Yesterday late at night I returned from Berlin. Positively and amicably impressed by a long-lasted, hours-long, friendly, frank and meaningful conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This is extremely important that Ukraine has such a reliable friend and partner like this prominent European leader.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Honourable representatives of the diplomatic corps!
After negotiations, the Ukrainian delegation visited Oranienburg, the memorial complex at the territory of the former concentration camp Sachsenhausen. There we commemorated the victims of Nazism – those Ukrainians, thousands of Ukrainians, as well as the representatives of other nations that had been held in detention there. According to the statements that even hadn’t been established there died from eighty to a hundred thousand people.
This is the camp where Oleh Olzhych was tortured, where Yaroslav Stetsko and Stepan Bandera were held in detention.
As a bridge over the time: the father of Stepan Bandera, the Greek Catholic priest Father Andrew, according to historians, is buried in this forest. Here in the late 30-ies of the past century Moscow communist regime made a hell on the five acres of land. Here the Bolsheviks killed dozens of thousands of people during four years.
Symbolically, after the Second World War the Sachsenhausen camp was not closed, it was placed at the disposal of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) that had been existing after the war for five years. Not only the former members of the Nazi party, but also the German Social Democrats, and those who were just criticising the introduction of communism in East Germany … and even insiders – former Soviet soldiers who were captured and were sent to Siberia, where Stalin condemned them.
Having visited Sachsenhausen yesterday and standing here today in Bykivnia, I realize once again that I feel by every cell the cannibalistic similarity of Nazi and Stalin regimes.
I want to remind, that the parliamentary assembly of the OSCE eight years ago adopted a very important resolution on their identity. It even offered to establish a common memorial day for victims of Stalinism and Nazism.
That is why, if someone hasn’t understood, we had been holding the de-communization in Ukraine in the recent years. That is why the so-called “leninopad” had taken place. That is why Ukrainian map had been purged from the names of its executioners and murderers. That is why signs with street names had been renovated. There is no place in our country for communist idols.
And my Ukrainian people are also able to live without social networks that are controlled by the Federal Security Service and the Committee for State Security. And by the way, I will also endorse the law banning the St. George Ribbons as soon as it comes to me from the Verkhovna Rada. Why? For these are not symbols of World War II, these are the symbols of aggression against Ukraine in the years of 2014-2017. For militants who are hung round with these ribbons kill our soldiers every day and night. And right now, while we’re here, they are also dabbing in Ukrainian soldiers! On the whole, unfortunately, Russia by its policy towards Ukraine has put this ribbon outside the law.
As the President I am visiting the National Historical Memorial Reserve “Bykivnia graves” for the third time. I was here as a Member of Parliament and a citizen before. However, this is the place where you are always worried and nervous as for the first time. Even now. For today we commemorate the eightieth anniversary of mass political repressions of 1937-1938.
Ukrainians have not yet recovered from coma after the famine-genocide made by Stalin as the Kremlin launched a new execution, which went down in history as the Great Terror in the USSR.
The Bykivnia forest is not the only place in Ukraine where the so-called limits on the mass destruction of people have been performed – by shooting or by imprisonment in the Gulag camps. But it is one of the largest mass graves in Ukraine, where dozens and dozens thousands of innocent victims were killed. The shootees were brought there by trucks, sometimes in columns. In archives the testimony of one of the NKVD workers was preserved which he gave in the late eighties. He told that at night at the Kiev Regional Administration of NKVD men were shot in the basement inside the prison, and at night “they were taken into cars, by special tongs they were taken by neck and legs and were thrown to the panel car body.” Then they were covered with canvas and taken for burial to Bykivnia. Dead bodies were slaked by lime and dusted by ground. Why did they do it? They thought there would be no traces of crime.
For decades, the Soviet government had been holding a terrible secret of Bykivnia. Meanwhile, there were bravehearts who even under the Soviet dictatorship had the courage to demand the truth. As our Sixtiers Les Taniuk, Alla Horska and Vasyl Symonenko did.
Horska and Simonenko were killed. Taniuk has passed away recently on the twenty-fifth year of independence. Les Stepanovych left the memories about the story when Bykivnia school head teacher told them what had really happened here. As the three of them went to look around the area. As Vasyl Symonenko saw that small and unconscious children were playing football here at this place with the shot skull at the back of the neck. And as on the way back Simonenko was reading a poem: “At the cemetery of shot illusions there is no place for graves.”
The government tried to attribute this crime to the Nazis as if there had not been enough of them. Even false version was little known to the general public. Another attempt to pierce the veil of silence, successful one that time, in the mid-eighties made Kyiv journalist Serhii Kyselov. His quite challenging for that time article in the “Literary Newspaper” caused a flurry of publications in Ukrainian press, gave energy and inspiration to other public figures who demanded the recognition of crime, punishment and penance.
Today I cannot but mention another person. Just recently Yevhen Hrytsiak has passed away, may he rest in peace. He was one of the legendary leaders of the Norylsk rebellion in Gulag camps which was stirred up by political prisoners shortly after the death of Stalin. His ascetic life shows that among Ukrainians there have always been heroes able to resist the harshest dictatorship. I want to quote his memories: “When the troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs began the assault of the captured prisoners in the camp areas, and officers and soldiers were spraying with fire with guns and machine guns, Ukrainian patriots fought back with stones. And when it was over – they were singing their anthem “The glory and the freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished”.
They believed in our future independence. We got it in the year 1991, we protected it in 2014. We are fighting for it now. We finally broke with the Soviet and post-Soviet past, confidently holding the European course.
Just as the compass of Mykola Khvylovyi showed: “Away from Moscow! Turn to Europe!”
In a day or two in the Official Journal of the European Union there will be the official publication of the decision on visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens. And at midnight on June 11th, the first Ukrainian having no visa in passport will cross the state border in the direction of one of the European countries. Including, of course, friendly to us Poland.
The Bykivnia forest is a place of our common pain with the Poles. And today I bow my head and lay flowers at the memorial of the Polish graves too. Here, together with the Ukrainians thousands of Polish patriots are buried who have been shot at Stalin’s orders.
Please honour the memory of everyone who is here and in numerous mass graves and camp cemeteries throughout the former empire – all victims of political repressions. I declare a moment of silence …
Glory to Ukraine!