Ukraine Commemorates Political Prisoners Day Today
This commemorates the day in 1972 when the Soviet Union's KGB started another wave of repressing Ukrainians
Unfortunately, this dark chapter in Ukrainian history is being repeated by modern Russia now. The Kremlin has routinely arrested Ukrainian citizens, and like their Soviet predecessors, mounted show trials for the media as a part of their anti-Ukraine propaganda efforts.
The KGB of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic named the wave of repressions against the Ukrainian intelligentsia, a class of people including teachers, academics, writers, artists and journalists as Operation Block.
The repressions were the largest in the second half of the 20th century. From Jan.12 to 14, 1972, 19 Ukrainian dissidents were arrested in Kyiv and Lviv. Among them, were famous writers and poets who sounded the alarm on the politics of destroying Ukrainian culture.
“The arrests in the beginning of January weren’t randomly carried out. Many representatives of the Sixtiers, who were preparing to greet carolers on the Old New Year. This was just another way to attack Ukrainians’ national and cultural initiatives. The arrests were carried out secretly. People were taken at the end of their working day. It was all top secret,” a historian Oleh Bazhan said.
These days were the beginning of the general Pogrom of the Ukrainian Sixtiers, a class of the intelligentsia born under Stalin, who entered politics in the 1960s, and who held anti-totalitarian views. Over the course of 1972, about 100 Ukrainians were arrested for political reasons. By 1974, this number of political prisoners reached close to 200.
“Almost 100 Ukrainian dissidents wound up in the camps. They received significant sentences. As a rule, they got seven years in a corrective labor camp and five years of exile, but even in the conditions of the gulags, Ukrainians dissidents fought for their rights. It was because of Vyacheslav Chornovol that the Day of Ukrainian Political Prisoners has been celebrated since 1975, after he gave the idea to do so,” Bazhan said.
Twenty-three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, understanding the words “political prisoners” has once again become relevant. Russia continues to occupy Ukrainian territories, and a wave of repressions against those who disagree with this has surged. Since 2014, over 70 Ukrainians have been sent to Russian and Crimean prisons.
Ukrainian director Oleh Sentsov was declared to be a terrorist. Taxi driver Andriy Zakhtei a saboteur. Historian Stanyslav Klykha, a murderer of innocent Chechen civilians.
In fact, they were just thrown behind bars because of their pro-Ukrainian positions.
Crimean Hennadiy Afanasiev is one of few Ukrainian political prisoners who was released from the Kremlin’s grasp. Russian special forces arrested him in Simferopol in May 2014. Using torture, Afanasiev, along with Oleksiy Cherniem, Oleksandr Kolchenko and Sentsov were forced to plead guilty to terrorist acts.
“When the Russians came to Crimea, to excuse their invasion, they said that there were tons of Nazis and Banderites and fascists. They spread their propaganda like they always do, but when they came, they found no one. Ukrainian tanks never came rolling in, and there were no people with fascist flags. They had to create an enemy,” Afanasiev said.
Afanasiev was illegally sentenced to seven years in a penal colony. Having spent many long months in a detention center undergoing torture, farcical court sessions and prison time, the man learned how the Russian repression machine works.
“They take people before anyone knows what’s going on or where they are. Then they beat them. They shock people, threaten them with rape, choke them, inject various drugs into them, shame them, beating the guilty pleas from them. Then they take them, like they did with me, to an FSB detention center, where you are completely cut off from the world. There are no telephones and no letters. Everything is blocked. They keep you under psychological pressure, trying to prove that everyone has forgotten about you,” Afansiev said.
Since getting his freedom back, Afansiev has traveled around the world speaking about the animalistic methods Russia uses against political prisoners. Afansiev believes that only through international pressure can Ukrainians be freed from the Kremlin’s prisons.