The victims did not die during military actions, bombardments, or local conflicts. They did not die during the Holocaust, as some have suggested. Rather, they perished in 1947, two years after the war, starving to death under the peaceful skies of Ukraine during a Holodomor about which we still know very little.
In early 2005 the Memorial Society launched an investigation into the tragedy. The findings about the excavations, investigation, and comparison of the circumstances and discoveries were recently made public. We asked Lviv resident Yevhen Hryniv, the deputy head of the All-Ukrainian Memorial Society, to tell us about the details surrounding the discovery.
Mr. Hryniv, to the uninitiated the Holodomor of 1947 is not a proven fact.
“Nevertheless it took place. In 1946-47 the Holodomor affected Bessarabia, part of Bukovyna, Podillia, Polissia, and western Ukraine. This famine was caused by the frenzied pace of collectivization: peasants’ agricultural implements and seed grain were confiscated and handed over to collective farms, but attempts to organize collective farming failed-the authorities would not let this happen. Hundreds of thousands of half-dead basaraby, as they were called in western Ukraine, swarmed into Galicia. There were so many of them and they were so destitute that it was almost impossible to help them. Of course, people gave them what they could, but were they afraid to let them stay overnight in their houses. They were afraid of diseases, dirt, lice, etc. Driven to despair, these people were willing to do anything. The authorities did not take care of these hunger-stricken people. The only service they provided was to send municipal workers with carts that went around each morning picking up the dead bodies (people spent nights by the gates of houses and froze to death) and piling them in stacks on the cart. This was so horrible that today it is hard to believe it.
“The best evidence, however, is documentary. This is what we managed to find in the archives of the Communist Party in Lviv oblast. For example, here is an excerpt from a report sent by the secretary of the Lviv oblast committee of the CP(b)U Ivan Hrushetsky to the secretary of the CC CP(b)U Lazar Kaganovich: “In the last 10 days of June 1947 the class struggle has become more acute, the kulaks are putting up fierce resistance (agitation against collective farms, sabotage, and acts of terrorism)...The OUN (is directing its efforts) at indoctrinating the people who come from the eastern regions to buy food and grain, handing out leaflets and appeals to them; (these materials) are handed over to Soviet government bodies each time they are distributed. The struggle is aggravated by the fact that our rank-and-file Soviet activists have been infiltrated, they are complacent, and their political watchfulness has been dulled. Individual representatives of the class enemy have infiltrated the Komsomol and are demoralizing our activists.”
“Here is an excerpt that is closer to life. It comes from a report sent by Hanula, the head of the oblast department for public health, and Hurevych, the head of the Sanitary Service of the Lviv Railway, to the secretary of the CP(b)U Hrushetsky and the head of the oblast executive committee Kozyrev: “There has been a sharp increase in the number of transients, who arrive in Lviv on freight trains. On the night of March 20, 1947, over 2,500 of them were gathered at the Lviv Passenger Train Station. This entire mass of people was camped out on Pryvokzalna Square, breaking off fence slats and making fires...an explicit threat of the spread of parasitic typhus. The majority of the speculators are lice-ridden...there are women and children.
“To rid the Lviv Passenger Train Station of the transients...we need to have one freight-and-passenger train from Lviv to Kharkiv. Owing to the high prevalence of parasitic typhus in Lviv and the huge unabated influx of transients, there is an urgent need to temporarily ban them from leaving for the western oblasts of Ukraine.”
How did the bodies end up at Pidzamche Station, which, by Lviv standards, is quite a distance from Pryvokzalna Square?
“Archival documents show that Hurevych, the head of the Lviv Railway, managed to provide several freight trains in order to send the “transients who are healthy, not lice-ridden, and not sick with typhus to Kharkiv.” However, the majority of these people managed to move to Pidzamche Station. NKVD General Voronov proposed to let “the transients move to Pidzamche Station because there is not enough transport to take them to eastern Ukraine and thus immediately rid the central train station of them.”
People arriving from the eastern oblasts also did not reach the central train station. NKVD troops and the staff of the train station made them get off at Pidzamche Station. As a result, it was filled with a huge crowd of starving people.
In late February through early March 1947 the military received an order to “clear train stations and their premises from socially declassed elements.” The order was meticulously carried out. Punitive detachments surrounded Pidzamche Station and pushed the “transients” onto the tracks in the direction of the Vysoky Zamok hill, where the crowed grew to over 2,500 people.”
However, freight trains heading for eastern Ukraine and Moldova were being organized there as well. They could have kept transporting people. Why did a tragedy happen then?
“They were not able to move all the people from the station; many were exhausted and sick, and many died. In 2005 the remains of 40 bodies were found, then 94 bodies, and then the rest. At first, we thought we had found the remains of 252 people, according to the skull count by our experts from Memorial. However, when we invited forensic specialists from the Gzhytsky Lviv Medical Academy (20 of them worked for a week), it turned out that these were the remains of up to 500 people. The forensic experts approached the task in a scientific way, counting vertebrae and skulls.
“We excavated an area measuring seven by five meters and two meters deep, and found a jumble of remains. We identified the majority of the bones as belonging to males. Among them were the skulls of 96 adolescents and several children. Seven of them had bullet holes, including two skulls, which had two holes. We also found bullet holes in 22 adult skulls. In most cases, the entry wounds were on the top or temporal part of the frontal region. A ballistic examination, which was ordered by the transport prosecutor’s office, showed that the people who were shot had been lying down, not standing. Our theory is that they threw the dead and frozen bodies into a pile and shot those who still showed signs of life with small- caliber pistols, as we later learned.
“When we had just started the excavations, some civic organizations spread the rumor that these were the bodies of Jews who had been tortured by the Germans. However, we found crosses and medallions on chains. A medical examination showed that the bodies were buried after the war-this is documented in the official findings that we now have. In the pit we also found coins that were minted in 1945 and 1946.”
What do we do with all this now? How will the victims be reburied?
“We would have completed all the work much faster and moved to the stage of reburial if we had known who would be paying for the coffins. We don’t have the money. Fortunately, the Lviv Railway offered to foot the bill. The administration, which is represented by Mykhailo Mostovy, the head of the Lviv Railway, and his deputy head Volodymyr Cherneha, agreed to finance the production of coffins. (The city and oblast administrations did not give a single hryvnia.) The price of each casket is around 260 hryvnias and the total cost of all the caskets is nearly 70,000 hryvnias. Mostovy tackled the issue, negotiated with his bosses in Kyiv, and got permission to cover the production and transportation costs. The reburial is scheduled for the spring of 2008, the earliest feasible date. The coffins with the remains will be transported to Chornovil Street, where the so-called Lviv GULAG and a memorial sign to Holodomor victims are located. There is a large Holocaust Memorial close by and a memorial sign is being erected on that tract of land.
“Surprising as this may be, the city of Lviv has always given our activity the cold shoulder. I mean the authorities, because ordinary people are very emotional about this. When Vasyl Kuibida, our previous mayor, was in office, the city administration gave permission to build a parking lot on the site where the 419 remains were buried (and we know the names of the deceased). We protested to the city council, but despite our protests the area was paved over and now it is used for parking. When the next mayor stepped into office, the city council gave us a plot of land where we erected a temporary memorial sign. This is where the caskets will be taken, and from there a procession will carry them to Lychakiv Cemetery, where they will be placed in crypts. The Presidential Secretariat has been informed about this discovery, and we hope that the highest-ranking officials and the president himself will participate in the reburial.”
How many reburials have you managed to complete in Lviv oblast?
“We have been working on a volunteer basis, without any foreign grants. Nevertheless, we have located nine mass burial sites. Our work is hard but we keep on doing it. We are looking for donors and making our own contributions, but now, to be honest, we are running out of steam. Before, people used to be able to donate more. Now it’s difficult.
“Nevertheless, even in these conditions, in 2006 we reburied the remains of 260 people in the city of Zhokva, which we discovered in the Basilian monastery, where a garrison of interior troops was once billeted. In 2007 we reburied the remains of 150 people from the Zamarstyniv tract in crypts at Lychakiv Cemetery. In 1949 the land where they were originally buried was parceled out to utility service staff, fire fighters, and the staff of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We have documents and resolutions confirming this. It turns out that 264 people were buried there, some of whom had died and some who had been shot in the transit prison on Chornovola Street. This was the so-called Lviv GULAG to which people were brought from Transcarpathia, Bukovyna, and Galicia. We know that 1,274 people died after their trials. Small, 20-square-meter cells contained up to 60 people each; they were waiting to be transported to Kolyma or Mordovia. They had to wait for quite a long time and stayed in the prison cells for three to four months. Some died, of course, and 419 were buried in the embankment along the railroad tracks (exactly where Kuibida permitted the construction of the parking lot). This happened in 1944-45. The transit prison was built by SMERSH attached to the Fourth Ukrainian Front.
“Then in 1946-47 the armed forces were no longer afraid to leave the city and began to bury the bodies on the outskirts. We know the names of all the deceased. Eighteen percent of them were accused of having links with the OUN and UPA, and the rest were civilians. Four doctors were accused of performing abortions, and there were also people convicted for speculation (any new product had to be sold only through a commission shop; private sales were considered speculation), moonshining, failure to supply contracted amounts of products, refusal to sign an appeal for peace, etc. There was one interesting case: a man had mixed grain with sand because he obviously did not have enough grain to meet the delivery plan. He was caught, sentenced to seven years in prison, and shot.”
As long as I have known you, you have always been involved in Memorial.
“Memorial was founded in 1988 by Andrei Sakharov. He initiated its creation in Moscow with Gorbachev’s support. I was far from politics at the time and headed a department at the Academy of Sciences. Then Sakharov contacted the Academy and appealed to its departments to have someone sent to the constituent assembly and set up a local organization. Our academic council nominated me-I went to Moscow and found myself in hot water. Honestly, when I was at the first meeting and Sakharov began to talk about our future activities, my hair stood up on end. If I had been sitting closer to the door, I would have run away out of fear. I was sitting there thinking to myself: I will be fired, my wife will be driven out of the university, and our children will be kicked out from everywhere, etc. But today people are always boasting: I was a hero, I wasn’t afraid of anything, I spoke openly. You know, in 1989 I had a talk with Viacheslav Chornovil and asked him: “Viacheslav, how will all this end?” It was still the Soviet Union. He said: “Don’t you know? Just think. I will go to prison for the third time and you will go for the first time.”
“I don’t know if he was half-joking. Fifty percent of me was thinking that. That is when I got Ihor Yukhnovsky, Orest Vlokh, Mykola Holubets, and others involved. Do you know why I approached them? I was thinking that if it came down to arrests, they wouldn’t dare arrest these highly respected men and I wouldn’t be arrested either. I thank my lucky stars that everything happened as it did, and now I am trying to serve Ukraine.
“As far as the burial site is concerned, it would be good to have at least a cross installed there. The Lviv Railway has promised to build a chapel, publish a booklet and a brochure, and make a 20-minute documentary on the Pidzamche discoveries.
“We will organize a conference and invite people from all over Ukraine and abroad. The film, booklet, brochure, and conference proceedings will be widely circulated. There is no need to convince Galicians, but eastern Ukrainians, who have little belief in our anti-communist agitation, will have a chance to reconsider some things and see the consequences of communist actions. In any case, we are talking here about a savage act of barbarism because the victims included adolescents and children. This was not the struggle against the OUN and UPA but simply the destruction of civilians. In Pidzamche 550 innocent people lost their lives, and the death toll of the 1946-47 Holodomor is at least 900,000 people.”