Person of the Week: Yevhen Hrytsyak

posted 22 May 2017, 08:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 May 2017, 08:04 ]
On 14 May 2017 Yevhen Hrytsyak, a leader of the 1953 Norilsk Gulag uprising, died in the region of Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine aged 90. As RFE/RL reported, Yevhen Hrytsyak was one of the leaders of the major protests by thousands of inmates of the Soviet Gulag prison-camp system that took place at labour camps near the city of Norilsk, 400 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, in 1953. The uprising began on 26 May 1953 and lasted until 4 August 1953. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Hrytsyak "one of fearless leaders of political prisoners, who stood against Gulag system."

Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine

Halya Coynash, in a contribution to the website Human Rights in Ukraine, writes: 

"Yevhen Hrytsyak was born in the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast in 1926. During the period of Nazi occupation, as a student at a trade college, he joined a youth section of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN] which was training young men to fight the Nazis. He was mobilized into the Soviet Army in 1944, and served in the Fourth Ukrainian Front, for which he received several military awards.

"He was, nonetheless, arrested in 1949 because of his brief involvement at the age of 16 and 17 in OUN, and sentenced to 25 years’ labour camp. He was held in various political labour camps, including Norilsk, where some 70% of the prisoners were from Ukraine.

"It was at the Norilsk Labour Camp in May 1953 that one of the main uprisings in the GULAG began. Hrytsyak led the revolt in one of the blocks against the brutality and appalling conditions. The prisoners demanded an end to summary executions; a shortening of the working day to 8 hours; the right to correspond with their families; the transfer of disabled prisoners; and numerous other similar demands. Hrytsyak was one of the people who presented the demands to a commission which arrived from Moscow after the prisoners held firm and refused to give in. Only a very small number of demands were met, while the prison authorities also resorted to provocation, and the uprising continued. It was finally brutally crushed, but only in August 1953, after the prisoners had held out for 69 days.

"Hrytsyak himself was sent first to the Norilsk and then Vladimir prison, where conditions were even worse.

"He was released in 1956, following a decision of the Supreme Soviet Presidium, but was then arrested again in January 1958, with the same Supreme Soviet having decided that he should not have been released “due to the seriousness of the crime”.

"Hrytsyak demanded to know what this supposed crime had consisted of, but was simply told that he had been arrested on good grounds. In 1961, he wrote a letter of protest to the Communist Central Committee over the repressive measures he was being subjected to because of his role as one of the leaders of the Norilsk Uprising. He explained the conditions and treatment prisoners had received.

"He was finally released in 1964 and returned to his home village. He married and had one daughter."

'Leader Of 1953 Soviet Gulag Uprising Dies In Ukraine At 90,' RFE/RL, 15 May 2017
Halya Coynash, 'In Memoriam: Yevhen Hrytsyak, Leader of the Norilsk Uprising,' Human Rights in Ukraine, 15 May 2017