10 Years in Prison for the Poems about Holodomor
The archives of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine contain a case that, along with other materials of the special services, sheds light on the horrific events related to the Holodomor in 1932-1933. Archival documents allow us to look into the secret depths of the soul of a simple village teacher, a student of the Literary Faculty of the Kharkiv Vocational Education Institute Oleksiy Nalyvaiko, who kept a diary about the needy life in the village, grief and suffering, attitude to the Communist Party’s policy, Bolshevik propaganda. He expressed his thoughts and impressions both in prose and in verse, which soon became subject to meticulous study by the GPU-NKVD.
The Chekists gave the case the name “Readers”. Apparently due to the fact that its main figure and his colleagues read the so-called anti-Soviet counter-revolutionary literature, including “History of the Ukrainian Literature” by Serhiy Yefremov, “Reader of the Ukrainian Literature” by Mykola Sumtsov, “History of the Little Russia’s Literature” by Mykola Petrov, books by Mykola Khvylyovyi and other Ukrainian authors. Under the influence of this, they became increasingly disillusioned with the Soviet government’s policy, leading to the impoverishment of the population.
Why did the case end in the archives of intelligence? The only explanation is that some documents refer to O. Nalyvaiko's intentions to cross the border and stay abroad for permanent residence. The case was launched and investigated by a Special Department of the regional administration of the NKVD of the Ukrainian SSR in the autonomous Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.
From archival documents we learn that Oleksiy Yakovych Nalyvaiko was born in 1909 in the village of Omelnyk of the now Kremenchuk district in Poltava region. The family was very poor, with only 2.75 tenths of land to feed adults and three children. When the boy turned 17, his mother died. The father remarried, but the children, Oleksiy, Mykhailo and Clavdia, did not accept it and went to Kremenchuk to relatives.
Prior to entering the Literary Faculty of the Institute, O. Nalyvaiko had changed several jobs, but did not stay anywhere for a long time and did not show any interest in what he was doing. Studying at the Institute absorbed him completely. Soon he began to think about the meaning of life, his destiny, the destiny of Ukraine. This happened after reading a number of books from the library of Professor Mykola Sumtsov, to which he accidentally gained access.
M. Sumtsov was a well-known popularizer of Ukrainian culture, literature and history. Even after the revolution of 1905 in the Russian Empire, he was the first among Kharkiv professors to lecture in the Ukrainian language, until the authorities forbade it. He did a lot for the organization of public libraries and museums, was one of the founders of the Kharkiv Public Library, in the funds of which the student O. Nalyvaiko discovered much of the hitherto unknown about Ukraine.
According to the curriculum, future writers had to get acquainted with the so-called counter-revolutionary Ukrainian literature, critically analyze it from the point of view of the official position of the Soviet government and, of course, condemn it in every possible way. Instead, the effect was completely opposite. In one of the interrogation transcripts, O. Nalyvaiko stated: “Instead of a critical approach to these textbooks, as recommended to us by the curricula, I completely succumbed to the authority of these textbooks. And my initial dissatisfaction with the Soviet government gradually began to turn into the position that the Soviet government and I had different paths to follow… Thus, all that was given to me within the curriculum, I used later against the Soviet government “ (BSA of the SZRU - V.1. – Case 8781. - P. 35).
It was then that Oleksiy began to keep a diary in which he wrote his thoughts on what he had read, heard and seen. But he managed to study only for two years. In 1932, the scholarship began to be paid irregularly, and he began to suffer. Soon his father died of malnutrition, illness and starvation, and his son could not help him. The famine was getting closer to the city. The idea of taking a break in studies and going somewhere to earn money matured. He chose Moldova. He thought to himself: there is a border near there, maybe I will somehow be able to move to the other side, and there is a completely different life there. But the Institute did not let him go. He had to forge documents and leave it without permission. This happened in February 1933. On the way to the chosen place he visited his native village and was horrified. There was desolation everywhere, many former acquaintances had died, there was hopelessness in the eyes of fellow villagers.
From O. Nalyvaiko’s diary
April 20, 1933
As a result of the economic devastation caused by Bolshevism, begging, theft, suicide have become widespread...
I want to leave for abroad, but I really want to graduate from the Institute with a degree in literature and language. Then, of course, I will emigrate (illegally). I would like to be in a country of complete freedom (free possession of the means of production, free purchase, sale, hire...) - in America or Western Ukraine...
April 28, 1933
Once again, I would like to point out that as a result of the revolutionary measures of Bolshevism, the peasantry, as the bulk of the Ukrainian population, has become completely impoverished for the last decade and a half.
To be exact, peasantry is completely destroyed and looted. It has no opportunity to state its claims. As the saying goes, shut up and breathe. Or as children say at school: speaking is now forbidden. Everything is asleep, shrouded in a sad veil of fog.
The people moan and keep silent. Those who would not keep silent are beaten and not allowed to cry. They are being destroyed as a class.
He was lucky in Moldova. He found a job as a teacher of the Ukrainian language and literature in one of the villages of Balta district. And later he met and married a beautiful girl. But there was no joy in their house, or in others. The half-starved existence was depressive, and the thin, pale faces of the students in class and their sad, unhappy eyes haunted him day and night. Sister Klava's letters from Kharkiv region about the severe consequences of starvation in the city and surrounding villages were adding to the despair. He wrote about this in his diary. As well as about the nightmare which he once had and which frightened him.
From O. Nalyvaiko’s diary
July 18, 1933
Some strange dreams were dreamed last night. Somehow I got to where people sentenced to death are being shot. A large area. They, the prisoners sentenced to death - sincere Ukrainian people - are lined up in rows. Executioners push them with some shields, they push them to other such people and once pierce them with something sharp...
In front of me there are two beautifully built, like Karmalyuks, his prototypes – prisoners sentenced to death... They go to their deaths laughing, prior having got drunk to make it easier to accept... One of them offers me his clothes. I refused at first and then took it away. At this I woke up...
His creative vulnerable nature sought a way out of this situation and could not find it. His former friends, novice writers, with whom he discussed some issues in Kharkiv and who were mostly like-minded, lived far away. And in the new place, Oleksiy was still afraid to share his painful thoughts with anyone. He trusted most secret thoughts to his diary.
In search of information about the real state of affairs in the country, Oleksiy was reading and rereading all the newspapers that came to the village, but did not find the answers to the questions that tortured him. Instead, propaganda articles about how badly people live in other countries and how well they live in the USSR was increasingly irritating him.
From O. Nalyvaiko’s diary
July 10, 1933
I have read the newspaper “Pravda”... It should be called not “Pravda”( truth - transl.) but “Brekhnya”(lie - transl.)
Issue 185/5711 of July 7, this year contains the following article: “Hunger and Poverty in Nazi Germany”. Blindly, in general, not seeing anything under the nose, it criticizes hunger, workers’ suffering there... What dishonesty, what lie?!
In reality, in the Bolshevik USSR there are many “loud” words and promises and very little bread. Mass deaths from starvation of entire families, destruction of the economy, growing dissatisfaction of the masses.
The Bolshevik leaders cannot help seeing this, but they are “lulling” people, calling on them to survive the difficulties...
Incredible Bolshevik reaction prevails everywhere. The dissatisfied majority of the starving population is ruthlessly crushed. Anyone who utters a word or reaps a sheaf of rye is prosecuted as a counter-revolutionary. And the punishment is severe: confiscation of property, exile to distant places. If he is not swollen, he is doomed to death from starvation. Scary, unheard of...
I was deeply convinced that Bolshevism needs to be destroyed...
Abroad... Either I pass or they kill me at the border... Tertium non est. And there to join the struggle against Bolshevism.
September 3, 1933
In the blatant-Bolshevik newspaper “Communist” Issue 212 of August 28, this year, I read the Bolshevik article “Congress of Vultures”. In it, the Ukrainian national liberation movement abroad is described with a brutal curse through a distorting mirror. They are shaming Skoropadsky, Ostryanytsya, Mazepa, Fedenko, Dontsov and their glorious idea, UVO and SVU...
They say they had brought Ukraine to starvation in 1918.
What infuriates me the most is that the whole Bolshevik press, like fierce beasts, criticizes everybody, calling all ways shameful, only the Bolshevik’s way, they say, is the right one...
Didn't the Bolsheviks lead to a hunger strike this spring, didn't 50% of the Ukrainian villagers die out because of them?
Of course, only those who sell their native land, the faithful dogs of Bolshevism, who by plunder and destruction have really brought our rich in grain country to starvation, can write like that...
Over time, Nalyvaiko began to share his thoughts with colleagues, new acquaintances. He could not keep everything to himself. And then he told others a secret that he kept a diary. He even read extracts from it to some people. That was the beginning of the countdown to the terrible moment, which was feared and secretly expected by almost everyone. The untwisted flywheel of the repressive punitive machine acted relentlessly, capturing new and new victims in its millstones. It reached even tiny villages, like the one in which Oleksiy was teaching.
In October 1934, he was arrested on charges of forging documents and intending to cross the border illegally to engage in anti-Soviet activities. Diaries were seized during the search. This made it possible to add the following new charges: “As a nationalist - fascist, he spread the idea of the national separation of Ukraine from the USSR, using for this purpose both books of counter-revolutionary content withdrawn from circulation and his diary entries; was a member of the counter-revolutionary organization that existed at the Kharkiv Institute of Vocational Education, from where he ran away, avoiding repression for the counter-revolutionary work” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F.1. – Case 8781. – P. 44).
During interrogations, O. Nalyvaiko admitted that he forged documents because he wanted to go to work, but the Institute did not let him. He did not deny his intentions to leave for abroad. But he categorically denied the accusation of spreading the ideas of nationalism by reading his diary to his acquaintances. He denied his participation in a counterrevolutionary organization.
At the same time, during the investigation, he was purposefully asked the following questions: “What was your goal in writing a number of counter-revolutionary works?” To which he sincerely replied: “I wrotethe poems and notes in the mood and without any purpose in the spring of 1933, i.e. during the period of mass difficulties with food, in the summer of 1933 and at the beginning of the school year, i.e. in autumn 1933. Ideas set out in the diary, were written without any intention to make them real”. (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F.1. – Case 8781. - P. 27).
But no explanation prevented investigators from drawing the following conclusions: "The counterrevolutionary works seized by us from Nalyvaiko contain a call to armed struggle against the Communist Party and the Soviet government and hostile criticism of all its measures" (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F.1. Case 8781. - P. 12). Therefore, the sentence was appropriate - 10 years in camps. There is handwritten inscription on one of the documents. Apart from the above, it states that a photocopy of O. Nalyvaiko's diaries could not be made, so they were reprinted, but only selectively. The full version has not been saved.
According to the GPU’s wide practice at that time, the diaries were immediately translated into Russian. Only in one of the documents some extracts are given in Ukrainian. These notes, like almost all the others, engraved the author's deeply secret brave and frank thoughts in his native language about the then anti-people government and his intentions to fight for a better life.
From O. Nalyvaiko’s diary
May 9, 1933
A great, better, part of villagers were sent to Solovki, Siberia, to forced labor, some, also usually farm labour, are leaving behind the land and the house and go where the road takes them. Wherever – even somewhere abroad, just to escape Bolshevism.
September 9, 1933
I am very sorry that I am not abroad, otherwise I would take an active part in the UVO, SVU and other [organizations] and their press. I would fully contribute to the real liberation of Ukraine.
There is no information about the further fate of Oleksiy Nalyvaiko in the archives.
(BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F.1. Case 8781. - P. 82–85)