Ukrainian Helsinki Group

Ukrainian Helsinki Group (aka Ukrainian Civic Group for Promoting the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords; Ukrainian: Українська гельсінська група; Ukrainska helsinska hrupa, or Українська громадська група сприяння виконанню Гельсінських угод; Ukrainska hromadska hrupa spryiannia vykonanniu Helsinkskykh uhod). A human rights committee founded on 9 November 1976 in Kyiv by Mykola Rudenko (head), Oles Berdnyk, Petro Grigorenko, Ivan Kandyba, Lev Lukianenko, Myroslav Marynovych, Mykola Matusevych, Oksana Meshko, Nina Strokata, and Oleksa Tykhy. Its purpose was to monitor the implementation of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords, signed in August 1975 by 33 European states, the United States, and Canada: freedom of conscience, the free flow of information, and freedom of travel. Although the USSR, not Ukraine, signed the accords, the provisions were binding on the Soviet authorities and could be used as a basis for demands for individual and national rights in Ukraine.

The group assumed three principal tasks: to monitor the implementation of the accords in Ukraine, to gather and disseminate information about their violation, and to secure an independent role for Ukraine in subsequent negotiations and in international affairs. In its memoranda and open letters to international agencies the group pointed out violations of human rights and national rights in Ukraine and showed how the people's aspirations for independence were being suppressed. It gave voice to the Ukrainian people's demands for political, cultural, and social freedom within the framework of the Soviet legal system.

In February 1977 the authorities began to arrest the group's members. Within two years all the founding members were tried and sentenced to imprisonment for 7 to 10 years and to exile. In defiance of the crackdown new members joined: Vitalii Kalynychenko, Yurii Lytvyn, Mykhailo S. Melnyk, Vasyl Ovsiienko, Vasyl Striltsiv, Petro Sichko, Vasyl Sichko, and P. Vins. In 1979 Viacheslav Chornovil, Olha Matusevych-Heiko, Mykola Horbal, Zinovii Krasivsky, Yaroslav Lesiv, Volodymyr Malynkovych, Petro Rozumny, Stefaniia Shabatura, Ivan Sokulsky, Vasyl Stus, and Yosyf Zisels became members. Early that year political prisoners in various labor camps declared their membership: Sviatoslav Karavansky, Oksana Popovych, Vasyl Romaniuk, Bohdan Rebryk, Iryna Senyk, Yurii Shukhevych, and Danylo Shumuk. In 1983 the Estonian M. Niklius and the Lithuanian V. Petkus, both political prisoners, were accepted into the group. The new groups were punished promptly: in 1979–80 Oles Berdnyk, Chornovil, Matusevych-Heiko, Horbal, Kalynychenko, Krasivsky, Lesiv, Lytvyn, Ovsiienko, Rozumny, P. and V. Sichko, and Stus were given sentences of 2 to 10 years' imprisonment, sometimes on trumped-up criminal, not political, charges. In 1978 the group's Informatsiinyi biuleten’ began to appear. It was reprinted by the Smoloskyp publishing house in the United States in 1981, and the first two issues were translated into English.

By 1983 the group had 37 members, of whom 22 were in prison camps, 5 were in exile, 1 (Mykhailo S. Melnyk) had committed suicide, 3 had been released and were living in Ukraine, and 6 had emigrated to the West. Three members of the group subsequently died in concentration camps: Oleksa Tykhy (1984), Yurii Lytvyn (1984), and Vasyl Stus (1985).

In 1979 the Foreign Representation of the group was established in the United States under the leadership of Petro Grigorenko (to 1987) and then Mykola Rudenko. Nadiia Svitlychna, who joined the group in the United States, edited Visnyk represii na Ukraïni. The Committee of Helsinki Guarantees for Ukraine, headed by A. Zvarun, was established in November 1976 in the United States. It staged a number of demonstrations at the Helsinki review conferences in Belgrade (1977), Madrid (1980), and Vienna (1986), demanding the inclusion of Ukraine in the Helsinki process and defending the imprisoned members of the Helsinki Group. The Helsinki Committee of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, and Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine were particularly active in attracting international attention to the group.

In 1987–8, during the period of Perestroika and Glasnost, all imprisoned members of the group were released. Upon their return to Ukraine they revived the organization and elected a new leader, Lev Lukianenko. They changed the group's name to the Ukrainian Helsinki Association (Ukrainska helsinska spilka) and they expanded it into a broad civic union. On 7 July 1988 they issued the Declaration of Principles of the new association and published its statutes. The goal of the association was to promote democratic reform in Ukraine and to achieve economic and political sovereignty for Ukraine.

In the succeeding year the association revised its program and activities. It became involved in the elections to the USSR Supreme Soviet and to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR. It organized large demonstrations against repressive laws and measures and participated in organizing the Popular Movement of Ukraine. Its branches in various parts of Ukraine established their own newspapers: Holos vidrodzhennia in Kyiv, Ekspres-khronika Ukraïns’koho visnyka, Informatsiinyi biuleten’, and L’vivs’ki novyny in Lviv, Informatsiinyi biuleten’ in Kharkiv, and Vil’na dumka in Volhynia. When the 1990 elections in Ukraine opened up new opportunities for political competition, the association was dissolved and replaced by the Ukrainian Republican party.

Zinkevych, O. (ed). Ukraïns’kyi pravozakhysnyi rukh: Dokumenty i materiialy kyïvs’koï Ukraïns’koï Hromads’koï hrupy spryiannia vykonanniu hel’sinks’kykh uhod (Baltimore–Toronto 1978)
Verba, L.; Yasen, B.; Zinkevych, O. (eds). The Human Rights Movement in Ukraine: Documents of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, 1978–1980 (Baltimore–Toronto 1980)
Zinkevych, O. (ed). Ukraïns’ka hel’sinks’ka hrupa, 1978–1982: Dokumenty i materiialy (Baltimore–Toronto 1983)

Osyp Zinkevych

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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