Marta Kolomayets

Biography

Marta Kolomayets - Ukrainian-American journalist.  From 1991 – 2010 worked in Ukraine as a journalist and a development director for a number of US government-funded programs in the areas of public education, local government reform, anti-corruption and civil society.  With her husband, Danylo Yanevsky, she produced a film about the life of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj.  Currently resides in Chicago and is the Director of Programs and Communications for the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation.  Member of the board of the Ukrainian Women's Fund and UCARE, the Ukrainian Children's Aid and Relief Effort.

About interview

Interviewer Susan Viets
Date February 23, 1996
Location Kyiv

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Tape 1 Касета 1


It’s February the 23, 1996.  I’m at the office of the Ukrainian Weekly, which is Karl Marx Street 11, flat number 33 interviewing the Kiev correspondent for the (00:01:00) Weekly Marta Kolomayets.

Marta, when did you, begin monitoring the process which lead to Ukrainian independence?[.1] [.2]

I joined the staff of the Ukrainian Weekly, the oldest English language newspaper in the United States which writes about events occurring in Ukraine in ‘82.  Our goal was always to monitor what was going on in Ukraine.  Since the paper was founded in 1933, we’ve always reported on events in Ukraine.  We were established in 1933, the year of the famine in Ukraine, and also the year the United States recognized the Soviet Union.  We were an important part of the Ukrainian American community back in the ‘30’s because we were the only way that people could find out the real truth [of] what was going on in Ukraine.  As you know, William Durante wrote articles and won a Pulitzer Prize reporting on Stalin and the emergence of the Soviet Union and the (00:02:00) fact there was no famine in 1933.

Our paper was conceived with the idea that one day, Ukraine would be independent.  Of course, a lot happened from 1933 through 1982 when I started working there.  But 1982 was already a time where a lot of  dissidents were becoming prominent.  And these dissidents were usually Ukrainian nationalists.  Their dream was to one day to live and work in an independent Ukraine.  We began monitoring, as soon as we got some of it out, the underground material the political prisoners would write and smuggle out of camps in Siberia and Moldova.  We would get this material and we would have it translated into English and we would inform (00:03:00) Ukrainian Americans as well as human rights groups who were interested in the process of democratization and human rights violations in the Soviet Union.  Our paper has always been concerned with that.  I remember when the Helsinki Ukrainian Union Group was founded in … 1978, 1979; I have to look and look at the date.  We started having contacts with Ukrainian dissidents through their written material.  Through the 80’s and 1983 we commemorated the 50 years of the famine in Ukraine.  And we tried to get more information out.  We knew that in Ukraine, the Ukrainian SSR, the famine was not recognized.  It was still denied.  It was one of the blank pages in history.

(00:04:00) We had U.S. Congressmen Bill Bradley sponsor a famine bill creating a famine commission so that Ukrainian Americans could form a commission that would actually do research and commemorate the 50th anniversary of this atrocity.  Then throughout the early 80’s Gorbachev came into power and dissidents started feeling more free and able to communicate with the West.  We already had an inkling that things were changing.  That was the perestroika period were people felt more free.  As a matter of fact, 1985 was the first time (00:05:00) I came to Soviet Union and visited Ukraine and met with people that were part of this national consciousness that were Ukrainian nationalists that dreamed of an independent Ukraine at some point.

[In] 1986, Chernobyl exploded.  Since we were really the only newspaper writing in English in all of North America about these events in Ukraine, we had a lot of interest in finding out more about Chernobyl. We had actually published an article by Lubov Kovaleska of a woman that predicted that something like Chernobyl could happen because of the sorry state of Soviet technology at that point.  We got this feeling that things were being neglected in the Soviet Union.  It wasn’t a strong powerful empire.  It was more what Ronald (00:06:00) Reagan would call the “Evil Empire. “

After Chernobyl we got even more information.  In 1988 it was the millennium of Christianity in Ukraine.  We really thought that perhaps there would be tours or they would commemorate one thousand years of Christianity in Kyiv which is the cradle of Ukrainian Orthodox or Ukrainian Christianity.  Unfortunately all of the celebrations were in Moscow so there was a down side to all of this.  But Gorbachev and Reagan were meeting much more often.  So society was becoming much more open.  I think right after Chernobyl we started getting the sense that Ukraine or the Soviet Union was not on the right track.  That there were going to be changes happening and we wanted to be there.  So by 1990, and a lot of (00:07:00) dissidents had been released from camps and they were already in Kyiv Interview. They were publishing the Ukrainian Herald and they were publishing it openly.  More people were becoming familiar with what was going on.  They were publishing a journal that included a lot of national and democratic ideas.  They were publishing a lot on Ukrainian history at the beginning of the twentieth century, its first attempts of statehood in 1918.  All of this material was getting out.

By 1990 the Ukrainian National Association which publishes the Ukrainian Weekly started showing an interest in having a presence in Ukraine.  We had a convention in May 1990 and at that point our delegates voted that yes, indeed, it was time to start thinking of opening a bureau.  This was still the Ukrainian SSR.  But already I had been in Ukraine in 1987 and I had conducted an interview with (00:08:00) dissidents, Mykhailo Horyn and Vyacheslav Chornovyl.  Mykhailo Horyn had just gotten our of a labor camp three weeks before I arrived.  He still had this … I remember distinctly.  He had this kind of crew cut like his hair was just growing back.  He didn’t have many new clothes.  He had clothes he had worn twenty years previously.  It was quite exciting to see this man with all of this hope.  Finally being a free man back in Lviv, he had all this hope that things were going to change.  But I think the wonderful thing about these dissidents was that their hope was never broken.  They would sit in prison camps and strict regime labour camps for years and yet, in them they have some kind of idealism, some kind of hope that things could only get better.

Could you describe a little bit the process of what made you interview these particular dissidents?  And was this the first time they were interviewed?  What kind of repercussions were there as a result of you haven taken these (00:09:00) interviews from these dissidents?

This is quite an interesting story.  You could only go to Ukraine at that point, to the Soviet Union, with tour groups.  I had been to the Ukrainian SSR in 1985. And in 1986, I was supposed to lead a tour.  But I was supposed to lead a tour in early May.  That was right after Chernobyl had happened and the tour was called off.  A lot of the tourists decided that it was too dangerous.  This is the unfortunate thing about the closed society that the Soviet Union was back then.  The fact that people found out from Sweden, people found out from the West exactly what was going on in Ukraine.  Because in Ukraine, as you know, May 1, 1986, there were little children walking down the streets on hot days when I’m sure that the radiation levels in the air were really high.  So tourists worried about their own health had decided to cancel the tour.

(00:10:00) I was asked again to go in 1987, in August of 1987.  I had been in touch with a few people that had been on previous tours like in May, June, July in 87.  I talked to one woman who said, “Oh, when you are in Lviv you must see the dissidents.  They have just got out.  They are really interesting.  They really want to talk to Westerners.”  This woman in Chicago gave me an address and I made it.  I remember it was distinctly Kirov Street which is now Shetinsky Street.  But it is where Mykhailo Horyn lived in this tiny apartment with his wife Anya, his daughter Oksana, his son Taras [who] were still teenagers.  And I remember Mykhailo Horyn being so gentle and so sensitive to his daughter who has a teenager who hadn’t seen her father in ten years.  He had missed out on the most interesting days of her life.  And she wanted to get close to him and he wanted to get close to (00:11:00) her.  And I thought, besides the fact that politically they were interesting and the ideas that they set forth were avant-garde for the time:  an independent Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine.  Ukraine with a blue and yellow flag.  That was just mind  boggling.  So when this woman told me that these dissidents loved meeting with Westerners, I jumped at the chance.  I had a video camera and I remember … I should go back a little and describe.

Nadia Svitlychna, who was also a political prisoner, [and lived] in New York in 1987 and still does, and worked for Radio Liberty, was the sister of now deceased Ivan Svitlychniy.  [She] knew all of these dissidents and helped them a lot.  She had decided to buy Zenon Krycyvskiy a car.  He was a Ukrainian Greek Catholic activist.  She had asked me if I would take money, (00:12:00) $4,000 to buy him a car.  He was so excited at the prospect of having a car that he picked me up at the airport and said “Come on, let’s go buy a car.”  I said, “Okay, who are you?”  And he explained who he was and said, “Before we buy a car, I want to take you somewhere.  And we’ll be waiting in this courtyard, were going to go see Slavko.  And I’m going through … since I’d written about dissidents for ten years I pretty much knew the names of all of them.  And he’s going, ”We’ll go see Slavko.”  Slavko, Slavko, who could Slavko be?  I’m going through my list. And he says, Vyacheslav Chornovyl.  His nickname was Slavko.  And I thought, “We’re going to go see Vyacheslav Chornovyl?  I thought, “Oh, my God, not in my wildest dreams! The Chornovyl papers, Likhus Rozvo.  I can’t believe it!  We get to his door and we ring the doorbell and nobody answers.  And I am thinking, “Oh, my God.  My one chance to see this dissident and he’s not home.”  Krycyvskiy said, “Well, we can come back the next day.” And I said, “No let’s wait.”  (00:13:00) Thank God we did because in fifteen minutes Chornovyl had come home.  They had been to a village for a three day wedding and he had just come home.  And I introduced myself and he was like, “I recognized by your accent that you’re not from here.”  I said, “No, I’m not.  I’m from the West.”  He goes, “Oh well,” and he wanted to know that was going on at Radio Liberty, and he wanted to know details.  What was going on in the West?  How Ukrainian Americans felt?  How they would support independence?  Right away we got into this really political discussion.  Then he asked me back the next day for lunch.  I met Chornovyl’s son Taras.  Krycyvsky, now deceased, was wonderful.  He would just always find cabs.  Flag us down. He also had me met Mykhailo Horyn in front of Saint George’s Cathedral in Lviv.  So, he was a person in the know.  He was like a courier.  He knew where everybody was, where they were going.  And he would take me around.  The next day, they approached me and said, “Listen, you have a video (00:14:00) camera.  How would you like to do an interview?”  And I said, “Oh, great.” We could have trapped Diaspora like this if we had interviews with dissidents.  People who have sat in prison all of these years!

I was ready to do it and they were ready to do it.  They were so cute.   Horyn had just got out of prison and they had not been in contact with the real world, be it a Soviet world for a while.  And he says, “What should we wear?”  I said, “Well, I don’t know, I guess suits would be nice.”  And sure enough I came the next day at the appointed time, 2 p.m.  [The interview] was Chornovyl’s house. And, I’ll never forget, they had a divan.  On the divan they laid out a Ukrainian carpet.  They sat on the carpet.  They had [a] nice carpet in the back as well.  They thought of visually how this would look.  Two people sitting.  Two talking heads telling us about what is going on with the Ukrainian Helsinki monitors, with the dissidents, how they hoped Ukraine would achieve independence, (00:15:00) what they would strive for,  how they would go about doing it.  And I sat there for about an hour and forty five minutes and I just remember shaking.  I’m thinking, “Oh!”  My Ukrainian was worse than it is now, but I could still make myself understood.  But, I was shaking so much, I was getting all of my cases wrong.  And they [asked], “Why are you so nervous?”  And I said, “Well, I have never interviewed such big men, you know, great men.”  Chornovyl looks at me and Horyn looks at me and said, “We’re not that big.  We’re only just five feet seven.” (laughter)  And so I just remember [being] really relaxed with them, and knowing that in my hands I would be carrying back this cassette that would be telling the Western world what these dissidents are all about.

Well, unfortunately it didn’t happen that way.  Because, I, being naïve, thought we are being pretty sneaky, we are doing this quietly.  No one is going to know.  But on my way out of Borispil airport I was strip searched.  These cassettes were (00:16:00) taken away from me.  They said to me, “Who asked [you] to do this?”  I said, “Nobody asked me to do this.”   They said, “No, [it] can’t be.”  They took me to a side room.  They had me start filing out forms.  I was writing in Ukrainian and most of them were speaking Russian.  “What is this?  I said, “This was in Ukrainian.”  They said, “Who did you meet with?”  And I didn’t want to get them in trouble and I thought, “I’ll just say, “Pan Myron.”  I just started making up names.  I got a laugh out of it in the end.  Because they wouldn’t believe me that no one set me up to do this.  So I said, “Maria Holopupenko told me to do this.”   “Maria Holopupenko”? Where does she live?”  “She lives in New York.”  I must have set them on a wild goose chase for at least, I don’t know, two or three weeks, they were looking for Maria Holopupenko (laughter) They really believed me.  So I was strip searched.  I was sweating.  Of course, they had to (00:17:00) hold the plane.  I was the tour group leader.  I was supposed to be the shining example of what a tour should be like in the Soviet Union. And here I’m being strip searched and my poor roommate …  this really lovely woman from New York.  She was my roommate for the entire trip. She never used to know where I used to go at night.  What I used to do. But because she was my roommate she was also strip searched.  And she had bought all of these rings, these Soviet gold rings.  Everything was taken away from her.  And I felt really bad about it and it was because  I was her roommate. I remember leaving the country getting on the airplane and going, “What a shitty country this is. I hate this place.”  And that was my first sentiment.  I got to Munich and there were a lot of people that worked at Radio Liberty there and who had contact with dissidents.  I called them up right away and I said, “I can’t believe it.  I can’t believe this happened to me.  I’m so worried that these people are going to be put back in jail, they’re going to be sent back to Siberia all because of this stupid interview to be taken to the West.”  (00:18:00) Obviously I didn’t have the interview anymore because it was taken back.

I should go back and explain that during the interview.  A friend of mine had lent me a video camera that had taken the little cassettes; this was in 1987.  Usually [at that time] you had those big VHS cassettes; [this camera carried] little cassettes.  I remember assuring Chornovyl, “Oh, don’t worry. They’ll never be able to decode this.  These cassettes were just released in the United States a few months a go.  They don’t have them here. No problem”. Unfortunately, they took the cassettes and decoded them.  But then the Soviets made a mistake.  They started airing it on Lviv TV.  Everything that Chornovyl, Horyn, and I had talked about.  Which included the future of Ukraine, the Greek Catholic church, the ideas for Ukrainian independence.  What kind of youth was growing up in Ukraine today?  Were they nationally conscious?  Were they democrats?  Were they aware of what was going on?  It was a lengthy interview and I was so nervous doing it that I can’t (00:19:00) even remember all of the things that were said during it.  But Lviv television started airing it.  Kyiv television started airing it.  All of Ukraine saw it and then all of the Soviet Union saw it.  Everybody saw it.

But what they wanted to do, [was] to discredit these people that are dissidents saying, “They’re crooks, they’re crazy. They are thinking of independent states.  What’s wrong with them?”  But, given the fact that Lviv is just a fertile floor for national identity for an independent Ukraine, most people got really interested in knowing more, wanting to know more about Horyn and Chornovyl.  [People] would call up the televisions [stations] and say things like, “Air it again.  We’d like to see it again.  We’re really interested in what they have to say.”  So it backfired on the Soviets.  And that was when Tovaristvo Leva, a youth society for young people in Lviv University, started becoming really popular.  And as you probably remember in 1988, the first big meetings in front of  Lviv State University, Ivana Franko University (00:20:00) started happening.  Chornovyl and Horyn always give me more credit that I deserve.  They always say it was the first step in re-awakening people, telling people it is okay to talk about national identity, and an independent Ukraine; he national symbols of the trident and a blue and yellow flag.  I guess given that I was a Westerner and I attempted to smuggle [the cassette] out also gave it some weight.  I  talked to Yaroslav Kenzyr, a national deputy, who said he actually saw the tape of the interview and it is in the Lviv archives.  One of these days I’ll have to go back and look at it.

(00:21:00) But the interesting thing is that little hour and a half interview got a lot of attention because the Radyansko Ukraina which was a popular newspaper and is now the Demokratychna Ukraina, ran a big interview with somebody named Vylchovy.  Later I found that this journalist didn’t exist.  [The interview] said that I was from the CIA, that I was planted here.  I was put here.  I was stealing. [Another] thing, I had two wedding bands because my brother was getting married.  And I wanted him to have wedding bands from Ukraine.  Well, when they took the interviews, they also took the wedding bands.  So no only was I a subversive journalist doing this interview, but I also stole gold from the former Soviet Union.  So there were a lot of articles written in the Ukrainian SSR press.  And in the (00:22:00) Soviet Union, they also did “Diaspora that tries to come in … and tries to …” let’s see… let me stop and think….These “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists” as we were known in the West would come in and stir up feelings of nationalism that did not really exist in the Ukrainian SSR, did not really exist in the almighty Soviet Union.  The almighty Soviet Empire.

What were the consequences for Horyn and Chornovyl and for you?

Horyn and Chornovyl feel like I did them a good deed.  I was like their pubic relations agent.  All of a sudden they became popular.   People knew what they had read in the underground press.  They knew the names, the faces attached to the (00:23:00) names.  Chornovyl and Horyn started holding meetings, talking to people about their ideas of an independent Ukraine, a democratic society.  At one point they were worried that they may be expelled from the Soviet Union because they were more trouble here than they would have been in the West.  If they were just granted asylum and shipped out it would have been much easier for the Soviet Union.  But, I remember Mykhailo Horyn even telling me a story of how they started writing to countries saying, “if they expel us to your country, don’t take us.  Do not admit us. We refuse to go.”   So, they were intend on staying here.  I mean, once you do prison for 20 years I think nothing scares you.  After the terms, they had a mission.  They had a goal.  They wanted to see an independent Ukraine in their lifetime.

And for me, my personal consequences, I was really worried.  I thought, “Oh my god, I go to Ukraine.  I’m twenty something years old.  And I get these guys in trouble.  They are going to die in prison.  There’re going to be shipped (00:24:00) back to Siberia.”  I had a lot of guilt.  But when I got back to the West, I talked to some people who said, “No, you have to show that you did nothing wrong.  That this is just a closed society.”  And so I started writing letters to Horyn, Chornovyl, Radyansko Ukraina, the newspaper Literaturna Ukraina just explaining my point of view.  I’m not sure if anyone published it.  But I know that Chornovyl and Horyn got the letters because I would send it return receipt requested.  I did get from Chornovyl and Horyn, those blank green slips of paper.  I knew that they had got  my letter, and that they were okay because that they had picked up the mail.  And that also made me feel a little bit better.

Why did you personally become so active in monitoring the independence crisis in Ukraine?

(00:25:00) I guess that goes back to being a Ukrainian American.  The fact that my grandparents always told me stories of escaping during the war.  And our family history is quite interesting.  My father comes form eastern Ukraine.  My mother comes from western Ukraine.  My father is Orthodox.  My mother is Catholic.  So we always said I represent an ecumenical Ukraine.  Both the East and the West, both Orthodox and Catholic.  So I tried to understand both sides of the history because Ukrainian history is so different.  Eastern Ukrainian and Western Ukrainian history is so different.

I personally became so involved because … I guess when you are growing up for a while you resent the fact that you are not like all other kids.  All of the other kids got to go to baseball practice on Saturday afternoon or dance class.  I was always stuck in Ukrainian class.  Friday nights, pizza parties when you’re a teenager, I was (00:26:00) always doing Ukrainian homework.  You resented it.  I remember distinctly when I was 13 or 14 thinking, “Why couldn’t I have been born Italian American.  They don’t have to explain, what is Ukrainian and where is it?  “Oh, it is one of the republics …” I remember people used to laugh. “You’re from Uranus?”  They would make jokes, “What are you Ukrainian?”  I guess for the Ukrainian Diaspora for some people it becomes almost a mission to inform people of what it is to be Ukrainian.  What it is like to be  in Diaspora.  I sometimes think of my life now because I am in Diaspora here.  Whereas, my parents are in Diaspora in the States.  I am a Ukrainian American that will never quite feel Ukrainian nor do I feel American anymore when I am in the States.  I guess mine is the life of a Diaspora psychology.

You were blacklisted after the interview that you took with Chornovyl and (00:27:00) Horyn.  How did you manage to secure a new visa to come back to Ukraine?  When did this happen?

I met a lot of Ukrainian activists because I worked for the Weekly. [They] would come to the United States on various writers’ conferences and political conferences.  And once Ukraine started being a little more open in 1988-1989 people started coming.  I would meet them at the University of Illinois, Champagne Urbana. They had Ukrainian conferences every June.  And, I had graduated from there so I would often go back to those [conferences].  Volodymyr Yavorivskiy, a national deputy who is in the current Parliament, was very active writing.  He wrote a novel about Chernobyl.  He was very (00:28:00) active…. and had good contacts with Ukrainian Americans….  He had told me that Rukh, the Kyiv branch of Rukh, now a national democratic party, but then a movement for Ukrainians who saw an independent Ukraine as a democratic state, [was organizing a conference.]  He would come to the West and he would tell me “you should try getting to this conference.  It is happening in 1989.”  I was invited by them and I was refused a visa in 1989.  And then in 1990, the Children of Chernobyl Fund which is based in Short Hills, New Jersey started doing airlifts to Ukraine to help children with medical supplies, equipment, humanitarian aid.  They wanted a journalist to go cover their first big.  It was such a big deal that even Volodymyr Yavorivskiy of course, and even Vice Premier, (00:29:00) Konstantyn Masyk were  going through the United Nations mission, the Ukrainian mission in New York. We were having a big press conference.  Then we were going to fly out with the plane and deliver the aid, go to Chernobyl, Kyiv and Lviv to deliver aid to hospitals [and] so on and so forth.  They’d asked me to be the journalist that went with them.  I tried getting a visa.  I remember I tried two months before the actual airlift.  Two weeks before the actual airlift.  And I knew all of the people at the UN mission because they were my contacts with Ukraine.  I would call them everyday, “Is my visa coming through?” “Sorry it’s not here yet.”  Everyone on the trip already had a visa.  They were ready, they were packed.  It was the morning before we were supposed to leave and one of the UN mission officers called me and he said, “It looks (00:30:00) like your visa is not coming through.”  I remember calling Taras Honchar who [was]  a professor at Rutgers University [and] was involved with the Children of Chernobyl and who’s going on this airlift.  Nadia Matkivska was the executive director of the Children of Chernobyl Fund. I remember calling them and being distressed and saying, “Oh, I guess I’m not going with you.  And Nadia and Taras were very, very kind and said, “If you’re not going then we’re not going.” They started pushing the Vice Premier Konstantyn Masyk.  And later he said, “You don’t know what they were asking.”  “You were blacklisted in Moscow and you were flying into Kyiv.”  Well, my visa did come through an hour or so before we were supposed to take off.  And so that was the only way I could have got back into this country after being blacklisted back in 1987.  Konstantyn Masyk is now the Ambassador for the Scandinavian countries.  I’d like to shake his hand for allowing me to get back into Ukraine.

(00:31:00) I remember it was May of 1990 that I arrived in Kyiv.  The first democratically elected Parliament was meeting.  It was unique in the sense that it was not 450 communists.  There were a lot of democrats from Western Ukraine.  Quite a few democrats were elected in Kyiv. I remember walking into that Parliament..  {There was] a giant Lenin statue right in the big alcove when you walk in.  And you could always tell where the Nationalist Democrats were sitting because they had a little blue and yellow flag in front of their seats.  You knew that those were the good guys.  Then you would have the communists all sitting in a bunch from Eastern Ukraine and those were the bad guys.  So it was very easy to distinguish who is who.  There were thousands of people that would stand outside of Parliament wanting things or asking for favors, wanting to know where Ukraine was headed.  And Chornovyl, (00:32:00) Lukianenko, Horyn, Oles Shevchenko, all of these members of Parliament back then, would all come out and go out to these people. That is what made them different from the communists. The communists would never go talk to anybody.  The communists were scared of what people would tell them or accuse them of.  Here the national democrats were willing to spend hours talking to these people.  It was such a wonderful time.  You felt that things were changing.  Here you had people who sat in the prison in Siberia, just five years earlier and they were already out there.  And they were elected government officials chosen by the people.  That was very exciting.

What made you decide later in January of 1991 to actually come out and live in Ukraine, and to work in Ukraine?  And how difficult was it to arrange that?

It was actually the decision of the Ukrainian National Association.  Our (00:33:00) convention [in] June of 1990 decided that we were going to open a Kyiv bureau.  Three executives and our editor-in-chief Rohand Savage and the director of our Washington office, Eugene Iwanciw, had come out for the Rukh congress in 1990.  It was the second Rukh conference.  While they were there they went to the press office [of the] Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Mr. Chorniy and Mr. Ingulskiy and began discussions with them about how to go about opening a Kyiv bureau. We had about four or five people in our paper and everybody wanted to rotate.   Everybody wanted to be here.  We wanted more than just an accredited correspondent.  We wanted to have a bureau.

They were so friendly.  They said, “Oh, no problem. This will take a few weeks.  Everything will be fine.  Just go back to New York and we’ll let you know.”  This was October 1990.  November passed.  December passed.   I’m already sitting (00:34:00) on my suitcases.  We decided 1991 was a good time to start. I think I was supposed to leave January 13th or 14th.  [I was] sitting on my suitcases.  No visa.  Nobody is answering.  I had everyone at the Rukh headquarters in Kyiv calling the Foreign Ministry everyday.  “Yeah, yeah, we’re working on it.  We’re working on it.”  Finally, six weeks into when I had started the process of getting a visa which should have taken a week or two, I got a visa and I made it out here.

I think the real problem started once I made it out here.  I was here with tons of things.   I mean, I couldn’t imagine living in Ukraine.  I didn’t know what was available.  So I brought everything.  Napkins, tuna fish, dinner plates.  I thought a  bureau will have to entertain.  I remember, I brought dinnerware that was blue and (00:35:00) yellow to show my patriotism; a fax machine, a computer, a typewriter.  You name it, I brought it.  Of course, nobody from the Foreign Ministry met me at the airport.  That was really too much to ask.  But a friend of mine from Rukh, Mikhailyna Boroday, met me. She had this tiny wooden apartment with a really cold balcony, an enclosed balcony in the outskirts of Kyiv, it was [on] one of the last streets in Kyiv.  She lived there.  She came out and of course, she didn’t have a car.  Nobody had a car.  She had someone from her place of employment [an] institute of hydrology come out with a car and picked me up.  When she saw my stuff, she freaked out.  She said, “What do you think you’re doing?!”  I said, “I think I’m going to be here for a while, so I brought everything.”  I had this trunk, a big black trunk full of things, toilet paper.  You name it, everything was in there.  And we dragged it to this car which (00:36:00) was like a little tiny Moskvych that could perhaps fit two suitcases.  We stuffed everything in there.  Everything was on top, in the trunk, next to the driver, in the passenger seat and she and I had to take the bus back to her house while the car drove all of my worldly possessions to her tiny apartment. (00:36:24)


Tape 2 Касета 2


(00:37:21) I remember my luggage travelling in this Mosvkych, [a] tiny little car, in the middle of winter, in January.  And Mykhailyna and I getting on the Borispil bus that dropped you at Ploshcha Peremohiy with people arriving back with chickens and those suitcases always wrapped in cloth and sewn up, and me.  And there we were.  I’d been here.  I’d been here in 1985, and 1987 and 1990.  But I’d never lived here.  I’d stayed in hotels.  I was a tourist always.  And here Mykhailyna  is like, “You remember this.”  And I’m looking and everything is looking grey and ugly and (00:38:00) everything looked the same.  And I thought, “Yes, I remember it.”  I didn’t know where we were.  She said, “Now we are going to my apartment.”  I went to her apartment.  We walk in and it’s one tiny room.  And I’m thinking where am I sleeping?!  All of my things were in that room and she and I slept there.  And it was the kind of thing that once you made the bed, you couldn’t go anywhere because the two beds touched each other.  And it was really crowded.  And I thought, “This is my introduction to Ukraine, fine.”

On Monday morning, the Foreign Ministry didn’t know I had come in.  Nothing.  They had given me a visa but besides that they hadn’t done anything.  So, I arrived at the Foreign Ministry and I said to Mr. Ingulskiy, Vineti Ingulskiy, the press officer, that I’m here.  He said, “Fine, now, we’ll find you a place to stay.”  I said, “Well, I could stay with Mykhailyvna.”  He said, “Oh, no you couldn’t possible do that.  You have to be registered somewhere.”  He said I could only stay in a hotel and, of course, a hotel is $90 a night.  I thought, “How long am I going to last at $90 a night?”  “I’ll find an (00:39:00) apartment quickly and it will be okay.”  I ended up staying on the 8th floor at  the Dnipro Hotel for almost five months in a tiny room.  I have to express my gratitude to Rukh.  Because if it weren’t for Rukh and the number 9 trolley bus, I wouldn’t have survived here.  I would get up in the hotel room of the Dnipro every morning, take the number 9 bus which stopped near the Dnipro hotel and it would drop me off right across the street from Rukh.  There I would do all of my stories.  They were great, because I had to fax my stories. They always ordered lines ahead of time.  They knew on Thursdays I had to fax my stories to the Weekly..

The first week that I was there, the Lithuania television tower had been attacked by the Russians.  And the Gulf war was happening in the Middle East.  I’m thinking, “Oh my God. The world is falling apart and here I am. (00:40:00) I don’t know anybody. I don’t know what is going on.  And here I am.  Here I am starting this brilliant career as the foreign correspondent for the Ukrainian Weekly. “

A friend of mine said, “Well, you don’t have to live in the Dnipro Hotel.  We’ll find you an apartment.”  But for a lot of people here I was the first Western they had ever seen.  Especially, the first Westerner who ever spoke Ukrainian.  And they couldn’t quite figure out who I am, what I’m doing here.  So it wasn’t that easy to rent an apartment here.  People at Rukh were really nice, but I was one of them. I was a Ukrainian nationalist.  I wanted the same things out of history as they wanted, to see an independent Ukraine.  So it was different with them.

But people that I had meet on the street or if I wanted to look for an apartment [would react] “What are you doing here?  “I don’t know. We’re not allowed to do this.”  Everybody was still quite scared.  They didn’t know who I was, (00:41:00) where I was coming from.  And it perturbed them.  They didn’t know what I was all about.  But I remember a friend of mine Kyrylo Stetsenko. He is a composer and a businessman here in Kyiv.  I had met him in New York.  I knew some people in Kyiv because, people would come through.  The visa regime was pretty easy back then.  And people would come through New York for conferences or for study tours or on business.  So I met a lot of these people.  And I called Kyrylo and he said , “My sister has an empty apartment because she has emigrated.  Why don’t you try staying there?”

So it was on Chervonoarmiyska in the back, somewhere far.  It was late at night.  He took me there.  He said it was really tricky to open the door.  It took like twenty minutes to open the door.  Finally [we] get in and he goes, “Okay, well goodnight.”  I was staying with a friend of mine. And we went to sleep.  And in the middle of the night, not two thirty, three in the morning the phone rings. (00:42:00I pick up the phone and say, “Hello.” And this hysterical woman is going, “Oh my God.  The damn is broken, there is water running off from Chernobyl.  Fill your bathtubs.  Fill your pots and pans.  Water, this water is going to be contaminated.  You have to make sure that you have water to survive for the next few days.  They may evacuate Kyiv.”  I’m thinking, “Where am I?  What is this?  Who are these people?  Why are they calling me in the middle of the night?  Why are they telling me to fill up my bathtub with water?  I started thinking this is what life is going to be all about here.  I can’t believe it.  It turned out to be a false alarm the way things often were at that point.  People, hysterical people calling saying the end of the world is coming.  And it winded up not being like that at all.  I was what twenty nine, thirty.  A thirty year old woman in this part of the world.  It was quite distressing to know this is what you can expect every night.  So those were beginnings of working here.

(00:43:00) And a lot of things happened between that period of time.  But, by late April of 1991, I found this place.  So for five years,  over five years, this has been the bureau of the Ukraine Weekly.

What was it like operating as a Western journalist at that time?  Was it easy to find information sources?  Was it easy to get press accreditation?

Since you know the answer to that! (Laughs)  Nothing was easy at that point in time.  And everybody was always very weary of us.  I remember our great scheme.  Susan Viets and I had this great scheme to find an apartment and to kind of be accepted here.  We made signs that said, “Two Westerners, two girls would like to rent an apartment.”  And we started hanging it, in Ukrainian, hanging it in hallways (00:44:00) of buildings that would be nice to live in.  Silly us.  Well, needless to say only one or two people responded.  Remember we went by Besserabska … one woman that [proposed] if we didn’t want to rent her apartment, then maybe we wanted to buy her tea set.  Remember that orange tea set she had?  She wanted to sell it for  two hundred dollars.  And I thought, “Boy they think we’re naive.”  We never did find apartments that way.

Okay, Parliament and journalists in Parliament.  I had the advantage, I think, because I spoke Ukrainian and I knew some people.  I knew some of the deputies only because they had been to the West.  Les Taniuk, Chornovyl, Horyn.  I think it was easier for me than most Western journalists that come here because I knew the language.  And whenever government officials didn’t help you out, you always had a nice little national democrat saying, “Let her through.  She is a Western journalist.  She is going to write about this.”  And so, whereas officials were not at all helpful.  I (00:45:00) think not only were they not helpful, sometimes they were a hindrance.  I remember the Ministry of Foreign Affairs even saying things like, “You already went to Chernobyl once. You are a woman.  Maybe you shouldn’t go again.”  I’ve been to Chernobyl about five or six times.  But they would say, “That’s enough.”  And, I don’t think they were so concerned about our health, as they didn’t want us poking around places like Chernobyl.

Very often we didn’t know about press conferences.  Or the press conference that you knew about were very staged and [with] very easy questions, easy answers.  You couldn’t really uncover anything.  I think also, we had to prove ourselves to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that we were indeed serious journalists. We weren’t just young women looking for husbands, for example. Or young women having nothing (00:46:00) better to do.  We were really respected in the West.  I think now that has totally changed and I still do have some problems about how officials treat journalists.  But, for the most part, it is like night and day from the way it used to be.  It used to be, they would steer you towards a story or would tell you what they might want [you] to write.  I mean, I even had this experience that when I first came and I got accredited finally in January of 1991  Mr. Ingulskiy and Mr. Chorniy took me into a room and said, “We know what you did in 1987.  You don’t think you are going to do that again do you?”  And I said, “Well, I’m a journalist.  It is my job to write about what people think, say, feel, events that are happening.  You can’t ask me to not do that.”  “You know, that wasn’t a very good idea back then.”  I said, “I did nothing wrong back then.  You don’t understand.” I don’t know how much they really believed it, but I think they felt that as their duty that I shouldn’t snoop around or go out and do any of this.  Of course at the (00:47:00) beginning, I was so lost in the Soviet bureaucracy that even if I wanted to snoop around, I wouldn’t have known how to do it.  Things have really changed in that sense, how officials view us.

You are a Ukrainian speaker.  How did people respond to you back in the early days in 1990 when you spoke in Ukrainian?  And is there a difference in the way that people respond to you now when you speak Ukrainian versus back then?

For some strange reason, when you are a Diaspora person who speaks Ukrainian in this country they think you are from Poland.  And very often people would say, “Oh, you’ve come from Poland.”  I said, “No.  Isn’t it sad that you people don’t even understand your native language.  It is Ukrainian.  It may be accented Ukrainian, but it is Ukrainian.”

I remember a cute little episode in this apartment.  (00:48:00) This apartment is next door to an apartment that is lived in by Ukrainian Militia men, two or three of them.  And on Friday nights, they had their wives and such, but this was like their den.  They would invite friends and play cards and drink and so on.   I remember once, them knocking on my door and going, “We heard you speak Ukrainian.  Can you come by?”  So I would come by and speak Ukrainian.  I was like a freak show almost, “Oh, look she’s speaking Ukrainian.”  And then they started feeling like, “Oh you know, we’re from Poltava.  We’re from the village  Yeah, we always spoke Ukrainian.”  I’ve really seen attitudes change whereas before I would speak Ukrainian, and people would respond in Russian or bark at me. I think that also has a lot to do with how this place was not service oriented and how over the years it has become more people friendly or more client friendly.  It still has a far way to go, but it has got much better.  And (00:49:00) people would bark at me because I was speaking Ukrainian or because I was being polite and they only knew how to bark at each other.  So I think that attitudes have really changed.

I’m really sorry for the fact people here don’t have any respect for the Ukrainian language, not all people obviously, but a lot of people don’t have respect for the Ukrainian language.  They feel that if you speak Russian, you are better.  That is a superior language.  You can get further.  I mean, even my friends who have children here think, and even though the schools now are Ukrainian language schools, feel that they should speak Russian to their children because you can get further in life.  When you came out of the village you only spoke Ukrainian but if you wanted to get into the city you had to speak Russian.  More than anything, I pity these people who don’t understand, or don’t have pride in their own language.

I have my own little games that I play with people here.  For example, (00:50:00) when I go to the bazaar or market, and people want to sell me something, they always start in Russian.  Even though everyone in the bazaar is from a village or they work the land.  They are people of the land.  I’m sure their native language or their first language is Ukrainian.  Unfortunately, people always try to sell you something in Russian.  My favourite response is, “If you would have offered this to me in Ukrainian you would have had a deal.  But you don’t.”  It is my little contribution to making Ukrainian felt that it is a respected language, a respectable language.  You don’t need to speak Russian to get ahead.  A lot of people here were under the wrong impression that after English, Russian is the most popular language that is taught in high schools and in colleges.  I’ve had quite a few conversations with people who say, “Did you take a foreign language?  It was Russian wasn’t it?”  And I said, “You know, no, it was Italian.  It was Spanish.  It was French.  It was German.  But it wasn’t (00:51:00) Russian.”  So a lot of people, and obviously a closed society you can’t always swap people for this but …  The fact that it was a closed society, they didn’t know what was going on.  And if somebody told them that Russian is the most popular after English, they would believe it.

What was the attitude of the Ukrainian Diaspora to events in the Ukraine in the early period in 1990?  Did people in the Diaspora feel that independence was inevitable?  And to what extent did their involvement in events in Ukraine help or hinder the process of independence?

That is an interesting question and definitely you would get  different answers depending on whom you spoke to.  The Diaspora. First of all I should just backtrack and say that most of the Diaspora are from Western Ukraine where people are nationally conscious and where they had a much more clear idea of what (00:52:00) independence should look like.  Unfortunately, their ideas of what independence should look like and how independence was actually achieved were two totally different things.  I think here we have a problem whereas in 1988, 1989, 1990.  everybody would do anything for Ukraine to move ahead, to move toward independence. And then in 1991 when Ukraine was already independent, it became this kind of competition of who is more Ukrainian:  us in the Diaspora or people here in Ukraine.  Which is not a fair comparison at all.  People who have lived through fifty years in America already have lived in a democratic society.  And they expect, they forget that 50 year period and they expect everything to be the same way here and it is not.

(00:53:00) And I should say to this day, a lot of people in the United States live for what is going on in Ukraine.  My parents are a perfect example.  Every time my father calls it is not, “So, how are you?  How are you doing?”  He is, “So what did Kuchma say today?  Who did he meet with?”  I say, “Dad, I don’t know!  I don’t know what Kuchma does every minute.”  My father sometimes knows more what is going on in Ukraine than me and I am here all of the time.  He listens to all of the short-wave broadcasts.  He reads all of the analytical literature around.  He thinks about this all of the time.  Although it is quite interesting because my parents at this point would never come back and live here.  They are Americans that have grown up … their adult life was spent in the United States.  The Diaspora … It gets to a point where … it is a very fine line whether you can help and when you start interfering in the life of Ukraine.  I think it is hard to be a Ukrainian American today.  (00:54:00) Because, you think you know what Ukraine needs.  But if you’re not here then you don’t see events developing.  You don’t see all of the outside influences or you don’t feel them.  You don’t feel them being in America.  It is really hard.  Ukrainian-Americans are really interested in Ukrainian-American relationships.  But Ukraine is really a part of Europe.  And I think Ukraine will probably have much closer relations with Poland and Germany and France than it will with the United States.  And I think because the Diaspora is so large in the United States and in Canada, they sometimes don’t quite realize that.

One last personal question before we move on to the analytical section.  You’ve taken the decision to live here.  Ukraine is now your home.  Why? What made you make that decision?

Well, I never thought that I would live here permanently, semi-permanently.  But, (00:55:00) one of the things that makes this a home for me is that I’ve found the love of my life here.  And he is a journalist also, he’s a historian and a journalist.  And we’ve married and decided that this place …. at this point in life, is much more interesting than living in America.  It is quite interesting because I also have a personal … I guess, personal experience of everything that happened.  As Ukraine gained its independence  I saw my husband (who is Ukrainian from Chernivtsiy and is from an old Kyiv family)  change as well.  I saw him open up.  And in one way he is the personification for me of Ukraine becoming an open society.  He just became much more interested in what was going on in the West.  He is a historian so he has always, obviously, been interested in history and the role it plays and events and so on and so forth.  But, I’ve really… (00:56:00) I was the first Westerner that he ever spoke to.  As Ukraine grows and establishes himself as a nation, I see my husband growing and establishing himself as a person of the world as opposed to from some kind of closed society that he used to be.  I just have to tell this story, because it is quite interesting.

Despite the fact that we grew up on two different continents and in two different societies, there are some things that my husband and I have in common.  I think a love for Ukraine for one.  And another thing is my husband really enjoys Beatles music.  One of my favourite stories was when he was ten or eleven years old, and the Beatles were coming in.  Well, they were always underground music and you couldn’t have anything from the West. So any kind of Beatles music (00:57:00) that came here had been smuggled in somehow, so you bought Beatles tapes on the black market.  He would listen to these albums  and  go to school.  He was so in love with the Beatles and their music that he would … well, he thought he was writing the “Beatles” on his notebooks.  He would write the Beatles and … he got thrown out of school for this.  He was twelve years old.  This is how far this society has come and how warped it was:  he got thrown out of school for writing the Beatles because this was a Western group that obviously had a big impact in the Western world.  But going back and looking at his notebooks we realized he wasn’t writing the Beatles.  He was writing the “Buttles.”  So my husband got thrown out of school for writing the words ‘the Buttles’ on his notebook.  (laughter)  That is how far things have come.

(00:58:00) Now onto analytical questions.  Which events do you think were the most significant in the process of Ukraine becoming an independent country and why?

I think one of the most significant events was the fact that the students and workers joined forces to try to bring down a government that they thought was unfair.  Or at that point, the Prime Minister Masol.  In October of 1990 there were student hunger strikes.  There were tents pitched out in Maidan Nezalezhnosti in the center of Kyiv where people could see young people wanting change.  The fact [was] that [young people were] politically motivated … It is kind of sad when you think about it now, as [today’s] youth.  I have a young assistant who works for me.  He is a second year Kyiv State University student.  And he notices that people are much more interested in having the Calvin Klein jeans. (00:59:00) Materialism has taken over where idealism used to be the most important thing. You had students that came out in force marching down Hrushevskiy street, it was then Kirov street, changing things in this place, in this country.  I think that was a very significant event.  And the fact that there were people from all parts of Ukraine.  I mean, there were people from Western Ukraine that would spend 20 hours on a bus just to come here to protest something or to support something.  The Union Treaty in June of 1990.  Or the referendum on the future of Soviet society in March of 1991.  You would have a lot of people coming out being verbal, being vocal about their future.  Now there is just a lot of apathy.  I understand the economic situation is difficult.  (01:00:00) And I really sometimes have a hard time understanding how people make ends meet here. How they survive on five to ten dollars a month.  But back then, people didn’t think about five, ten dollars a month.  They were just ready to make demands for what they wanted.  So, I think having a lot people come out for meetings and strikes and protests were significant turning points in Ukraine’s striving towards independence.

I really didn’t think that independence would happen so quickly.  I thought 1991, okay it will be Ukrainian SSR.  They are already sovereign.  They already have an idea.  I thought the national democrats would be much more ready, or have a plan or have a government or have a shadow government or have some kind of structure.  And they were just all caught off guard (01:01:00) and by surprise.  They knew they had to seize the moment.  But, I think that when Mykhailo Horyn and Chornovyl talked about independence for Ukraine, the year 2000 was always a target date.  They thought by then we’ll have our forces ready.  We’ll have a plan.  You know how these things happen.  You can never plan, you can never plan independence. (laughs)

In March of 1991, you already began feeling that Ukraine … All of these people … I remember going around villages in Kyiv and the city itself with Jon Gundersen who was then the [United States] Consul General and  Nestor Gayowski who was then the Canadian Consul.  [I remember]  going around to various polling places asking people, “So, what are you voting for?”  They all thought they were voting for an independent Ukraine.  They didn’t quite understand this referendum.   The referendum was worded in a weird fashion.  You had to check the answer that you (01:02:00) didn’t want as opposed to the answer you wanted.  If  you were voting for Ukraine’s independence, you had to vote no.  That meant that you were leaving yes open. That meant that you answer was yes.  It was a) confusing, b)  it wasn’t clear what people were voting for.   And, c) it was kind of still Soviet in the sense that everybody came out to vote because, they knew at the poll they could buy more vodka.  They could get something to eat.  It was just like another Soviet election.  It was just like another Soviet poll.

When Gorbachev came to Kyiv in June of 1991, there were a lot of Ukrainian nationalists having signs saying “Gorby go home. We don’t need you”, “Say no to the Union Treaty.”  I’ll never forget, there is this really poignant (01:03:00) photo that I have of Levko Lukianenko leading all of these protesters that were against  signing any kind of treaty with Moscow.  It was like a summer shower.  He had a beautiful embroidered red shirt.  And he had a suit on.  And he was leading this crowd.  I think it was the same weekend as the conference for the politically repressed prisoners.  Prisoners of various labor camps.  He was leading these people.  It was such a picture of Ukraine to me because, when Levko Lukianenko got out of prison, I think in 1988, he had said this beautiful phrase that I will never forget.  He said something about, “I was born in 1927 and I don’t really know Ukraine as an independent nation.  But, I’ve always loved it.  And I always throughout my entire life I thought, “What could I possibly do for Ukraine to make it independent?  How could I devote my life?”  He is one of these people that has (01:04:00) devoted almost thirty years of his life in prison camps to see his dream come true.  When he was leading these people you’ve got the sense that there is more independence.  Things were more open. That something was going to happen.  He was leading all of these people, and these people wore their prison garb with their numbers.  And I thought, this is Ukraine and it is coming out of the barbed wire.  It was such a strong image, that I’ve always kept in my head as one of these things that lead to independence.

What was happening within the dissidence movement at this time?  Were these former political prisoners acting as a unified political group?  You mentioned that there was an absence of a plan of action.  What exactly were they doing and how were they going about transforming their ideals into concrete political activity?

It is sad to think about these things now because when all of (01:05:00) these dissidents were all sitting in these camps [they] didn’t have that much contact with each other.  Once in a while they were either in the same camps or they would see each other.  You knew that the ultimate goal was an independent Ukraine, an independent democratic Ukraine.  But they got out and everybody started having their vision of what an independent Ukraine should be.  The Ukrainian Helsinki Group turned into the Ukrainian Helsinki Union which turned into the Ukrainian Republican Party.  Rukh which had been the birthing ground of this national independent movement that had thousands of members, started falling apart because of conflicts between the leaders.  This famous Ukrainian saying, you have three Ukrainians in a room and you have four parties.  Unfortunately, instead of bringing all of these forces together, everybody started saying, “Oh, no well, we shouldn’t be … Just because we are dissidents, we don’t actually all think alike.”  So the Ukrainian Republican Party (01:06:00) started forming the Ukrainian Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Ukraine, I should correct myself.  There was Rukh, then there were all of these other little factions that formed.  And you start thinking, what’s going on here?  These people all have the same goal and now all of a sudden they are splintering.  I think that is one of the downfalls of the national democratic forces right now.  They can never see eye to eye.  Mykhailo Horyn and Vyacheslav Chornovyl which I took these interviews from in 1987, don’t talk to each other anymore.  And hence Verstiuk, one of my favorite dissidents, spoke just last week and he said, “Now that Lent is approaching, don’t you think that all of us should sit around one table and try find a common language?”  I just don’t see that happening. There are too many personal ambitions, too many personal egos involved.  (01:07:00) Unfortunately, I think they’ve lost that fertile ground.  It’s already being taken over by the center’s forces, for example, today Nova Ukraina and Trudoviy Kongres Ukraina are merging and they’ve lost that opportunity.  It will go down in history as a lost opportunity for all of these national democrats to get together and be one force that stands behind each other.  All for one, one for all.  It is not happening.

After the winter of ‘90, the spring of  ‘91 which political institution was the strongest, or the most important?  And how, what was the role of the Communist Party then?  Did they have an absolute iron grip on political developments in Ukraine?  What exactly was happening?

Back in 1991, Rukh was the place to be.  Rukh was the place that had all of these idealistic young people and strong leaders and it was a unifying force.  You always knew that if you went there you would get a sense of what was going on. (01:08:00) How interesting things were going.  You always got a sense of hope back in 1991.  You had a lot of people working for peanuts in this dingy building that was falling apart [and] that always smelled bad.  But it didn’t matter because there were a lot of … There was Sashko Kovtenko walking along with his megaphone ready to scream things.  Evazian and Nikazaku, two members of Rukh, that were defending people like Stephan Khmara, a Parliamentarian who was arrested.  He was set up and arrested and spent a lot of his time in prison here in Kyiv.  You had a sense of something exciting was going on.  To tell you the truth, the communist world didn’t matter.  They were the bad guys.  They were in Parliament.  They had their little red flags that they wore.  You knew about it, but you didn’t care.  It was like an isolated world.  We’re in power now.  We’re young.  We’re strong.  We have ideas now.  We know what to do.  (01:09:00) And it was exciting.  Whereas, the communists were… They were so grey.  And most of them were old.  Most of them still spoke Russian which is not the case any more but … It was easy. Everything was black and white.  There were the good guys and there were the bad guys.

Can you asses the significance of the August 1991 coup for Ukraine?  And also, where were you when it happened?  And, how did you find out about the Coup?

The Coup was the turning point for Ukraine.  After the Coup there was no going back.  The communists were forced to declare independence.  There was no way out.  And whether they wanted it or not, they had to declare an independent Ukraine.  Later on we get into the problem of adopting new symbols:  The blue and yellow flag they fought over with the national democrats for a long time; the Ukrainian trident, the (01:10:00) symbol for an independent Ukraine. The small symbol is approved, but the large symbol is not yet approved.   But that was definitely a time that maybe now, the national democrats could look at as a lost opportunity.  I think they could have done a lot more.  But I think that period between August and December of 1991, the only place that any of these 52 million citizens of Ukraine could imaging living would be [in] an independent Ukraine.  And I think that was a really exciting time.  Unfortunately, just because everybody was so worried about securing Ukraine’s political independence they didn’t think enough about Ukraine’s economic independence.  I don’t think there is any reason why the two of those could not have gone hand in hand.  Why Ukraine couldn’t make economic strides and make political strides as well. But, what’s done is done.

(01:11:00) Where were you when you found out about the Coup?

This is an interesting story.  I was visiting a friend of mine at Harvard that weekend..  As soon as I got back to New York, I decided I’d call some friends in Ukraine.   I’d just spent almost seven months in Ukraine and I had a lot of friends that I wanted to call and talk to.  So, I thought, it’s Sunday night so it’s probably early Monday morning in Kyiv. Why don’t I give my friends a call. (01:11:35)


Tape 2 Касета 2


(01:12:35) I remember calling Ukraine.  It was Monday morning, I’ll see what is going on. You couldn’t even direct dial at that point.  You had to call an AT&T operator and she would connect you.  I tried and I tried and finally the AT&T operator says, “I don’t think you can get through today.”  I said, “Well, why not?  I always get through.”  Then she goes, “You mean you don’t know what happened?”  I said, “What do you mean what happened?”  “There’s been a coup, (01:13:00) there’s been a putsch.”  I think , “A putsch, what’s going on?!”  And I remember turning on CNN and sure enough, there is all of this reporting going on.  Gorbachev is in Crimea and the communists have pulled a coup.  I was thinking, “I wonder what that means for Ukraine?”

I started calling people in Ukraine.  It was almost impossible to get through for the next two or three days.  And I sat by the television watched CNN and our Kyiv correspondent was Chrystyna Lapychak.  She had finally got through.  She told us what was going on.  She’d been sitting in Parliament day and night.  And finally on the 24th, I remember watching CNN,  Ukraine had declared independence.  I remember I started crying.  I had friends in from Ukraine.  and I said, “You know, Ukraine has just declared independence.”  “You’re pulling my leg.  That is ridiculous.  You must have not understood.”  I said, “No, it has declared independence.” And I remember thinking, “Oh my God, all of these people that have wanted this for all these years are finally seeing it.”  I was so happy for (01:14:00) them.  I was crying.  It was kind of a relief.  It was the inevitable, but you just didn’t think it would happen in you lifetime.  I grew up my entire life thinking, “Will there ever be an independent Ukraine?”  I remember distinctly I was 12 year old, I asked my Ukrainian school teacher, “Why do we have to study this?  Ukraine is just one of the republics.”  She [replies], “Don’t worry, one day Ukraine will be independent.”  I always wanted to have a date.  I said, “Well, when will it be independent?”  The cut off date was always the year 2000.  By 2000, it will be independent.  Nine years before the deadline, but it happened.

During the coup period, what was the reaction from the States? What were people in the Ukrainian Diaspora saying and feeling?  What were their concerns?

People were really worried.  We didn’t know what Kravchuk was thinking.  And he was then the Chairman of the Parliament.  We didn’t know what he was thinking.  Who he would lean to?  Having been the Ideology Secretary of the Communist Party, you thought, maybe he had a support system with the communists.  But, he was (01:15:00) already making little moves towards the nationalist democrats.  Trying to understand them.  Engaging them in conversation.   So we didn’t know.  I couldn’t get a distinct feeling of which way Kravchuk would lean.  So once we heard the good news, we thought, well … (door bell rings)

Who were the key individuals in Ukraine’s, on Ukraine’s road to independence?  Who were the key political figures?

Well, as a group, the national democrats were really important.  Obviously, [the] deputies in Parliament.  But then there were quite a few societies that had sprung up.  For example, the students were important at that point.  Rukh which was not Chornovyl at that point.  It was Mykola Horyn, Ivan Drach, Dmytro Pavlychko.  They were quite important.  It was actually quite interesting going to (01:16:00) Parliament because you would always hear these orators expounding on Ukraine and its road to independence.  I remember distinctly Volodymyr Yavorivskiy always at the microphone.  And of course, Chornovyl, Pavlychko, Drach, Horyn.  And then there were the bad guys.  There was [Stanislav] Hurenko.  We always looked to see where Hurenko was sitting, what he was doing.  Even prior to that Ivashko, all of the former communist leaders that were visible in Parliament:  [Vitaliy] Masol and [Konstantyn] Masyk. They all played an interesting role in those years.

How would you asses the role of Leonard Kravchuk at that time?

(01:17:00) To tell you the truth, I remember the new Kravchuk … as of his presidential campaign.  I always remember this one joke everybody always used to tell about Leonid Kravchuk.  “Leonid Kravchuk doesn’t need an umbrella when it rains.  Because he is so clever, he can even dodge raindrops.”  And that was always my idea.  I always knew he would be a survivor in that sense.  Because he always felt out which way to go.  Whom to talk to.  How to play his cards.

So you don’t think that he was … Do you think he was more of a follower than a driving force behind independence or vice versa?

I think he was the only candidate that could have won the presidency in 1991.  (01:18:00) Because he was the only one that could satisfy both sides.  He was obviously the compromise candidate for the national democrats, because … that’s another thing that disturbs me.  It’s the fact that, why did Lukianenko, Yukhnovskiy and Chornovyl run for president then?  Those were three presidential candidates that were all from the national democratic forces.  But each one of then put in a bid for the presidency.  Obviously Kravchuk had to have won because there was no candidate, no one candidate for the democratic forces.

After August 24th when the Ukrainian Parliament had voted to declare independence, what role did the local press, the foreign press, foreign diplomatic representatives, and the Diaspora play (01:19:00) in helping that declaration become reality?

I think the foreign press played an important role at that point.  As you know, a lot of foreign journalists coming in from Moscow … came into Kyiv to observe the December 1 events, the referendum, the presidential nomination, the presidential election and so on and so forth.  They actually tried to put Ukraine on the map.  Until then it was just one  of the republics of the Soviet Union.  Until then it was not defined.  Nobody ever separated it from Moscow.  Even once Ukraine became independent, Ukraine and Russia, what is the difference!  I think in that sense, the foreign press helped establish it as a country.  And the foreign diplomatic corps … Once Ukraine became independent their status changed from some kind of satellite little offices to real full fledged (01:20:00) embassies. Roman Popadiuk, a Ukrainian-American who was appointed by [President George] Bush became [United States] Ambassador . He did a lot to put Ukraine in the on the map of US-Ukrainian relations.  At that point … Perhaps … I think [the fact] that he was a Ukrainian American and an Ambassador often harmed him.  People thought that he had too much loyalty to Ukraine and was not an objective individual at that point.  But, I think that was really necessary because he helped to define what Ukraine is and its role, its future role in the crumbling Soviet Union, and as an independent nation in Europe.

(01:21:00) What about the local press?  What role did it play in this period?

Right after independence or right during independence?

Right after the August 24th Declaration?

That is when a lot of [the] press began [to] define itself as democratic free press.  It played a significant role because it got 90% of the people to vote for independence. I wasn’t here from August through December, but I know that one of the keys to having Ukrainians come out and vote were the various commercials that were on television and the various articles that were written by national democrats.  All of these blank pages in history started coming out in the open. The famine film that was produced by Olresen ***Chuk, a (01:22:00) film director in Kyiv, was shown on the eve of the referendum.  That showed everything that the Soviets had suppressed during the last fifty years, how Ukraine really did suffer through these years under Soviet occupation.  The local press really let people become aware of the bad deeds, the evil deeds that the Soviet Union had done in Ukraine.

Last question.  At what point did you personally realize that the process of independence was irreversible?  You may not know the exact date, but when did you think this is it, this place is independent from here on in?

That’s a good question … (01:23:00) I think that by December 2nd or 3rd [Ukraine’s independence] had been recognized by over twenty countries and that process kept growing and growing.  I though once the West starts recognizing Ukraine and once there are all of these bilateral relations between Ukraine and Western countries and once all of that started happening  I thought, “Well, Ukraine blew it once in the twentieth century.  I can’t imagine that they would blow it again.  I hope that they wouldn’t blow it again.”  I just think that this process may be irreversible.  I would just like for the psyche of people here to change because I really feel that.  To this day people still feel that we are neighbours with Russia.  We need these good neighbourly relations with Russia.  I would like for Ukraine to start feeling that it is an (01:24:00) independent country in the center of Europe.  And Russia is not the be all and end all.  I’m just bringing this up because I just finished reading three books by members of presidential administration, president Kuchma’s administration. Volodymyr Hriniov, Dmytro Tabachnyk, and three others, Veretnikov, Derkatch and Myliov.  I just don’t know where these people are coming from.  There whole idea of Ukraine in the future is some kind of like Eurasian Union, some kind of  big Slavic brotherhood.  That time is over.  Ukraine is recognized as an independent nation in Europe.  It worries me when I read this kind of stuff.  Although, I do believe that Ukraine is independent to stay.  I just realize it is so hard to change the psychology of people who have grown up in the (01:25:00) shadow of Russia, the Soviet Empire for so many years.  It is just sad to see people like Dmytro Tabachnyk, who are relatively young, having such a narrow view of history or having such a narrow perspective that this is the be all and end all.  I mean, [there] is a big world out there.  And Ukraine can definitely survive as an independent nation having bilateral relations with a number of countries, equal bilateral relations, among them Russia not the be all and end all … That’s it.

One final question.  You were in Kyiv at the time of the arrest of Stephan Khmara.  Could you describe what happened and how significant was this event?

It was a very significant event.  And I just want to go back and explain that July 16, 1991 (01:26:00) Ukraine celebrated its first year of sovereignty.  And, everybody was partying out on Khreshchatyk, in Maidan Nezalezhnosti.  Everybody was celebrating this feeling of sovereignty, I guess, independence. It was just a real party mood.  Chrysta Lapychak had joined me and we decided to have an official opening of this bureau.  We invited everybody we knew in Kyiv.  150 people easily made it through these doors.  We had Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, and we had a lot of deputies. We had [Ivan] Drach, [Larysa] Skoryk, [Dmytro] Pavlychko, ____________,.  We had a lot of people here.  And the militia came in and started looking for Stepan Khmara.  They were out to (01:27:00) arrest him for a scuffle that happened in November of 1990 near the underground subway.  They were accusing Stephan Khmara of actually molesting a woman.  They supposedly had on video.  They had photos of it.  And this was one way that the official powers that be, the communists, were going to squash any kind of Ukrainian independence movements or any kind of outspoken national democratic speeches.  Stepan Khmara being very vocal and very temperamental became their victim. It was on a small scale what I think the Soviet Union had always done with Ukraine.  Always (01:28:00) trying to squash it, suppress it.  And the great thing about Ukraine and its people, I have a lot of respect for a lot of people here, is that they didn’t allow that to happen. A lot of patience … Stepan Khmara put up with a lot.  I may not agree with things that he says or does now, but at that point he became a symbol.  He became a symbol of repression, of any national democratic tendencies Ukraine  may have had at that time.  The militia came here looking for him. They found his brother.  They found his daughter.  They didn’t find him.  Unfortunately [they[ found him the next day.  He was in his hotel room and they had … I’m sure that a lot of people that you had interviews have spoken about his arrest.  It happened in the Hotel Ukraina the very next day.  He wasn’t leaving the hotel so the militia came in and got him.  Despite the fact there were coal miners from Chervonohrad, his home town. (01:29:00) [In his room there were] women who supported him in the national democratic movement.  One thing about these Western Ukrainian women that is wonderful is that they are ready to get on a bus and come to Kyiv anytime day or night.  No matter what the season is.  It didn’t matter.  They were going to be body guards for Stephen Khmara.

Unfortunately, the militia here had different ideas.  There were quite a few journalists and Western journalists that were in his room when the militia came, knocked down the door and arrested him.  I’m sure they could give you more details.  But I remember keeping this all night vigil in the Hotel Ukraina lobby or on the floor that he was on waiting to see what the next move would be

Could you describe what you saw from where you were on that day?

What we saw were a lot of women camping out in the hallway near Stephan Khmara’s room.  A lot of militia surrounding him and a lot of messages being passed (01:30:00) on through an open window and through…. (door bell rings).

We were just describing how…..

There were a lot of us.  There were a lot of journalists in the foyer of that floor where Stephan Khmara [was staying] …  I think it was on the third floor if I’m not mistaken.  We were all waiting around because we wanted to know what would happened next.  We know that there were journalists that had barricaded themselves in the room with Khmara.  One thing I do remember Oles Serhienko was in the room with Khmara at that point. And I do remember the OMON carrying him out.  They were just so vicious.  They were like angry dogs.  They shoved Oles Serhienko’s head through a taxi window.  They were shoving him to take him to the police station, (01:31:00) or a militia car, I don’t know.  But he refused to get in so they kind of just pushed him in head first.  I remember, he even had glass in his head.  He suffered some kind of concussion.

They were just mean and they played dirty.  They like victims.  I remember in what was it?  March, March of 1991 when Khmara had been imprisoned.  There was some kind of demonstration.  I don’t remember at this point what it was all about but I remember after the demonstration ended, we all marched up **Treskinda all the way to Lukianenko’s and then there was a big rally right near Lukianenko’s prison.  Mykhailo Horyn spoke, Dmytro Pavlychko spoke.  Everybody spoke for the release of Stephan Khmara.  And then for some reason Larysa Skoryk, Dmytro Pavlychko, a bunch of Ukrainian journalists and I got to go into the prison.  And once we got in, they said, “We’ll let you see Khmara. (01:32:00) We’ll let you go there.” Well, they let Skoryk and Pavlychko go  and then they decided to lock us in that waiting room.  I spent [there] an entire day.  I left my hotel room at 10 in the morning and I came back at 11pm.  They weren’t letting us out.  They weren’t letting us go to the bathroom.  They weren’t letting us do anything.  They thought, “Fine, you want to talk to Stephan Khmara, we’ll let you talk to Stephan Khmara.”  It was just a waiting game which was the way a lot of things were done back then.

Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview? Anything about the election campaign or the actual December 1st vote?

I wasn’t here for that so I can’t tell you.  I know that the Diaspora at that point was really …oh, were we routing for Ukraine.  We’re thinking don’t let us down now.  You’ve already declared independence.  It was such an exciting time.  The dreams of so many people in the Diaspora who had left because of the war (01:33:00) and had suffered a lot were finally coming true.

And was there any event or any incident during that period that was especially meaningful for you?

Between August an December?  I just remember watching… CNN… August 24.  They showed how Levko Lukianenko was picked up and thrown into the crowd.  And I thought, “Wow! This is what all of these people live for.  They are finally seeing their dreams come true.”  Isn’t it wonderful that we live in such a historic time?  And we can enjoy it.  And we can be part of it.  We can watch all of these processes going on.  I’m really lucky.  God has really awarded something wonderful that I have been able to see all of this.

Thank you very much.

You are welcome. (01:33:57)