Nestor MYKHAYLECHKO: “This regime, the Soviet regime, was surprisingly cruel towards its people”

This is a tragedy. This is a tragedy of the people. This is the tragedy of this piece of land that was occupied by the USSR. Everyone suffered.

Until 1939, my family had land, a forest, and a mill. I know that my father had a brother, Onuphry, and three sisters. And there was another little one who, when they were evicted, Danila, he was one and a half years old, died on the way, this child. People died along the way, especially children and old people. And at the station where the train stopped, they were buried right there under the rails, under an embankment, and they moved on.

And my paternal grandfather was a district headman. They lived in the Beskid Mountains. The Ukrainian Carpathians are divided into Beskids, Chornohora and Gorgany. They lived in the northern pass – the Uzhotsky Pass which is part of the Beskids. My father studied at the gymnasium to become a teacher, but then the year thirty-nine began, Soviets occupied the Western Ukraine, and its Carpathian region. Arrests began, and already in the first week they started to deport people. They came at night, you could take only 30 kilograms with you, some clothes, food and that’s it. And everything else was left for plunder. And my family, my father, was also deported. To Chelyabinsk, to the steppe, to the field, to the wild field. They said: “You will live here, this will be your settlement – Swinoje.”

But some young people immediately organized themselves into the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists). And the young men who were very close to his brother (one of them was 19 years old, the second 18) – they immediately left and went into hiding.

It turns out that on the territory of Poland, Ukrainians trained nurses and messengers… The guys crossed the border into Polish territory for two to three weeks, a month. And there were already detachments that prepared these people for the fight. Then such party leaders as Andrei Melnik and Stepan Bandera appeared. Andrey Melnik had the idea of preserving Ukraine with its elite. And Stepan Bandera was a socialist. At that time, the idea of socialism was very popular. Lenin achieved his success with it. Hitler rose on the idea of social justice. Dmitry Dontsov wrote: “There will be a parcellation of land.” That is, all the land will be nationalized in Ukraine when they create a state, and later distributed among the population. Parcellation is what they called it. My father and his brother were in opposite parties, partisans. His brother was a Banderaite, and my father was a Melnikovite.

And here, soon, the war with Hitler began. When they came, the Nazis started to select young people — some to work in Germany, some to join the army. Those who have not reached the age of 18 are sent to work in Germany, and those who were older, of course, are sent to the German army. They were not previously in the Red Army, but the German army was also not their own, a foreign army. The priest took my father off the cart, when he was already being taken to a recruiting center for one of these batalions. The priest just saw him and immediately wrote a letter to the Germans that my father was singing in the choir. And so he took him off the cart and said that he was needed in the church saying: «I can’t let him go to the recruiting center». And then, of course, my father went into the forest.

In September of 1944, the Red Army entered the area, and the boys came to the village for the night. And they were immediately drafted into the army, into the Red Army Unit. If someone got caught somewhere, that led to mobilization. And he understood that they would soon be driven towards Kosice. At that time the city of Kosice could not be captured because the Germans made large fortifications. It was clear that they would soon be sent to the front. My father told me: “Everyone was out for lunch, and I took my carbine and went to the field, into the forest. But they understood very quickly. Probably, such cases have already happened — that the fighter ran away. I hear that the dogs have been released. The dogs are running on the trail. I think that’s it. In the Carpathians, there are no fields as such. There is a forest, a little cultivated land that was sown, and then again a forest. And so I jump out to the edge. Here is the field. And in the middle of the field there was some kind of stone, it was overgrown with bushes. I think I’ll run to it, to this stone with bushes, lie down there and shoot back. That’s it, I’m already finished. I fly there, across the field… The dogs jump out to the edge, and the same moment a sarna runs diagonally across. This is a Carpathian wild goat. And she ran fast, so the dogs jumped out and followed her. And the soldiers run to the call of the dogs. Sarna led them away. I laid low. I don’t know how long I lay motionless. Maybe a day or two. There was such fear in me». This is the horror my father went through. He found himself in the forest. No way back. And his brother went through sergeant school. And he returned from Czechoslovakia with a whole detachment of boys, also local, with machine guns. They also left the front and immediately became partisans. Already in uniform, everything as it should be.

It was the year 1947. The detachments were already divided because large forces were sent to fight the Ukrainian partisans. And many began to go abroad in small detachments, to make their way to the West. The detachment, which was headed by my father’s brother, also decided to escape. They approached the outpost. My father, with another fighter, went to pick up their brides since they escaped not ever come back. But the detachment was discovered by someone, perhaps a sentry, and they had to engage in battle with the border outpost. They dispersed the outpost and left for Polish territory. But they knew that the father and the second fighter would come anyway. They will come with their brides. And they will push through. They won’t go to the outpost. But the border is nearby. It’s big and hasn’t been well secured yet. They knew approximately where the meeting should be in Poland. They agreed in advance: if anything happens, they will meet in Poland. If something doesn’t work out in Poland, it means they’ll meet somewhere in Czechoslovakia. If not, then it’s somewhere in Italy. This was all agreed upon in advance.

The squad was ambushed. The Polish authorities decided that there was no right for Ukrainians to infiltrate Polish territory and carry out military actions. Having fallen into a Polish ambush, the detachment was defeated. And my father’s brother, Onuphry, was killed. Father, when he got there, found no one. He was left alone. But an amnesty was announced. At that time Stalin gave the following instructions: give people a chance to come out from hiding, if they do not feel guilty of extreme criminal activity. And so my father came out and a lot of people did. Well, the Soviet government did not tolerate them for long. If he had gotten out and gone somewhere to Eastern Ukraine or Russia, then maybe he wouldn’t have been imprisoned. But he began to actively participate, as a Melnik member, in Soviet life and began to build and organize a school. The party of Andrei Melnik — told their fighters that they had to leave the partisanship, get used to the system, integrate themselves into Soviet life, and join the communist party. Go study. Now, they said, is not the time… We need to stay and raise our children. Stay alive and raise children. Bandera — no. He said that – we fight till the end: Ukraine or death.

But a person must go on living somehow. Mother and father got married. They got married, and due to the closure of the church, he began to organize a school in the abandoned large priest’s house. He became the school’s principal. Due to war, the state of schools was such that there were children of different ages studying in the same class. They gathered some already teenagers, who did not receive the most basic knowledge from 1st grade. It was a difficult work. At that time, paratroopers were often sent in, evidence arrived, and they began to suspect him that he was, well, sort of a resident here. When Malinovsky, a Soviet leader and veterinarian, was killed, they began to incriminate my father that he had done it. Because before that they had some kind of dispute regarding school. Malinovsky was shot right at home, in a barn. And they found a carbine behind the door. Well, who could it be? Who had a conflict yesterday? School’s principal. Well, they arrested my father. One man, who worked on a farm, volunteered as a witness. His last name was Tarnivsky. He says: “I saw Vasily in the window. I walked past the house. And I heard they were shooting right there. I turned my head, and Vasily was sitting writing. He was just marking the notebooks.” That is, my father had a witness that he was at home; he could not commit this murder. But then it was desirable to accuse my father… Or it was a special event – it’s not clear. And so he got into this trouble. His daughter was just born, my sister. It was only two days after the baby was born. On the third day, my father was arrested. The interrogations began. Non-stop. That is, one investigator interrogates, then leaves, and another sits down. At some point, my father could not restrain himself, and at night he rushed at the investigator and hit him. Across the table, with his fist right into the investigator’s head. Such was his state. That’s all. And then he lost consciousness. “When I regained consciousness — so he continued – I felt like they were pouring water on me. The investigator lies nearby. Perhaps I killed him. They immediately put handcuffs on. Immediately – the prosecutor. Right away, it’s a death sentence.” Well, my father could have written an appeal, and he did. He waited a year for a response from the Prosecutor General. Well, the answer came. The death penalty was abolished. But then, in full measure, they gave everything they could – stripping the rights of correspondence, of communication, of anything.

It was the year 1948. And the sentences were 25, 5 and 5, I think. That is, 25 years in camps, five years of restricted settlements, and five years of rights loss… But this was quickly canceled. They gave him 15 years. My father served 10 years. After 1953, the laws there changed very quickly. Beria was shot, Malenkov came there, and then Bulganin. And all the time there was some kind of relief granted. A lot of people were released. But no one could let him go, because both the Soviets and the military were repressed. They were transferred periodically from the North closer to the South. And he has already completed his prison term in Bashkiria. The prisoners were building an oil refinery. The way it was organized is that a prisoner is constantly in debt to the state. And as he works, he must pay off the bathhouse, soap, linen and everything, everything, everything. And if you don’t repay, it means you have a debt. And when you meet the standards, then the debt begins to be repaid. Moreover, a personal account was opened. There were also savings. There was money in the account.

There was such a camp commander – Naidis. I remember it very well. The father contacted him and made an appointment. He said: “I have a wife and a small child. They suffer a lot. Can I send them a parcel?” And he gave my father permission for this. It was already in a camp, not a prison. And my father was able to send the parcel through a local store there to help the child.

My father had different memories of the camp, including some good ones. There he began studying anatomy and music. He remembered everyone, all the people who served the sentences at that time with him. Correspondence had already been allowed. And then they started saying that permission to live in a special settlement was possible. Since my father had no violations of discipline and did not fall behind with work, my father served 8 years, but it was already considered as 10 because these good records were taken into account. Nobody believed it, but in the end, it worked. There were several stages. After the man was arrested, he was released to a special settlement. There you had to register at the commandant’s office. Your rights were limited. You didn’t have a passport, you couldn’t travel or move elsewhere. You had to stay in the same place where the special settlement was. My mother then came to my father, with my sister, when he was released to a special settlement. It seems they were even given the choice of a special settlement. And he asked a question: could he go to a special settlement in such and such a zone? Just where his parents and sisters were. And my father was allowed to go there. And my mother came there. And he saw a child who was already more than ten years old.

I was born there, in a special settlement, practically in a camp. In the Urals. There is a photograph – I always say that it’s me and my mother together. Because she covers her pregnant belly with her purse. She is wearing an interesting dress with a lot of buttons.

When mother came, she didn’t know Russian. Something had to be done. And there are mining sites around. And she went to study. She became a typist at a mining company. There the cable broke her finger. My father also went to study mining. Worked as a driver. Then he worked in geological reconnaissance. There was also a cousin, Emilia, on her mother’s side. She was also exiled. At thirty-nine. She worked with her husband Volodya. He called my father: “Come, join our geology reconnaissance team.”

My father was not rehabilitated. He was given a military ID only after he received a passport. Remember “Heart of a Dog”: “Where have you seen a person live without a document?” He was immediately enlisted in the reserves of the Red Army. And on his military ID there was a stamp: “Participated in battles against the Soviet Army.” This is very surprising. It is a pity that this military ID has not been preserved. There was a stamp “private», and next to it there was a stamp – “participated in battles against Soviet and party activists.”

After some time they were allowed to settle there. But at first, it was forbidden to travel to the territory where you were arrested. Then it relaxed to forbidden to live in Ukraine. Then it became possible to live in Ukraine in big cities: Kyiv, and Kharkiv. Just not in Western Ukraine. It’s interesting, but they said that they would provide our family with an apartment. For a long time, my father sought permission to return to his homeland. He went somewhere to Moscow, until they gave an indulgence and said that he could travel and settle throughout the territory of Ukraine. We returned to our village, to our house.

I remember that when I went to a Ukrainian school in Chelyabinsk, the people did not treat me very well. They could humiliate you, and you had to remain silent. They called me a banderovits.

As soon as I learned to speak, I immediately realized that many things cannot be said. My parents often said that you need to be silent and you can’t talk about many things. About what you know or understand. You can’t scold the government, especially the Soviet government. My mother told me: “Under no circumstances, no protests, none whatsoever because this is fraught with consequences.” Because the whole family was under KGB surveillance all the time. They came to our home. And why? Because my father was previously in the UPA. Then there were Ukrainian partisans. They were afraid that someone would let it slip. All organizations, even such as the church, were supervised by the Communist Party. A party member was always in charge. There were departments, and there was a separate curator from the KGB, who controlled the churches. In Latvia, as many religious organizations as there were, there were just as many officers who supervised both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, the synagogue, Judaism, the Lutheran Church, and the Calvinist Church. This was not supervised by one person. For each religious confession, there was a curating officer who supervised and received the money.

When we returned to our homeland, it was necessary to cooperate with the kolkhoz – a collective farm. Mother had to work in the kolkhoz so that a piece of land would be given near the house. Plots of land fed people. My father went to work as a driver; he could not do any other work. He worked as a driver of agricultural machinery. He was also an underground priest for a long time. It was so much in secret that when he was ordained, even his family didn’t know it. To consecrate under the Soviet regime, the desire of the Bishop alone was not enough. The Commissioner for Religious Affairs had to permit ordination to the priesthood. At the Council of Ministers of the USSR or such and such a republic. Then there was the Orthodox Church. The Greek Catholic Church was banned in 1946, and the clergy was also underground, they were brutally persecuted. By the way, the Greek Catholic priests were given extreme prison terms, no less than ten years.

My father had a vision for me to choose the path, like my sister, of a teacher. But somehow it didn’t attract me. And I went to seminary. After the army, because they wouldn’t let me in any other way. This was not some kind of spontaneous decision — it was well thought out. I had to enter the seminary in Zagorsk several times in a row. Then I was expelled from the seminary due to denunciation. I had to complete it already in absentia. Then they couldn’t initiate me anywhere. I was only initiated in Riga. My route to Ukraine was closed, and I didn’t want to go somewhere north to Vologda or Arkhangelsk.

I was already in the army when my mother fell ill. Cancer. And after I came back from the army, she didn’t live very long, maybe five years. The father remained a widower. Then, in Ukraine, in the post-perestroika period, he already began to serve. He came out of hiding, declared himself to the bishop, and was ordained from deacon to priest. He was ordained as a deacon in the underground. Then he began to serve in the Ukrainian autocephalous church, where I started. It was the revival of the autocephalous church. From there it began to progress little by little, little by little. Grandfather and grandmother were already dead. My father’s sisters, and my aunts, married the same exiles. I remember there were a lot of Germans there in the settlement after the war. Some of them were also allowed to have their wives come to join them there from Germany.

This regime, the Soviet regime, was surprisingly cruel towards its people. They robbed them so much that people forgot, a whole generation forgot what normal clothes are, what normal dishes are. And I observed this everywhere, not only in Ukraine but also in Latvia. The system… No one destroyed it, it has outlived its usefulness. It became amorphous and unviable, it simply died on its own – the Soviet Regime.