Samvydav (Самвидав; from сам [sam] ‘self’ and видання [vydannia] ‘publication’; Russian: самиздат, samizdat). Uncensored underground leaflets, monographs, serials, and other items published and distributed illegally in the USSR. Samvydav publications included a wide variety of philosophical, literary, political, scholarly, and religious studies, letters, political declarations, translations of banned foreign works, and reports on political opposition and repressions in the USSR. They provided the most detailed and accurate descriptions and criticisms of political trials, KGB actions, and conditions in labor camps and prisons. Samvydav appeared in almost all the languages of the USSR.

Generally the author of a samvydav piece typed out several copies for friends. Since access to publishing and duplicating technology was strictly controlled in the USSR, others recopied the document and distributed it further. Popular works even of book length were recopied many times and read by a large number of people. In the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, as in the rest of the USSR, the first samvydav publications date from the post-Stalin period of the mid-1950s. In the early 1960s a great number of literary works, including the poetry of the shistdesiatnyky, appeared in samvydav. There was always a strong political current in Ukrainian underground publications, with a special interest in national and human rights and religious freedom (see Dissident movement). The repressions of the 1970s slowed the production of samvydav materials. Many people were punished severely for writing or distributing uncensored publications.

Ukrainian samvydav materials can be found in a variety of sources: the Chronicle of Current Events, Ukraïns’kyi visnyk, and in many collections, such as The Human Rights Movement in Ukraine: Documents of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, 1976–1980 (1980). The most important samvydav works, by Valentyn Moroz, Viacheslav Chornovil, Ivan Dziuba, and Mykhailo Osadchy, were smuggled to the West and published there, first in the original Ukrainian and then in English, French, and German translations. The largest collection of samvydav material has been amassed by Radio Liberty in Munich. Nonconformity and Dissent in the Ukrainian SSR, 1955–1975: An Annotated Bibliography (compiled by G. Liber and A. Mostovych, 1978) lists 1,242 separate samvydav documents found in the West.

In the late 1980s political liberalization created a fertile setting for samvydav. The easing of censorship permitted more open and technically sophisticated publications to appear. Hand-copied clandestine publications were replaced by a large variety of serials, leaflets, journals, and monographs printed by numerous unofficial groups (neformaly) and individuals.

Borys Balan

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

Encyclopedia of Ukraine