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14 June, 2011  ▪  Igor Kruchik

Thunder Mountain

Dmytro Hrynkiv was sentenced to seven years in correction camps for creating an anti-Soviet armed underground organization in Galicia

“I served in the Soviet army as a tank crew member near Oster. A Sergeant Prokudin from Dnipropetrovsk, an athlete and judoist, was one of my fellow servicemen. He told me frankly: ‘Dima, I am somewhat afraid of you.’ ‘Why would you be afraid?’ ‘Because you are a dyed-in-the-wool Banderite.’ Other eastern Ukrainians also called me that, and I didn’t avoid it.”

Dmytro Hrynkiv, aka Hrim-Hora (literally, Tunder Mountain), is a gray-haired man with Cossack-style long mustache who now chairs the Kolomyia Council of Political Prisoners and the Repressed.

THE BOYS FROM BANDERSTADT

After completing his army service, Hrynkiv studied in the Kolomyia branch of the Ivano-Frankivsk Institute of Oil and Gas.

“Initially, there was a lot of Soviet stuff in me. I read The Young Guard and How the Steel Was Tempered. The technical literature was all in Russian. We asked: Why aren’t we being taught in Ukrainian? We said it quietly at first but louder and louder as time went on. Ukraine was like a lame duck: an apparent UN member, it did not have its own state language, currency or army. So several of my friends and I decided to form a group that would somehow counteract Ukraine being pulled into Russia’s trap. This was a period in Ukraine when the winds from Europe, Czechoslovakia and Poland brought a wave of discontent and protests.”

In 1972, Hrynkiv and his friends took a secret oath as they joined the Union of Youth Ukrainian Galicians which they set up themselves. The text was drawn up by Ivan-Vasyl Shovkovy. A knife lay on the table around which the friends gathered one day. Hrynkiv says: “I drove it into the table and declared: I swear allegiance to the ideas of Ukraine. Everyone put their hands on mine and said: I swear! Initially, Roman Chuprei, Vasyl Mykhailiuk, Mykola Motriuk, Dmytro Demydiv and Fedir Mykytiuv took the oath. They were later joined by Liubomyr Chuprei, Ivan Motriuk and Vasyl Kuzenko.”

In the village of Pechenizhyn, where legendary Ukrainian hero Oleksa Dovbush was born, there is an old monument to him. A short distance away, in the house of Mr. Demydiv’s relatives, the young men got together several times. “In 1972, we decided to mark the anniversary of Dovbush’s death. We laid a wreath with a blue-and-yellow ribbon at the monument. Someone called the village council, and the wreath was removed. And rumors started spreading in the district.”

What else did they do? “We studied nationalist literature and held anti-Soviet meetings,” Hrynkiv says, quoting his criminal case from memory. He adds more detail: “We decided to use nicknames like they did in the Bandera movement. One of my friends was nicknamed Lisovy, another one Semyvolos and so on. I was Hrim-Hora. This comes from my last name: hryn is a dialect word for hora (mountain). I always talked and spoke before people in a loud voice, so my guys joked: You speak like thunder (hence hrim ‘thunder’). Well, I couldn’t possibly have the nickname Kolomiysky. I recently met with young people in a college, and one student asked me whether I still respond to my nickname. I laughed and said: Why not? Use it.”

“We already had a small group of about 10 people. There were people among us who regularly listened to foreign radio stations. We heard about the murder of Alla Horska. We understood that the Cheka was playing no jokes. However, we were not going to be sheep for the slaughter. And so the issue of firearms arose,” says Hryniv. “Everyone liked the idea. I ran a shooting club in DTSAAF (a Soviet organization to train young men for military service. – Editor) and took young men and women to the shooting gallery. At home I kept a small-caliber gun, a Margolina, and ammunition. So the members of our union also practiced shooting.”

Shovkovy had a self-made gun since he was a teenager. The union members also procured several construction guns used to drive dowels into walls. They also searched for weapons left from the Second World War.

“We learned that there was a loner, Yaromyr Zumer, who lived outside the village and had a German Mauser carbine and kept it in his garden in a wooden outhouse. We decided to steal it. We slipped into his backyard at night and took away the gun and 40 cartridges to boot.”

The owner did not report the theft, because he kept the gun illegally. The designation “armed organization” had a menacing and weighty ring to it. The stolen carbine was tested in the mountains. “The night was quiet. I fired the gun and Shovkovy heard it several kilometers away,” Hryniv said with obvious glee.

CAMPEXPERIENCE

Meanwhile, the Soviet special services continued to track down socially active people and nipped any alternative thinking in the bud.

“We wanted to have a seal with a trident to attach it to leaflets and statements,” says Hrim-Hora smiling. “We made the unwise step of commissioning it to an engraver, Taras Stadnychenko, and he reported us to the KGB. When he handed over the seal to me, his hands were trembling. The next morning the Cheka was at my place with a search warrant. They found the seal, and I grasped that they had seen it before.”

The members of the union were arrested within one day. Several Volgas were used to transport them to a detention unit in Ivano-Frankivsk.

“My accomplices – Motriv, Shovkovy, Chendei and Demydiv – were all seized. I was initially charged with high treason under Article 56 of the Criminal Code, which allows for the death penalty. The investigator, Major Rudny, later qualified the case under Articles 62 and 64 – anti-Soviet activities aimed at separating Ukraine from the USSR.” The absurdity of the initial charge was too obvious. A desire for more rights for Ukraine, the use of the native language and traditional symbols – what kind of high treason is that?

“The investigator asked: What was your intention? I said: Educate people that Ukraine must have more independence. He said: So what kind of Ukraine would you like to see? I replied: Like the countries of the Warsaw bloc – with its own army, currency and borders. He asked: Why would you need the arms? I said: For self-defense.”

In August 1973, Hrynkiv was sentenced to seven years in high-security camps. His wife was pregnant at the time of his arrest. While he served his time, a number of things happened, including daughter being born, and his mother dying.

Kuchino Political Concentrationn Camp No. VS-389/36 in the Urals where he was sent had about 200 inmates: UPA fighters, dissidents and religious activists. “They served different terms there: some 20, others even 30 years, which they were given under Stalin,” Hrynkiv says, thinking back to the welcome they received behind the barded wire. “Ihor Kalynets said smiling: You have such a romantic twist – 'with firearms'. Levko Lukianenko surprised me by saying: You know, in the 1960s you would have been executed for that. I have warm memories of Yevhen Sverstiuk, Ivan Svitlychny and Stepan Sapeliak who served their terms at the same time I did. There was also the Russian, Sergey Kovalev. So many wonderful people were put together in one camp! They became like kinsmen to me. I learned important things from their reflections on the sense of life and struggle.”

“We lived in the same barracks with Sverstiuk. We even slept next to each other: he was on the lower bunk, while I was on the upper one. I was deeply impressed by his philosophy and his thoughts about the essence of life. Sverstiuk studied us for a while and then began to insist that we begin to learn. He drew up a list of mandatory reading, starting from Homer, and said: You have time, so do some reading. We were not very well educated and lacked knowledge. Even Hrushevsky was familiar to us only in fragments. It was only in that camp that I realized how much the Soviet school had failed to teach us.”

Hrynkiv never considered himself as a weak-willed, but his fellow prisoners made a lasting impression on him with their uncompromising national and human dignity. And he joined their secret group which prepared reports about the condition of political prisoners to be published in samizdat outside the camp.

THE RUINS OF THE SYSTEM

Hrynkiv takes pride in the fact that “other people did not suffer for our case.” As a rule, KGB officers followed the practice of any Soviet contractor and were creative with their facts.

What about Zumer, the one who kept Mauser hidden in his backyard? “He said during interrogation: ‘I don’t know a thing about it, no Hrynkiv, no weapon. A secret place in the toilet? It must have been my late brother who hid it there after the world war.’ I only smiled as I heard his testimony, because the carbine was wrapped in Prykarpatska pravda dated August 1972. Of course, I did not mention this little detail to the KGB, and so they let him go.”

Obviously, the main weapons that eventually destroyed the Bolshevik state were not dowel guns or Mausers. “The USSR fell because of communist lies rather than firearms. These lies killed other pro-Soviet regimes in the world. They pinned all the blame on Gorbachev, but he had nothing to do with it – the system was so rotten that no one could have saved it.”


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