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Security Service of Ukraine opens its archives
The Security Service of Ukraine has removed the “top secret” security classification from a great many documents and files in its safe keeping, thus making them accessible to researchers and to all those who want to peruse them for personal reasons. Volodymyr V’yatrovych, head of the Department of the SSU Archives, was interviewed by Lesya HRYHORYEVA.
No country can do without a secret service, but in the Soviet Union, the soviet secret service, KGB, was a much feared organization, an instrument of political suppression. The KGB kept its secrets tight and its archives closed to outsiders.
The Soviet Union is no more; the KGB, which was responsible for horrendous crimes against humanity, sank into oblivion with it, but it has left behind an enormous amount of archive materials which have to be studied and made accessible to the general public.
After Ukraine’s independence, many gruesome KGB “secrets” have been revealed and truth established; many people have found information about their relatives who “disappeared” after arrest; the nature of such genocidal acts of the Stalinist dictatorship as Holodomor, the Famine of 1932–1933 has been exposed in its horrifying inhumanity. A lot more is to be done yet.
How many documents have been declassified so far?
The president of Ukraine issued a decree on declassification of the archives on January 23, and we can say that a new stage in the study of the history of Ukraine has now begun. It does not mean though that today we can open all the archives to the general public. It’s a rather slow bureaucratic procedure and the amount of material that is to be dealt with is enormous. At present, about 800,000 “volumes” [that is, files — tr] of the archives have been declassified. We are planning to make them accessible within a year. It will be possible to access them in several ways — for example, at the reading halls of our archives where everyone who so desires can work with the originals of these materials. Also, we have created a network information-inquiry centers across Ukraine, in which everyone who so desires can have access to the electronic versions of these materials. Such centers have already been opened in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa. In the nearest future, such centers will be opened in Lviv and in the Crimea, and later all over Ukraine. And the third stage in making the declassified materials accessible will come when an Internet portal will be created, at which everyone who so desires can have access to the electronic versions of the declassified documents — all you’ll need for that is to know the Internet address.
It is the materials that have the biggest historical value that we are making accessible. It should be reiterated that such archives are quite specific and they contain documents connected with repression and punishment system of the Soviet Union , and that is why we’ll deal with the documents which throw light on the process of political repressions in the period from 1917 up to 1991 [the year of the disintegration of the Soviet Union — tr]. These documents will also throw more light on the happenings in the Ukrainian liberation movement.
These are two major subjects that the documents will help study and analyze in depth, but there are also other, very concrete subjects, such, for example, as Holodomor (Great Famine in Ukraine), Great Terror in the Soviet Union of 1937–1938, or the dissident movement of the 1960s that the documents deal with. There are quite a lot of such materials in our archives and we’ll do our best to make them accessible to researchers.
How can one get a permission to have access to these documents?
You have to write an application for such a permission, addressed to the head of the archives department, that is to me. You should indicate the materials that you’d like to have a look at, or at least the general subject that you are interested in. It will make possible for us to look for and find the documents you need. You should also provide some information which will make it possible for us to get into contact with you. When we have prepared the documents you need for perusal, you’ll be able to study them either in our reading hall where you can get the originals, or at one of our information and inquiry centers where you will be able to peruse electronic copies. As far as I am concerned, I think that the second way is more convenient for you, since you can save the documents you are interested in on your disk or flash drive. It is particularly convenient for those researchers who do not live in Kyiv. They can come to our information and inquiry center which is located nearest to the place where they live. Once they save the materials on their flash drive or disc, they can study them at their leisure at home.
Will it ever be possible to have access to the documents in question without filing applications?
Yes, when these documents are placed on our website in the Internet, then anybody will be able to have free access to them. But at this stage of our work with the documents, applications are necessary so that we can establish priorities. Applications will let us know to which documents access is being sought.
To what extent will the new information available from these documents provide answers to questions that have not been answered yet, whether it concerns individual persons or periods of history?
I don’t think time will come when everything will be known about everything. A part of the archive documents that deal with Ukraine is in safe keeping in Moscow, but our requests do not get any concrete replies. Besides, the archives in Russia were more accessible in the 1990s than they are now. It seems that instead of opening up, the Russians are reducing access to their archive documents. We, in Ukraine, keep opening all the archive documents that deal with the soviet period, but in Russia it’s the other way round — they are restricting access to the archives, or even close down access altogether.
Many of the archive materials were destroyed back in the soviet times. We have evidence that suggests that a great number of documents were destroyed during the time when Lavrentiy Beria headed the soviet secret service. He must have wanted to destroy evidence of his doings in the 1920s and early 1930s.
It is known that a great number of documents was also destroyed in 1990 and 1991, and even in 1992, that is after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the soviet spirit was still very much alive, and the destruction of documents was carried out on the orders from the KGB. The changing political situation in the late 1980s and accelerating decline of the Soviet Union would eventually lead to the release of information about the KGB activities directed against the Ukrainian people, and certain persons who worked in that system and were afraid of damaging revelations, tried to prevent such revelations and save themselves by destroying documents with information that could compromise them.
We do not know yet which documents exactly were destroyed. I think we shall go on studying this problem in order to find out what the archives used to contain and what has been left.
Do the archive documents contain information that can help learn more about poorly known periods of the Ukrainian history?
Yes, I’m sure they do. I am of the opinion that the Ukrainian history of the twentieth century needs to be studied in much greater depth. In spite of the fact that the historical events of the past century are much closer to us in time than other periods of the Ukrainian history, we seem to know about them less than about more distant times. Why is that? Because in the period from 1917 to 1991, Ukraine and the Ukrainian people were under the soviet domination, and the soviet historiography obediently served the needs of certain soviet communistic ideological tenets and dogmas. It was only in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that more information about certain periods of Ukrainian history began to be available and thus it became possible to better reconstruct hitherto poorly known periods of the Ukrainian history. But even in independent Ukraine, most of the secret service archives were initially inaccessible, and they are being made accessible only now. The available documents will surely help us create a more complete picture of the Ukrainian past.
Talking about more concrete details, I can mention a book, Pavlohradske povstannya 1930-ho roku (Uprising in Pavlohrad in 1930) which we have recently published. The events described in the book were little known — a number of villages in Pavlohrad Raion of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast staged an uprising, ousted the soviets and proclaimed “a republic.” Several days later the uprising was crushed. As a matter of fact, in those years, the anti-soviet movement in the Ukrainian countryside reached mass proportions, but it was suppressed by military force with a great deal of brutality. The uprising in Pavlohradsky Raion was only one of the many uprisings that flared up in Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s. We think it will be very important to make information about those uprisings available to the public because such information reveals the criminal logic of the Stalinist regime. The peasant uprisings threatened the very existence of the soviet power in Ukraine, and the Great famine of 1932–1933 was one of the instruments with the help of which the rebellious Ukrainian peasant spirit would be broken so that the soviet power in the Ukrainian countryside could be firmly established.
The documents dating from the 1920s have suffered particularly bad losses. I’ve already mentioned the purposeful destruction of documents of that period, and a considerable part of those documents were lost during the Second World War.
Do rank-and-file Ukrainian citizens turn to you with requests to help them find information about their relatives whose destiny remains unknown to them?
We can subdivide the people who turn to us with applications to be granted access to archive documents roughly into three categories — researchers and historians who study certain subjects; investigative journalists who write about various events and periods in the Ukrainian past, and ordinary people who want to find information about their relatives and close friends who were persecuted, arrested, sentenced to terms in concentration camps and exile, or who disappeared without trace in the soviet times.
Museums also turn to us for help once in a while with requests to lend them or pass to their collections certain items which were once used as “material evidence.” Our archives contain not only documents and all sorts of papers but also items which can be described as “material evidence,” which include, among so many other things, such things as badges, or medals that the insurrectionists against the soviets used to wear. Recently, we gave the Muzey Velykoyi Vitchyznyanoyi Viyny (Museum of the Great Patriotic War; the period from 1941 to 1945 of WWII when the Soviet Union fought against Nazi Germany continues to be often referred to as the Great Patriotic War — tr.) two albums of woodprints which were made by Nil Khasevych, a prominent insurrectionist artist. We made electronic copies of these woodcuts and they are accessible to artists and researchers. We think that the originals should be kept in a museum.
I want to end this conversation by emphasizing that we have still a lot to do. If you need our help, please turn to us.
For more information go to www.sbu.gov.ua
At the official website of the Security Service of Ukraine you can find a section which is headed Ãàëóçåâèé äåðæàâíèé àðõiâ ÑÁÓ; there you can find information about the way your application should be worded; then you can send your application to the listed address in any form — electronic, fax or regular mail, and then you should wait for a call from the Security Service of Ukraine; you will be told what to do next and where and how you can get access to the materials you have requested.
The pass to visit the headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine can be ordered and obtained at 35 Volodymyrska Street, Kyiv; the Archives of the Security Service of Ukraine can be found at 7 Zolotovoritska Street, Kyiv.
The inscription on the photograph from the SSU
archives, which was taken by Mykola Bokan’, an
amateur photographer, during Holodmor, reads:
“300 days without bread for meager meals.
April 2 1933.”
Pages from M. Bokan’s diaries, where he mentions
the death of one of his sons from hunger.
Mykola Bokan’s identity card; handwritten text (in
Russian) says: “The person in this photograph is
indeed a citizen of the town of Baturyn,
Chernigovskaya Oblast. Bokan’ Nikolay Fedorovich,
52, a photographer, which fact is certified by the
Baturyn Local Council.” Bokan’s photographs are
items of material that confirm the ravages of the
Great Famine; he was arrested, accused of “anti
-soviet agitation” and dispatched to a
concentration camp where he died.
A woodprint by Nil Khasevych, an artist and
member of the OUN and of the Ukrainian
The text of this document reads: A report about
“liquidation of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian
Nationalists) in the western Oblasts of the UkrSSR
(Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic).[Prev][Contents][Next]