revival. I had no intentions of becoming part of this all-union organization. I saw it necessary to establish a national organization of similar kind, an organization to defend rights and interests of Ukrainian people and to fight for reestablishing Ukraine as a country. However, allow me to say this again, I had nothing against an all-union organization like that, which fought for democracy and thus helped those nations captured and humiliated. My position was to support this all-union organization. I had another reason to support them though – I needed help and support with my own ideas. I wanted to organize help for those who wishes to escape from political concentration camps. We agreed with Bulbynskiy that I would help him with his deeds and he would help with his people in return.
I took 1800 notes and spread them throughout Zhytomyr in May 1963. Then I met Bulbynskiy and reminded him of our deal. He disagreed to work by the agreement we had made – he said he was scared. I understood that spreading notes was all he was worth and so we set apart. I was hoping he wouldn't turn me in if the authorities catch him but then I got arrested on 27th of September. I found during the interrogation that Bulbynskiy had been arrested on 19th of September with a suitcase full of notes, turned his sister in the next day, Trhymych Maria, turned in Tarasiuk Taras and me. (I could have understood him if they were humiliating and torturing him but...). He alo pointed to people from Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, including Yakovlev and Arbuzov – the men who were with me in camp No.3 in Barashevo. They hadn't been arrested, however, but searched and called up as witnesses to court. Arbuzov and Yakovlev held them selves well during the trial.
We were held in the investigation isolator of the KGB in Kiev. The investigation continued until New Year. Then 10 days before the trial we were sent tot Rivne prison and the trial took place between 17th and 19th of February 1964. The trial was closed, not even relatives could get in and the witnesses were taken away straight after their testimony. The court was only opened for people to come in in the end, when the sentence was announced. I didn't admit being guilty and didn't admit any connection to the notes. The only evidence they had against me were Bulbynskiy's words so the KGB had to forge certain evidence to lock me up. Bulbynskiy personally told them everything he knew about me (apart from my intentions to help organizing breakouts for camp prisoners and to rob a collector car, using a stolen revolver). Bulbynskiy and all the others admitted their guilt and repented.
I was considered an especially dangerous recidivist and was given 10 years special regime.
I think they gave the special regime because I asked them to write down my last word as: Babych is a man who is absolutely sure about the ideas of the Ukrainian nationalism to be rightful (the sentence stated that I said I will keep my ant-soviet deeds – which I didn't). My last word was meant to tell them that I didn't care for the sentence. That I not only disagree with the sentence (although it was clear I did distribute the notes and it was better for me admit it) but also claim to support the ideas Ukrainian nationalism. Bulbynskiy got 10 years and the others – Tarasiuk and Trifymovych – 5 years each, but their sentences had been reduced to 3 years by cassation appeal. We were transferred away from Rivne to Mordovia via Lviv in the middle of May. I was taken to the special regime location and the others – to heavy regime, where my friends from the first imprisonment were staying, including those I was planning to help break free.
On 17th of June 1964 I fund myself in camp No.10 in Mordovia. It had two barracks, both full of people – they even slept on tables. I was settled in cell No.5, a cell which Yosyp the Blind lived in. He was released in 1963 and went to Rome, where he became a cardinal later on. The cell had plank-beds and people mostly slept on their side because they wouldn't fir otherwise. The cell was really small. There were bigger cells in the new barrack but I happened to have been settled in the old one. The camp's look and feel was quite oppressing.
I wasn't taken to work next day but was allowed a walk in the inner yard. The yard had dirty toilets in it and another thing was that the nearby yard, separated from the one I was in, had homosexuals in it (normally they lived in separate cells). That was the first time I saw them. They were ordinary criminals and they were transferred here from standard regime camps. They were all in their twenties or thirties... They were running around grabbing each other by the breast, be the bottom, laughing... But with hollowness in their eyes. There was something hollow and underdeveloped about them.
The sun was very hot and the stench was strong. I felt myself in hell with all this atmosphere. It was very off-putting.
When I was allowed to work I met other political prisoners. Mostly Ukrainians. I was 24 then. There were almost no political prisoners of my age there – mostly older. The camp totally around 500 people. There were many religious people. Zyatek – the founder of Jehovizm in Western Ukraine back in 1930s, was also there. A few dozens were sentenced according to art.62 – anti-soviet agitation and propaganda. A lot of people were imprisoned for taking part in the armed rebellion of 1940s-1950s: Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians. In particular there were many Ukrainians. Some former militiamen were also serving their terms there. Majority of them sentenced for “domestic” crimes. They had nothing to do with politics so it wasn't clear why they were taken to a political concentration camp. Maybe because they had acted according to art.62 while already in the camp. Maybe to create an unhealthy atmosphere from relations with political prisoners. Anyway, the KGB were ok about their presence. These “domestic” criminals however, had people with moral codes, who were interested in politics, had certain political views which caused them to get a political sentence, but they were few. Others lived as they used to in criminal prisons. Political prisoners didn't communicate much with them. The prisoners worked on construction inside the camp, on sewing factories and some worked as builders outside of the camp.
There was always a lack of food in the camp. There was no cafe there. Well.. there was but the money we had was only enough for cigarettes, soap and a toothbrush. Special regime forbid selling food to prisoners. Mail packages were also forbidden. There was no additional food even though construction labor was tough.
During investigation I was thinking of running away. When I arrived to the camp I started planning it. I met Vasil Pugach, who organized breakouts before and even took part in disarming a governmental convoy in Siberia. I also met Faizuddyn Tymur – a tatar. These two had already been planning a breakout by the time we met.
Runaway... Digging a tunnel was impossible so we decided to do it during the trip to the cinema in the evening... We thought we could run away in the dark and even we get spotted, we'll try to make our way out. We secretly dried some bread – to have food after we succeed in our breakout. Even though we were very hungry, we kept preparing food for the road. So we prepared everything, but then just when I said: “Let's go” Pugach started hesitating. Maybe because three or four people died trying to escape since 1961: Usynin – Ukrainian, Bandera follower, if I remember correct; Shkliar and some other guy. Some were wounded. But they all tried to escape during day. I guess that fear of being shot down stopped Pugach. I came to a conclusion that the chances of success were very low I nevertheless decided to try getting to construction work out of the camp. There was a new construction on, enlarging the camp territory. My appeal to work out of the camp went trough because they had no suspicion of my possible breakout. And then in about three weeks I ran away – on 14th of August. I crawled past a guard, maybe 30 meters away from him – he just climbed down from the watchtower to his hound. Alexandr Chugay, also a Bandera follower, born in Western Ukraine, was signaling me to say when the guard was looking other direction (Chugay was then transferred to camp No.11. Then released around 1968-69. He had nowhere to go so Volodymyr Gryn' sent him to Kuban. He was arrested again after some time and shot down on accusation of murder). My breakout took place in the afternoon and stayed unnoticed for a few hours. The alarm went on when all the workers were taken back from work: they counted all prisoners and found out that I was missing. They started searching for me but didn't know which way I went. Besides, I was fouling my trails and burning rubber to confuse the hounds.
I ran towards the railway, which had to be around 70 meters away. I kept running, but the railway didn't appear. I had no landmarks on my way to point out West for myself so I just kept running. It was getting harder and harder to run. Then I saw a fence of some camp, a neighboring camp I guessed and turned left to find the railroad somewhere after that camp. I ran around the camp, looked closer at it and at people inside and, damn me, it was my own camp No.10! “If I get out of this forest I will believe in God!” – I thought. I just lost time running around. I decided not to turn back although it was closer. I circled around the camp and the Udarne village, then found the railroad and ran along it for some time. Then turned to the forest and headed West. I stopped at some point to get some rest and thought: “Well, is there God or not then? I was in that forest, was I not?”, – “Just a coincidence” I told myself and continued running. There was a small river on the way, I slipped and hurt my toe, spilled some blood. Stopped for a bit and treated the wound by riping my shirt and making a bandage. I kept running until sunset, my legs were literally trembling so I found a place to sleep in a haycock beside some bush and fell asleep straight away. Woke up around sunrise and moved on. I came to a riverside and realized that it was river Vad! And I thought I had passed it yesterday. I crossed Vad and moved on through a field full of low bushes. Small awful rain started together with strong wind and it became a bit too clod to keep moving in just my underpants, although wearing striped prison clothes was also a bad idea. I decided to stop and only after sunset I saw shimmering light to the west from me. Good, I had something to guide me so I started towards the light trying to stay away from the swamps. The cold rain which started in the morning was still falling from the sky in the night. “Why wouldn't it just end?” I thought. Before I escaped each day was sunny and warm.
I came to one of the houses at the village I saw from the field and even though I knew it was wrong, I knocked at one of the doors because my wound was dirty and hurting and my consciousness was about to fade away. A man of 50 opened the door and stepped back when he saw my clothes but nevertheless let me in and gave some food. At some point the house owner's wife asked to go out to use the toilet. I said yes. In just a few minutes the door swung open and a soldier stepped in pointing a gun at me. Then other soldiers came in – it turned out that they were all sitting in the nearby house. That wife called them. This scene took place at around 1:00am or 2:00am in village Koperzan near camp No.17. My breakout alarmed all the soldiers in all nearby concentration camps.
It happened so that I was caught by the squad lead by my co-villager who used to live in the same street as me. He graduated from his educational establishment a year before that and was sent to Mordovia. He told the soldiers about me so they knew who they were searching for. You know that all those soldiers had been set up against us Ukrainians. They had been told we were killers and bandits. This time it was different – they were very polite, shared their food with me. Other runaways, as I heard, could've been shot down right where they caught them. I was lucky... Not with running away though... On the other hand, if I'd ran away, there would have been nowhere left to run. You can't escape yourself, can you?
In October I stood trial for my breakout and got another 3 years in addition to my sentence. I didn't apply for cassation but claimed that the sentence was imprecise. It stated that I said I will keep trying to run away from imprisonment because I'm not imprisoned in Ukraine.
What I really said was that I will keep trying to run away because my initial sentence was illegal. But the Supreme Court of Mordovia changed the sentence on account of my last claim and gave me 10 years of special regime including 3 years in prison.
So there I was – waiting for transfer to Volodymyrskiy prison. I was held in a temporary detention cell in village Yavas. I wanted to escape from that cell even before trial took place. Mykhailo Gliuza had secretly passed over a small saw which I used to saw off a part of the prison bed to make my way through the building base but as soon as I got under the bed, the guards had noticed it and gave me 5 additional days in an isolation cell. That didn't cool me down – I decided to try escaping during transfer. Every time we had to change trains during transfer I was handcuffed and always watched, so there was no possibility to escape until Horkiy town. And then on 24th of December, during the last part of the transfer I got the chance I needed.
I was taken to a cell overnight. I counted that there were still two checkpoints where I could slip away: when boarding to the train and then in Volodymyr town during change from train to car.
I woke up from an order to get my things as the transfer was about to start. I recalled my dream: Alexander – my godfather who died in 1961, and I were inside this really big building. Just the two of us and brick walls around. We were building those walls. At some point Alexander left me alone so I continued on my own. The dream stopped on that moment and I woke up. The sun was already up when we boarded to the train. There were other prisoners in the carriage. The cells were full so I was locked up beside “domestic” criminals. I was the only one in striped wear. I knew that as soon as I will be inside the car after this train – there will be no going back and no possibility to run away. I decided to ask the other prisoners for help. I needed a coat which was not striped, preferably black. They said: “There's the “snake” sitting there – undress him” (“snake” means guilty for doing something). I couldn't just order him to undress – it made me feel uncomfortable because I didn't know what has he done wrong. I stared at him to make it clear that I needed his coat but he didn't move. Others decided that his behavior was insulting for the one in “striped clothes” and ordered him to do as told which he did. I took it and gave him mine. When we were all taken out of the carriage he was taken away separately as he was “striped”. I knew that if he told them about me, they would have started searching but he just stood silently. I shadowed with other prisoners. There were 45 of us including 15 women. We were then lined up and separated into groups of 5 people each. The train had left and the railway station was practically empty – just us there and the guard's cars. I had prepared myself for runaway back in the train – wore two pairs of socks and untied my shoes to slip out easily. I also wrote a note, because I knew that I had more chances to die than to escape. I wrote: “I'm tired of living”. I didn't really want them to have thought that I was in despair from being imprisoned. I unbuttoned the coat and came up to the first line of prisoners. A row of armed soldiers stood 3-4 meters away from the first line of prisoners who were ordered to get in the cars in groups of 5. All the women were in and it was our turn. The railway was still empty – no trains coming in. Time was running out so I had to act. I slipped out of my shoes and started off through the soldiers. They weren't ready for such a move and didn't react. Only one of them, instead of shooting or trying to stop me, asked: “Where are you going?”. I had no time to answer of course. I slipped through them and then through the second row of soldiers and only then one of the militiamen tried to stop me. He grabbed me by the coat which I was trying to get rid of and, factually, helped me do it. I kept on running away from the station. Back at the station I noticed a major with a pistol. He was the one to react – started shooting. He was running after me and shooting under such an angle not to aim at civilians also present at the station. He shot all his bullets but missed me. The soldiers started reacting, also shooting and shouting “Stop”. They were late with their reaction so they had nothing else to do but to shoot in the air. I saw two men walking towards me and saw them trying to get me down. They even stopped as I was approaching but I had nowhere to turn away. Getting closer to them I took my hand behind my back showing it as if I was planning to get a knife out, growled at them. They recoiled and I ran past. At the end of the station I saw an old man also willing to stop me. He was planning to throw himself at my feet (later, in court, he said that he was a front-fighter and knew what to do in situations like this). I jumped off the platform and kept running with the gun shooting behind me. I ran past the old man and got back to the platform and suddenly felt some anxiety. There was no one ahead of me and the platform was about to end but there was something wrong. “They could shot me down there” – I thought. I jumped of the platform, crossed the rails and ran towards an empty, as I thought, train. Getting closer to the train I turned around and saw two soldiers running after me 70-80 meters away. They shooting together with running. I understood that they had now no obstacles before aiming right at me (one of them stated, later in court, that he was aiming at my feet, the other – into the head). I got to the train and and slipped under it. When I crossed the first rails I felt something stung me into the leg. I automatically looked at the spot and saw my trousers ripped and smoke coming out of the hole. I understood I was wounded but thought I could still make it. I climbed up to the platform and saw that there were no buildings close, so I just kept running along the carriages towards the bridge and the depot. I ran about 100 meters and felt that the wounded leg was starting to fail me. I sat down on the snow, looked back and saw no one. Then looked again and saw one of the soldiers climbing up the platform.
One of the soldiers approached me, then the others started gathering around, civil people too. Someone brought a hand-barrow and they carried me to the local first-aid post. The bandaged me there with a tourniquet but were hesitating to take me to hospital. My leg was dark blue and all swollen. The wound was giving me a lot of pain. Local nurse started shouting at the soldiers, saying that the tourniquet shouldn't stay on the leg for that long and that I must be taken to hospital. Then they couldn't decide for a long time on where to take me – local hospital or prison hospital.
At last, they took me to the prison hospital. The bullet went through and missed the bone, so you could say I was lucky. I stayed in hospital until 22nd of January. The wound started to suppurate. The hole in my leg was big enough for a thumb to fit in. There wasn't enough food for faster regeneration – hospital portions were small. And even though the wound was suppurating, I was transferred to barrack No.1 where I had to serve at least 5 months of heavy regime. The guards demanded me to stand up from bed every morning as everyone else but i simply ignored that. The wound was full of pus and lay in such a way for the pus to at least flow out of the wound. The guards warned me once, then twice, then threw my bed out of the cell and wrote a claim. On day three I was ordered to be getting smaller food portions for a month – as punishment for lying down during day. Smaller food portions meant that I got a tiny slice of herring and a slice of bread in the morning, soup or borsch with no meat or fat for lunch and the second dish from lunch for dinner. No sugar at all.
I refused to take part in the investigation. I was brought to trial on 19th of February 1965 half dead. My clothes were all shaggy, my foot wear – half destroyed. I was an awful scene. By the way, the night before trial I had a dream that I was in a room full of girls. Only women around me – no men. I was guilty for something and all these women were telling me off for it. So anyway, there I was, standing trial and the room had only women in it. I made a claim in court, including this: “<...> communists had crossed out the phrase “revolutionist-professional” from the lexicon. This widely known term was changed to “especially dangerous recidivist” but its meaning nevertheless stayed the same. No matter how you call them, no matter how you dress them or hold them imprisoned – freedom fighters remain what they are...” (what else could I have said? That I was an alien? I was given the role of a revolutionist and had nothing else but to play it well). I have refused taking part in the trial because, as I stated, I was well aware of how communist courts work. I asked to be walked out of court but they didn't do so. There were witnesses who were also questioned, and then the judge stated that I should be taken for a psychiatric check because I had never been through on yet. I was then sent to Serbskiy institute.
I looked in the mirror during the trip to Moscow and saw that even my teeth went black. I came back to normal back at the institute though. I stayed there from 26th of March to 13th of May. Just before signing out I was asked whether I love Ukraine. “Yes, I do. I love my people and I love Ukraine – it's my my Homeland” – I said (I couldn't have said that the only things to love are dumplings and girls, could I?). “Will you get married if you will be released?” – ”No!” – I said. That question wasn't asked just for the sake of asking. My personal file had information about my statement from 1962 that I would not start a family until Soviet regime stands, because I don't want to give birth to slaves. “What will you be doing if you will be released?” – “I don't know” – I answered. This was the last question. I was then sent to Volodymyrskiy prison via Butyrky village. I was held in Butyrky for 10 days together with prisoners sentenced to death so I was treated the same. I think that they put me together with those sentenced for death because back at the institute they asked me whether I knew that my deeds are considered illegal and should be treated appropriately and I answered: “If I shouldn't fear death then why should I fear KGB?”. I had to stand trial again Volodymyr. I got another 3 years, cancelled however thanks to the sanctions forbidding sentences over 10 years.
Living conditions in Volodymyr were the same as they used to be with just one difference – I used to be on heavy regime here and now it was special regime for me. The prison consisted mainly of criminal prisoners. One of them – Kobzoev – was form Kazakhstan and looked like he was mentally ill. During our prison walk in the yard he often ran to the side of the yard for which he always received detention. He died later on after trying to get to the forbidden zone. The soldier on the watchtower didn't shoot because all the prisoners shouted that Kobzoev was insane but the officer on the watch walked out and shot him dead.
There was another guy there – Zorychev. He had been sentenced for an anti-soviet tattoo. They first sentenced him to death but then changed it to 15 years (by the way, I never heard any political to have made tattoos inside the prison).
Here are some examples of people I knew personally – spent some time in detention cells with them. Chernikov Vasil, born somewhere in 1930s. He made a tattoo in a concentration camp saying “USSR slave”. The court sentenced him to death but then changed it to 15 years. He arrived to Volodymyrskiy prison in 1964. Then he made another tattoo in 1966. In the beginning of 1967 he stood trial again and got a death penalty. For some reason I was called up for that trial. I said: “I state this person to be mentally ill”. I was honest then, the guy did really look unhealthy – like most of us there, who had been brought in from domestic (criminal) prisons. My statement didn't help him in any way although repented his actions. In the middle of spring the prison heard the news that Chernikov was no more. The officer announcing the news sounded glad.
Tarasov Oleksiy, born in mid 1930s. Was also together with me in Volodymyrskiy prison. Arrived to concentration camp after the War. Became a political prisoner because of his tattoo. Was ill but never treated. Was always punished for bad work in camp No.10 (Mordovia). In 1971 was sent to Volodymyrsliy prison together with two other people. During their move they made other tattoos. Stood trial in 1971 or 1972. Their trial took place in camp No.10. Tarasov did not repent. I guess he knew it wouldn't have helped. He got a death penalty and two others got 15 years each and sent to Volodymyrskiy prison.
On of them – Sergiy Cvetkov – differed from others with his decency. He was also a great artist in drawing caricatures. He was constantly followed for his art – and in Mordovia, and in Volodymyr. He was mostly ill and was never treated but thrown into detention cells instead. He came back from Volodymyr in 1976 to camp No.10 in Mordovia (as a criminal prisoner) and died the same year.
So, I ended up with criminal prisoners in Volodymyrskiy prison. Then in November 1965 I was moved to ordinary regime and was settled together with political prisoners. There was this guy in the same cell with me, named Klanuskas Vitas from Lithuania. He had been sentenced for 25 years of imprisonment. There was another Lithuanian guy who was sent to Mordovia soon after my transfer, And two more – Anatoliy Bondarenko and Petro Tupicyn, who was a teacher from Karelia. He crossed the border with Finland hoping for asylum, but USSR sent forged documents to Finland so their government gave him back into the arms of Soviet Union. He was moved to prison for trying to escape from a concentration camp. Other cells had Viktor Balashov and Zitcev, who tried escaping together with Bondarenko and Tupicyn from camp No.7. They were all serving their 3-year sentences for escape attempts. In spring 1966 they were sent to camp No.10 in Mordovia. Vitas was moved to barrack No.2, so I was left with criminal prisoners again. There was a chance for me to be released, because in winter 1966 I was called up by a KGB officer and offered me to write down an application for parole – that was when Khrushchev had been discharged, some other officials also discharged (I wasn't against being kicked out of the prison. But I couldn't ask for it. It would have been like a monk who had initially buried himself was then asking others to unbury him).
So I stayed alone with criminals again. It's not very comfortable to live with them. It's tough because all those transferred from domestic criminal prisoners are either black sheep or half-insane. Or totally insane sometimes, not treated properly however. Valentyn Moroz served his sentence in the same prison after me and he wrote of what it was like to live beside those criminals. I remember his application, a copy of which came all the way to camp Np.10. He wrote to the Prosecutor General that he couldn't sleep for days and was asking to be moved to a solitary cell. Criminals were seldom interested in politics, they had no place among political prisoners. They had their own life. However, they were being placed beside political prisoners for different reasons: some of them lost some games or were guilty of something local inside criminal prisons and couldn't have stayed there – they were scared; others thought that political prisons had better living conditions, which turned out to be otherwise. They stayed among political prisoners even after their political sentence terms had ended. Only after 1972 were they taken away from political prisons. Nevertheless, I was closer to these criminal prisoners than those who held the soviet system. A man who starts off to steal or burgle in the night is closer for me than a man who goes to do his shift at the factory. If everyone became thieves the communist empire wouldn't have held itself from falling apart. Soon, Ivan Lashchuk arrived from camp No.11 with a new sentence on him.He originated from Lviv region, studied in the medical institute after the War. Went underground after graduating.
Was hiding out at someone's place not long before his arrest. Moreover – he had been turned in by someone. He tried to escape when surrounded, shot back using a gun. They took him heavily wounded – he had scars on his body.
We shared one cell almost until the end of my sentence. In winter 1968 I was transferred to Mordovia – camp No.10. During the transfer on a stop in Horkiy town I could eat until I was full for the first time in four years (with no account of Serbskiy institute). I never used the prison cafe as well as never used the permission to get mail packages. My parents found me and were sending those packages but I sent them back every time. I created my own regime. Why not?! The monk who buried himself created his own regime, so why couldn't I? The only difference was that he had God and I had Emptiness. I collected bread slices during transfers: I thought that camps were as hungry as they used to be. I wanted to bring at least something with me, to treat those I would have found myself with. But I came to the camp I found out that things got better. There was still no food at the prison cafe but hard and dangerous labor workers were now getting bigger food portions. There was at last enough bread for everyone.
Once in the camp I started thinking of escaping again. Met Pugach. He acquainted me with Andreev, a former policeman from Belarus, sentenced for 25 years the same as Pugach. Andreev escaped from camp No.11 back in 1961 but was caught in the forest and heavily beaten. So heavily, he kept spitting blood when the brought him to Volodymyrskiy prison. Having heard this, I decided I could trust him. I thought that since he tried to escape and was beaten so heavily – he shouldn't be up for betrayal, so we started forming a plan. It was very simple actually – almost no preparation needed and almost no vital danger included. However, Andreev turned me in (as all others) so I failed. It came out that I made another mistake. I weighed everything apart from the fact Andreev was hoping for a discount in his sentence. Camp administration tried twice to send appeals for shortening his sentence but the court declined them. I gave him a few slaps for his betrayal and got 15 days of isolation detention for that. Before that I was constantly thrown into isolation so had no opportunity to prepare my escape.
I stayed in camp No.10 until 1072. At the end of August that year I was transferred to special KGB cells in Saransk together some other prisoners. Each of us had then been called up for audition with reading sentences aloud. When they started reading mine I thought they might start up another case against me because my file said: Anti-soviet, nationalistic, expressed thoughts against socialistic regime, organizes groups, applies leverage to other prisoners.
A month after that we were transferred again to Sosnovka village, the same place special regime prisoners from camp No.10 had been transferred to. We arrived to overcrowded cells. Again, like in 1964, there were less beds than prisoners so some of them slept on tables and floor. I was settled in a cell with Danylo Shumuk, Sviatoslav Karavanskiy and Mykola Ievgrafov. Shumuk was a newcomer from Kiev. He was given 10 years of imprisonment plus 5 years of exile for writing a book called “Memories of the past”. Around the same time Ivan Hell' and Mykhailo Osadchiy came in with new sentences from Ukraine. And Karavansiy came in from Volodymyrskiy prison. By the way, I met his wife during transfer in Potma. She hsouted “Hail Ukraine!” which caught me by such a surprise that I even hesitated to answer.
The new spot didn't have construction area. Only cells, yard and manufactory of glass. There was glass dust from polishing was all over the place – face, clothes, in the air.
In 1974, when I had 1 year to go before release I was transferred to heavy regime again, to camp No.19. I felt much more free there. It wasn't like walking to work, then back to the cell and staying there for weekends and holidays. We were permitted to talk to all other prisoners in the barrack and to use the bathroom whenever we wanted. I got acquainted with other prisoners in camp No.19. I talked a lot to Roman Semeniuk who successfully escaped from camp No.11 in 1965 together with Anton Oliynyk and even got to Ukraine, where they were nevertheless raided in one of the forests. Oliynyk had been shot down and Semeniuk got 3 years of imprisonment. I also met Kravciv Igor, Popadiuk Zoryan, Matviyuk Kuzma, Starosolskiy Liubomyr... Vasil Ovsienko – my fellow countryman – arrived later in spring. It was his first time, he was only getting used to what concentration camps were like but I felt that his soul was somewhere out of this place, rolling free somewhere else. I felt he wasn't going to stop on whatever he had achieved. And I was correct – he was granted the honor to wear striped prison clothes. At that camp, camp No.19, some political prisoners started battling for their political Status. They wrote appeals to be granted the mentioned Status officially. One of those appeals had my name in it too. We got separated from each other for that appeal – to concentration camp prisons, Liubarskiy was taken to Volodymyrskiy prison until the end of his term, I was taken to camp No.3 in Barashevo, together with Penson Boris – it was a small political prison. Even though I was helping dissidents (sending illegal correspondence out of the prison), I didn't take their deeds seriously. I felt doubly about those dissidents. I saw them as intelligent, decent people who had honorable aims to do something nasty against the communists. But their hunger strikes on any possible occasion were more of infantile behavior to me. In short they looked like people dragged into a bear's layer shouting “Human rights! Human rights!”... It looked as if they had no understanding of the fact that humans have their own rights and bears have their own, and concentration camp is no political prison. In our little prison the political Status movement did not take place. There was a female prison just beside ours. I remember women protesting about something – maybe it was the Status protest.
There were to Vasils in that prison – Vasil Stus and Vasil Lisoviy. Lisoviy was a partner Vasil Ovsienko – my fellow countryman. In 1973 Ovsienko, Lisoviy and Ievhen Proniuk had been sentenced for publishing the “Ukrainian messenger” magazine. Penson was also there, as well as Israel Zalmanson and Yuriy Melnyk from Leningrad. We often gathered with Lisoviy and Stus for a chat and some tea... Stus was a poem writer and once I said to him that a man should write anything only if he is convinced that he will write something new, or if he will write it better than Shevchenko or Shakespeare. He disagreed and tried to convince me in return that he would be good if his place was somewhere in the middle of the mentioned grade. He never offered us to listen to his own poetry. I didn't ask, as I was quite ignorant in terms of poetry. Apart from Omar Khayyam's poetry – but even in this case I only liked a few dozens of his poems. Here's one of them:
Never had a mortal won over the skies,
Earth-hannibal eats all,
You show off that you're still alive,
Just wait for the ants to find your body cold.
That's for those who think they're immortal. Great poetry! That's not bird song, not “The Song of the Songs”. Neither is it about battle – let those who wish to battle do so.
There is, however, a nice poet among Ukrainians – Volodymyr Smiylenko. But I onlu like one of his poems – “Uncertainty”.
If you know you're ought to live,
And you hope for it, and crave it,
You should live your every moment,
Just to give it for one aim,
If you know that all is worthless,
Sense is absent in all things,
Then what is life worth, eh?
What's the reason to exist?
I read it in spring 1961. This poem was so alike to what I felt deep inside that I remembered it for the rest of my life. I was only heading to the top of my mountain, where there are no such things as “craving”, “aim” or “God”, where everything loses its value and things I wanted before stop mattering. Any aim disappears when you stop wanting it. You are higher than God because you can stop all your nonsense. It's almost madness. From conversations with Stus I could make a summary that he never wrote things like that. And poetry outlining nature, fighting, love or hatred to a person or to groups of people, or poems about flirt – amy poems where soul expressions go over the top – don't interest me. The same year, 1961, but in summer, I happened to get a book of some author I wouldn't recall now. I only remember his advise: “It's no good idea to start philosophical thoughts without aim, because a shallow thought hides an abyss of ignorance and mysteries of the world which can never be solved and shouldn't be touched”. That was the first deep thought I found in a book. I got acquainted with Ecclesiastes, Khayyam and Schopenhauer Camus and others later, during my second sentence period.
My behavior, especially back then, was, I guess, quite strange for those who couldn't understand me from inside. I don't really know how the KGBs saw me. But there was this one very strange incident. During my stay in the KGB isolator in Kiev, I had a very strange feeling inside me after lunch. I think they might've added something to my food to see how I react, but I never had this feeling again.
I stayed around 4 months in camp No.3 – my sentence had ended. Just before my release I was thrown into detention cell for 15 days for stopping attending work from 24th of December. My refusal was explained to them by me as the fact that I had been arrested on 24th of December when I was injured from shooting. According to the legislation, the term starts from the moment of arrest so the end of the term had to be on the same day not on 27th of January as they planned. I met Lisoviy in the detention cell so we sat there together.
Two days before release I was transferred again, to Potma. In two days after that I was taken to Zhytomyr by plane. I was released on 27th of January 1975. According to the release notification I had to arrive in the local militia department in Baraniv and register for keeping. Then I came to Rogachiv and knocked on the door. I saw lights inside the house and understood that my parents now had electricity. “Who's there?” – “It's me, Sergey”. Mom opened the door and I stepped in. We stood there, at the entrance looking at each other. They hadn't been waiting for me so I was a surprise for them... It looked like the return of a lost son (I hadn't written a single letter during my imprisonment). During the first date after trial, I declined their package and said to my father: “You have your life and I have mine. I do not wish to trouble you”. I wanted to be lonely, not to have any links. Just me and that world around me – a world of nonsense.
It was still dark early morning when I silently left to Novorgad-Volynskiy. By dawn I was in Lutsk and then back to Rogachiv the next day.
My next arrest took place in 1976, I already told of it.
As you can see, all my sentences are like games I lost. I am the fool. And the thing whcih troubled me most was the fact of loss, not the things I lost. I wanted rematch, especially in terms of escaping.
What I had told you of, is the story of everything around, of my inner world and my reactions to the world around – my spirituality. What kind of spirituality was it to make me do the thing I had done? I'll try to be short in my explanation.
I was five years old when I first asked myself if there's any actual goal worth achieving. And something else – what creates the will to live. What moves me around? What is a human being? I looked around and saw that anything I do fades away. Not only a tree I planted, a house I built or my child but all my kind. The nation I consider myself part of, will disappear as dinosaurs and mammoths. And even my worldwide popularity, if there had been any, would have faded away. Everything is going to oblivion. And besides, people are like trees in the forest, why should they care about my existence? So I may conclude that all my efforts are vain. My explorations of other fundamental questions gave no joyful results. I thought like this: People are divided into two groups by sex. What they were all separated on different continents with no possibility to cross over to each other? Would have these people created any countries, communities, order of any sort? Would they have built bridges, roads, made special clothes, hairdos, or would they have been writing poetry? Or even would they have organized monasteries? Would there have been God at all? My answer was that if there was an understanding of absence of opposite sex, there would have been nothing at all. It turns out that all your life is based on just one idea of opposite sex. Take this away and everything will stop. Even the will to live will fade away. Doctor Faust would have never cried out his magic phrase: “Oh stay, thou art so fair!” with prerequisites like that.
I can not feel joy from understanding that the meaning of life is based on existence of opposite sex. I cannot be joyful from understanding that we are all programmed (by nature or God), that the only thing moving you around are instincts and your life views and life opinions are no more than a program. In this case, humans don't differ from flora and fauna around them.
So there I was, thinking of what a human actually is. Of course, there should be some difference. And that difference is that fact that humans need more than just instincts. In comparison with animals, a human is more complex and that's why the requests are higher aiming at goals further away from us – including goals to be achieved after one's death. People differ animals by constantly being trapped in a world of illusion. Humans always have mirage in front of them – some sort of religion to believe in. These illusions give hope, attracts and welcomes with all its advantages. Illusions are part of human beings. They are unavoidable as instincts. Otherwise humans wouldn't have been humans. But this isn't all. Human beings also have something that defines these illusions allowing us not only to look around us but look inside ourselves, examine and compare. And once a human notices certain nonsense it stands against it, as against something working inside you but out of your own control.
That's something animals don't have even though they have feelings, certain mind which operates instincts (the same with many human, by the way). An animal possesses only the physical existence, whereas humans are capable of looking at themselves from different perspectives and analyze. If we say that animals only possess their physical from – the soul (a living body of any creature is its manifestation of the soul. A soul, as well as a body is not replaceable. If your body changes, so does your soul. It's of one form while your a child, then it changes as you grow. And if your body suffers – then so does your soul.), then humans have two forms they possess: physical (soul), and something else, something spiritual that can't be easily named. It wakes in some people during their life opening them a whole new way of looking at life around them. But their life is at stake for just the opportunity to look around in a different way. Human beings differ from animals by the ability to differentiate themselves from animals and protest against this animal instinct. By doing so, however, humans deny life itself. Such human beings are no longer humans. They are above humans fighting for opposite sex and sometimes even killing their opponents. Such animal-humans fight for leadership, goes to war with other nations, eliminating those aiming at different illusions. The difference between these tow human beings is tremendous – one of them dies from female refusal, the other – from understanding meaninglessness of life.
The overwhelming and all-embracing “I” (chose a suitable name, it doesn't matter) does not wish to serve the physical “I” which is the soul, but stands above it, overlooking the results of physical will. It suppresses certain aims because they are considered to have no sense. And that's the spiritual self which either makes you a hermit monk or releases you from illusions and all the hurry-scurry, as Ecclesiastes wrote in his “Vanity”. This higher self is what stops salmon from swimming towards spawning, stops pigs from giving birth (they will go for meat instead, but a slave giving birth to a slave is just as that pig), stops a death sentenced person form giving birth to another death sentenced individual.
Thus, if there is anything defining a human, it's the spiritual self which is potentially inside every person but only awakens in few. Illusions are also something which differ humans from animals. But they're nothing more than a different bate in the trap. Some people manage to evade it. But it's all worth nothing overlooking the fact that we all emerge from ashes and to ashes we all return.
(I used the word “spirit” for a reason. I already told you of my dreams but I hadn't told of one really strange dream I had. I was in two parts in that dream. I was looking at myself from a distance of about 2 meters. I was something invisible, which had my thoughts and was factually me. But it was overlooking someone who was physical and moving – also me. This psychological phenomenon (even though in a dream) I fail to explain. Nevertheless, if I believed in superstition, if I believed that a human consists of two different fundamental parts – physical and spiritual – I would say that my spiritual self stepped away from its physical from and was overlooking it from a distance. That spiritual body is some incomprehensible substance which, unlike my physical aging body which will die some day, has always been inside me unchanged.)
People, in this case are just as salmon swimming towards spawning. Aiming towards their goal, showing it off, people move towards their death just as salmon. If one could paint this aim walk, it would have been a canvas full of people – each one playing a separate role – always moving and falling into the abyss of oblivion at the end, receiving more and more players at the beginning. Some fall down into the abyss, some enter the play to repeat the fate of those who had fallen. For decades and decades has this nonsense been continuous and it's still on.
There was once a wise thought said: “The human mass consists of 99% idiots and 1% of those in risk of contamination with idiocy”. Another wise man said it even more radically: “All people are either stupid or ill”.
I see no sense in existence of coming generations (it's like they would aim at something worthy. I don't need them, so who does? Who needs those gone? When my father was dying I wrote to him from Vinnytsa prison: “If all people would have done as I did and God saw that Earth was empty in 100 years, he would have come down and explained what all this comedy was for”. ( Adam and Eve should have done it on their behalf to escape “giving birth in pain”. (according to the Bible – we are a product of incest. If Bible had been written later, Adam and Eve would have been joined by Abraham and Sarah. And maybe someone else. Eve was a silly woman. She should have said: I'm not giving birth! (One shouldn't give birth outside of heaven. One can make meaningless toy but not a meaningless child). So should I feel compassion for women in pain during birth?!).
A spiritual height: Gilgamesh, Ecclesiastes, Khayyam, Camus... The first three of them didn't even know that the Earth is round but they achieved their own heights, which, however, stay unachievable for most of current players. They are few, and even though we hear “Vanity”, their lives are the evidence to the fact those are all just words, but not true feelings. Absolute majority of people, both long ago and now, are ok with low peaks: as high as a church or a telescope.
Religions are illusion as well as any illusion is also illusion. We have clear examples: Egyptian illusions, Greek, Russ and other national illusion simply stepped aside for new illusions of new nations. A poet (Beranger), whose thoughts I don't agree with, wrote: “If humanity will not find their path to truth, I shall hale the madman who will blow them all to blissful oblivion”. We know Buddha, Jesus, Mahomet, Marks... They are the madmen blowing humanity into blissful oblivion, which the world is still in today. (Humanity is in a boat, rowing towards their illusion. They don' have any other choice, since there is no land in these waters).
I don't agree with any of existing religions or secular idols like the bright Marks (communism) or Hitler (the Almighty Reich). Neither do I agree with literature and art chanting spiritual ideals. Secular religions, especially those without transcendent matters, any continuous life is seen as one's personal life. That's the reason why followers of the mentioned religions see it important to leave something behind after they fade away. And that brings us to the aim of making a society live forever, which is as much nonsense as the Second Advent of Jesus.
Jesus was a human made God by other humans. And he is still worshiped... It's impossible to imagine a fool capable of killing someone who can return the dead to life. I don't believe the Jews and Pilate to have been so foolish. What would have the Emperor of Rome done with his servant – Pontius Pilate, if he found out the Pilate eliminated such a miracle?! Or may we assume that neither Pilate not the Jews and the Emperor needed such a man at their service?
I don't discharge the possibility of some invisible Power, called God but why does it have to be as people draw it up in their imagination? If this Power really exists, then why does it need humans? Or maybe it treats us as we treat cows or abdominal bacteria?
Truly: why does God need such complex technology so loved by humans – permanent preservation of the human body or the Spirit, or even the soul? Do we, humans, need a forever lasting cow? Humans are ok with a calf after the cow is dead. Even the Power is there, it is definitely above our understanding. As well as what are time and space around us. When one thinks deeper into it, there are even more insane questions rising: is the space in no-space or time in no-time?
Science didn't give us anything. What has changed after we discovered that Earth doesn't stand on elephants and whales? What has changed after we flew into space? (Space flights are flights into Nowhere. Even if we move onto Mars or to another galaxy, what will change?) What will change if our life time becomes 1000 years instead of 100? We'll just be producing 10 times more waste, that's it.
Freedom was just the same as prison for me – I had no deep spiritual contact with those around me. (Spirituality! Each religion has its idols. Why do we need Shevchenko and Shakespeare in Christianity? Or any other religion apart from the “secular” one where the y belong.) I was a stranger for those who worshiped God as well as for those who made society their God. Never in my life have I met a man with the same thoughts and feelings as mine. All who surrounded me rowed towards their own illusions. I rowed sometimes too, yes, but only to stretch my muscles. What else was there to do? It was either inside the boat or out of it – both options have no sense.
In 1960 I took Ukrainian nationalism as motivation for taking part in the battlefield to embrace glory and to show my self to the world. But I soon found out that it was vain. I also understood that the nation, being softer and weaker than me, whines a lot. When one becomes stronger, others should whine, not him. I personally didn't want anything else from all that activity. Well, almost nothing. But significantly, there were people around me who saw the world around in the same way as I once did. They craved what I used to crave. So I thought I could help them. Those were my thoughts when I was leaving Volodymyrskiy prison on 13th of April 1963.
I spent 27 years and 4 months imprisoned. 24 years out of those 27 were spent in cells of different kind. I factually lost best years of my life but never saw this as a tragedy. Because tragedy is not based on single life events. Humanity tragedy is in its meaningless existence. As soon as one realizes this, all “troubles” become insignificant. I troubled myself a lot during the first year of imprisonment. I troubled myself about being held locked up, about troubling my parents and those close to me, it was painful that I failed to be a good example for my little brothers and sisters. But later I started seeing everything around me as a comedy and stopped caring much about it. That's because of my worldview. When I started thinking about the meaning of life, during my first imprisonment, I came to very pessimistic conclusions. I saw the world as a social tragedy becoming a meaningless comedy. Tragedy stopped being a tragedy. I realized that taboos set by society, as well as genetically, have no background. So basically, one is free to do whatever he wants because nothing really matters. But that wasn't something joyful. Upon crossing the line where good and evil are no more, existing things loose their sense. One Dostoevsky's heroes – Smerdiakov – realized that that there was no God, that everything is permitted. He was joyful of that understanding. Ivan Karamazov – another hero of the same novel felt this as a tragedy because since there was no God, “permissiveness” lost any meaning. Camus in his turn came to an understanding that there was no difference: to treat those ill with leprosy or to warm up crematory ovens. However, there are people who chose healing instead of killing.
My choice was something like this – I kept defending my views of justice and by doing so I stayed with those on this battlefield, with those who chose to heal. That's just my way, I guess. When I saw people hurting other people, bringing evil to others. I couldn't stay aside when saw such things. However, I could understand people who weren't afraid of pain themselves and were hurting others. If having thrown someone into an oven, such a person would have jumped in too after that. The existence of humanity is absurd anyway. So if someone would have tried destroying the world having understood its absurdness – I wouldn't have had anything against that person. In 1962 I already knew that we were heading different ways with humanity, that I will never have a family and that will have nothing to do with replicating human beings in any way. Firstly, as I already mentioned – I will never give birth to slaves. I was a slave. Ukrainian idol, Taras Shevchenko accuses lords and the king in the unhappy fate of his brothers, sisters and his own. Although the first responsibility is on his parents. It's a political motive. Concerning philosophical points of view – which are the main – I couldn't step of nihilism. Nietzsche could with his ideas, but at the end of the day it's still impossible. Jack London proved that the things you lost during comprehension are impossible to recover. He proved it with the example of Martin Eden. I don't know how my life would have turned out if I hadn't been arrested in 1963. I failed to find an answer on how to cope with all this comedy. I used to search for God (I really wanted to find some sense in nonsense) but I found nothing. There was no God in the abyss I had found. If one realized himself as Sisyphus, he can not be happy. Camus made Sisyphus happy but it's impossible. Such a character is not himself if he feels happy. (Those who want to understand me better should read Ecclesiastes's “Vanity”, get acquainted with Schopenhauer's pessimism, permissiveness of Dostoevsky (the tragic one)and Camus's “absurd”).
So, in some sense, prison saved me. I always felt a need to stand up for myself there. I was like Diogenes laughing at the world from his barrel with the only difference that Diogenes had no obstacles on his path whereas my barrel was under constant attack. Prison atmosphere turned me away from pessimistic thoughts and that might have been my salvation. Every year in prison I felt I was loosing certain parts of me but didn't really bother. I spent a lot of time talking to religious people. Especially at camp No.10 which had many preachers. However, only one of them said that if God doesn't really exist, then life is meaningless, his name was Stoiko Illiya.
Ending this story I would like to say the next: I'm still moving! This road – is a road of nonsense which I entered the moment I was born. I had no choice because this road was the road of my life. I don't blame anyone and I don't anyone to judge me. I wanted to be the seed which falls to stone instead of ground. I succeeded. But I must say that when a person is born into a meaningless world – all actions are meaningless. However, if life is approached to as “worth living, willing and hoping” with no account that you are Sisyphus, then the spiritual consciousness of modern society doesn't really suite me. It's like humanity degraded in a way. Even comparing literature – creations of XIX century are much richer than modern literature! I guess, people were spiritually higher back then.
– What makes you say that?
– I think it might be because they were more religious back then. And even once they stopped believing, they kept searching for some idea. Nowadays, people are all disappointed in the ideas around them and that's why they become so ignorant and apathetic. They are easy to understand: illusions, set forth by madmen are almost gone and people simply don't know where to row. Humanity needs new madmen to guide them.
– Did you have religious education in your family?
– No, I didn't.
– Do you consider that a person with views as sure and settled as yours could still find God?
– A miracle would be needed for that... I would have to see God with my own eyes. Everything else would be questioned. Although, I wouldn't be totally sure I'd believe even my own eyes, I might see it as hallucination (Moses mustn't have been aware of such thing)...
A word from the editorial office
He is made up of tremendous controversy. It's surprising how whole he is with the account of that. History of Sergiy Babych – is a history of self-mocking. But only at first sight.
He was an absolute humanist under the mask of a radical. It would be hard to find to find someone as eager and devoted to fighting windmills. His theories are shocking and outputs astonish...
Intelligent and yet very vulnerable, he set himself apart with the hustle of the world and feels quite comfortable this way even today. It's only sad, that mister Babych had his start where God had his end.
“Svitlo Spilkuvannia” magazine (Zhytomyr town), No.13. – 2011. – C.70 – 85.
This interview had been published in No. 7-8 of “The prisoner's page” bulletin, 1989, Moscow in Russian language; in the author's translation – in a Zhytomyr newspaper “Holos Hromadianyna” No. 20 and 22, October 1990. After that it was scanned by V. Ovsienko on 7th-8th of December 2008 for KHPG website “The Museum of dissident movement”. This edition is the latest author's edition – according to the “Svitlo Spilkuvannia” magazine.