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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Shot at Sandarmokh

The Ukrainians’ northern Golgotha
31 October, 2006 - 00:00

KYIV-Next summer will be 10 years since researchers located the site of the mass executions of repressed Ukrainians in the tract of land known as Sandarmokh in Karelia, Russia. In response to public demand, in October 2004 a granite Cossack cross, funded by donations from the worldwide Ukrainian Diaspora and inscribed with the words “To the Slain Sons of Ukraine,” was erected near the village of Povenets, in Medvezhegorsk raion.

Every year pilgrims from Ukraine visit this memorial and pray for the souls of their compatriots whom the Soviet government executed in pursuance of the communist idea. In this place were massacred thousands of northern inhabitants (Karelians and Finns) as well as forced-labor migrants, former inmates of the Solovets labor camps, and prisoners who built the White Sea Canal — including Soviet citizens and foreigners, men and women.

“This is a crime against not only Ukraine but all of humanity,” President Yushchenko said about the Karelian pantheon. “These graves hide thousands of unwritten books, unstaged plays, and thwarted discoveries. Whole pages of Ukrainian and world history were mercilessly ripped out. But remember, there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity” (from the collection To the Slain Sons of Ukraine: Sandarmokh).

When we honor our nation’s “executed renaissance” on the Days of Memory, we recall the names of such repressed intellectuals as Les Kurbas, Mykola Zerov, Mykola Kulish, Valerian Pidmohylny, Pavlo Fylypovych, Myroslav Irchan, Stepan Rudnytsky, Matvii Yavorsky, Mykhailo Lozynsky, Mykola Trokhymenko, Anton Krushelnytsky, Volodymyr Chekhivsky, Mykhailo Poloz, and others. Articles and books have been written about these distinguished figures of Ukrainian culture, scholarship, and politics (e.g., articles in The Day and history journals, the book The Ukrainian Solovky (2001), and forthcoming publications by the author of The Special-Purpose Archipelago, etc.).

Sandarmokh was the last earthly address of many Ukrainian prisoners in the Solovets Islands. But no one has yet honored the memory of such victims of political terror as Mykola Liubynsky, Ivan Shtefan, and Yakiv Movchanivsky (Bishop Afanasii) near the execution pits beyond Lake Onega. As it turns out, they also lie beneath the Karelian pine trees in the “place where sentences were usually carried out.” Until recently, neither the general public nor historians knew about the fate of these sons of Ukraine after their imprisonment. But ongoing research in the archival labyrinths occasionally brings forth new finds and discoveries.


The Ukrainian diplomat and political figure Mykola Liubynsky — Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, i.e., the head of the Ukrainian National Republic’s Foreign Ministry from March 3 to April 28, 1918, and a member of the UNR’s delegation at the Brest peace talks — was born into the family of Mykhailo and Kateryna Liubynsky in Strikhivtsi, Novoushytsk district, Podillia gubernia, on Oct. 5, 1891 (his 115 th anniversary is being marked this fall). GPU-NKVD papers classified him as being “of noble origin, a former SR” (Socialist Revolutionary — Ed.).

In April 1917 Liubynsky was a member of the Ukrainian Central Rada and the Lesser Rada. Later he headed the Ukrainian National Revolutionary Party (a faction of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries that demanded the rejection of the “Provisional Government’s Instruction to the General Secretariat,” some of whose members even called for an armed struggle against Russia’s Provisional Government). As a participant in the Brest peace talks (December 1917-February 1918), Liubynsky signed on behalf of the Ukrainian delegation the “Appeal to the German People” about the need to provide military aid to the Ukrainian National Republic.

When the remaining UNR government troops were retreating from fire-ravaged Kyiv towards Zhytomyr, the first international legal act on the cessation of World War One was signed on the night of Feb. 9, 1918. It envisaged the mutual recognition of sovereignty and borders, diplomatic and consular relations, exchange of POWs, etc. But on Feb. 18, under pressure from the new allies, the Ukrainian government had to sign a convention on the stationing in Ukraine of a nearly half-million-strong Austro-German force “to fight the Bolsheviks.”

The historian Dmitrii Viedieneiev says that, according to the protocol on economic cooperation, dated April 23, the UNR was to supply 60 million poods (1 pood = 16.39 kg — Ed.) of grain, millions of poods of sugar, meat, and other goods, in exchange for industrial products. But real life proved to be more dramatic.

In March-April 1918 Liubynsky was a member of the Vsevolod Holubovych government. Before that, the Central Rada’s foreign affairs department was headed by Oleksandr Shulhyn, Secretary General for Foreign Affairs, Minister of Foreign Affairs (December 1917-Jan. 24, 1918). Later Holubovych himself was the minister (Jan. 30-March 3, 1918).

The UNR began to open embassies and consulates of the Quadruple Alliance states (alternative name of the Central Powers). For example, Bulgaria was represented by Ivan Shishmanov, who recorded the following humorous episode of Ukrainian diplomacy, which was still in its infancy. German Ambassador Baron Mumm von Schwarzenstein paid a courtesy call on Ukraine’s new foreign affairs chief, the 27 year old MykolaLiubynsky. His Excellency the Minister lived in a two-room apartment on the mezzanine of a small house on a narrow Kyiv street, and when the ambassador arrived he was helping his wife do the laundry in the kitchen. A deputy minister, who luckily was also there, explained to the baron’s aide-de-camp: “His Excellency is out at the moment.” The meeting took place the next day in the mansion of the foreign ministry on Tereshchenkivska Street.

In the 1920s Liubynsky lived in Kyiv and was a research associate at the Institute of the Ukrainian Scientific Language and co-editor of the Bulletin of the Institute of the Ukrainian Scientific Language. The ex-minister was sentenced in 1930 to three years’ imprisonment and five years of internal exile under the political Article 58 4 of theCriminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR. Russia recently sent this archival evidence: “Nikolai Liubinsky. Lived in the village of Povenets, Karelian Autonomous Soviet Republic, worked as a registrar at the White Sea Canal Administration. Arrested on Nov. 12, 1937. Sentenced to the highest degree of punishment on Dec. 15, 1937, by a special troika of the Leningrad Regional NKVD Directorate. Executed by firing squad in Sandarmokh, Karelia, on Jan. 8, 1938.” This date of execution also occurs in dozens of other documents concerning the Ukrainians who were shot en masse in Sandarmokh.


For a long time, there was no information about Bishop Afanasii (Yakiv Movchanivsky, b. 1887 in the village of Parkhomivka, Skvyra district, Kyiv gubernia) after he was deported to the Solovets Islands. Researchers assumed that the life of the disgraced hierarch may have ended “no earlier than December 1934.”

Bishop Afanasii was an uncommon personality. The son of a deacon, he graduated from the Kyiv Theological Seminary with a doctorate in theology. According to the historian Serhii Bilokin, he served at the Church of the Presentation of the Holy Virgin and then at St. Nicholas’s Church. Following this, he took his monastic vows and actively fought against the “modernization tendency.” He was arrested in August 1924 and taken into preventive custody. Upon his release in September 1925, Father Afanasii lived in Kyiv for nearly one year. In 1925-1926 he lived in St. Jonah’s Monastery. In mid-May 1926 Bishop Afanasii was banished to Kursk and then - via Moscow — to Omsk. On July 26, 1929, a Special OGPU Committee “sentenced” him to three years’ imprisonment in the camps. He served his term in the Solovets Islands. He was re-sentenced in 1933 to three years (again in the Solovets Islands) under Article 58-10 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR.

The Ukrainian cleric did not break down in captivity. In 1935 he was punished for “counterrevolutionary sedition:” all his completed workdays in the camp were canceled. After being released in 1936, he lived in Povenets and worked as an inspector of the White Sea Canal Sanitary Service. During the Yezhov purges, he was rearrested (Oct. 14, 1937) on charges of “conducting systematic counterrevolutionary agitation among prisoners and the free populace against the leaders of the party and the government, counterrevolutionary criticism of the Soviet government’s measures, and voicing defeatist views.” On Dec. 19, 1937 a special troika of the Leningrad Regional NKVD Directorate handed down a decision that the “counterrevolutionary” was to be shot. The sentence was carried out in Sandarmokh on Jan. 8, 1938.


Another high-ranking Ukrainian statesman, Ivan Shtefan, lived and worked in Povenets after obtaining an early release from the concentration camp, only to be rearrested during the “Great Terror.” He was born in 1878 in the village of Kozelshchyna, in Kremenchuk district, Poltava gubernia, into the family of a well-to-to farmer. He was a member of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries, UNR deputy minister for post offices and telegraphs, and minister for post offices and telegraphs in the government of the Directory. In 1931 he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment under the political Article 58-11 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR). In 1937 he was a departmental chief at the general supplies directorate of the White Sea Canal Administration but was rearrested on Oct. 9, 1937. The sentence of the Leningrad Regional NKVD Directorate, dated Dec. 19, 1937 (capital punishment), was carried out on Jan. 8, 1938.

The night after Christmas was the last one for over three dozen more Ukrainians (mostly peasants from Podillia and residents of Polissia). Among them were Semen Beliuk, Petro Bereza, Viktor Vyhovsky, Petro Vyshnevsky, Andrii Hnatyshyn, Panteleimon Gotz, Andrii Zahorudko, Fedir Karpunets, Oleksandr Kovba, Luka Kohut, Adam Krashevsky, Ivan Krychun, Yakiv Melnyk, Kyrylo Moskaliuk, Avksentii Oliinyk, Ivan Panchuk, Yosyp Radziievsky, Oleksandr Rovenets, Yakiv Syshchuk, Myron Tkachuk, Demyd Turchak, and Petro Skrobot. They were all shot at the same tract of woodland past Povenets Bay.

Perhaps thanks to this article some descendants of these repressed individuals will find information about their relatives and learn about their place of burial, or will write to me for more information about those who were executed in Karelia. There have already been such cases: a newspaper article helped Kyiv resident Yakiv Derevynsky learn the fate of his grandfather, a political prisoner who served his term in Russia’s Far North. I am sure this newspaper report will interest another Kyivite, Serhii Klymenko, who has collected information on six generations of his family, including the Liubynskys.

By Serhii SHEVCHENKO, journalist and researcher