Liudmila Alekseeva: Congratulations to the Ukrainian Helsinki Group on Its Fortieth Anniversary

posted 21 Nov 2016, 00:39 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Nov 2016, 00:51 ]
8 November 2016

On 9 November 2016, the Ukrainian Helsinki Group marks its fortieth anniversary. In her congratulatory video, Russian human rights activist Liudmila Alekseyeva, one of the founders of the Moscow Helsinki Group and now its chair, recalls the conditions of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group’s creation and relates interesting details of the UHG’s emergence.

Liudmila Alekseyeva: I congratulate the Ukrainian Helsinki Group on its remarkable anniversary — forty years. This has truly been a heroic forty years because the group’s creation was heroic. We all knew that the persecution of dissidents in Ukraine was harsher than in any of the Soviet republics. Evidently, Soviet leaders feared Ukraine specifically in this regard most of all. Therefore, they persecuted any manifestation of dissent especially fiercely. We knew this in Moscow because the overwhelming majority in the political prison camps were in fact Ukrainians. Nonetheless, Ukraine was the first of the Soviet republics to create its own Helsinki Group.

Sometime in late October [1976], the famous Ukrainian writer Mykola Rudenko came to Moscow. He went to see Yury Orlov, the Moscow Helsinki Group’s founder, and told him that he intended to create a Ukrainian Helsinki Group in Ukraine to defend Ukrainians’ civil rights. I was lucky to be witness to that conversation.

Knowing the situation in Ukraine, Yury Orlov said to Rudenko, Maybe you don’t need to create your own Ukrainian group. You can hand over all your materials on violations of Ukrainians’ rights to us and we promise to examine them. Why did he say that? He understood that both Rudenko and everyone who agreed to join the Ukrainian Helsinki Group was taking on not only the hero’s crown but also the martyr’s. The majority of those who agreed to do this were already in political prison camps. The repeat sentence that threatened them was up to fifteen years. And they knew this perfectly well.

But Mykola said, “No. We have decided to create our own group.” And on 9 November 1976, Rudenko came to Moscow with a list of members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. We called a press conference where we announced its creation. Why was this done in Moscow? Because the Moscow Helsinki Group had already called these kinds of press conferences several times. We invited both Soviet and foreign correspondents to them. But not a single Soviet correspondent ever came to our press conferences.

These kinds of press conferences could only be held in Moscow because at the time foreign correspondents were only in Moscow. That’s why Rudenko came to Moscow. We had prepared the documents in advance. We emphasized the danger of this kind of work in Ukraine, calling on both journalists and the world to pay it special attention because grave trials awaited it. Unfortunately, we were not mistaken. So it was.

From the very beginning, there was harsh resistance, and very quickly the members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group found themselves imprisoned. So that President Yushchenko was right to award medals of courage to the group’s participants who had survived to that point. Unfortunately, far from all of them did survive to that point. Many — Oleksy Tykhy, Yury Lytvyn, Valery Marchenko, and Vasyl Stus — perished in confinement. Today, the activities of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group are being carried on by the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights, and there are quite a few more members of this movement.