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Levko Lukyanenko, indomitable champion of the national cause
Mariya VLAD, WU correspondent, tells the story of a distinguished champion for Ukrainian independence, Levko Lukyanenko, who, because of his dissident and nationalist views, spent years in the soviet concentrations camps and prisons, to become a politician and a remarkable public figure of independent Ukraine, whose independence he put above all other goals to achieve.
Levko Lukaynenko is one of the founders of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Group, and its head since 1988; a member of parliament of three convocations; head of the Association of Holodomor Investigators in Ukraine (1994– 1996; 1998–2005); honorary doctor of the South-African Mandella Institute of Political Leadership and Linguistics; head of the Council of Elders of the Ukrainian Republican Party Sobor; doctor of law (doctorate conferred honoris causa) of Alberta University, Canada; academician.
Levko Lukyanenko is a recipient of orders and awards: Order of St Volodymyr; Officers’ Cross with Swords; Hero of Ukraine.
He has authored several books: Confessions on Death Row; I Believe in God and in Ukraine; I won’t Let Ukraine Perish; In the Land of the Maple Leaf; The National Idea and the National Will; Who are the Republicans?; Indestructibility; The Criminal Nature of the Soviet Communist Party.
The more I researched the life of Levko Lukyanenko, the more I was becoming convinced that the title of his book, Neznyshchennist (Indestructibility), could be used as an epigraph to an essay about him. He wrote this book about, and dedicated it to, the Ukrainian people, and he himself, his ideas and ideals, can be called indestructible. He, or rather the cause he represents, has become indestructible thanks to the songs that his mother sang that had come from time immemorial; thanks to the words of wisdom that his father said to him — age-old wisdom of his nation; thanks to the time he spent in a prison cell on death row, to the psychiatric asylums he (an absolutely healthy person as far as his psyche was concerned but a dissident with views totally unacceptable for the soviets and thus regarded as abnormal) was confined to by the soviet authorities; thanks to the time he did in prisons and concentration camps in Siberia, sentenced to long terms for being “a Ukrainian bourgeois nationalist.” The solid foundation that his Ukrainian family had built, and later the trials and imprisonment had hardened him so much so as to make him indestructible. Neither his spirit nor his physical strength have been broken.
Levko Lukyanenko, a member of parliament, did spend some time on death row — it was not a metaphor I have used to colour the story. Later, he wrote in a book, Spovid’ u kameri smertnykiv (Confessions on Death Row), “Victory is of a paramount importance, but the struggle is important too — while a nation is struggling, the blood is coursing through its veins, and gives it life and strength. And the struggle will give freedom to this nation, sooner or later.”
When one awaits execution, one usually discards all the masks one could have been wearing and reveals one’s essence. Also, those on death row review all their lives. Levko Lukyanenko did so — and remained convinced that in the main, principal things he had done right. This allegiance to the cause, this determination to achieve the set goal, have stayed with him always, and now he remains as stalwart — an example to emulate by the young — as he has ever been.
Facts of his life
Levko Lukyanenko was born in the village of Khrypivka in the land of Chernihivshchyna on August 24 1928, into the family of Hrytsko and Natalka Lukyanenko. Levko’s father had an elementary education and was very clever with his hands — he could do anything and everything that was needed to be done at the farm in a village. He was taciturn and preferred work to talk. He was not afraid of anything, evil spirits included — except for soviet party bosses. He tried to have as little to do with them as it was humanly possible. He liked fast riding, stories from the Cossack past; he respected knowledge. Instead of a bottle of vodka, he often bought a book. If a neighbour asked for the loan of a rake and then tarried with returning it, he would make a new one rather than go and remind the forgetful neighbour to return the tool.
Levko’s mother was the very opposite of his father — she did not mind talking while she worked; in fact, she believed that discussing “serious and important problems” is more important than any work. She had a good, logical mind and an excellent memory; she always stood her ground defending truth. She had a better education than her husband with a himnaziya (secondary school of advanced studies) behind her. What she read once, she retained in her memory for good. She liked singing the Ukrainian anthem, banned by the soviets, Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina (Ukraine has not died yet!). She often repeated the following lines from a song,
“The bullet is afraid of the one
Who is bold.
The bayonet can’t do no harm to the one
Who is bold. “
On Easter Day of 1942, Levko’s mother said she wanted to tell her son’s fortune using the Psalter. Such was an age-old tradition, which is probably still alive today, to tell somebody’s fortune by reading randomly lines from the Scripture. She opened the Psalter and read: “The righteous shall re-joice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked…” She opened the book at another place and read another line: “If you do not die at the age of 33, you’ll live to die at 73.” When Levko Lukyanenko was 33, he was sentenced to death. After two months of waiting for execution on death row, Lukyanenko was told that his death sentence was commuted to fifteen years of hard labour in a concentration camp. Fifteen years of hard labour in soviet concentration camps killed untold number of people — but Lukyanenko survived. He survived not to keep a low profile after his release — he survived to continue his struggle. He was arrested again, sentenced to years of imprisonment again. After his release, he never stopped struggling against the soviet evil and for independence of his Ukraine.
In the autumn of 1943, after two years of German occupation, the village where Levko lived with his parents was expecting the Red Army offensive which would “liberate” the countryside from the Nazis. When the frontline moved close to be distinctly heard, the villagers dug shelters and trenches in their gardens to sit tight there during the exchange of fire. “Father stood up and watched the grey mass of Red Army troops approach. ‘Here they come,’ he said, ‘Those soviet bastards. Again they will make us work, and work, and nothing but work. Again they’ll say, Give us this and give us that. Again we’ll suffer hunger and misery. Oh my dear children, you’ll go hungry again…’ His lips trembled, and heavy tears began slowly rolling down his cheeks. ‘It’s God’s punishment for us,’ he said and trudged back to the house, dragging his feet as if he were walking towards the gallows on which he would be hanged. Those heavy tears of my father’s have remained in my memory and in my heart ever since, causing me pain…” reminisced Lykyanenko.
He was too young to be drafted during the war, but he did serve in the soviet army after the war and was discharged from active duty when he was twenty-two. By that time he, among other books, had read a two-volume history of diplomacy. It was then that he came to the conclusion that “There’s nothing higher than national interests. They are the pinnacle that stands above all other human aspirations… It is my life path. I’ll devote all my life to it. I’ll be able to achieve a lot only if I occupy a high governmental post, and since all the power in the Soviet Union is concentrated in the hands of the communist party, my post should be high in this party’s hierarchy. One cannot rise high in the party without higher education and without membership in it. Since for the young people the way to the party lies through the komsolol (Young Communist League), I’ll have to join the komsomol.”
He did as he had planned. He joined the komsomol and later the soviet communist party. When he was a freshman at the Law Department of Moscow University, he married Nadiya Buhayevska, a girl from his native village. “It was not a lucky marriage for her. She wanted a quiet family life, and I could think of nothing else but Ukraine. I did not give her happiness; once in a while a thought comes that probably, I should not have gotten married at all because I’ve given her nothing but interminable suffering,” wrote Lukyanenko in his Confessions.
Upon graduation, he went to work in Lvivshchyna in western Ukraine, which was the land kept under close surveillance in the soviet times, since the soviets regarded it to be “the hotbed of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism.” Lukyanenko was employed at the Radekhiv Regional Communist Party Committee, but when he travelled on business to the villages, he never missed the chance to listen to stories abut the heroic struggle of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and Ukrainian Insurrection Army that had fought both against the Nazis and the soviets for independence of Ukraine, about the disastrous soviet campaign of “collectivising agriculture” and brutal, coercive methods used by the soviets to make the peasants join kolhospy — collective farms.
In 1959, he together with Stepan Virun and Vasyl Lutskiv, two nationalists and ardent supporters of Ukraine’s independence, reached an agreement to create an underground organization, Ukrayinska robitnycho-selyanska spilka (Ukrainian Workers and Peasants Society), and Lukyanenko wrote a programme of the clandestine party. His friends found it to be too aggresive and asked him to write a less revolutionary programme. On January 20 1961, Lukyanenko and other members of the clandestine party were arrested. Lukyanenko was tried and sentenced to death and others to long terms of imprisonment. Two months later, the death penalty was commuted to a long term of hard labour in the Gulag. Why this “leniency” was shown is not clear — probably it happened because in the sixties the soviets became softer on dissidents and the period known as “Khrushchev’s thaw” began.
Those fifteen years that he spent in the Gulag did not break Lukyanenko morally, spiritually or even physically but it does not mean he did not have moments of despair or weakness. He loves life and has a powerful instinct of self-preservation, which in addition to his great moral fortitude, must have helped him survive inhuman conditions of Gulag camps.
Soon after his release, he “reverted to his old ways” and began writing proclamations and manifestos, and became one of the organizers of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Group. He did not issue inciting calls to arms as he was sure that the final victory is gained not with the help of bombs but with ideas. For his unrelenting personal struggle for Ukraine’s independence he was once gain arrested, tried and sentenced to ten years in a high-security penitentiary and five years of exile.
All in all, Levko Lukyanenko spent twenty five years in prison and concentration camps and five years in exile, his crime being not murder or armed assault, or robbery but something the soviet regime considered to be the most grievous offence — having views and ideas inconsistent with the soviet ideology. But he was not alone in his struggle — in prisons and in camps he met many others who were serving long terms in the Gulag for daring to harbour and express views and ideas similar to his own. Ivan Myron; Volodymyr Yurkiv; Mykhailo Horyn; Valentyn Moroz; Oleksa Tykhy; Yury Lytvyn; Vasyl Stus; Valery Marchenko — to name several of those whose names became widely known. Some of them posthumously.
“On September 13 1986, they transferred me from the Kuchyn prison to a prison in Perm. They must have thought it would do me in. But I survived — I survived thanks to my long experience of incarceration, to my prayers.”
This “ long experience of incarceration” saw all kinds of protests that political prisoners could have a recourse to, including hunger strikes and appeals to the world community. The soviets were afraid of him even held securely behind bars in the Gulag. Much was done to get rid of him for good — but he persisted. In spite of all the physical suffering, he never confessed to the sins or crimes he had never committed — the soviets, using various means, made a number of political prisoners accuse themselves of being in the wrong and declare themselves guilty. The means used by the soviets to get such “confessions” ranged from torture to false promises. Lukyanenko never succumbed. Not a single time he yielded.
In the years spent in the Gulag and in exile he learned English. Who could have thought then that this knowledge would come in handy? But after Ukraine’s independence, in 1992 he was appointed Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine to Canada. Later, as president of the Ukrainian Section of the World League for Freedom and Democracy (1994–1997) his knowledge of English was also very useful.
Firm as ever
Levko Lukyanenko has never made compromises, and he remains as firmly standing on his principles as ever. Yet, he is not conceited and will listen to opinions of others, no matter what these opinions might be. He is open- and kind-hearted and accessible person, he loves reading books and listening to classical music. But above all he loves his Ukraine.
“I love Ukraine so much, so terribly much. If my nation perished, I would not be able to live on. I just do not want to live without my nation… If my nation is doomed to perish, I must be the first to go. There are so many people in this world, and my disappearance would hardly be noticed. One should not be too concerned with one’s life but only with the death of a nation — if a nation goes, it would make the world much poorer.”
I do not think it is a pure coincidence that Lukyanenko’s birthday and Ukraine’s independence are celebrated on the same day — August 24.
Photos are from Levko LUKYANENKO’S archive
Levko Lukyanenko (on the right)
Levko Lykyanenko and his father Hrytsko
From left to right: Zinoviy Krasivsky, Levko Lukyanenko,
At the session of Verkhovna Rada, December 23 2003.
About 600,000 people came to the town of Berestechko
Levko Lukyanenko, honorary Doctor of Laws
Former political prisoners after the funeral of Mykola Rudenko,
Ivan Kukushkin, a former prison guard; among the prisoners
Levko Lukyanenko with his wife Nadiya and Yury Shymko,
Levko Lukyanenko, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada,
Levko Lukyanenko and Ivan Kandyba,
Levko Lukyanenko and Dmytro Chobit,
From left to right: Mykhailo Dovbenko, Levko Lukyanenko,