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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

SBU to declassify Soviet-era documents

3 February, 2009 - 00:00
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

On Jan. 23, 2009, President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine issued the decree “On Declassifying, Publishing, and Studying Archival Documents Linked to the Ukrainian National Liberation Struggle, Political Repressions, and the Holodomors in Ukraine,” opening a new chapter in the efforts to make previously secret information available to the public at large.

Under this decree the classification labels should be removed from Soviet documents as such that do not contain the secrets of the Ukrainian state. Thus, the decree is another decisive step along the line of declassifying secret documents.

On January 27 the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) gave a briefing on the presidential decree. The participants included Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, acting head of the SBU, and Volodymyr Viatrovych, head of the SBU State Archive. According to Nalyvaichenko, the president’s position is that Ukraine’s legislation stipulates that information on violation of human rights and freedoms and unlawful actions on the part of government agencies cannot be a state secret. “Starting from Jan. 23, 2009, Ukraine will no longer keep and guard the secrets of the punitive-repressive system of the Soviet Union. This means that the SBU, as the main state agency charged with keeping state secrets, will remove the Soviet secrecy labels from all criminal cases, directives, secret statistical documents, and other documents linked to the Ukrainian national liberation struggle, political repressions, and the Holodomors in Ukraine and dated 1917–1991,” said Nalyvaichenko.

The SBU State Archive alone has nearly 800,000 volumes labeled ‘secret’ and ‘top secret.’ These volumes contain the stories of millions of people who fell victim to the totalitarian Communist regime. Apart from working with its own archives, the SBU, as a controlling agency for state secrets, has the right to monitor the declassification activities and the enforcement of the president’s decree by other government bodies.

Pursuant to the decree, the SBU State Archive and the archives of the SBU’s regional branches will soon prepare instructions and launch intensive declassification activities. “We are undertaking to complete this work within a year. We will also create expert groups involving leading historians who will determine the historical value of documents and the priority of their publication,” said Viatrovych.

A collection of documents from the SBU State Archive was presented at the briefing, including instructions from the Cheka, “shooting lists,” maps with deportation routes, albums with photos of insurgents, and KGB reports to the CC CPSU on the growth of the dissident movement in Ukraine. Viatrovych said: “As a government employee and an historian, I do not see how Ukraine’s national interests may be threatened by declassified lists of people shot in 1937, documents on mass deportation from Western Ukraine during the operation “West” in 1947, or collections of UPA photos from the 1950s.”

As The Day has reported before, the SBU has been carrying out systemic activities to declassify and publish documents that are kept in its archives and contain objective facts on the activities of Soviet security agencies and the organizations involved in the Ukrainian national liberation struggle. This is being done in order to objectively interpret Ukrainian history, facilitate the consolidation of Ukrainian society, and dispel stereotypes and myths regarding the events of the 20th century.

In early 2008 the SBU set up a working group of historians to study the activities of the OUN and UPA. On Oct. 2, 2008, the Informational-Reference Room (an open-access electronic archive) was opened in the SBU State Archive in order to provide better access to documents in this archive. Apart from Kyiv, similar rooms are now operating in SBU branches in Kharkiv and Odesa. By mid-2009 they will be opened in every oblast center in Ukraine.

The SBU has also engaged in publishing projects, producing the following volumes: Rozsekrechena pamiat. Holodomor 1932–1933 rokiv v Ukraini v dokumentakh HPU–NKVD; the reprint edition of Dzerkalo dushi narodnoi: spohady ta vrazhennia vidviduvachiv vystavky pro Holodomor 1932–1933 rokiv v Ukraini “Rozsekrechena pamiat”; the album Bofony: hroshovi dokumenty OUN i UPA.

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, The Day