Day of Remembrance for Victims of Political Repressions
May 19th is a day of Remembrance for the victims of Soviet political repressions and is being marked all across Ukraine. May 19th, 1938 was the bloodiest night of the Great Terror of the Stalin regime. In Kyiv, NKVD officers shot almost 600 people in a matter of hours. Between 1937 and 1938 almost 200 thousand people were arrested, and two-thirds of them were killed
Olena Snezhko carefully preserves all memories about her grandfather. He was arrested in 1949 on someone’s denunciation.
“He was sent to a concentration camp. He was imprisoned in a colony in Buryatia,” the granddaughter of the victim of political repressions Olena Snezhko said.
The family of Lev Lyubarov never saw him again. The death certificate states: he died in 1953 while serving a prison term.
“No one knows what actually happened at that time,” Snezhko said.
The repressive machine started working actively during the reign of Stalin. Nonconformists fell under the so-called purge. NKVD officers obtained confessions from people under torture and fabricated the evidence.
“Right now we are in the interrogation cell. As a rule, prisoners were brought here from 1:00am to 5:00pm,” a research historian at National Museum”Prison on Lonskyi,” Viktor Senitskyi said.
This prison, now a museum in Lviv, once belonged to the NKVD. Similar prisons were established all over Ukraine.
“There were situations when too many people were brought here at once. Sometimes they put up to ten people in a cell intended for one. Inmates could only stand in such conditions,” Senitskyi said.
There was also a shooting cell. People spent several days to several years there. Prisoners were shot secretly, their families were never informed.
“At first they would take one prisoner at a time and shoot him. But then they realized that it was taking up a lot of time and decided to work in speed mode. They would open a little window for food, and throw in a grenade. After the explosion, they would shoot people through that same window with a rifle,” Senitskyi said.
“This place is located only 20 kilometers from Kyiv. It used to be a forest before the NKVD turned it into a huge secret burial ground in 1930,” UATV correspondent Lyubov Zadorozhna said.
Bykivnia is the largest mass grave site of the Great Terror in Ukraine.
“A land plot for the NKVD’s so-called night crew was allocated by the Kyiv City Council on March 20, 1937. According to documents, the size of the plot exceeded 4 hectares. But according to archaeologists, the real area is 5.3 hectares,” Deputy Director of the Historical Memorial Bykivnia Graves, Tetiana Sheptytska, said.
It was a secret zone.
“The land was enclosed with a thick green fence. The planks were nailed together really tightly, so nothing could be seen through them. According to the witnesses, the fence was up to three meters high. There was also a guard house and a watch tower,” Sheptytska said.
The site remained fully functioning for four whole years. Dead bodies were brought here through the so-called death row.
“They would drive up in trucks filled to the top. They dumped bodies into previously dug out pits and covered them with earth. Up to 10 trucks could come here overnight,” Sheptytska said.
The total number of the buried here is still not completely known. As of today 18 and a half thousand surnames have been identified. However, this data is not complete. A significant number of archived documents were destroyed by the Soviet regime or were marked top secret in Russia.
Lieutenant Colonel Lyubarov was rehabilitated posthumously in 1956. Olena knows her grandfather only from family photos.
“How much do you need to hate your own country that you would exterminate the best talents in science, culture and the intelligentsia?” Snezhko said.
According to historians, during the years that Stalin was in power, from 1921 until 1953, more than 3.5 million people were persecuted. More than half a million of them were killed.