Only the truth about the past and present can save us from blindness and completely change our understanding of certain things. “Fear not insights, for they are like medicines,” Lina Kostenko wrote. “Hiding historical truth is a crime against the people,” Hryhorenko stated.
General Hryhorenko is, unfortunately, less than well known among Ukrainian public. A successful Soviet nomenklatura member who challenged the system, he had a complex experience of shaping his civic stance, ending with refusal to keep silent. He was not afraid to tell the truth to the face of all blind, or seemingly blind, people. As a soldier, Hryhorenko possessed classified information, and he used this weapon in his fight against Soviet propaganda, telling the truth about the Soviet defense preparedness before World War II and fatal mistakes of leadership which resulted in deaths of millions. The general debunked many myths about equipping the army, the state of Soviet military theory, training troops to repel a surprise attack of the enemy, and, finally, the reasons for the USSR’s defeats in the beginning of the war. Hryhorenko called the government’s actions a blasphemy against the memory of the fallen and a crime against the people; in addition, he named the main culprits – Joseph Stalin, Klim Voroshilov, Semyon Timoshenko, and Filipp Golikov. Their orders “decapitated” the army and virtually “shamelessly subjected the country to the enemy’s ravages.” The USSR was not ready in the least to repel German onslaught in 1941. “A whole series of unwise actions (or crimes),” Hryhorenko wrote, “left the army unable to put effective resistance to the enemy...” Still, “there was mass heroism... soldiers fought to the last shell, cartridge, and gun... They did everything possible and then some more.” Hryhorenko revealed the unprecedented betrayal, which had been hidden from the country, while its perpetrators had never been punished. Consequently, the people paid for a number of mistakes made by the government, and “without analyzing fearlessly and to the end the causes of the calamities that fell upon us in the years 1941-42, we put at risk the future safety of our homeland, too... human conscience can no longer put up with hypocrisy and lies,” he argued.
The general displayed a surprisingly harmonious combination of military and philosophic worldviews. Many of his writings and speeches are still relevant today. This is especially true of speech given on the occasion of the writer Kosterin’s 72nd anniversary and dealing with rights of the Crimean Tatar people. Almost every paragraph of the speech was accompanied with applause. Hryhorenko said then that “one does not beg, but demands one’s rights back.” He saw as sensible the fight for the Tatars’ return to their homeland, for the restoration of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and called for supporting that fight by all lawful means, including freedom of speech (“movement cannot develop normally without its own press!”), rallies, and demonstrations. He stated that seeking assistance from the international community was a reasonable measure, too, since the genocide of 1944 was “in terms of international law, a crime for which the main culprits should be punished (applause).” We can only hope that modern Crimeans will listen to this speech...
In his work Our Everyday Life, Hryhorenko engaged in thorough analysis of the phenomenon of dissident movement to which he belonged, too. He stated that this human rights movement’s representatives were people “who did not want to be vulnerable to impersonal and brutal bureaucratic machine.” Of course, dissidents were persecuted, they were tried on trumped-up charges or sent to special psychiatric hospitals, as Hryhorenko himself was a few times. Still, they defended truth and right with dignity, trying not to be cogs in the system.
Of the greatest interest to us is the general’s work On the Question of National Independence and Relations between the Peoples of the USSR. Investigating the situation in the Soviet Union, Hryhorenko said that “all its nations are equalized by common slavery,” and its rulers were not the Russian people, but the partocracy (has it changed today in the direct successor of the USSR, that is, Russia?). “Escaping from the clutches of the empire,” (which, we would say, some have not succeeded in doing even until now), “separating from it, is an impossible task for any one nation. Every oppressed nation must fight within the overall anti-liberation struggle’s framework,” the general proclaimed prophetically. The Soviet regime failed to destroy the historical memory, so the author stated: “Ukraine is not a part of Russia. It has its own national identity, its history and culture. Ukrainian people have the right to decide their own destiny in an independent Ukrainian state.”
Flame of fight for freedom was always alive in Ukraine, “flaring up from time to time despite all attempts to extinguish even sparks of it.” We have much to be proud of, we have something to tell the world. During World War II, the Soviet forces crushed the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and “slandered the Ukrainian national liberation movement.” Due to the Soviet propaganda efforts, no one in the world knew about this heroic struggle. Ukraine was swept with mass arrests of intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. Still, the nation had brave people left who created the Ukrainian Helsinki Group in 1976. These human rights activists told the world community the truth about the situation in the Soviet Union, which was completely failing to follow the Helsinki Act. Western countries’ behavior was cowardly at the Brussels meeting, but they condemned the actions of the Soviet Union at the Madrid Conference at last (Does it sound familiar?). Hryhorenko, a man of truth and integrity, put a lot of effort in achieving this result.
It is difficult to comprehend all the activities of the general. He was able to do a lot, and now we see that his labor was not in vain. Let us think deeper on the words of Hryhorenko and listen to them. Seeking the truth and defending the country is everyone’s sacred duty.