Khmara, Stepan

Image - Stepan Khmara

Khmara, Stepan [Хмара, Степан; Xmara], b 12 October 1937 in Bobiatyn, Lviv voivodeship, d 21 February 2024 in Vienna. Dissident, political prisoner, radical nationalist, lifelong oppositionist and optimist. Childhood experience of wartime and famine—his family sheltered Ukrainian partisans and people fleeing the post-war famine of 1946–7—inculcated in him a deep aversion to Soviet communism with a corresponding commitment to Ukraine’s national liberation. On completing his studies at Lviv Medical Institute in 1964, he began practicing dentistry in the small village of Hirnyk, Chervonohrad raion, Lviv oblast. During this time he became involved in the underground dissident movement, editing and distributing its clandestine samvydav literature. He translated into Ukrainian Andrei Sakharov’s landmark Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom. Following the arrest of Viacheslav Chornovil in 1965, Khmara took over editorship of the dissident journal, Ukraïns’kyi visnyk. Writing under the pseudonym of Maksym Sahaidak, he published articles such as ‘Etnotsyd ukraïntsiv v SSSR’ (Ethnocide of Ukrainians in the USSR) and ‘Heneral'nyi pohrom’ (The General Pogrom).

Coming under suspicion from the Committee of State Security (KGB), Khmara was arrested in 1975 on suspicion of practicing dentistry privately, but was released due to lack of evidence of a crime. In 1980, however, he was convicted on disseminating anti-Soviet propaganda and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and five of exile which he served in a facility in Perm, RSFSR. This only reinforced his commitment to the cause of defending human rights, at the time the only legitimate means of asserting national rights.

On his return to Ukraine in 1987, Khmara became one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Helsinki Association, out of which in 1990 grew the Ukrainian Republican party (URP) with Khmara as deputy leader. He was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR the same year, obtaining 63.6 per cent of the vote in the Industrial constituency of Lviv oblast. As people’s deputy he took part in authoring the Declaration on the State Sovereignty of Ukraine, as well as on confiscating the property of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), depoliticizing state institutions, and law enforcement bodies. He also took part in October 1990 in the Revolution on Granite supporting the student demonstrators and joining them in a hunger strike. In November 1990, he was arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer, which he described as a provocation, jailed until the following April, and released without trial.

Khmara abandoned the Ukrainian Republican party in May 1992 citing disagreement with its policies, and in June exited at the head of its radical wing to form the Ukrainian Conservative Republican party (UCRP) with himself as leader. In the 1994 parliamentary elections, he defeated his former URP colleague, Mykhailo Horyn, by a margin of 30 percentage points winning 54.4 per cent of the vote in electoral district no. 261 in Lviv oblast. He opposed Ukraine’s surrender of its nuclear weapons under the terms of the Budapest Memorandum, criticized Leonid Kravchuk’s presidency, called for the expulsion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the Black Sea, and helped write the new Constitution of Ukraine in 1996.

Prior to the March 1998 elections, the UCRP together with the URP and Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) formed an electoral alliance called “National Front.” Khmara was no. 3 on the front’s list, but was not elected as the bloc as a whole failed to clear the three per cent threshold. Khmara simultaneously contested a single-member district (SMD), but was defeated by a Popular Movement of Ukraine candidate. He attempted a return to the Supreme Council of Ukraine via by-elections in September 1998 and June 2000, but was unsuccessful both times.

On 15 December 2001, the Ukrainian Conservative Republican party was dissolved and its members migrated to the Batkivshchyna party, led by Yuliia Tymoshenko, where Khmara became deputy leader. As no. 10 in the Yuliia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) list, he was elected to the Supreme Council of Ukraine in March 2002. In this capacity he supported the ‘Ukraine without Kuchma’ movement as well as the subsequent Orange Revolution of 2004, for which he was later rewarded by President Viktor Yushchenko with three of the highest state honors. After Tymoshenko as Prime Minister signed a gas deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2005, Khmara left the Batkivshchyna party accusing her of selling out Ukraine. He joined the Ukrainian National party (UNP), and took part in the 2006 elections as no. 13 in the list of the Kostenko–Pliushch Bloc, which was unsuccessful. The following year he appeared on the Our Ukraine-Popular Self-Defense (Nasha Ukraina-Narodna samooborona, or NU-NS) bloc’s list as number 94 but was too far down to be elected.

Khmara avidly supported the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, but then took part alongside the new president’s nemesis, Mikheil Saakashvili, in active protests against President Petro Poroshenko accusing him not only of tolerating the oligarchs, but also personally of corruption and illegal enrichment. Following the Russian Federation’s invasion of the Crimea he called for that republic’s parliament to be demolished, for breaking all relations with Russia, for the rebellious leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” to be punished, and for the Minsk Agreement negotiations to be abandoned. He referred to the 2014–19 Supreme Council of Ukraine as a ‘laughing-stock.’ He went on a hunger strike in 2015 in support of political prisoners. For the team which took over the government in 2019 his term of abuse was shpana (‘riff-raff’ or ‘rabble’), and on the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of Ukraine he called President Volodymyr Zelensky the ‘killer of the Constitution.’ He blamed the full-scale Russo-Ukrainian war which erupted in February 2022 and it atrocities on the Zelensky team’s inattention to the fate of Ukraine in favor of pursuing its own materialistic interests. Only Khmara’s denunciation of the war brought his radical views into line with those of the Ukrainian public. Explaining his life-long oppositional stance, he said that he was never able to see the kind of Ukraine he dreamt of. For the Russian authorities and mass media he was a particularly painful thorn in the side, representing the most unbending Ukrainian nationalism.

Bohdan Harasymiw

[This article was written in 2024.]

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